Category: Church


How often have you sought the Lord’s will with others?
While many of us have ways we seek God’s guidance in our personal lives, we have little experience doing this with others. I believe this is partially because most of us have grown up in churches where the emphasis is on our personal/individual relationship with Jesus. What is God saying to me? I am not really part of an US that needs to hear from God for US. I find this to be a huge lost opportunity to be the people of God as described in the Bible.
This is particularly unfortunate in cultural contexts with a strong sense of community (like South Africa where I live). Here, the paradigm by which people live – consciously or not – is that I am born into a people. Therefore, when Christianity is understood to be a personal relationship only, it is actually a foreign/western/northern/white concept. How tragic that we are not allowing the communal nature of Christianity to build on our existing understanding of life in a supernatural way. We all long to be part of something/someone – how can we possibly miss the opportunity to share this part of the Good News?
Another reason we struggle to seek God together is that many have never been part of church where the concept of the priesthood of all believers is taken seriously enough to enable (require?) active participation using one’s gifts and discernment as part of the larger congregation. I am not suggesting that we must all take part in every decision or discussion per se. And I recognize that we can all use our gifts and play our unique parts in the body. But what I am saying is that we sometimes use “we all play different roles” as an excuse for either un-Biblical passivity on the one hand or un-Christlike control on the other. IF we believe God speaks through us collectively, how are we actually attempting to hear and discern together?
Finally, in many cases we tragically separate worship/connecting with God from decision-making. When it comes time for business, we put the Bibles away. Now of course we pray to start and may even pull in some Bible verses. But too often we aren’t really even attempting to seek the mind of Christ together. We don’t expect to agree. We fight for our way. We talk to people outside the meeting to get them on our side. We don’t trust God to speak or one another to hear. And until we at least give it a go, we never will.

The grand finale in a short series of questions on what God is stirring related to our faith life with others. You will find the first question of this series here, and the second one here. Please read/think/respond to these before giving your thoughts on today’s questions.

Reminder of the one rule –  you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

Question 3:

If there is something/anything of faith life with others you are longing for (your response to Question 1), something different from all of your other friendships (your response to Question 2), why haven’t you found this with an already existing congregation/community in your city? Assuming there are good groupings of people following Jesus together around town, what are you still looking for?

Note: I am not looking for anyone’s complaints about a particular church. In fact, I believe there are lots of gatherings to allow for many different expressions of our following God together. This question is really intended for those who, for whatever reason, have NOT found what they are looking for.

Another note: I am truly asking those who aren’t simply looking for somewhere with bigger music or comfortable and accommodating versions of the Gospel. I am asking those who have a DEEP desire for God and being part of a people who are centering their lives around Jesus and is honestly SEARCHING.

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

This is question two of a three-question series seeking input on what you are wanting with others also journeying with God. Thanks to everyone who responded to the first post on this blob, on facebook, or via email. You will find the first/previous question of this series here, pretty much necessary to answer before taking on today’s question.

Reminder of the one rule –  you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

Question 2:

How does what you are longing for (your response to Question 1) differ from all of your other friendships that also include faith? In other words, what do you need from a specific grouping of people that is different from what you are encountering from all the people you know – Christian or otherwise? Do you need something more or different?

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

Doing a short three-question series seeking your input. It comes from conversations from our own fledgling little On the Way group and while I need their responses, I am hoping that others who read this blog will also have their say. I am going to post three related questions and would love your thoughts on each 🙂

There is one assumption – that as we journey with God, it is helpful to be connected to others who are also journeying with God.

There is one rule – you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

 

Question 1:

Right now, what are you longing for/wanting/needing from others in a shared faith journey?

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

 

Read this blog post today and am reposting for your thoughts. Is this what church should be like – should this be normal? If it sounds good to you (so many memories come to mind of my own amazing church experiences when I read this), would love your thoughts on what it would take (and what are the barriers):

What a Normal Church Looks Like

This is a story about a city. There is only one church in this city. In this particular town, there are anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people who are all part of the same church. Any Christian in this city is part of this one church. There is no believer in this city who belongs to a different church. This is an entire network of Christian people.

