Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A church that's not a church

Last week I wrote some about the irrelevant church and the growing number of post-Christians all around us. After reading my post, Mary certainly topped my post with a great follow-up on her blog. If you haven’t read it yet, you should go do that now…

Anyways, I would have liked a little more conversation about the topic…there were some great comments between my blog and Mary’s, but I was hoping for a little more. I guess this isn’t a very popular topic among you, my most-excellent readers (all six of you). So of course, in response, I am going to blog even more about this topic. Sorry. Perhaps there is something here worth “talking” about…?

My plan is to address the six points Mary ended with in her blog post. Her points made me excited and I think they are very worthy of further discussion (even if I am the only one discussing…). In addition, I am going to blog as I re-read Emerging Churches. I already read the book while I was at DFW airport for 10 hours a couple weeks ago, but I think it is worth a second read (and this time I am reading it along with others). The book was really encouraging to me – a lot of good stories of how and where church is happening in new ways. But that will come later this week (or perhaps next week). For now I will kick off my response to Mary’s post. So, without any further ado, here is Mary’s Point Number One:

“1. Churches being gatherings of people (because "church" does NOT mean a building, or any kind of service or event) where all the things about God are open season--things we believe, things we think may be true, things we question, things we doubt, fears we have, joys we have, anger we have, etc. I also DO NOT think these things have to be the exclusive topics of conversation at such gatherings.”

I think the idea of “churches being gatherings of people” is a good place to start. I agree with Mary’s assessment that church does not mean a building or necessarily a service, event, etc. Church isn’t just something you go to – we can probably all agree on this – even though common practice doesn’t really coincide with this idea. However, Mary’s second idea is what I am particularly interested in. I would interpret Mary’s presentation of church here as a safe place (or community) where all topics concerning God, spirituality, Jesus, etc, are welcomed, while also not being the only allowable topics of conversation. I see this as a place of openness, freedom, grace, acceptance, and perhaps most importantly, a place where everyone is valued. This also seems to be a place where we don’t have to worry so much about getting it right. Getting it right is not the point. The point is being together, the point is caring about each other, being open to each others comments, and valuing what each one brings to the table – whether the person is a Christian or not.

But is this really a church I’m talking about? What about singing and worship? Can singing and worship really occur in a place where people are truly seeking, expressing doubt, and expressing fears and anger? What about prayer? What about encouraging one another, studying the scripture, and holding one another accountable? Maybe these things will occur - or eventually occur. It will probably depend on the group of people. I do think these things are important and are certainly a part of church. But maybe this isn’t really a “church” per se. Maybe it’s more of a place where “church” might happen. A place where God can show up. A place where people can care about each other. Maybe that is actually more “church” than any other idea of “church” we have experienced. Maybe I’m just way off track…I don’t know…but I think these places, whether we call them “churches” or something else, could be valuable. I think Jesus might be a supporter of such places.

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Amy said...

I'm going to say the first things that come to mind.

"Churches being gatherings of people...where all the things about God are open season..." Wouldn't that include worship, prayer, scripture, holding one another accountable, as much as fears, questions, doubts, etc? And I don't mean all things all the time--that would get a little silly. And I don't mean a majority of comfortable topics or activities. But I think that a gathering of people who are wanting to know Jesus better (whether they already "know" him or not) can include the questions and the doubts and prayer and singing. Maybe some wouldn't have any doubts to bring, and maybe some wouldn't have any singing to bring, but if we categorize what is allowed and what is off limits (questioning is okay, but not singing, or prayer is okay, but we don't want to hear your fears), then we're missing something. If churches are truly "a place of openness, freedom, grace, acceptance, and perhaps most importantly, a place where everyone is valued", that would mean that the seekers and the non-seekers should both be allowed to bring what they have. If we separate the traditional church (prayer, scripture, singing) from everything else (questioning, fears, doubts, etc.), aren't we just continuing to marginalize people?

Admittedly, it is much easier for those who are not "seekers" to find church than those who are "seekers" (I don't like these labels, but I don’t know how else to discuss this). I don't think that's right. I said before that I think personal relationships are the best venue for a seeker to feel comfortable enough to voice their questions, doubts, etc. I still think that, but I also think that meetings or services should be a safe place for anyone. To that end, I have a couple of questions. In a meeting or service-type setting, does the non-seeker have more of an obligation to defer to the sensitivities of the seeker than the seeker does to the non-seeker? For example, should there be less singing if a seeker is present, out of sensitivity to that person who may be turned off by that, and as an obedience to “considering others better than ourselves”? I tend to lean toward that idea, mixing discernment in with the openness, freedom, grace and acceptance. What are your thoughts? Also, do you (or anyone else) think that our Waco meetings/gatherings/discussions are currently a safe, beneficial place for seekers? Why or why not? (I’d like a 500-word essay on my desk by next Tuesday.)

Great points, great questions, great discussion.

revkev said...

I am diggin it...I started such a place...a coffee shop called "the gathering." We have been hanging out as described in the blog. I commented on a blog yesterday about spencer's new book, but no comments...I was a tich crass. I appreciated your comments (mary & adam) about singing and the others; and yes sometimes they happen sometimes not. What we have done is target those not going to church, agnostics, atheists, and the overchurched. It is a blast to see God working at such a "raw" level without someone providing debriefing (or worse yet) muddy-fying. We do experience much questioning from the religious crowd because of reporting, qualifiers, timelines, and the such. Can be discouraging at times until I realize whom I am trying to reach (and reaching!).

