“What do you need?”

October 14, 2008

I listen to a lot of NPR now.  The radio’s usually tuned to WBEZ while I commute from home to school to home to work and back.  I’m discovering a lot more about politics, economics, and the like (albeit–as my dad likes to remind me–through a public radio lens).

This morning a feature caught my attention.  In the midst of news and commentary about yesterday’s upsurge in the Dow and speculation about Bush’s impending announcement of the govt’s taking stakes in commercial banks, a two-minute piece about the effects of the economic downturn in a hard-bitten California desert community really stood out.

The piece sketched the life of the working poor and out-of-work community through the first-person narration of an occasional commentator whose name escapes me.  She echoed her neighbors complaints about outrageous gas prices and the difficulties of making a minimum wage paycheck stretch for a week’s worth of food.  She told the story of her own escape from the welfare system only to brought back into through the last months’ events.  At one point she observed that people in the town could very well be suspicious of one another, defensively protecting what little they’ve managed to scrape together.  But instead, they plainly ask one another, “What do you need?”  “Arrogance,” she said, “gets burned off in the desert town’s 109-degree heat.”

Our churches need to show this same plain, simple-minded humility, especially (though not by any means exclusively) in the face of the financial difficulties facing the majority of people in the world right now.  Instead of ostentatiously clanging our charitable contributions into the offering plate–drawing attention to ourselves–we need to take deep into our hearts our common plight:  we are each one of us somehow enmeshed in this death system; even if we don’t feel its toxic effects at this moment, our time is coming.  We need to turn to one another, asking, “What do you need?”  We must seek an interim ethic of survival, of getting-by while we daily pray Come, Lord Jesus.

starting church

October 10, 2008

The past month has been really quite full.  It’s seen a lot of changes.  I’ve started seminary, refreshing my stale greek and hebrew, putting in a couple of sleepless nights hashing out my own synopsis of what preaching is biblically.  Seminary is a forty-five minute drive north of here (and a 90 or so minute drive on the return trip!).  That’s ratcheted up the degree of tension on my schedule.

A bigger change, however, occurred on September 5.  A month ago I signed onto a project with a church located in Chicago’s southern suburbs (Bolingbrook, to be exact).  The church is an old church (the second oldest in the Chicago area, according to the plaque in the history room).  It’s full of families that have lived in that community since it was still dirtroads and cornfields instead of chain restaurants, big box stores, strip malls, and an Ikea.  It’s a sweet Presbyterian congregation that reminds me much of my days at Cedarville United Presbyterian Church during undergrad.

But it’s also a church that hasn’t purposefully changed with the community.  It has an aesthetically beautiful, large building that is awkwardly empty during most the week.  This, I surmise, was part of the initial impulse to create my position.

I am the new director of young adult ministries.  At this point, I don’t think anyone understands my role as just shoring up the giving-base of the church.  That’s certainly not the way I understand it.  Instead, the goal is to give birth to a young, growing christian community in the shell of an old one.

I’ve written much regarding my own thoughts on the church and churchplanting.  Consider this a first step in that direction.  It’s not quite real churchplanting.  This experiment is still located within a larger institution, its bound to it both to its advantage (resources) and to its disadvantage (institutional structure).  It’s in the suburbs, not my ideal location, sheltered from face-to-face contact with real human need and the power of the gospel.  I told one friend here in the city this when the experiment was still just a possibility.  He laughed incredulously and questioned whether God would have anything to do with the suburbs.  I understand where he’s coming from, but I’m confident that the gospel is like a mustard-weed seed–it can sprout up in the most unlikely places.

