The Conversation is Changing

The conversation has, for me at least, changed.  

10 years ago, 5 years ago for that matter, these were questions that were circulated around, “what could happen if we had a church that ________?”  or “What if the church was a place where people just _______?”  It seemed like all of the talks that were being had dealt with the church; its composition, make up, and activities, etc…  

The end result of those conversations was a 6 year experiment in flat leadership (where everyone was perceived as functionally equal), open source (where everyone was able to contribute directionally, situationally, content wise), de-centralized (without any governing committee or person, decisions were made by consensus or not at all), communitarian and incarnational (where we attempted to BE the church rather than GO to church, living near each other to create opportunity for further exposure and relationship), organic (little structure, if any; constant reliance on the Spirit–eventually becoming synonymous with perpetual spontaneity)  and Christ centered (as opposed to “issues driven”, an entire focus on the person of God as opposed to the activities of God).

It’s interesting because today I hear many of the “hot” church planters (even Guru’s for that matter) toting these ideas around.  They, and many others we lived, are the sexy new methods.  Interestingly, for me, they are now (in some ways more than others) old hat…we lived them to their logical conclusion the ultimate extreme; we road tested them and found that some drove better than others.  

What’s funny is sitting at a restaurant or coffee shop with one of the new champions of these notions.  I’ll listen to their passionate and intense rhetoric about “following the Holy Spirit”/being spontaneous, tossing aside leadership roles in favor of function only models where everyone can be anything and everything, throwing out events and embracing incarnate organic church lifestyles…and then I yawn.  I’m bored.  Or those bizarre moments when I mention something as random as “growth” or throwing some sort of event or planning an “outreach” towards the community–only to be rebuked for my lack of Christ-centeredness (because of planning). In the end, the new guru’s are disappointed by me.  They don’t understand why I feel more comfortable in an brick and mortar institutional church (Mennonite, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Orthodox) or not in one at all (All faith embracing spirituality discussion groups/centers for transformation and mutual support).  Either way…the questions that I was asking, that are now being asked with a great degree of mundane regularity are not the ones that interest me any longer. And I really can’t explain that.

The goodness of God, the bigness/all expansiveness/(un)knowability of the Divine, the transformation of the entire person/locality/world, the life of justice/mercy/faith/and love practiced by individuals and collectives, art and hinting about things too big for cognitive expression, discovering a new way of thinking by living the question and embodying the certainties, surviving/coping/medicating/figuring out how to hope again, letting the symbol become the real (communion IS the reality…don’t kid yourself into thinking its only a shadow)…these are the thoughts that keep on coming back to me…The other stuff…well, I get it…I just am not there any more.

Oddly, I sense that a lot of the others–the ones who began asking those same questions around the same time–find themselves in the same place.  

For them also, it would seem, the conversation is shifting.  Interesting…I wonder where it goes next–if anywhere.

Possiblities vs Guarentees

I just got a puppy.  I know…stupid move right?  Well, you’re probably right.  Honestly, the sleepless nights, the random “accidents”, and needing the patience of Job to cope with his mischief have me second guessing the whole transaction.  Ah well…  Still, we picked a great breed.  If you’ve ever researched dogs you know that breeds have very different personalities.  Take for instance my old dog, Rigby.  He was an Australian Shepherd, a herding dog.  And guess what, he was constantly herding us, constantly working. We’re convinced that he never slept.  It’s amazing, we never had to teach him to do that. His instinct kicked in. He just did it. Born that way I guess.

I think that’s how I’ve viewed the church.  Like a dog.  Engineered for certain behaviors. No effort needed.

The funny thing is that it’s really not how it works, with dogs, with humans, or with the church.

It’s why you can’t seperate a pup from it’s mother too early.  If you do, it can’t learn the things that become “instinctual” to it.  The mother conditions it and socializes it to become what it eventually does.

With humans the same is true.  Go to a human development class, you’ll find out.  It’s all about conditioning.  And there’s a variety of opinions on what kind of conditioning works, some think constant and rigid training is neccesary while others say it needs to be hands off.  But everyone agrees that there’s an element of grooming that is absolutely imperative.  Or else?  Ever hear of feral children?  Tarzan or Moglai or Nell?  The rat girl from Texas? Without socialization, without training, without that conditioning kids acculturate to the void that surrounds them, be it rats or wolves or monkeys.  We become what we’re around.  Even though we have the possibility to function as a full human there is no guarentee…the right conditions have to be in place.

It’s true of the church too.  She may have the right genetic code but without early socialization and conditioned relationship with her parent she becomes a wild and erratic aberration of what she was meant to be. That’s why you find Paul freaking out in 1 Thessalonians where he was only able to spend a couple of weeks, “I long to come back and impart some sort of spiritual gift to you”.  He realizes that the right foundation requires time, energy, and interaction. And some will point out that it turned out alright in Thessalonica considering the second letter.  Except…the truth is the second letter is just as frought with concern as the first.  Paul is terrified that it wasn’t enough.  It keeps him up at night. He is grieving.  I can just hear the mystic home churchers: “Come on Paul…just trust the Spirit…These guys are the church…just let them BE.  When are you going to develop faith and not worry so much?” I love it because I’ve heard those words before…

The truth that Paul knew and that life confirms is that anything born to a particular destiny has the possibility for the glorious but NOT the guarantee.  Just like life the church requires effort and labor, we must “work to preserve the unity of the Spirit” (wow…I guess that means that unity of Spirit is something we can lose…), we must “press on towards the goal”, we must “set our minds on things above” (which by the way means, set our priorities on the things that Father values…this isn’t some kind of commendation to become of no earthly good).

Just “being the church” doesn’t guarantee that we will actually express Christ’s Body, the Church.  Alot of people get confused on this point.  They throw out “wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am” as a reference for “church happening” as Christians get together for coffee.  I can just hear a latte foam lipped guru saying: “See…THIS is Church”…over a cup of joe.  But that verse keeps going doesn’t it?  It’s about church discipline primarily and Jesus is saying that we should feel a sense of freedom in dealing with issues even when the larger gathering isn’t present.  He ends by saying, having taken the issue before the two or three, if nothing changes, “take it before the church”.  Hmmm…it would seem then that according to Jesus the two or three certainly have Christ among them, but they are not the church…just parts of it.  Again, go back to life…my own body.  My hand IS the body…but it’s not the whole body…it’s only a little piece…without the whole it won’t work.  Again, I hear an argument coming.  This is really about the universal church.  We are parts of the universal whole.  Yes…true…but unless Jesus was advocating teleconferencing, when he says “take it before the church” he means the local, locatable, assemblyable, gathering collection of interelated people.  My point?  The Church isn’t just pie in the sky atmospherics that we ARE simply by the nature of being Christians.  There is an intangible element to it that seems to congeal mysteriously and takes us from being simply Christ followers to actually representing His eternal Body.

There’s no guarantee that this moment will ever come.  Just because you get a bunch of people who love Jesus into the same room you don’t necessarily have the full expression of the Church.  You may have the raw genetic material for it.  But, as in life, it requires some growing up…some conditioning…some socializing…

Referring to the last post…it requires the kingdom…it requires some space…it requires the brush being cleared, the gospel being declared, lives rearranged…and then, in mystery beyond mysteries people might notice a change, a difference…they might not be able to explain it, but they look around and comment, “I think the Church touched down. I think it’s being expressed.  We didn’t try for it. We weren’t aiming for that…we were simply responding to Him.”

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