Blast from the past: beliefs six – Church

This is part of a series in which I’m reposting old blog posts to explore my current thinking on the ‘big stuff’. They were first posted in 2011. I’m aiming to write a reflection after each topic commenting on any evolutions since this point in history. 

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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