The fellowship they have with one another is completely overlapping. Every person does not know or fellowship with every other person, there are too many people for that to happen. But everyone knows and fellowships with someone, who knows and fellowships with someone else. The entire church meets and gathers in homes, in parks, in various restaurants for lunches and coffee, and often you can find them at the nearby lake for weekend camping. This vast network of people are gathering together and sharing life together in many different ways.

Seven days a week, during any evening, you can visit a number of homes in this town and find Christians gathered together. Because there are so many active participants, there are meetings and gatherings every single night. And anyone is welcomed to go to any one of them. These people are worshipping Jesus in these meetings. They are sharing, praying, teaching, operating in their gifts, and intensely supporting one another’s personal lives.

Besides the daily gatherings, about once a month, the entire church gathers together outside at the city park for a giant picnic. This scene is incredible. There are people scattered everywhere throughout the city park. The park is completely full of people. There are, what looks to be, 2 acres of table cloths and blankets spread all over the ground. Everyone brings their own food. After a while, everyone begins to move into groups of 10 to 20 people to visit and pray for one another. This all day meeting in the city park starts around 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. By 6 p.m. that evening, it is still going strong.

At 6 p.m., around dusk at the park, there are still 10 or 12 Christians gathered around and talking while on the tail gate of a pick-up truck. There are also 8 or 9 ladies sitting in lawn chairs together nearby. There are still children running and playing. For the last couple of hours, there has been a children’s game of ball over at one end of the park with about 15 adults standing around visiting while the kids play.When this monthly, city wide church meeting in the park is over, everyone goes back to their homes to resume their weekly activities of work, family time, and church life all during the week.

There is nothing to identify this vast network of Christians, other than the relationships they have. There is no name for this massive group. There is no sign posted anywhere. There is no building. There is no leader. But many people lead.

Most of the people who want to travel to this city to visit and participate in the church activities, usually know at least one of the Christian families who live there. But even if you didn’t know any of them, it is really pretty easy to find them all.You decide to take a road trip just to see what it’s all about. As you drive into town, you realize you don’t know where to go in order to find these Christians. Where do they meet? What time do they meet? They don’t have a yellow page ad. What will you do? It’s Friday evening when you drive into town.

You stop at a local gas station and ask the clerk, “Excuse me, do you know where I would find any of the church in this town?” The lady behind the cash register replies, “Oh yea, I think a lot of them have been getting together down at the lake on Friday evenings. You could probably find them there.”

Just the fact that the gas station clerk knows where “the Christians usually are” is a testimony. These people are visible, they gather in large numbers, and they are clearly identified by the whole town.

You drive out to the lake. You see a bon fire down by the water. You get out of your car and discover about 20 people singing to the Lord under the stars. You join in singing. A brother stands up by the fire and shares a brief testimony with the group. A sister shares a prophecy. Others chime in and share brief encouragements and teachings. They begin to pray for one another. It is a glorious occasion. You’ve never seen anything like it. They are so free, so real, so spontaneous, and so encouraging.

As the time naturally gravitates to visiting with one another, several of them introduce themselves to you. They find out that you are new to the town and that you drove out in order to plug in and meet the other people in the church. They make you aware of several other gatherings that are going on the next day. Some of them ask you to join them for an unplanned, late night supper in one of their homes. You spend the late evening sharing and talking with your new friends.

The next morning is Saturday morning. You’ve been made aware of a variety of get-togethers you can choose to attend. There are about 8 people going to play a round of golf. There are a few gathering for breakfast at a local restaurant. There is a prayer meeting available in someone’s home. Some of the families are going back to the lake to hang out and do some boat riding and water skiing. You don’t really want to miss anything, but you have to choose. “Ok, I’ll go to the breakfast. Then, I’ll catch the last part of the prayer meeting.”

After the prayer meeting that morning, you grab some lunch with a couple of brothers and then take a nap. You are made aware of a small gathering of Christians who are planning to meet in a home later that night to worship the Lord. You attend the worship time. Afterwards, you catch up with a group who decide to do some late night street witnessing.Just about everyone you meet invites you into their home to stay for as long as you want. They feed you. They pray for you. They are sincerely interested in you, interested in your family, and interested in your life with Jesus.

You realize this all could go on for days. You are well aware that if you were to live in this town, there would be no way anyone could attend every gathering.

