As I have been re-reading the gospels I have been struck how fully present Jesus was in every situation. As a child he was fully engaged in debate and discussion with the leading rabbis in the temple, so much so that when his family headed home he lingered behind. He was so present, even in a dense crowd, that he knew when a woman touched the edge of his garment and “power went out” from him. He was fully aware of who he was
It seems that the churches I visit, in small towns and large cities, most often exist apart from the communities they are called to serve. Behind their stained glass windows and towering steeples they lay beyond the touch of the people just outside their doors. Rather than being fully integrated into their community, they stand apart, outside of the daily grind. Rather than engaging the community, they stand apart from it, making pronouncements.
What would a truly indigenous community look like? What would a congregation that decided to get its hands dirty alongside the people it served really embrace? If I were to list a few essential components they would be:
The Arts! This is a generation of expression. Encouraged form a young age to engage ideas, they desire creative expressions and metaphor to understand the world. Being post-literate, pictures and icons are often more important than words on a page. Art speaks to the heart of who they are. One of this generation’s artistic heroes is Banksy, a mysterious graffiti artist from London. http://www.banksy.co.uk/. His art is more than images; it is filled with meaning, metaphor and messages that connect with the people that encounter it. Our modernist culture has reduced art to entertainment when it is so much more. Art is a prophetic expression of life, struggle, joy, and pain. It is commentary and criticism with a paintbrush, a piano, a poem, or as a play. Art is a spiritual encounter with reality.
An indigenous community would do worship by being invitational to local artists, Christian and pre-Christian, to express the theme in visual arts (painting, sculpture, etc) or performing and dramatic arts as part of the worship experience. Rather than trying to copy the culture, real art creates culture. So much of “Christian art” is simply a sanctified copy of what secular artists are doing. We do not need to be afraid of letting the art speak for itself rather than trying to interpret it. An emerging community of Christ followers would be filled with art that caused people to pause and struggle with life, purpose and passion and invite them to see Christ in the struggle.
Mystery! So do you want the red pill or the blue pill (if you don't get that, watch The Matrix). This generation believes that the real world is hidden from them and they are willing to embrace the divine mystery far beyond their pragmatic Boomer parents. They know that everything can't be explained by the scientific method and they crave the sacramental embrace of the Savior and the power for living found in the Spirit. They do not shrink from the unexplainable. They know that the four simple rules of life do not come anywhere close to explaining the complexities and intricacies of existing in the twenty-first century.
Worship that embraces mystery includes both powerful, sensory filled music and times of silence. It values the proclamation of the scripture, but allows times for lectio divina, the simple reading and hearing of the text without anything added or taken away. The emerging community will gather around the table of God to receive the sacrament, knowing that what happens in them and to them is beyond simplistic explanation. An emerging community of Christ followers would embrace and live with mystery.
Conversation! Conversation spaces (blogs, discussion boards, coffee houses) are the heartbeat of spiritual discovery for this generation. Venues allowing them to receive solid teaching and then interact with it as to how they embody the gospel are essential. This is a generation unafraid of the deep teachings of scripture. They want to wrestle with the difficult texts and discover the deeper truths. They crave to live in a community where life can be lived together. They want to discuss their discoveries, hear the stories that mold other Christ followers, and find their points of intersection and points of contradiction. An emerging community of Christ would be open to engage in conversations of life, love and the difficulties of life.
Ritual! This generation craves to tap into something ancient with roots. Their lives are filled with disposable philosophies and short-term realities. They seek a deeper life and desire the experience of something that has lasted through the ages. There is even a kind of resurgence of postmodern monasticism (ie. Shane Claiborne) that has sprung up and become very popular. This is a generation that is ready to fully embrace ancient rituals if it they are well explained and clearly taught. Break out the candles and the space for meditation as well as the band lead praise and worship music. Break the bread, pour the wine, fill the font and let it flow as we remember the soul cleansing power of baptism. An emerging community of Christ followers would embrace ritual as part of their ongoing spiritual journey.
Mission! This generation would rather make a difference than make a dollar. They throw themselves into their commitments with abandon. They want to change the world, they want to feed children with AIDS in Africa, find racial reconciliation in their communities, and solve the problem of poverty. They are volunteering in record numbers through Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and US2 Missions. They are moving into marginal neighborhoods and staking a claim for justice. An emerging community of Christ followers would find ways to change their community and the world with their resources, time and talents and they would do it from the inside out, just like Jesus.
I believe much like The Table UMC new expressions of “church” need to be explored. I would love to be part of a team that would have the passion and patience to create a private/public partnership by starting a fair trade (social justice) coffee house that hosts artists and Christian conversation as well as worship every Saturday evening and Sunday morning. The coffee shop could cover operating expenses and the congregation would be free to pour their resources, time and talents into mission. (See CRAVE Coffee or Detour Coffee Houseas examples.)
So, what do you think of re-thinking church completely? I’d like to know. I remain:
Consumed by the Call,