The Primary Unit of the Christian Faith II


I thought the previous post

by this title may have drawn a little more engagement as it quite is a radical position to hold – that ‘we’ is more important than ‘me’.

That as a Christ follower I cannot with integrity, exist independent of committed Christian community. More than that however, within that community there is a healthy practice of mutual submission to one another as we seek to follow Jesus. Translation = I am willing to let others have real input into shaping my life and future and sometimes I will submit to their opinions over and above my own.

Its a dangerous place to be isn’t it?

If we genuinely allow communities like these to develop then we are really seeking a different way to live. We are consciously allowing community to be prioritised over individuality. I think I probably fear the danger of abusive community more than the danger of stupid individuality. But I still think this is the direction the gospel calls us in.

There simply is no future in a faith that tries to exist outside of committed Christian community. By that I mean more than catching up with friends for dinner. That is simply what it says – catching up with friends – and its good – but its not enough. Community needs to be much more diverse than that. Surely it will include people I don’t like and who don’t like me. Surely it will involve ongoing commitment to each other when we would rather not be involved.

I think there is both beauty and danger in the Pete Ward’s “Liquid Church’ concept. The beauty is that church is defined much less rigidly – as a verb rather than a noun even – as the gathering of believers in any form. But the problem is that it panders to the consumer in us (something Ward doesn’t see as an issue) and means that we can do church at our leisure, or with only the people we like.

In the newer expressions of church this idea is the one that concerns me the most – that we can do away with a regular ongoing commitment to one another and replace it with a convenient engagement with those we get on with at a time and frequency that works for us.

For those who tell me they are between churches or just haven’t found somewhere to suit them – I do understand – really – because there are plenty of sick churches out there – but at the same time I find myself saying ‘Oh well – looks like you’ll need to be part of a community that doesn’t suit you.’

And the individualist in us says ‘I don’t think so…’

I have occasionally pondered what I would do if Upstream folded and we were left on our own here. I imagine it would be a case of simply heading down to one of the local churches and joining them in some way. It would not likely be my first preference, but the other choice would be ‘waiting until something developed that suited me’. I would rather throw my lot in with a group of people and find a way to work together, than go it alone and wait until something more to my ‘liking’ emerged.

Fernando has some good reflections on the same topic over here entitled “is it possible to be a post-congregational baptist?” where he struggles with his own journey at the moment.

12 thoughts on “The Primary Unit of the Christian Faith II

  1. Yes, maybe I’ll have to be part of a community that doesn’t suit me. That’s more or less where I find myself now, and I’ve been through resenting the fact, pretending I’m not really there, etc. The problem with those kinds of attitudes is that you never get to the point of letting others shape your life, as you say. The problem for those of us shaped by consumerism is that we want to pick and choose the people who can speak into our lives; we aren’t likely to accept that from the bunch of folks who don’t seem to quite suit me. It’s hard to break that mindset, but I think that’s the challenge for many of us, myself included.

  2. One of the old guys here at Wynnum moved to the area with his wife 35 years ago. He asked God for a church where he could be useful. That prayer has been answered 100 fold. He and his wife have held this little church together for a long time.

    These older people are teaching me a lot about commitment and perseverance. Something us younger generations don’t have too much of.

  3. Agree with these thoughts … I see a danger today as well on the WWW where like minded people can create in the ether a pseduo ecclesia – so easy to be about your mission during the day and in agreement on the net during the night.

  4. “Oh well – looks like you’ll need to be part of a community that doesn’t suit you.”

    yes yes and amen. The mature Christian follows Gareths senior mans lead and realises church is not about what you get, but what you give. And sometimes what you give is patience even with things and people you struggle with.

  5. It’s easy to be spoilt for choice in the city. There are many ‘good’ churches and it’s easy to become picky and look only to our own needs.

    We, small country town folk aren’t so spoilt for choice and it’s good to be learning to be loyal to a faith community.

  6. Our family (well my wife and I, our kids get a sort of say) agreed that if our, “home based faith community” did not develop from “young adult support/develop faith type community” to having a couple of families from the local area sharing the vision community” we would stop saying that is what we were doing.

    Without a mental deadline to that I reckon we could have just drifted along with this idea of what we were doing.

    Once deadline was up we said “lets find church” this too probably only worked because it had a deadline that we needed to stop sampling after a certain date and call a place our church.

    Of course the funny thing is we ended up at a very large church with a “view of the river”, which has been great. Definitely not where we started and I also wonder whether we would have been out of community without our own deadlines to guide us.