In the last couple of days, you’ve gotten to know a couple of the other Christians pretty well. You ask them a question saying, “What are your backgrounds?” You communicate to them how you are aware that this entire city has joined together as one church, but you would really like to know what denomination they all come from.

They reply, “Brother, in our attempt to take the New Testament seriously, we’ve purposed in our hearts to repent from divisions and denominations. There is only one church in this city, just like in the New Testament. We don’t fellowship just with those who believe exactly like we do on every issue. Many of us have different convictions and beliefs on many things found in scripture, but our personal doctrines are always open-ended and kept open for discussion. We are devoted to one another. We are devoted to Christ. However, we are not devoted to our own personal beliefs and opinions that are not central to faith in Christ.”

“But who is really in charge of this whole thing?” you ask. They reply, “Jesus is in charge. You would be amazed at how well He runs the church, if people will just let Him. The church belongs to Him. He designed it, He grows it, and He keeps it – if we do it the way He laid out for us in the New Testament. Here in this city, when men started taking their hands off the church, all the gifts began coming forth. People who would never open their homes before, started opening their homes! People who would never speak before, started speaking! People’s walls started coming down. People started to get honest with one another. People started functioning! It’s amazing how it all came together. I have to warn you though, you can’t be afraid. You have to learn to trust the Lord. If you get afraid and say that “it won’t work”, or from fear you revert to the old traditions of men to organize it, it will kill what the Lord wants to do. You have to let go of your personal feelings of needing to “know for sure” that you’ll have leadership in place. You have to let go of “knowing for sure” what your group identity is or “who you all are” as a group. Our identity is simply that we are Christians in the city we live in. You have to let go of concerns about where you are going to tithe to. There are plenty of needs to give your money to, such as the poor, evangelism in our city, and to foreign missions. Trust the Lord my friend, and trust the New Testament example. God gave it to us for a reason.”

You realize that the example of the church in this particular city should be true for every city in the world. No walls, no one aligning themselves with a certain affiliation, but everyone belonging to the same group. And although the Lord leads each individual to be closely knit with just a few, everyone feels they are a part of one large family in this town, and they practice it.

But how did they get to this place? How did it happen? How did they ever accomplish such an amazing feat?

It started with a few brave souls. Before they all came together as one church, those who were on staff at one particular church in the town contacted the other pastors and leaders at all the other churches in the town. Through much effort, the leadership from every denomination finally got together and had one big meeting in that town. The pastor responsible for putting the meeting together stood up and said:

“Gentlemen, we at First Methodist have called this meeting in order to share a revelation we have had. From our honest assessment of the New Testament, we find no scriptural basis to support our role of leadership at First Methodist. As men in charge of the flock, we do not deny that we do have gifts. Namely, we have gifts of leadership, teaching and shepherding. But these gifts are to be employed as any other member of the congregation should employ their gifts. We should not recognize a separation of clergy and laity or staff and non-staff.

Elders in the New Testament were given to a city, not a group within the city. Those who were appointed as elders in the early church were already elders according to the lives they lived, the spiritual qualities they possessed as men, and the spiritual authority they had that comes from God. Not because of any formal training or institutional authority. Just because a leader or pastor has a personal identity as such, does not make it so. Just because a man believes himself to be a leader, does not make him a leader. These gifts are spiritual and are from God alone.

Those of us who do have gifts of leadership, gifts of teaching, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, or apostolic functions, should use those gifts as though we were just one of the flock and in the context of just being a regular brother.

 
Furthermore, it has been revealed to us through the scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the management functions and administration of the church at First Methodist concerning things such as budgeting issues, buildings, the programs, marketing, and the business office functions are all in place and are a result of the traditions of men and of our Western culture. We’ve discovered that these things actually hinder and stifle the natural and organic functions of the people. Because we have assumed so many roles as staff members, the congregation depends on us in ways they should not. Not only has this hindered them from fully expressing themselves in their gifts and functions, but it has hindered the general edification of the church. Therefore since the church is to in essence, run itself, there is no need for our staff positions. We are taking our hands off the church in order to let it grow.