I would like to be considered a fan, mainly because of your favorite movies...matrix rox!

Adam said...

Thanks for the comment Amy. I think you have some good questions, thoughts, etc.

First, I want to clarify. I did not mean singing or praying would be off-limits in a "gathering" like I described. I was just saying they may or may not be present - and this would be dependent on the people involved in the group. Also, I am not so much suggesting a "replacement model" for our church gatherings, or anyone's church gatherings. This is something "other" - a church that's not a church (or at least doesn't quite look like one).

Second, I'm not so much wanting to distinguish between "seekers" and "non-seekers" and then set up great environments for them to be together or separate. Again, this is really more of a whole 'nother deal. A place for people who don't quite fit elsewhere. A place for people who don't fit in with typical church/Christian culture/way of doing things.

As for our church, I don't think our meetings are very open to people unlike us. That's just my opinion and I don't mean it necessarily as a critical statement. I don't know if our meetings should be more open or not. What I'm thinking is that there must be a place where people are accepted and that is relevant to their life. I agree with you that personal relationships are important but I just don't think that is the entire answer - I think it is part of the answer. I think there could also be real value in a place where these kinds of discussions, etc, can happen and where God might just show up - in a group of people, rather than just a one-on-one relationship, etc. I also think the answer is not simply found in someone becoming a Christian and then fitting in with the church gathering. I think someone could become a Christian and still feel completely unwelcome and feel that the meeting is irrelevant to their life. And I don't think this is the person's fault necessarily. But I'm just thinking here...thanks again for thinking with me.

Garett said...

Uhh, I just started reading this blog a few weeks ago, good stuff. Anyway, it seems like everyone's idea of the church is a gathering of people "discussing" God and everything connected with him. Like the focus is on the intellectual aspect of faith. I don't know, probably seeing it in the wrong light. Also, I don't think valuing what people bring to the table is a good thing. I guess it should be appreciated, but I think no one really has anything worthwhile to bring to the table, to think we did would be fooling ourselves, and would bring the focus off of how reliant on grace we are. Although, you may have just been trying to emphasize how important encouragement and understanding (would the word affirmation fit here?) are when Christians meet together.

I don't know. Anyways, just wanted to get in on this discussion. I enjoy the blog.

Angela said...

I'm weighing in, intellectually at least. And, as a matter of clarification, so as to not mislead, I am one of these "post-Christians".
I think Amy's description (in Mary's blog) of the church as a place for believers to commune and gain strength from/for each other makes the most sense. If the church is not strong, then it can not help itself, much less others.
You could go on forever about how to make the church more welcoming, but from a productive point of the view the focus should probably be on how to make the individual Christian more welcoming.
Having said that, I believe that even this can't guarantee a good outcome, as the post-Christian is ultimately responsible for their own beliefs.

Also, let me throw this out there...It seems that there is an assumption that the post-Christian is "seeking" something. This is not necessarily the case. The post-Christian who has ceased to "seek" Christianity and/or other religions has done so, most likely, with extreme thought, much internal and external debate, soul-searching, tears, quiet reflection, and other things I'm sure. It is far easier to come to a belief than to hold one steadfastly and later reject it. In this case, I would suggest prayer would be the only thing for the Christian to turn to.

Also, in defense of labels, I actually think I like the "post-Christian" label for myself. It's an accurate description. And it could be a great conversation starter. ;-)

Adam said...

Garett - thanks for joining the conversation and I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. Do you blog somewhere?

Angela - thanks so much for the comment. I think your insight here is really great. I especially appreciate your comment about assuming people are seeking God, etc (something). I think you're right - actually, I'd say we shouldn't make many assumptions at all (not that we can really avoid it, but you know what I mean). Also, I want to make sure and clarify something. I don't think the church's goal should be to make other Christians. So I don't think we should focus so much on seeking/not-seeking, etc. Rather, I think we are called to love - to love those like us, those unlike us, and everyone in-between. I'm not interested in going after "converts." I think that's a big problem actually. In pursuing converts we miss the point of loving (all too often at least). Just some thoughts...thanks again.

angela said...

One of the main reasons I like this blog, (I told Amy this already, more or less), is that you seem in a genuine pursuit of loving unconditionally, as Jesus taught. Most humans, Christian or otherwise, are not.
I also see your interest in seeing all sides, so that you can more clearly understand your own decisions. Again, most humans, do not like question. Question leads to doubt for many. It is my opinion this is mostly (though not always) because doubt was there to begin with, and that makes most people uncomfortable. They would rather blindly believe, ignoring doubt. (For that matter, this discussion could be taken in the political realm as well.)
Speaking from experience, the post-Christian has most likely encountered an attitude from other Christian's (ranging from weak "my-parents-are-christian-so-I-am-too" faith to leaders of the church) to "Hush up or Stay Away!"
This brings me to my earlier point. It is up to the individual Christian to show love. 100,000 individual's showing love would be mighty, indeed.
I guess it boils down to people like you, Amy, and others in genuine pursuit of loving others to lead the church (i.e. other Christian's) to this same pursuit. Probably, then "seekers" and maybe even "non-seekers" will feel more welcome.