Yet this experiment in real-though-suburban community has the same gospel at its heart.  It’s trying to live out the message Jesus proclaimed:  that in him the kingdom of God has come and will come, that this should change entirely the whole of our lives as we wait in expectation.  I’ve tried to fill out what this gospel-vision means through three emphases: 

1. Community–I’ve already used the word a lot in this post, mostly because I think it’s so important.  The good news Jesus brings–the we can get in on what God’s doing because Jesus has removed the barrier of sin through his death and resurrection–shows up in most fullly in the communities his Spirit forms.  It shows up in the way we live with one another, the meals we eat together, the resources we spread around so everyone’s needs are met, the way we forgive and ask for forgiveness, the way we live and lay down our lives for the sake of each other.  I want this to be the basis of all this experimental church does.  Personal relationships in which we honestly love each other will be the building blocks to every meeting, potluck, get-together, service project, missions trip, etc. that we attempt.  In honesty, this is the area where we are currently struggling the most.  I forty miles north of Bolingbrook; it’s hard to create community in a place you don’t live.  Besides this, it is much more difficult to meet people in the suburbs than in the city–no bus stops or local mercados or crowds on the sidewalk.  Where do people congregate in suburbia?

2.  Incarnation–This theological category sums up in itself and stands behind many different facets of the way our community will live.  In Jesus, God reaffirms the imago dei.  He takes us back to himself in all our humanness, redeeming the places we live, the things we make–all the bits of culture and society that are honest and true and good.  On the other hand, Jesus goes throughout Galilee and then down to Jerusalem criticising and overturning the deep-rooted evil that permeates much of the culture we produce.  So in our community, we will affirm the good and the bad in the locality where God has redeemed us.  We will try to meet local needs, to write our songs and prayers in response to the life of our community, to support local farmers, businesses, artists, teachers, etc.  We also will affirm the redeemed imago by making space for creativity.  We will host open mic nights, put on art exhibitions, stage dramatic readings, etc.  I could say a lot more about this, but that wil be material for another post.

3.  Mission–The kingdom is something that spreads.  Even as we wait for Jesus to come and reign in fact, we live a promise of the kingdom that steadily takes over the world like weeds in a garden and yeast in bread dough.  Jesus calls those his friends who do as he says, who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, invite the homeless into their own homes, and visit those in prison.  He also tells us to teach people what he taught us, to make disciples.  This translates into community activism, sharing food with the homeless, fostering friendships that break class divisions, and participating and contributing to organizations that do the same.  While the good news is proclaimed in deed, we also will teach the gospel in words, reflecting on the ways that Jesus lives in all we do.

But I have a lot of questions about how to get from here to there.  How can I live in community when I live an hour from the church?  Even if I lived in the neighborhood, how do I draw people out of their comfortable seclusion to break bread together?  How do I foster creativity and even mission without creating just one more program for people to add to their schedules?  I have many questions.

Has anyone else tried to bring Jesus to the suburbs?  How did you start?  Thank you to anyone who give me advice.  I’m open to all sorts of ideas at this point.

The Way Things Work

September 2, 2008

For as-of-yet-undisclosed reasons, I find myself contemplating what a functioning church might look like.  Functioning is an important word in this sentence.  You see, I tend to think of churches primarily in terms of the way they function, the way they work.

Our neighborhood church meets at the most important intersection of our lives.  It is the place where the gospel is planted within us, where it begins to green and come to life and send up shoots toward the glorious Son, to grow in the baptismal waters of the Spirit, to feed on the true food of scripture, the place where the gospel cracks the concrete of our hardened souls and the place where it twists and contorts our twisted and contorted forms into the image of Jesus, God’s Son. 

To state this with a little more precision:  the church down on the corner (or in the storefront, in the strip mall, in the cornfields, etc.) works to change deceived, abused, self-hating, self-absorbed persons into the promise and the presence of the God’s kingdom.  Too often we understand our local churches as collections, like baseball cards or Beatles albums:  a church is a congregation of individuals whom God has saved.  This ignores too much of scripture.  If we hold the church to be a benign society of believers, we make static something God founded as dynamic, we make dead something the Spirit breathed life into, something Christ died to bring to life.