 
Up to this point, we’ve never trusted the Lord in the church to grow the church. We’ve perceived the members as incapable, not trained, and not possessing enough spiritual maturity to adequately be a functioning church. We firmly believe that people are to learn and grow by doing, and if you hinder them from doing and take the responsibility away from them to function, then they will simply not function and never learn. God’s design and intention is for every member to have a platform and an environment to express their gifts, no matter what they may be. We have repented of our arrogance and our control. We have fully realized that we were performing as we had been trained, and we have been acting as in the example which was passed down to us by others in leadership.

Although we have been sincere in our efforts, we were not using the New Testament as our model, but rather men’s traditions and the culture of the day as our standard. God forgive us.As of today, we are resigning. We have most boldly chosen to no longer accept a salary, but we have instead decided to get regular jobs. We will still continue to function in our various gifts, but we will be re-learning how to function properly and without having to “run everything”.
Our meeting formats will also change at First Methodist in order to encourage every member to participate and bring what they have spiritually to every meeting of the church. This is consistent with 1 Corinthians 14. We still may stand up and teach on occasion, but we will encourage the others to teach as well.
Also, from the example in the scriptures, we are taking our sign down in front of the building. Also our name, First Methodist, has been our identity. Our identity is changing to come in line with the New Testament. We therefore will no longer refer to ourselves as First Methodist, but we will be “the church in Cypress Texas,” of which we all are part of the same group. In fact, we’re selling the building we’ve met in because we have no need of it. The building has been an icon and representation in our hearts of establishment, stability and growth. It has also been a perverted method of attracting members. We will be meeting in more natural everyday life settings and in our living rooms.
We realize that for you to follow us in the New Testament example in these things, that many of you will have serious concerns as church leaders. We understand that you will have concerns for your jobs. Perhaps the hardest challenge for you men will be the choice of getting regular jobs. This has been the hardest choice for us. I can honestly attest to you that you will not be able to fully see the true nature of the church, nor will you fully be able to understand the things I am telling you today – unless you are willing to get a regular job. The heart has a way of causing you to not understand the truth as long as your livelihood is on the line.
Another difficult question you may be asking is concerning the whole idea of how we are to meet the needs of our current modern culture with such a radical church model. How will people in our society be able to relate to such a church? How will new people be able to come and participate? Do we not have to have the traditions we have in place in order to meet the needs of our modern society?? My answer to you men is this. Why would God establish his plain example in the scriptures of the church and how it should function, only to change it for every culture? Why would he lay out the structure of the church, which is built on the foundation of the apostles, only for every culture in time to shape it and reform it? Because of this type of thinking, we now see things like homosexuality being endorsed by the church, etc. God even condemned the Israelites for taking on the cultures and practices of the people and nations around them. I tell you men : the Church should be affecting our modern world culture, not our culture affecting the Church.The pattern in the New Testament is God’s design. It’s what works for the church. It is timeless. If we change it or alter it, we pervert it. If we pervert it to better fit our culture or lifestyles, we diminish its power and effectiveness. What God laid out for us in the New Testament is perfect. We cannot have such arrogance to say the Biblical example is no longer relevant or that it should be compromised in some way.
Men, we wonder why the experience of the early Christians is so different from ours. We wonder why when we read our Bibles it seems so different than what we practice and experience today, yet we have chosen to meet, to function, to gather, and to lead in ways that are completely different from the blueprint the New Testament provides us with. Why would it be a mystery to us that the people in Bible times had a different experience than us?

Over time, and through much talking and prayer, others in church leadership in that city listened to the brothers at the former Methodist fellowship. A trend was set in the town. By example, the shepherds led the flock. Truly, a revolution took place in that city. All over town people began to talk about the new freedom they were gaining in Christ, and the whole thing had a snow ball effect. As people started forsaking the dead traditions of men, more people followed suit as well.

Of course, not every church leader or fellowship agreed. But over time, the majority did. Those who practiced denominationalism and division soon became the minority in the city.

Mike Breen of 3DM posted this and I am wondering what you think – either from your experience or hopes? I mostly agree with Mike (as always) but I’ve added a few specific comments below…

We’ve been doing Missional Communities for years and years, and in that time, we’ve always tried to boil it down to the most essential ingredients to help pass it on to others.

