Monday, September 12, 2011

Church without us- an idea

Jesus is pretty clear that there are no 'lone' christians.
If you follow him, you will love his people.

Yet the practice of churchgoing has declined over the last 40 years.
People have forgotten how to go to church.
And sometimes, people at church have forgotten to be a community of love.
A large chasm has opened up between those who know how to enjoy the rich feast provided at a church service, and those who still have some form of belief, but simply don't know how to enjoy church.
The church's response has often been to label those who don't attend as 'unbelievers' or 'nominal' or other derogatory terms, thus making it even harder for people to belong to a church.

In Sydney, we have an ecclessiology that in theory says "If two or more are gathered around the Word, there is a church". Some people want to tweak that to include some form of commitment to each other over time.

Yet our efforts with 'non-attending believers' has usually said 'you must join an established (our) group of two or more'. For various reasons, people have been unable or unwilling to join these established gatherings.

I have an idea.

What if we said to the community, "We are more interested in you exploring Jesus and loving each other than getting your bum sitting on our pews".

What if we offered a service that linked up believing and interested 'non attenders' with each other? What if we offered them some resources to initiate discussions about Jesus and life from the gospels, said "We are available if you have questions or want help" and then got out of the way.

Sure, some groups might go in wacky directions. Sure, it would require a leadership of influence and wisdom instead of authority and control. Sure, we wouldn't see any financial benefit (at least, not for a long time). Sure, it seems like choosing death for our churches.

But maybe, just maybe, God would work through his word and the kingdom would grow in ways we can't even imagine. Maybe, when people have grown to love Jesus and community they will be looking for more ways to deepen that, and if they respected us and wanted our help, well, then we can offer the kind of meat that we enjoy.

We would have to stop judging peoples godliness by their level of participation in our programs though.

Just a thought.


kristan said...

Have a chat with the community at St Stephen's Newtown - this is exactly what they've been doing as from two years ago. I don't know how it is now but it was a really exciting experiment.

Anonymous said...

sweet. Thanks kristan!
I'm thinking this based on two stats I heard.
First is, Australia is the most religiously active country in the world.
Second is, 40% of Aussies think Jesus rose from the dead.

Both those shock me, but when I think about it, resoonate with my actual experience.

i'm glad I'm not the only one having such crazy thoughts. I'd better get on to st stephens.

Chris said...

I'm loving this, Mike. I remember reading Lesslie Newbigin reporting that something very much like this was an effective strategy when he was a missionary in India.

I guess there are those things the Pastoral Epistles etc say about taking care with appointing leaders. But perhaps even there it was a matter of playing 'catch up' with what God was doing -- whereas for us it's often a means of maintaining control...

Mike W said...

so the next question is... How do you do it?
What did Newbingen get people to do?

Anonymous said...

Well, according to Newbigin it's about recognising and taking seriously the work of the Spirit -- and the crucial moment is the first moment of 'encounter' between evangelist and enquirer.

In Trinitarian Doctrine for Today's Mission (pp 75-78), he identifies 5 steps for doing this:

1. Find out what the Spirit has already done to bring the enquirer/s into contact with the evangelist -- was it a dream, chance reading of Scripture, etc?

2. Acknowledge the person or group thus touched by the Spirit -- then rather than replacing them with someone 'approved', provide them with assistance and resources.

3. Get on with baptising people who want to take Jesus seriously -- it should be about recognising God's regenerating work not some achievement of ours (even mastering basic doctrine).

4. Take advantage of the new convert's natural eagerness to learn to provide full instruction.

5. Give permission and create (organisational) space for the new converts who are lapping up whatever they can of God to get on with bearing witness to their neighbours.