Monday, April 24, 2006

Sounds good to me

When I think of christian community, I think of shared lives based on the shared Spirit of Christ. I think of time spent together, listening to and valuing each other, interacting with scripture, encouraging one another, speaking into each other's lives, and enjoying shared meals, activities and experiences. For me, it also includes being generous with resources and praying for and with one another. Creating christian community in postmodern cultures is the subtitle of Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger. Community has very high value for me, so I was interested in knowing what the book had to say about it.

What do the authors mean by community? They speak of a people, a community, a rhythm, a way of life, a way of connectedness with other Christ followers in the world. The communities they describe are small, missional, and offer space for each individual to participate. Relationship seems to be the organizing principle. Commitment and accountability--not attendance at a particular meeting--mark one's membership in the community. Decisions are made through consultation with one another. Creative kinds of faith expression, meetings, buildings, etc. are there to serve the relational needs of the community. All the while, the people in these relationships recognize that they exist for those outside their community. Their understanding of the christian life draws much inspiration from the gospels and focuses on the kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus. Unlike the stereotypical house church, emerging churches do not exist in isolation but establish networks for mutual support and encouragement.

Well, that all sounds good to me. What could be so bad about this philosophy that critics are wont to call it all sorts of names from liberal to non-Biblical? As the book shows, it is very threatening to existing forms of modern church. It by nature deconstructs and reconstructs what "church" means. Community is one aspect that does this by valuing people and gifts equally. Leadership in this context is good as long as it serves the members instead of exerting control. All members are encouraged to be producers and not just consumers, which goes against the grain of everything from mega-church to the small denominational congregation, whose services are built around the producers and presenters (worship band and preacher/teacher) and an "audience" who sings along or listens. Other giftings do not figure prominently in their larger gatherings.

Living as community is one of the highest values for emerging churches. The other two practices that combine with it are identifying with the life of Jesus, and transforming secular space. There are six other practices that are derived from these. All nine elements of emerging churches described in the book focus on the kingdom and God's work in the world, rather than focusing on the church. They see the church as having an option to join with God or not.

Given the choice, I, too, would opt for being a part of a kingdom community over "going to church" and attending a service. I have experienced community enough to see how radical and life-changing it can be. For those who are re-thinking church practice, community offers a safe place in which to wrestle with ideas and is a meeting point with others on a journey of faith. Sounds like what we need right now.


Blogger Susan said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I've been rethinking the idea of Church and I really resonate with these definitions, goals, and values.

I especially like the fluidity of the structure, the interdependence and inter-connectedness with other individuals and groups.

One thing I have been noticing lately is that the traditional model has "presenters" and an "audience" as you said - and that setup, when used each and every week, can lead to an identification with the presenters vs. God. Also, the "audience" is served by a few devoted folks, thus encouraging "fly on the wall" participation by the majority. I like an environment designed so that everyone uses their gifts. It gets us away from the "what's in it for me" mentality, and also it takes the pressure off those who are the presenters/leaders.

After all no one is responsible for our relationship with God except for us. It is not the teacher's/preacher's/musician's deal - they have their own relationships to grow. God invites us to be active and alive.

What wonderful things we can do when we're all mobilized for a common purpose, with our perfect Guide at the helm!

3:36 PM  

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