Community

Since January of 2018 numerous things have taken place to take up a majority of my time. From starting the foster care process, getting our first two sets of foster kids, getting involved in their school lives – it’s been a whirlwind.

And then I received a call from a church in Florida to become their next associate pastor. This involved numerous interviews, travel to the church, accepting of the job, selling our house, moving to Florida, finding new housing, and getting to know a group of people dedicated to knowing God – another whirlwind.

Image result for holy spirit roller coaster meme

What the whole process has done is reminded me of the importance of community. If it had not been for the people who surrounded us at Hub City Church – those who offered prayer, encouragement, meals, taking care of actual needs – we would have never made it. Had it not been for people at PC3 opening up their homes to us, calling to check on us, inviting us out to eat, bringing us into their circles – we would have never made it.

Without community we would have drowned.

In our culture the idea of the individual is what permeates every aspect of our lives. How we think, how we speak, even how we read the Bible is filtered through the lens of ‘I’. Most of the time we do not even realize it since it is such a dominant theme. But as a new generation is raised and finds itself being asked to inherit this ‘I’ centered world I am beginning to see a push-back. What they want is other-centered, ‘we’ centered.

The church in some regards understands this need, this desire for more ‘we’ and less ‘I’. That is part of the reason most churches create small group ministries.  The idea is that if we get a group of people together on a regular basis to study the word and interact they will make their way down the path of discipleship and mature in their faith. Yet even our groups take on an ‘I’ centered approach. True, because of the small group there are numerous individuals gathered in a room together, but how often do they take on the identity of a real community? To do so takes an enormous amount of energy, resources, and time. Most people are content in their own individual worlds. There is no reason, no benefit to sharing it with others.

This idea of community, however, also spills out into how we worship on Sunday. For those of us with a non-denominational background there has been very little in our history that we would define as liturgical. Our gatherings are a hodgepodge of different ideas which brings to the forefront a feeling of rootlessness. Do those who come into our gatherings realize they are linking hands, metaphorically speaking, with millions (billions?) who have come before them? Do they know the history of the church in which the truth of a God who saves brought about progress in the hard sciences, in medical care, in social care, etc.? We focus an inordinate amount of time trying to convince people that the gospel message is relevant to the world (it’s not). In doing so we forget that the message itself is a reminder that we were unable to save ourselves and we were never meant to live a life of faith by ourselves. The whole process of salvation and sanctification was meant to be lived out in a community of believers that could model a life of faith.

The current generation desires community as opposed to individualism. They hunger to experience a liturgy of worship that connects the present to the past. They are clamoring for the opportunity to interact with a religion that allows them to serve together, sing together, read scripture together, pray together, and to practice a faith that is alive and different from anything they can obtain out in the culture today.

The way forward may mean going backwards.

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Small is big

If you’ve been a part of the Christian culture for any length of time it becomes clear that we are enamored with big churches. There is something that happens when a church hits that threshold of 1000 people that seems magical. It’s almost as if that community is now a real church and can be taken seriously. I’ve read enough material from church planting organizations that give lip service to creating ‘healthy’ communities while inferring that the true goal is rapid numerical growth.

However, I believe that system is coming to a painful but needed end.

Here

The culture in the U.S. is slowly becoming more and more hostile to the Christian faith. While those on the outside claim we are merely crying wolf it seems very clear that the eroding of religious freedom is going to force a change in what the church will look like (and I don’t believe this is limited to the Christian faith). There is nothing wrong with being a part of a large church, nor of astronomical growth, but a change in the DNA of the church does take place when such growth occurs. It can be difficult to be a pastor when the congregation, the elder board, and perhaps even the denomination is pushing for growth without the same zeal for a mature relationship with Christ. And if the culture has no patience for large groups of Christians congregating together? The time for a different strategy is coming quickly.

The success of the church in the future may not be in how quickly it can grow but more in how small it can stay. While we will always put forth effort in evangelizing and converting we will need a process of multiplying when we have hit certain numerical thresholds. We may not have the luxury of thinking in terms of ‘thousands’ but more so in groups of 50 or 100. Church planting of small churches by small churches may be the best option at survival. Simple and sustainable will be the hallmarks of new churches desiring to take root and make an impact in their local neighborhoods.

Change of Focus

Like a lot of people my age I can have difficulties committing to anything that could potentially remove options. If I choose path A then it is likely I cannot go down path B. Yet I still attempt to do both with the full knowledge this is impossible. But when one commits to a path, when they invest their time and energy into what is needed to succeed on the path, it can be amazing the doors that are opened. True, it may remove potential opportunities in one direction and yet it can open up an array of possibilities.

For much too long I have been sitting on the fence regarding a variety of things. As I speak to friends and colleagues I realize I’m certainly not alone and yet that does not fill me with any confidence. I don’t want to be someone who stands for nothing and never pursues what is most important to me. Like all people I’ve been given certain skills and gifts yet I have rarely used them to their full potential. Sometimes this has been due to a fear of failure, or a concern of what others will think of me, but these are never good reasons to hesitate in moving forward.

Because of this the focus of this blog is going to change. While I will still be writing about simple living the focus will be more on the church and how the ideas of simplicity can affect how the church functions. As there appears to be some changes on the horizon concerning how the church interacts with the culture it will be important that we flesh out what this will look like.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, however my hope is that I can provide some answers which can be used as a springboard for future conversation. I hope you’ll be willing to join me on this journey.