In the last year, I believe we’ve most simply honed it down to these 5 essential ingredients of a Missional Community:

    1. Size of an extended family. A missional family is best understood in the range of 20-50 people, as it is small enough to care but large enough to dare. From much experience, I’d say it can be difficult to sustain long-term missional activity for a group smaller than this.
    2. UP/IN/OUT. Intentionally lives out the three dimensions of Jesus’ life. UPward dimension of life with the Father, INward dimension of life with the Body of Christ together, OUTward dimension of fully stepping into a broken world.
    3. Clear mission vision. Who is this Missional Community trying to bring the Kingdom of God to? The most successful MC’s have a very clear answer that could only be true of their group.
    4. Lighweight/Low maintenance. If the Missional Community can’t be led by people with normal 9-5  jobs who aren’t paid to do it, it’s not lightweight and low maintenance enough. It’s got to be simple and reproducible.
    5. Accountable leaders. The person(s) leading the Missional Community need to be accountable to others so there exists a dynamic of low control and high accountability. It’s one thing to say you hold people accountable, it’s another thing to do this well.

If done well, these can lead to the incredible phenomenon of a scattered and gathered church where it is the lay leaders of the church being released to the edges of the missional frontier, seeing extraordinary Kingdom breakthrough.

My thoughts:

I differ with 3DM’s definition of missional community size. For them, it’s one grouping within the church, ideally complimented by a huddle (specific type of small grouping) and  a large congregation – each having up/in/out components. To me, a missional community can be any size and has all the essential elements of church so need not be part of something else. Can be, but doesn’t have to be.

I also believe in Mike’s third point about missional communities being lightweight/low maintenance. That’s what we’re trying with our church. Normal people, with lives outside the church, are meant to be the church and its leaders – the priesthood of all believers. Yes, you recognize individual gifting and roles within the community. This can carry through to various forms of leadership as well. This makes a lot of sense in Mike’s model where missional communities are one part of the equation (can’t pay pastors for each and every group) but I believe it to be true if a missional community is the extent of your church community. No one should have the task or responsibility of all the ministry or all leading of the church. It must be shared (in any number of ways) in order to be reproducable and attractive.

What are your thoughts on Mike’s summary or my comments?

At church on Sunday, we talked about questions we would like to ask God. It’s a great list. Anyone else out there have these questions? What question would YOU add?

How did you decide who would have what kind of start in life?

Why do some people seem to have more than their share of struggles/problems?

If you are good, why can’t we explain death happening to good, young people?

Why are some people so frightened by death?

How did you decide which talents each person would receive?

God did you (God) get there/here?

Why do answers to prayer seem so random? Do you answer prayers or do we?

Does Christianity actually make sense?

What do you (God) think about women? really.

Since Jesus died and made it possible to go directly to God instead of through a priest, why is it that God doesn’t seem to speak to us audibly?

How much “control” do you have in this broken world?

Is heaven certain?

Is God all-powerful?

Why do some/all people who follow Jesus struggle so much, while so many who don’t follow Jesus seem to be doing fine/better/well?

God, which i right to say: the yolk of the egg are white OR the yolk of the egg is white? Neither – the yolk of the egg is yellow!

Andrew Jones gives insightful commentary on what is happening in the church globally as well as being an inspiration for me personally as he and his family live faithfully to Jesus.

I recommend you give this post on the direction of the church a read. I find myself agreeing with much and glad he wrote it! I also wonder – as always – about contextualization. The Church in South Africa is not in the same place as elsewhere. But is the “elsewhere” as big as some of us think? In other words, are the trends Andrew refers to fringe, mainstream, or somewhere in between? Are YOU seeing some of these aspects of church coming about? Which ones?

In thinking of his points in our local context,

I am seeing:

10. Many of these [unchurched] believers are finding ways to connect and share life with each other. These connection points and celebration events look like house churches but they are different. Whatever they are, they are part of the postmodern church landscape.

