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?