I don’t foresee much opposition to the claim that many of us first heard the good news in a church.  I certainly did, Sunday after Sunday in what was then the little Bozeman storefront of Fellowship Baptist.  Nor will many disagree that some people first hear the gospel somewhere else–at an evangelistic rally, a Good News Club, from a friend, over coffee.  But like my sometimes-hero Karl Rahner said, regardless of where we are when we hear it, the gospel relentlessly seeks its fullest expression in the church (the Roman Catholic Church, if one is a good Rahnerian!).

At heart, this post is really a segue to the same old discussion of “what is the Gospel?” that often crops up on this blog.  If the gospel meets us as individuals, then it will not matter where and with whom we live our lives.  We could be Christ-followers just as well chained in a cubicle as meeting with a cell church.  But if the gospel addresses us as persons (as it indeed and thankfully does!), then how can we resist as it blossoms into the most important elements of our personhood, our relationships?

I believe that the gospel Jesus proclaimed (and that we are called to proclaim) is about the coming near of God’s kingdom.  I cannot open scripture without finding that coming near concerns our present, personal relationships.  The gospel is not “spiritual” (note the quotes), it is not theological, it is not something we accept in our hearts and not in our hands.  It is something as real as crying babies, as everyday as money, as concrete as stale bread.

And if this is the gospel, then what can our churches be but the places where we live as if we’re living in the real, concrete, everyday kingdom of God?  Church is the place where we shed our false gospels of abstraction, of feelings and of doctrines, and begin to truly live in Christ.  Our shabby local churches are the places where the gospel begins to push through our soiled exteriors to grow us up into the people of God.

vision

July 2, 2008

over the past few months, i have been engaged in a conversation with the efca about my desire to help start new churches.  as part of the application process, i had to write up my vision of what the church(es) i would start would look like.  as cindy and i are still a good three or more years out from doing anything non-academic, what i see is necessarily and unfortunately vague.  unfortunately because the church is such a particular, concrete reality, it’s difficult to see it apart from its particularities.

at any rate, it’s been a good exercise in clarifying what really are my core convictions about the what it means to be the church.  i think the heart of my past reflections on church (see my old blog post here) are still present, but i’ve had to work some reconciliation between my natural anarchist bent and the need for institutional structures for the church to be both workable and faithful to what the church is.

confusing?  read on…

My Church-Planting Vision

I see a church larger than a building, bigger than its programs. I see a church spreading out until it touches the edges of its members’ relational networks. I see a church living as the presence of the gospel both in interpersonal relationships and in its geographical neighborhood. I see a church that is listening and waiting for God to send its members out to begin new church-communities.

My vision is not just a church but a growing network of local, neighborhood church-communities. Some of these communities look like storefront congregations, some look like cell groups, some may even look like the stone edifices of long-established denominations revitalized from within. This multiplication is one of the results of a different way of thinking about what it means to be the church. Most basically, this new way of understanding church amounts to giving up a model where the church, in its programs and outreach, is a means to get individuals to heaven; instead we begin following Jesus as he talks, listens, heals, and eats with people, promising them that this kind of fellowship is what his Father’s kingdom is like.

The heart of these communities’ new way of being the church is koinonia, both as fellowship and as participation. This reflects Paul’s overriding concern for the communal life of the churches and his continual, theologically-motivated depiction of believers as “in Christ.” This together with Jesus’ parables about God’s kingdom, his moral concern with social relationships, his habit of eating with all sorts of people, his promise that his death founds a new community, and his prayer that this community love one another in unity—these support a vision of ecclesial koinonia that is grounded in Christ and oriented toward the eschaton.

