beliefs 6 – church…

The last post ended with a thought about what a community of Jesus followers who modelled a faith that was transformative and yet inclusive might look like. I want to turn now to think a little more about what I believe church should be.

Please note that what I write below is not a critique of my current church. It’s more a reflection of where I’m at in my journey.

Let’s get this down – I believe in church. I’m proud of having been brought up by my parents around church. I love the church I grew up in, for all it’s wackiness and uniqueness. I love the church we’ve been part of for the last 5 years. But I think that how I see church now has changed completely from where I once was.

Church has always been about the people of God gathering to proclaim and celebrate the risen Christ. We’ve done this in many ways over the past two millennia, but fundamentally that’s what it is. We gather to tell each other what God is up to, to live together, to suffer together, to heal together. We transform not only within but also without – impacting our communities. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing. We are the church – the body.

So far – so orthodox, I know.

But what if the way we do church just doesn’t work? What if this isn’t about music or preaching or liturgy or PowerPoint or whatever? What if we’ve completely missed the point?

I get that the purpose and focus of worship is to glorify God. I know that it’s not about what it does for “me”. I have been around long enough to have heard that message preached more than once.

But what if how we did church stopped people from being able to engage with God? Stopped people from having a place where they can authentically live out what following Jesus seems to be about?

As mentioned in the last post, I believe church should be shaped around a set of values rather than a set of doctrines. A place where a broad range of theology is embraced and celebrated, where questions and doubts are encouraged as it suggests we’re seriously engaging with the completely world shattering faith we’re exploring, where leaders are allowed to speak openly about their doubts too.

I believe that this means church should be inclusive – but that people are constantly being encouraged to grow into the image of Christ, embracing the fullness of life that he promises each of us. I’m on a journey in terms of my view of human sexuality – but I’m fairly sure that there’s much for the church to think about before it casts stones at anyone else – greed to mention just one. Church should be a place of hope, not judgement.

These values would shape the community both inside and outside of the church. When people encounter church, they should be able to see that something is different about us

Indeed the building of real community should be the purpose of gathering, for us to celebrate life in all its fullness, to laugh and cry together. But this can only be done in the small. I’m fairly certain for me now that big gatherings don’t work. Why…well, because we lose sense of connectedness with each other. We can’t ask questions. We can’t get into the nitty-gritty of each others lives. We can be anonymous.

I believe that church needs to focus on the small, facilitating personal and communal change through the hope of the gospel. This brings challenges, of course, not least in terms of growth and inclusiveness – but then they’re good challenges to embrace. We need to be completely open and vulnerable to each other, to allow God to work in and through each other to bring hope.

Church has to be a place of depth – not just in small groups/home groups – whatever we call them. Places where all of us are encouraged think deeply about who and what we are as the people of God. Places where dialogue and difference of opinion are vitally necessary to the spiritual health of the community. Places where one-size-fits-all programme in terms of evangelism and discipleship are thrown away in favour of authentic engagement.

I believe that church should be about living generously, sharing resources, time – whatever – to bring hope to each other in any small way that we can. That might mean sharing our homes, our wealth, our tables. we need to be locally and globally engaged, challenging injustice wherever we encounter it, no matter who that pisses off.

Church should be a movement, not an organisation (although it is always tempting to surrender to that inevitability). It should always be willing to change to bring hope afresh to every generation.

I believe that if we try to get this right, people ‘out there’ will want to be part of this shared life. They may not get the Jesus part yet, but they do know that they need community. The faith part may come later. That’s ok.

We need to gather to be authentic Jesus followers – it’s written into our DNA. We sit around the table, break bread and share life. That’s who we are.

Anyone else up for that challenge?

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7 thoughts on “beliefs 6 – church…

  1. Thanks Martin for another great post. I think you might have to be my surragot blogger. When I am feeling better, and not using my phone, i will reply. Mostly about one view of early Acts 2. We tell this story that everyone living together, sharing everything was good, but that was not what was mostly required of the disciples. they were called to be on the road. And any church has to support us being on the road. Not just like overseas mission on the road, but mostly on the roads in our own neighbourhoods. More coherence to follow 😉

    1. Hey Tobit,

      Thanks for chipping in! I remember reading in ‘Exiles’ how Frost describes the mistake many emergent congregations made in pursuing community as an end goal, instead of realising that community comes as a result of being out on the road together. Powerful stuff. If we spend all our time simply hanging out together, we aren’t being the mission God intends us to be. I think that’s the crucial thing we’ve got to hold onto – having all these areas of our lives that converge in an authentic expression of living faith.

      Peace, brother.
      M

  2. I am reading Missional by Alan Roxburgh at the moment, and while in some way it is hard work (with its own set of unique words and terms) it is actually one of the easiest books I have read for a while. Easy to read, but with a hard and challenging messages. (Jonnybaker writes a little about it here http://jonnybaker.blogs.com/jonnybaker/2012/01/introduction-to-the-missional-church.html)
    One thing that I love is how Alan writes about asking the wrong questions, or framing the questions in the wrong way. rather than the focus being what shall we do as church / what is church / etc. it is very much ‘what is our response as God’s missionaries’ or ‘how shall we live as God’s people’
    encouraging stuff, and I for one like this significant change in shift. I feel that it is actually possible to move right away from some of the conversations we have had, about how or how not to be a church in a new place, and give us the freedom to work out what it is we need to be / do without those previous questions clouding the water. Does this make sense? Oh and add this to TSK’s recent post…

    1. Maybe you could let me have a look once you’ve finished? Mind you, I’ve got a pile of things to read when I’ve got the time! Maybe next time at the pub we could explore the values thing…

      Peace,
      M

  3. Stupidly i’ve only just started reading your blog. Stupidly because i’ve been having very similar thoughts about the Church as a whole. As you may have seen me ranting on facebook about. I’m finding it increasingly hard to place my values within a church as they so often go against others. I can’t go along with saying that someone is welcome as long as they change a large part of who they are.
    Looks like i’m going to be hovering around your blog for some time now while I catch up.

    1. Hang around for as long as you like, David. The tab about beliefs is a series I wrote about a year ago which explores a lot of the stuff that I feel now about faith and practice at the moment. As ever, it’s an evolving process, but I think it’s a healthy one. Prayers, M

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