With the summer holiday and Christmas season here in Cape Town, this little series of blog posts has gotten a bit interrupted. I was writing about what it could look like to “plant a church without planting a church”. The first post was on “Gathered around the Word” – you may want to go have a quick look to refresh your memory.
2. Sharing Life:
Community is something of a buzz word in Christian circles, everybody is in favour of it and every church claims to be about it. And fair enough – being a “community church” is pretty hard to argue against. I have never come across any pastor or church leader, no matter how dodgy they may be on other issues, who claims to be against community. It is one of those “no-brainers” of church life.
But strangely enough for an organisation that is so fond of community we have an amazing ability to short-wire our own desires. Despite the stirring rhetoric community is most often than not reduced to a Sunday meeting and perhaps (for the really keen) a mid-week small group (call it what you will). Our community is event and programme shaped rather than relationally shaped.
Our intention is not in one sense to do anything new or particularly innovative but rather to simply ask ourselves what could it look like if we decided to truly “share life” together. As Francis Chan suggested in this video clip, I am not sure it would look much like what can often pass for church community.
Programmes are not the enemy, nor are they intrinsically evil as may be believed from listening to some organic church thinkers. Although I confess I am weary of programmes,, probably for similar reasons that as an adult I cannot stomach tomato sauce… over-consumption. Our problem is not programmes, it is an over-reliance on them to do what ordinary Christians ought to be doing in ordinary life. Why do we need programmes for hospitality, evangelism, missions, welcoming, discipleship, helping the sick, providing meals etc.? Special events I get. But it feels like we have shaped the ordinary in church using the criteria of the special event (unfair?).
So what does community look like when we try to wean ourselves off programmatic community? It looks like family, like shared life. Like ordinary people living ordinary life with gospel intentionality?
1. I think geography is crucial in this (some will disagree with this but this is my blog 🙂 ). Living close to one another (I would define that as in reasonable walking distance?) allows us to share life in the ordinary. We can pop into one another’s homes, walk the dog together, go to the same coffee shops and pubs, borrow stuff from each other, pop round for coffee or lunch or to pray or share news. We can get to know the same neighbours, friends, shopkeepers. We can send our kids (often) to the same schools. They (& us) could play for the same sports teams and frequent the same parks. Geography allows us to do this in a way that I am not sure we can replicate when we have to drive.
2. Time is the other key. Those of us who have been brought up with a Western mindset or who work in a Western context have fallen prey to the need to over-schedule our lives. If there is a free block in the calendar we should put something into it, the unwritten rule seems to go. Key to being a gospel community and sharing life together is to intentionally keep gaps in the diary. Gaps that allow us to respond to needs, pop in on a friend, go for a walk, invite people over for meals, go to the pub, visit a neighbour, pray with those in need. If we are too busy, no matter how good our rhetoric and our intentions our vision for gospel community will always be something we do tomorrow. What you say “no” to may be as important as what you say “yes” to if you want to share life with those in your gospel community.
3. Lastly, there must be an intentionality about being family, and sharing life together. You can live just around the corner from me and have buckets of free time but if we are not intentional about being a gospel community (on mission together) then we will find things to do that fill up our time. That intention may translate into moments like this: “I feel like watching TV but let me go visit Nathan” or perhaps “let me invite Nathan to come watch the football with me.” For many of us today, living in community has become counterintuitive, a going against what seems natural or normal to us for the sake of living as God’s new people. A people on display as a demonstration of the goodness of God’s new kingdom.