In practice, this looks like church-communities built around shared meals. These meals happen in two contexts. First, and most importantly, these meals happen in members’ homes (backyards, alleys, nearby parks, etc.). These gatherings are the stuff of which the life together of the community is most basically comprised; without this casual time spent together, the church would not really be a church. But because these meals are inevitably bound to end up clique-ish and in-grown, and because, on the other hand, the gospel establishes one community full of all kinds of people (not just one’s friends), a second, institutional meal is necessary. This meal (which the New Testament terms the Lord’s Supper and the church appropriated as the Eucharist) ensures the present incarnation of the gospel witnesses truly to God’s coming kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, a kingdom where all people are called to live to God together, without divisions on the basis of cultural heritage, socioeconomic status, politics, age, health or gender. Though this weekly celebration meal looks more like a potluck than a sacrament, it is the promise of God’s coming kingdom and the pledge where this kingdom is already making itself present.

While one of the primary roles of the church-communities is just this getting together, these conversations and these relationships, the communities also takes seriously Jesus’ command to participate in this fellowship in remembrance of him. When it remembers Jesus in his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, the community is reflecting on its own life “in Christ”–its life that bears the same shape as Jesus’ life. This demands an attentiveness to Scripture as the place where we find stories of God’s action in Jesus and in history and attentiveness to our culture where Christ’s life is now being lived out in us.

This remembering also takes place in the two contexts. In homes, it looks like conversations or, perhaps, the structured discussions found in many home Bible studies. In the institutional life of the community, it somewhat resembles a sermon. Yet in its institutional life, the church-community maintains a tension between a strong commitment to honor God’s revelation with openness and study, and a fluid organizational structure that assumes that God’s Spirit may speak through any of its members. This fluidity shows up as a teaching-preaching role shared by the entire community (as reflected in 1 Corinthians 12-14). This shared role is ordered and doctrinally accountable to the leaders of the church-community (as prescribed by chapter 14).

Leadership in the church-community is understood less in terms of control than as accountability: the leaders are those accountable before God to ensure that the community is growing in Christ-likeness in thought, feeling, and action. This leadership model makes possible the rapid multiplication of church-communities. First, it requires the entire community to listen for the speaking of God’s Spirit, for the Spirit may speak in surprising places. This listening develops an attitude of obedience, whether obeying means joining in a praise chorus, throwing a barbeque for our hungry neighbors, campaigning for fair-housing, or sending members from our community to start a new community. Second this structure reveals and equips those God calls and gifts to lead. A shared teaching, preaching, praising, organizing, cooking, cleaning, etc. responsibility provides natural opportunity for the communities to discover new leaders in their midst. These practiced leaders in this community become the accountable leaders in the next community, arranging meals, listening to and proclaiming God’s Word, safeguarding doctrinal and practical orthodoxy, and so forth.

I see a church beyond the once or twice a week meeting, beyond paid and part-time staff, beyond programs and Sunday School classes. I see a church beginning with people, with their relationships and their needs, which is where Jesus’ good news of God’s kingdom comes to meet us. It disrupts assumed distinctions between the people who run the church and the people who go to church by taking up the New Testament’s insistence that these two groups are really the same. In the end, it pushes the church beyond itself, multiplying into a growing network of church-communities that proclaim Jesus as Lord of our normal, everyday lives.

i’d greatly appreciate your feedback, your witty criticisms, and your speculations about which theological voices are showing up where.  blagodaram.

jubilee

June 24, 2008

this sunday i began my career as a jr. high sunday school co-leader.  i slipped into the role unexpectedly when i was playing foursquare with some neighbor kids at our church’s vbs kick-off block party.  the red ball had bounced into the gutter full of street-juice, so after i grabbed it i went to the gatorade cooler to wash the sewage stench off my hands with some ice water.  that’s when our church’s christian ed director pulled me aside:  “josh, i was just hoping to get a chance to talk to you…”  turns out summertime is a break not just for school kids but also for the regular sunday school teachers.  i was happy to get a chance to hang out with some of the coolest, if not a little adolescently awkward, people in the church.