I am most encouraged by:

2. Modernity divided church into CHURCH (the ecclesiastic) and PARACHURCH (the seminaries, missions, youth ministries, etc). What we are seeing now is intentional communities and travelling teams that not only support the church – THEY ARE CHURCH

I am not seeing:

5. The [church] stages are shrinking because believers are no longer under compulsion to perform the gospel. The community of God becomes a better apologetic for God than the stage ever was. . . . The stage also shrinks because multi-media happens in multi- spaces, on multi-walls, in multi-rooms, by multi-people. Entryways, hallways and sidewalks become stages for art and expression.

Andrew, thanks for your insightful (as always article). Everyone else, please go read what Andrew is saying about the future church coming now.

Because I have people in my life at all stages of faith journeys, I’ve been considering how we relate to one another’s walks. Now that a young man in our church has decided to follow Jesus, who is meant to help him? And that mom who is pretty busy all the time but would love to be a little more intentional about her faith, what about her? And the woman who comes around every now and again that is curious about religion – is she all on her own? Whose responsibility is discipleship? Who is supposed to help me, you, and others to follow Jesus?

Some would suggest it is the job of a trained/ordained priest or pastor. Or perhaps you know a “super discipler” who seems to single-handedly walk anyone and everyone close to Christlikeness? Maybe it’s you! Do you think of yourself as responsible for helping everyone become the person they were created to be? The problem in every one of these examples is that they rely on one person to do all the work. Scripture – and history – and logic! – say something different.

It is the COMMUNITY of God’s people that is responsible for making disciples. Why?

1.We need communities to make disciples because God does not hold me responsible for your growth. He DOES hold me responsible for bringing to your life what He wants me to bring. God calls us to help one another, encourage one another, etc. We are actually created to walk with one another in the journey toward forever with God. It could even be that in most cases, people are critical in one another’s salvation. But there is an individual responsibility we all must take on our own discipleship and can’t put on anyone else.

2. We need communities to make disciples because I am limited. I don’t know everything. I can’t do everything. In short, I am not God… and neither are you. I will help you know and follow Jesus, but I can’t and shouldn’t cover everything. There will be times that someone else needs to cry with you or advise you. You will want other people to also pray with you, teach you the Bible, tell you to stop doing that. Because I am limited, we all are. You and I need lots of people helping us along the way.

3. We need communities to make disciples because the goal is not making you a copy of me. The goal is you becoming the person God has designed you to be in Christ. I guarantee, if I am the only person helping you know Jesus, you will look more like me, or like me following Jesus, than YOU following Jesus. You will pray like me, serve like me, worship like me. Yuck! We need a community helping us be disciples so that we get the best from all, and don’t need to replicate any. Sure, we will model and share how we live. But we share that as an example.

4. We need communities to make disciples because I bring my gifts. You bring your gifts. I bring my experiences. You bring your experiences. We need them all. You want a teacher teaching you. You want a pastor shepherding you. You want an encourager encouraging you. That’s what I want anyway. And I am not all those things. You are not all those things. We get all things in a community of disciples.

I hope you can see that in all this, I/you must take my own discipleship seriously. How am I giving God more room in my life? Am I being a disciple myself? And very importantly, PART OF MY OWN DISCIPLESHIP IS DISCIPLING OTHERS. Did you know that? Part of being a disciple, part of learning to follow Jesus, is helping others do the same! Too often, we think we will be disciples, then reach some magic point, then we will disciple others. When does that day arrive? When I know everything? When I’ve done everything? NO! It’s now. We disciple from where we are now. God does not ask us to have all the answers. He asks us to share what we do know and He will do the rest. If you think back to people who have helped you along the Way, I suspect they were memorable because they were prayerful and faithful lovers of God. And we’ve all had many people help.

We need all of us to be living this way because of the points above. You see, in saying that a community is best suited to make disciples, it does not absolve me of responsibility. I can not therefore count on “the community/church” doing it. Why? Because there is no community without me(s) participating. Yes, we play different roles. But we ALL play roles. It is NOT the role of leadership to make disciples. It is the role of a leader to help US make disciples – setting the environment, connecting the right people, providing opportunities. I do believe we all are gifted in different ways and each of us will play different parts in the spiritual lives of one another. That’s ok – we have a community to help. Each of us needs to be asking what God would have us give to whom, and talk about that with one another to serve together.

I’ll save “what does a community making disciples together look like?” for another post. I think that it can actually differ dramatically depending on time, place, and situation. But the question I want to leave you with is: how do you see your community making disciples? What has been your experience? What has been your participation?