  7. This makes total sense to me Hamo. You have articulated your thoughts on this issue really well and I find myself in total agreement with everything you have said.

  8. Hi. I came upon your blog as i was searching for missionary sites. I was pleasantly surprised to read your comments about individuality with regard to the church. I have also noticed this trend, even noticed it in our church’s worship >>

    “Draw me close to you

    never let me go

    I lay it all down again

    to hear you say that I’m Your friend…

    “You’re all i want.

    You’re all I ever needed.

    You’re all i want,

    Help me know You are near.”

    This is only the first example that came to mind, but our praise and worship songs in church are full of “me/I” lyrics, which I think adds to the perception that the Christian walk is primarily about me and God, not about us and God. I started singing us/we in place of me/i and was amazed at how much it made a difference in my experience of worship (ie. putting the community ahead of myself), which i think could very well draw a church community together if we all practiced it.



  9. “I am willing to let others have real input into shaping my life and future and sometimes I will submit to their opinions over and above my own.

    Its a dangerous place to be isn’t it?”

    Except it shouldn’t be… why are we so afraid?

    Why am I so afraid?

    Sometimes I want to see the world changed overnight; where people ‘get it’ through their thick skulls… then I think about what I and my family would need to change, and there’s no way that’s gonna happen overnight!

    Might not happen at all!!

    Is there a danger of trying to achieve the end result now? Is the ‘process’ of moving from one form of church to another something that we are in danger of missing?

    Plenty of talk (and thoughts in my own head!) about where we should be, but not always about how we should get there, the amount of time (generations!) it may take to get there, or the vital lessons required to be learned on the way.

    I get concerned that I’m looking for ‘the right one’ – right now! If I can’t find it, I’ll form it.

    Process – it takes so jolly long!

  10. Hi Hamo

    What you are describing is exactly right and what we need to change in order to be truly ‘counter cultural’ and to shine out as communities of light. However, I would add a few comments based on my own limited experience of this so far:

    1. We need to recognise that it is possible to make ‘living in community’ an idol and to get this truth out of perspective.

    2. It is easy to get frustrated at others who aren’t making the transition as quickly as we would like. We all have our own ‘baggage’, some more than others, and allowance has to be made for those who are older and more set in their ways, or who have less experience of community, or who have suffered previous abuses of ‘community’ to be won over at a slower rate.

    3. The transition needs to be brought about through gentle encouragement and winsome example, not compulsion and reprimand when people are slow to respond.

    4. We need to recognise that the whole concept is damaged if not applied consistently, especially by church elders. Decisions made in secret (unless absolutely necessary)or within little sub-groups or thoughtlessly not communicated within the whole church body leaves people excluded and suddenly outside the ‘we’ and ‘us’. This can do huge damage to people who are trying to make the transition you speak of.

  11. I’m a little late to the game, but want to play because I LOVE this topic!

    Two thoughts:

    1) This is all a LOT easier if there is an external point-of-reference. Without being trite, I’d suggest the Holy Spirit. That is, your influence on me is an aspect of us all seeking HIS direction. Historically, this gets abused, too. So here’s what we do… the three “sources” of direction for my life personally and our life together are: (a) Scripture, (b) the Spirit speaking to me personally, and (c) the Spirit speaking through the community [it’s not too hard to find all 3 as Scriptural ‘demands’] When someone has a strong sense of God’s direction in MY life, it’s submitted to the community (as is my decision). That’s probably over-brief, but I’ll move on.

    2) A LOT of my thinking on this topic comes from my study of ‘spiritual gifts’ and people’s uniquenesses. The individualistic mentality all but forces us to use a variant of democracy within our community (we pick what we want, we “vote” with our words, actions, body language, etc.). Stated another way, we only interact on what we have in common. This PREVENTS us from having contributions into each other’s lives because your uniqueness doesn’t have a place in my world (that’s why they are called “uniquenesses”). The ideal, in my head, is called “additive synthesis” (comes from the the physics of light/color). The gist is, I look to ADD your uniqueness to my life. Your passions become mine (not necessarily to the same extent, but they become mine because I am in you and you are in me!). My passions become yours because I am valuable to you (and you are to me). I long to see God, the world, myself through your eyes because you see everything unique (relative to me).

    Final note: community is an act of FAITH!! It is trusting God that His call to community (with other sinners) is something He has asked, whether it goes well or not (as your post implies). It is entrusting my health to Him (yikes – now THAT’s contra-individualist!).

    Way too much from a stranger,


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