but it’s a heavy responsibility.  helping anyone follow Jesus is, but all the more so when the people are young and influence-able.  but it’s not an accountability i share alone; i have a very cool and like-minded co-conspirator taking on this responsibility with me.  i’ve been playing with how best to get the kids to buy-in to the group for the summer, despite all the seasonal distractions (vacations, nice weather, being twelve, etc.).  whatever their finished, pithy form, i’ve settled on a few goals for what i’d like to see happen in the group:  i want the kids to dig deeper into the spiritual side of following Jesus; i want them to explore their emerging, christian identities; i want them to talk with our church-community about what they’re learning; and i want them to live out what they’re learning in loving service and proclamation.  basically, i want us together to become more like Jesus in how we think, feel, and act.

but this is far harder to accomplish in a forty-five minute class than on paper.  take this week’s lesson for example:  the assigned texts (for the whole church–we’re doing a churchwide curriculum to foster conversation around dinnertables; this summer’s curriculum is built around the theme “things that make for peace”) were leviticus 25.8-55 and luke 4.16-21, the laws instituting the jubilee year and Jesus’ proclamation of jubilee.  after a quick walk to our local dunkin donuts (a great way to win the hearts of six pre-teens!), we sat down, me with my coffee, them with their donuts and cool-lattas and croissant, to explore the passage.

one of my latent commitments for the summer is to expose the kids to the bible more.  our church contains a lot of burnt-out post-evangelicals who cringe at the words “bible study” or “quiet time.”  i understand that; i’ve been there myself.  but their kids have grown up with a greater familiarity with john howard yoder than with scripture, and their sense of what it means to follow Jesus reflects this:  it’s mostly a list of responsibilities and duties mixed with a repulsion to any form of violence and the letters w, a, and r.  i want to give their fair exposure to the other side of the coin (so at the very least they know what they are defining themselves against).  all that to say we started out with reading pieces of the leviticus passage.

naturally, they were all confused.  so i borrowed an idea from my wife (“josh,” she said, “they’re going to be really confused.  make it simpler.”), jellybeans.  i gave them each a few jellybeans, insisting they not eat them because they were my jelly beans.  then i told a mock story about drought and bad jellybean crops, about selling your jellybeans for enough food to eat, about indentured servitude, and so forth.  then we had a jubilee year, and everyone got their jellybeans back.  then they could eat them (more sugar, another good bribe).

at this point one kid wondered aloud about when the next jubilee year would be, like it was something on the calendar for 2018 or 2035.  so we turned to the Jesus passage.  after one of them read the handful of verses, we highlighted the connections to jubilee.  then i asked them how Jesus’ claim that “today this passage is fulfilled in your hearing” could be true.  there were still lots of poor people, lots of blind people, lots of slaves and prisoner, weren’t there?  they nodded, looking befuddled.  “let me rephrase the question,” i said.  “how do we follow Jesus when he makes this sort of proclamation?”

silence.

and i remained silent too.  we all knew the easy, readily apparent answers–take care of people, help out your neighbors when they need some food or a place to stay, talk to the people other ignore, petition for fair housing, take people into your home, protest war, practice conflict resolution, etc., etc.  this is the stuff these kids have lived from day one.  but the question probes deeper than that, into areas i can’t answer for myself, let alone for a group of twelve and thirteen year-olds.

you see, all these answers work great from the subjective end.  they’re things we can do.  but they aren’t all that effective.  when you live in rogers park, you quickly realize that no matter how many apples you give to the guy begging in front of the fruit market, he’ll still be back the next day.  no matter how long you talk with the sometimes homeless, usually jobless man at church potlucks or over dinner, he’s still moving from shelter to shelter and passing from minimum wage job to minimum wage job.  just like for Jesus, our proclamations of jubilee are fine as long as we are the ones in power.  but it’s more problematic from the other end.  i think jr. highers are especially attuned to the powerlessness; they’re used to the things they attempt failing.  they didn’t volunteer any personal answers, and i’m not sure i could offer any either.

