So in my last post I promised to share what I think it “really means to be the church”. The following is by no means exhaustive either on the subject or my own perspective. Please read the two previous post’s to put this one in perspective. Doing so will help you know where I’m coming from.
With the problems of consumerism and individualism as givens, the idea of “going to church” (a flawed thought to begin with, but you know what I mean) needs to be transferred to the home/cell/small, whatever you call it, group. This is because the traditional worship service/sermon format only aids and abets the evils of consumerism and individualism. (yes, small groups can do this too) However, that doesn’t mean that we need to do away with the weekend service, though I think this may be wise in many cases. What I really want to advocate is not so much a shift in actions, though that is inevitable, but more a shift in definitions, and focus.
The leadership of a given body of Christians should focus their efforts, time, energy, etc, on the small groups and their leaders. The primary teaching and worship time should be in the small group. If people can only make one event on a given week it should be their small group. When people say “I’m going to church” they should mean their small group. Ideally this phrase would fall out of use. Instead people should talk about being the church, and spending time with their extended family, their small group. It wouldn’t be about going to get something, but about being there for your extended family.
What happens at a given small group needs to be indigenous to the local area, so I can hardly speak for everyone, but this is one snapshot. On Sunday mourning 6-15 people meet in a home for brunch, say 9ish. Fellowship and eating last an hour. This is a time for people to be real with each other, to be honest, sharing their joys and pains, being a family. Then people gather for worship through art. (i.e. music, reflective painting, poem or scripture readings, etc…) This would last 45 minutes give or take. Then there is a short 15 minute monologue lesson on a given topic. Think imaginatively here. It could be the small group leader, a Hollywood movie scene, the “head pastor” or another person via a recording, or a news snippet. Are you worried about all the small groups being on the same page? With the right set-up, the head pastor could digitally tape a short lesson and e-mail it to the small group leaders along with a lesson plan each week. The purpose of this 15 minutes of teaching is to frame a conversation in which the real learning takes place, a typical small group discussion lasting for an additional 15-45 minutes. (how often have pastors bemoned the fact that little "sticks" through mere audio learning?)
A group like this can better embody what it means to “be the church”, being family, carrying and loving one another. A second weekly church event could center around serving others, missional fellowship, or a time of large group teaching and worship (what we usually consider going to church today)
Obviously this is not original with me, many churches are already doing this, and I simply know about it from discussions in class. But I am very quickly beginning to “own” the perspective. What may make me different than many is that I don’t think it is the end all be all of being the church in the 21st century. Rather I want churches to consider what it looks like to “be church” in their zip code, confronting the bad and affirming the good.
Starting a new church along these lines would be relatively easy compared to transitioning a church with the old paradigm. Therein lies the challenge I have really been thinking about. Obviously, in that setting one would need to move slowly and cautiously. In the beginning I think you would try to simply change the definitions. You may do very little differently in either the cell group or the weekend church service, but slowly, in conversations and teaching, you would move the locus of the church from the weekend service to the small group. Then, when people really began to own their small group, and consider it an extension of their family, you could begin to phase out the weekend service; if that was the appropriate thing for your setting. This is just a guess, but I think a transition of this nature may take 5 years, give or take.
Having said all this, remember I’m just a 24 year-old seminarian who has no experience yet thinks he knows everything. ; )
God bless, and please leave some feedback, good or bad. Your comments will help me think about this critically.