I’ve come to love the “how” questions. But for whole segments of the population, I answer them rather poorly. The other night at “rabbi time” one of my favorite people (Jeff not only thinks and sings well, he plays the accordion!) asked one of my favorite questions about the church. “How does it hold together?” I didn’t get all of the back story, but I think he’s seen a few places fall apart. It took him a while to join in, since he was skeptical about Circle of Hope’s staying power! It does not seem to have enough mechanisms for survival; it just kind of is.
My answer received a funny response that I have been pondering since. “Every time you talk about this, you use the words relational, love, incarnational, but I end up not knowing a lot more.” (I felt a bit like Jimmy Carter being humored by Ronald Reagan). That reply echoed a much more incoherent protest by a blogger who objected to the chart I was explaining on the Circle of Hope blog a week ago. (Just how did you come across that blog, Courtney?).
So I thought I would try again.
Most of what I think is better summed up by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “[Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of [people] in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
What holds us together? Here are five applications of the scripture we are trying to make, with just one example each that demonstrate how we are trying. (Want to comment with more?)
1) We assume people are not infants
(Or at least are not destined to be so). They are gifted and relevant. Jesus is in them to bring fullness and unity.
We expect our Cell Leaders to work out our agreements and follow our very general plan. We do not tell them what to do each week; they are not given a curriculum.
2) The pastors and other leaders are relentless about contrasting the deceitfulness of the philosophies of the age with Jesus.
We know we are a “ship of fools” as far as the deluded world is concerned.
You may have noticed that we are not an “emerging church,” we are not “postmodern.” We tend to rail against modernism, too, and a couple of weeks ago I took a swipe at Facebook and the immortality of the soul in the space of a few minutes.
3) Dialogue is practiced.
Speaking the truth in love is an organizing discipline; not just a personal aspiration.
Our yearly Map-making is an extravagant exercise in taking what people say seriously and encouraging them to say it.
4) We think of ourselves as a body with Jesus as the head,
Not a mechanism with a set of instructions for “how it works.”
The hardest think to understand is being an organism. Right now we have planted the seeds of another congregation and we are watching to see if it will grow. We also have a congregation in Camden that is stretching out roots. We have methods, but they won’t replace Jesus causing the growth.
5) We assume that we will fall apart if people do not love each other, and promote such dissolution.
Some astute historian told me that such an idea is so 70’s — well, 90’s, too. I think it is central to what Jesus is giving us. As Paul says elsewhere, “Nothing matters but faith working itself out through love.” People come to the leaders quite often with a great idea for mission (and I mean often and great). We send them back to create a mission team. If you can’t team, your idea can’t matter. Sometimes teams don’t have the devotion and want the “church” to take over their idea, we let them die.
My dear friend was in wonder that we do not fall apart. Now that I have sketched out why we don’t, so am I. Jesus must be behind it. On a human level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.