so maybe we need to be like Jesus in john 6.  we could call what he does there practicing jubilee, feeding five thousand from a small lunch of a few loaves of bread and some fish.  we could.  but note what happens next.  after the dramatic and interpretively important interlude of Jesus’ revelatory and messianic walking on the water (an event significant enough to be in all four gospels!), Jesus’ groupies catch up with him on the other side of the lake, hungry for more food.  but Jesus doesn’t provide.  instead he addresses them with a riddling discourse about eating his flesh.  the crowd leaves puzzled.  not quite the jubilee of leviticus.  but it is something.  Jesus offers the crowd eternal (agely? eschatological?) life, something that renders the other jubilee little more than a shadow.

but this is really just dodging the question.  or maybe reposing the question, asking, “what is the life that Jesus offers?  and how do we follow him in offering that?”

teaching jr. highers is a difficult, heavy responsibility.  kyrie eleison.

as cindy has already adverted, we’ve been experiencing some internet connection difficulties over the last month. but i hope we have them straightened out now. something about IP addresses and passwords and the need to meet up with one of my neighbours at a local cafe.

this missing month has been full of seeking direction, making surprising connections, and then losing both just as quickly, only to stumble on them once more. it began with a church-planting conference the second week of may. cindy and i have played with the idea of starting new churches since well before we were married four years ago; our seven months in macedonia with a church-planting mission helped put a little flesh and bone on the real life struggles of growing new churches. this idea has lain dormant for the last two years of my grad program, but with its close, new possibilities our pushing up all over the place.

so we found ourselves attending a nine-hour series of seminars everyday for a week up at trinity evangelical div school (a good half-hour without traffic/hour and a half with traffic drive from our apartment). going in, i had serious misgivings about how “evangelical” the conference would be. some more liberal friends earnestly warned me that the evangelical free church in america (the organization putting on the conference) supports the subjugation of women and prohibits any critical, scholarly investigation of faith and practice. the last thing i wanted was tutelage in how to prop up the status quo.

what i found during the week, however, was an organization wholeheartedly dedicated to the multiplication of local congregations as a testimony to the gospel. far from towing some doctrinaire line, they are more than ready (for better or for worse) to latch on to whatever innovations or reformations that will help “transform consumers into disciples.” the experience was definitely a mixed bag, admittedly. for every mention of neil cole’s organic church, there were five references to willow creek and seven to saddleback. and the appropriation of new ways to be the church often veered off into the realm of gimmicks and charlatantry. but more than the long hours of powerpoint and occasionally-rambling speakers, the new relationships really made the week worthwhile. i met people living out the communal, humble, honest gospel from cor d’alene, idaho, from duluth, minnesota, from flint, michigan, from some city in norway. one conversation would revive my convictions about the church’s responsibility to be working for social justice in its neighborhood; another would challenge me about prayer; a third would pull me out of my usual shy and introverted self into dialogue and interaction. i saw right in front of me the sort of Jesus-following life that i want to be living.

but now its three weeks later. my dreamings and schemings about what the church might look like have cooled. i find it more difficult to see myself as capable to pull people together into a community that proclaims Jesus in its pattern of life as much as in its worship–at least at this point. don’t i need more training? wouldn’t an mdiv help fill out the academic grad degree in theology i just finished?

at the conference a guy named jeff from anchor point community church presented on the topic of prayer during one of the first or second day “preparation” seminars. true confession: i’ve always struggled with prayer. i either feel like i’m whining to God about my somewhat trivial problems or i feel utterly overwhelmed by hurt in the world–far too much for me to express in words. plus, God already knows about this stuff, doesn’t he? but jeff spoke primarily on prayer as listening for God. i’m sure i’ve heard this elsewhere, but this was the time that it stuck with me. in prayer, he said, we are quieting ourselves, abandoning for a moment all our concerns to our Father’s wise caregiving, and waiting for him to speak to us in his Spirit. we wait and listen.

