Karen Williamson wrote:
I've been thinking. . . .
How will real life change happen in the context of our church?
Fact: It is God who changes people, and the Holy Spirit who somehow helps.
Fact: Frequently, the Holy Spirit uses people to help change people.
Fact: People have to want to change, and do certain things to facilitate change in their own lives. I cannot change someone else.
Fact: The Church is made up of wounded, sinful, hurting people who need a Savior, not only for salvation, but for healing and wholeness.
Theory: Real change is probably going happen in smaller, more intimate groups where honesty and accountability are safe and expected, rather than in a larger group setting.
Question: How will we structure our church gatherings so that everyone is encouraged to work on those parts of our lives that need real change, to seek support and prayer in our areas of need, and then to go and help others do the same all week long?
My own thinking: As we have grown, it has become easier to come in and out of our time together on Sunday being rather anonymous, not necessarily intentionally, and not because the hurts and struggles and needs do not exist, but . . . . just because. It probably isn't going to happen in a gathering of 50.
Some in our church body are connected with a core group where real life change is happening. The extroverts in our group will continue to speak up, and some have been open and honest in some of these ways. But a good number of our introverts may continue to show up just like they always did, going to and from church quietly, and not very honestly.
I'm not bringing this up as an issue of size, though that is an obvious consideration. But rather, whether large or small, how will we as a church communicate the expectation that we don't keep "doing church", even in a new and fresh way, without our being changed in the process? That this a place where we expect healing and growth to take place, because we are a bunch of wounded, hurting, and sinful people coming together before a benevolent, gracious, abundantly loving Father and Savior?
In the field of architecture there's a commonplace adage: "form follows function." There are numerous passages which describe a Christian community's function.
A big chunk of these descriptions are called the "one another passages," which are things which can only take place in a small group. These are familiar--most of us can rattle off 3 or 4 without even trying.
Another important passage: "And God gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry..." According to this passage, every Christian leader is a trainer, a coach, an equipper, and not the superstar.
This training and equipping doesn't occur in huge auditoriums. Huge, dimly lit caverns are more suitable for growing mushrooms than Christian disciples. (And you've heard what it's like to be treated like mushrooms, right? Kept in the dark and covered with sh*t.) Size does count. Smaller is better. "Wherever two or three are gathered," NOT "Even where only two or three..."
And please, no one give me the efficiency argument for big auditoriums. Big auditoriums are indeed efficient, as a means for mass indoctrination, mass hypnosis, and raising money. And, for some, especially for enforcing ideological conformity (orthodoxy): controlling the flow of information.
Finally, returning to "form follows function," I Corinthians 14 describes the full participation that Paul envisioned, summarized in 14:26: "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church."
Everyone. Nobody is left out.
This description is a tall order, and frankly is very intimidating for me. Karen, I'm like you when it comes to small groups--I'm must more comfortable with the intimate, therapeutic, group counseling model which seems implicit in your emphasis on "healing and wholeness." Culturally, this therapeutic model is comfortable, and will predominate in many regions. The pentacostal-ish description in I Cor. 14 is much less comfortable for me. But we must not sweep it under the rug. It is our inability to control other people's "spiritual utterances" which is the most disconcerting element of this, I think.
Small groups, say the 10 to 15 that can fit in a living room, is the ideal size for maximum participation.
You are responsible for the context you choose for your ministry to the Body of Christ. Don't feel sorry for the people "left behind." You are responsible to choose the path the Bible, the Spirit, and other Believers have shown you. Lead by example.
There are many metaphors for Christian community, metaphors embedded in the language we use. I think hospital language, military language, practical-living language and abstract/theoretical language are the most common.
But all this is secondary to what I believe is the "verse for this era," Revelation 18:4.
There is no shame is leaving Christendom. We all know Christendom sucks. There is awkwardness in leaving our friends in a local congregation, but it's necessary. I haven't done it permanently yet, but it's only a matter of time. In my case, the greatest difficulty is that my wife likes "church" the normal way.
We must stop using the word "church." It means too many different things. It denotes (1) a congregation, (2) a building, (3) a hierarchy of leaders, (4) all the Christians in the world, (5) Christendom, etc.
Most of what we read about church is pure gobbledy-gook for this very reason. Most writers bounce between several of these definitions in the same paragraph, so the topic "church" comes out gibberish.
Suitable words: ekklesia, congregation, church buildings, sanctuary, Christendom, denominational hierarchy, etc.
In discussing these critically important matters, it is essential that we make sure we know, with as much precision as possible, the specific topic under discussion.
I like the phrase "Christian community" when referring to a congregation. The word "congregation" carries far too much traditional baggage to be disassociated from the building, denomination, pulpit, sanctuary, etc.
We must lead by example. The Empress has no clothes. No changing her from within, either. (Remember the parable of the wineskins?)
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