Saturday, October 28, 2006

community and structure

Tyler Watson writes:
When we come and participate in and as church, we bring assumptions of what church is and means along with us. These assumptions act as lenses through which we see, understand, and speak of our congregations. Many times, we never say these assumptions and I believe that many of our conflicts in church stem from people with different understandings of what the church is supposed to be interacting with each other.
Chris Spinks writes:
Too often, as I see it, suburbs and suburban-like churches lay all of the well-designed streets, create beautiful green spaces in among the cookie-cutter homes and establish neighborhood regulations to keep everything in order.
He goes on to say,
At [our church], we seem to move forward, mess up, back up and try again. Or we proceed knowing that we will flesh out all the details as we go. We have some basic structure in place, but it never preempts the primacy of community. Sometimes we design the structure as we move along…This could be misread to mean that I think planning is nonsense. That is not the case. It is rather a case of WHO does the planning. Does the community itself do the planning or does some oxymoronic “community” developer draw up the plans before a community even exists?

Many people seem to love the ease of life in the mapped-out suburbs and the over-programmed mega-churches (often found in the suburbs, by the way). I do not deny that people flourish in these contexts. But, to have genuine community there one must work hard to share life with others. It is quite easy to stay in one’s SUV and drive down nice wide boulevards, get directed to the extended lot at church by someone in the parking ministry, catch a shuttle to the sanctuary, grab one’s bible by the handle on its cover, sit through an entertaining service, and maybe even feel convicted to share the gospel more with the neighbors who live next door in a house whose floor plan matches one’s own. Much of the “community” structure has already been created. It is safe and clean and well-presented, but it can also be sterile and lifeless without some effort at making connections.
Surburbia and suburb churches have a tendency to all look the same. The strip malls look the same... the stores are the same... the church mission statements are the same [I know of too many churches that try to clone what someone somewhere else is doing... it's easier to buy a "package in a box" than do the work of listening together to what the Spirit is doing in this place.]

God delights in diversity: he gives different gifts, he uses people with different personalities, from different walks of life, with different backgrounds and brings them together to worship, and to build each other up, and to witness to His grace and love in this world.

I think Spinks’ analogy is helpful in explaining the tensions that we sometimes feel.

I long for church to be a place where corporate worship is genuinely a work of God's Spirit stirring the people and not, using Spinks’ analogy, a vacant, attractive gated community [& gates are only for keeping people out] of homes constructed by careful “developers”. What I long for is something much more corporate and organic. But corporate and organic translates to slow and messy, which almost always, runs counter to the desires for quick fixes and Sunday service growth.

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