My very best church experience was when the church I pastored was going through a rebirth. Our small groups became like individual churches where the participants experienced true community. All kinds of needs were being spontaneously met. No programs were needed. People were given rides to the doctor’s office. Individuals were helping others pay their utility bills. Furniture was being donated. We cared deeply for one another, even though we always didn’t have a lot in common with each other. These groups were a place where people could be honest and they were a place where people honestly cared for each other.
Is there any more normal and natural way to follow Jesus than friends getting together and talking about it? Because they are friends, they are in each other’s world and don’t just gather around programs. What if they really love each other and want other people to experience the same kind of love? Isn’t that the church?
What if the church became just that, friends getting together talking about how to follow Jesus and learning to love those around them? I can hear some program-oriented church person, asking, “Well, what about ….. and what about… and what about…”
The church is not an organization! It is hard for me to imagine that Christ intended to begin an organization. He redeemed and restored humanity, beginning a new way of living, loving him and joining with him in his kingdom.
Almost every time I discuss the church, people immediately think about the organization. It is not an organization, it is an idea! In our world the idea was expressed by an organization and the organization did some remarkably good things and some horribly wrong things throughout history, all in the name of Christ.
It makes no sense to imply that to be the church, we have to have a building, or a staff, or programs. These were put in to place to carry out the idea, but we became overly dependent upon them and confused the methodology with the idea as the whole mess became an institution.
The church is a community that reaches out to demonstrate who Christ is. It is not a club of intellectual clones or a hive mind.
We have tried to control people’s minds by saying, “This is what you must believe for it to be the real deal. Otherwise, we won’t let you in.” We have tried to control their actions by saying. “This is how you show you are a good Christian; you attend, you participate, and you give.” That is the way we work, not how God works! It just sounds wrong, when we say you have to believe just like us before we will fully accept you into our community and now that you are in the community, you need to do this stuff to keep our organization going. It sounds like Stepford Christians!
Our emphasis on intellectual agreement with various statements of doctrine is not transformative. Seeing the love of God in action is. Being around followers of Christ and participating with them in following the way of Jesus opens our hearts and minds to believing what he said and what is said about him in the scriptures.
I know some churches have taken a stab at becoming more relational, usually less than successfully. You have to be careful because nothing feels weirder than being lumped together with people who really don’t care deeply for one another. Perhaps, the key is to simply encourage community and facilitate it. If some friends want to get together to do this kind of stripped down church, leadership could provide some basic training and support for the facilitator. You would have to be careful to let it take its own course and not suffocate it with expectations.
Then there would be less emphasis placed on the large group gathering, which has gotten out of hand with all of the time and preparation that goes into it. Maybe, it would meet less frequently, like monthly.
It is simply a less organizational and more natural way of being the church. It sounds like a refreshing breath of fresh air to me.
– An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Am Irreligious Faith.