this is where i am now, waiting and listening.

the interesting conversation continues to grow. aaron klinefelter helpfully archives its progress here. and i recommend giving steve lewis’ post a read. great comments.

i have a confession to make (or perhaps it’s a disclaimer). here goes. i’m not an experienced church guy. yeah, i’ve been around a bit, but my day-to-day life is not the sweat-and-pulled-muscles work of bringing people together into a Jesus-following community. i’m much more at home in the academic theological community than hanging out on the corner where i live talking with my neighbours. so my ramblings are more abstract than i would like and quite humble. i’m open for revision.

so now that my dirty laundry’s out in the open, let’s get started.

whatever financial difficulties the church in the states is facing, we need to see them as an opportunity, a call, a chance God is offering us. it’s a recall. especially for mainline protestant and evangelical churches. (sidenote: i often think of the evangelical church–my tradition–as the church that got lost, left behind. it’s wandering around without roots and without any authority to help it get to where God’s calling it. among the congregation of christian traditions, it’s the orphan and the widow. just a sidenote.) changing economics, changing politics, changing ecology, changing technological web, changing ways of understanding identity, community, sexuality–these shifts are together forcing us not just to adapt (though any really wide, encompassing change can only come about through a multitude of small adaptations–we no longer live with a top down hierarchy supervising how we are the church) but to reimagine (to understand these very small adaptations in a new way, in a new grand picture).

let’s open back up our bibles, just for a minute, and lay our history books alongside. in the new testament, especially in paul’s letters, we encounter a picture of many small local gatherings, gathering together primarily for remembrance of Jesus through praise (spoken and sung) and eucharistic table fellowship. alongside these two primary activities, prophetic encouragement from both the hebrew scriptures (and soon the new testament too) and new words as inspired by the Spirit. reconciliation and community mediation of disagreements were carried out (with varying degrees of publicity), and people shared their material possessions to care for those in their community and those in other communities. lastly, we find that some sort of authority structure was in place, with wiser members keeping order and making sure Jesus stayed central to their meetings.

these gatherings/communities sit as a kind of charter, a beginning point we can’t go back behind. whatever church is going to look like now needs to be in dialogue with or in faithful development of these churches. but what we have now doesn’t fit that bill, it defaults on its responsibilities. we can talk about constantinianism (did i spell that right?) or the enlightenment or the emergence of a capitalist system and bourgeois religion. but however it happened, something’s wrong; it’s finally becoming evident that our way of being church is much more dependent on societal power structures than on fidelity to the Jesus communities.

so what could Jesus communities look like today? good question. what we can hold on to at this point is that they need to be faithfully (that’s the sticky word) related to the early communities. they should be local (in a sense), Jesus-remembering and Jesus-worshiping, prophetic (in many senses), reconciling (in many senses), sharing material goods with each other and with the ecumenical church (maybe this hints at a direction for how to train people in the Jesus tradition, though bi-vocational community leaders–organizers?–factor into the picture too, i think), and possess some structure that seeks to keep them faithful (that word again) to the Jesus tradition.

in my imagination, that looks a lot like the house churches i worshiped with while doing some short-term missions work in skopje, macedonia. the churches there fill the role of community, especially for the mladi–the youngish people. church was not the once-a-week wonder that it has become in the states. the mladi spent most evenings together, in each others apartments, in coffee shops, playing volleyball in the park. we spent more than a few late nights drinking chai or tursko kafe or boiled wine, talking about job prospects, about family, about Jesus. people helped support each other, helped each other get to church, helped each other become more like Jesus. leaders grew up in the community and were trained by those who were available (first missionaries and then the emerging elders of the church). things were local and small. people fought; people intervened to make peace. it worked like a church but without the budget.

what else might this new way of being church look like? where have you seen its shape poking through the graveclothes of the present model?