Thursday, December 20, 2007

What is a Church?

If you're a bit stumped for things to talk about at your next cell group or church council, try this link from the Fresh Expressions website, a good game to play to get people thinking.

In recent days I've had to dress up twice to impersonate someone else. I've looked (sort of) like Santa, sounded like Santa, and acted like Santa (hohoho and a few presents for the kids), but of course I wasn't. All it needed was a few familiar markers - white beard, big sack - to pass as the big fat fellow.

I'm tempted to draw an analogy with the England cricket team, given today's performance. They look like a cricket team, they're in the right place at the right time, but there are serious questions about whether they really are a cricket team or a bunch of impersonators who are being found out.....

and of course we can play the same game with the church. That's what the link at the top is all about. An old building, a Sunday service, a vicar, we can convince people that we are a church by having the visible markers. But here's a question: is it possible to impersonate the real church for so long that we convince ourselves that's what we really are? For example, I've blogged elsewhere about the core marks of the church being worship, mission, community and discipleship, but have come across churches where:
  • worship is simply the habit of going through a particular format, which suits the preferences of people who go.
  • mission is non-existent, newcomers are not welcomed, and the people take a 'everyone knows where we are, so it's up to them to come to us' attitude
  • instead of community, it is a collection of individuals drawn together by a preference for a particular style of worship/building/church life. (Whenever I hear someone say 'my communion', alarm bells ring in my head.)
  • discipleship is resisted - people refuse to be taught for any longer than 8 minutes on a Sunday, and what looks like discipleship is actually expression of a particular polite English subculture. Either that or people just want the teaching to reinforce their prejudices, and don't want to be made to think, or challenged.
This isn't a black and white thing. Most churches are a mixture, there is no church which has got everything right. But every movement can turn into a monument, and then a mausoleum. That last term is one used by Jesus of the Pharisees, even though they'd begun as a renewal movement within Judaism.

And if we find ourselves in an impersonating church, rather than a real one, it's so much easier to bail out than to pray and work things out. The plague of the Protestant church is our inability to stick with each other, our blindness to community, and that the command to love one another (community) stands alongside the command to love God with everything we've got (worship and discipleship) and the command to make disciples (mission). There's the exciting opportunity in Yeovil to go back to the drawing board about the nature of the church, as we look to establish new Christian communities in new housing estates. My hope is that the process will be a good one for the more established churches too, helping us all to reflect on God's call, and what it means to be His people.

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