You may be wondering… ‘why all the questions about church?’ lately, especially from someone who is theologically trained and has been in paid ministry for 15 years.
Well those two ‘disclaimers’ are actually enough reason in themselves!
A conservative evangelical theological education (as good as it was) is still an education through a very specific lens. Even though they tried to teach us ‘how to think’, there was still a lot of the ‘what’ involved. Actually come to think of it I never did an ecclesiology unit… There didn’t seem much point, we all know what ‘church’ is… don’t we?… So I thought when I was at college.
And then the reality is that 15 years of paid ministry does not put you in a position to critique a system easily. When the system pays your bills you tend to see the bright side more than the dark side. You have also invested 15 years in the system so you’d like to believe in it.
But… what if?
What if everything is not as it seems?
What if, when you take the red pill and scoot down the rabbit hole you start to see things and think things you never have before? Things that make you something of an oddity to those who are quite comfortable within the current framework, things that other who haven’t taken the red pill simply can’t see?
Well remember that the whole deal of the ‘red pill’ is that you ‘see how deep the rabbit hole goes’. You keep going and keep exploring because it is reality you seek not ‘the world as we have always known it’ (Matrix allusions ended!)
I think that theologically I can articulate what I believe the church to be, but it seems that ‘church’ has taken on a definition of its own over the years that relates specifically to its institutional framework.
Now, if you’ve read here before you’d now I am not a ‘big’ church fan, nor a ‘house’ church fan, nor a ‘funky’ church fan. I couldn’t give a toss what adjective you place on the front of the word ‘church’. I am passionately concerned with how the church (universal and local) can best operate in the world as it is now and in the local context it finds itself in. I am concerned with how we live as the people of God in a way that reflects the trinitarian nature of God (to get all theological on you) as per John 17, and how we engage in our mission in this world.
One of my real beefs with the way we have always done things is that there is a lot of time spent ‘meeting’ and getting ready to ‘meet’ and then assessing if the ‘meeting’ was any good or not. If we could take all the time spent in ‘meeting’ and convert it into time spent in contact with our local communities then we might see church in better shape.
Having said that I am convinced we do need to meet. Everybody meets and its hard (impossible?) to be a community of people if we don’t meet. The crux of my questioning does not relate to the function of the church, but more to how we can best achieve our desired outcomes while remaining true to the scriptural criteria of what constitutes a church.
I understand the church to be ‘the body of believers’ where we need each other (1 Cor 12, Eph 4), the ‘family of God’ (1 Pet 4) where we are all brothers and sisters, as well as a broader community of believers (2 Cor 1) where Christ is the head. I understand our purpose to be that of being disciples and making disciples (frame that any way like, but that’s my simple rendition of it)
So that then brings me back to the question, is our current way of being and doing church the most effective way to retain the biblical integrity of what it means to be a church and also be and make disciples?
This is where it really does help to have been outside the ‘city gate’ for a little while, to have seen the whole thing from a completely different angle. As we try to be a church and do what a church does here in Brighton we discover how difficult it is not to succumb to meeting mania – not to default to what we are familiar with – if for no other reason than it makes us feel like we are doing something worthwhile!
Perhaps the question that I am distilling towards is what is the absolute bare essential that constitutes ‘church’? What must exist for a real church to exist and then how fluid can we be with how that church is expressed so as to achieve our outcomes?
Perhaps the questions that I am also struggling with are ‘can I imagine a church that I haven’t yet seen?’ Quite literally do I have the ability to mentally concieve of anything different? I’m not sure I (or we) do. And then ‘am I willing to move towards it – and lead others towards it – even though it might look disturbingly ‘unlike’ church as we know it?’