Lots of talk about community in my world – missional community, holistic community, neo-monastic community, intercultural community, church community, intentional community… all sound great. Of course, most talk about all of these without much specificity – they are often buzz words without real definition. So, this is an attempt at clarify what I mean when I talk about Christian community.

First, Jesus. Christian community, by definition, includes Jesus. Now, I think we can be at various places of journey/understanding/relationship with Jesus. May seem obvious, but we would be remiss if there wasn’t overt acknowledgment that this community takes identity from Jesus. NOTE: this can be expressed many ways, yes? Formal, informal, baptist-flavoured, pentecostal-style, whatever. Those are religious forms we put around our understanding of Jesus, and are debatable. But Jesus is a must for Christian community. Can we differ on some of our beliefs, backgrounds, and practice? I think so because we are centred around Jesus, not just our way of following him. Do you agree?

Next, we have a commitment to one another that is based on relationship, not contract. We have agreed with one another to have a shared relationship with one another around Jesus. Therefore, different people can live out their commitment to varying degrees. Perhaps I have less time and energy than you. That’s ok. The point isn’t how much I do, it’s a common relationship with Jesus. We value heat commitment, not hours or money spent. If you want to make a formal commitment, that is fine and I welcome and honour that. Community allows people to be at different places at one time. Think if this in terms of other relationships you have – do you make friends sign a contract? Are they no longer friends if they can’t make it to dinner one week? Hopefully not! There is give and take, grace, love – all those good things.

Third, I think Christian community needs some sense of purpose. Does this mean each and every person must do all the same things? No. Do we all have to carry the same burden for the same cause? I don’t think so. Many “communities” define themselves by one interest. The problem with that is they are therefore closed communities. This seems to be at odds with having Jesus at the centre. Perhaps a common purpose is something as broad as “helping one another follow Jesus” or “Seeking God’s Kingdom.” To me, these seem different than specific causes. Is there a difference between purpose and cause? I DO think that if there is no purpose, you are ultimately a bunch of people hanging around. That’s fine, but again doesn’t fit with the Jesus part, because he as always about God’s mission and has asked his people to do the same.

Also, I think that Christian community must have some amount of “in common.” The obvious (though not easy) things are shared time, money, stuff, interests. I am really glad that so many people experiment with various forms of communal life. I am saddened that our individualistic/materialistic culture wins most often and convinces us to grow up and get our own things. It appears that many of the most vibrant forms of community through the story of God’s people had things in common. Do we have to have everything in common? Not necessarily. I believe different communities can decide together what and how they are going to share – there’s not “one way.” But if that conversation is not being had, then I don’t think it’s community.

Finally, I think true forms of community are ones where we don’t get to pick just our friends to be part. We need people who are different, people we don’t know yet, even people we don’t like?! for our own sake. You can read Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” for really good thoughts on this. In short, Christian community MUST contain variation. It must to be reflective of God’s heart and creation. It must so that we have to learn to love and compromise. We NEED people who are somehow different, even if this means it is not as easy. This one may be the most difficult, but is also the most powerful for everyone involved. How different can we stand to be and still maintain relationship?

You’ may notice I haven’t said anything about what we must DO. I think that is pretty negotiable from community to community. Also, I don’t think we are defined by our practice. Rather, practices are fluid to reflect how we are wanting to share our lives with one another around Jesus. Our new community, for example, is currently meeting every-other-week for  a meal, being together, and prayer. Other things can happen in between, but they aren’t mandatory. That’s it for now. We’re young and getting to know one another. And, most of our people are involved in significant ministry, so we are inviting one another to join in what we are doing rather than creating something new. We are sharing our lives with Jesus with one another. This rhythm will grow and change as we move along, but it works for now. And it seems that God is at work, so we keep listening to God together and will see what’s next.

Christian community can be found in a traditional church. Or it can not. I don’t mean any of this in opposition to any particular church expression. Rather, I would hope that regardless of your church/faith community/missional community/holistic community/intercultural community/intentional community, if you are wanting it to be CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, you find these things to be true.

Are they true of your community? If not, do you want them to be present and how can you help?