(note: I originally wrote this as one post. To my slight surprise, when I checked it out at the end it was ridiculously long. Sheesh! Turns out I’m a little passionate about this and have a lot to say. So I’ve broken it into three parts. The first one comes out now, obviously. The second will come out next Friday, and the third the following Friday. However, if you are a brave soul or really want to boost my self esteem, you can view the whole thing at once here: Adaptive Community. The password is: password. Sorry, I had to do do it that way to make this work!)
Up till now, most of my writing has centered on the aspects of church/christian culture that I struggle with. It’s easier to know that something is not what you’re looking for, to know that you don’t feel like you fit in, to know something is off, and it’s much easier to point those things out than to strive to discover and to forge and to be made into something new. Adaptive Community is my attempt to begin dreaming into existence what my heart is looking for…and maybe yours too. This section is the most important part of this series to me, yet I’m finding it the most difficult for me to write about. Adaptive Community is something I deeply yearn for, but I feel I’ve only experienced it in brief glimpses, so it is difficult to describe. I’ll do my best by going through a few qualities that stand out to me as what I seek, then I’ll wrap up a bit on form and a process. Like me, my ideas on this are unfinished.
Maybe it’s a little obvious, but one of the things I am seeking most is community. Friends. People who know me deeply. Who I know deeply. Who challenge me and love me and call forth things in me I didn’t know were there. Who share all of life together–not just churchy things, not just joyful times, but the depths and shallows of life–eating together, hanging out, talking long into the night, struggling and wondering and dreaming and fighting together. Who fight with each other, and the relationship lasts. Who blow it and know it and don’t have to hide it. Who see each other at random and planned times. Who like each other. You know, what we might wish a family would be.
It’s not that I seek just a community for the sake of community, however.
No, I seek a Community of:
I have found that the strongest-knit communities of which I have been a part were bound together by our common sense of purpose. Whether it was a group going out and serving or doing ministry or working or trying to love “punk teens” who often rejected us, we grew together tightly as a community. I like being friends with people, but our relationships go to a new level when we have a shared mission.
Mission is sentness. I mean, that’s what it is…to be sent. We were sent by Jesus in a dramatic way. One of my favorite quotes from Jesus over this last year has been this little diddy found in John’s gospel: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Can you imagine the depth of the impact of that statement? Jesus said that in the way God the Father sent him to us, Jesus sends us to be in the world. I mean, in all the ways Jesus was sent, so too are we sent. We are sent to continue doing exactly what Jesus was doing. Maybe that’s obvious to a lot of people, but it blows my mind to think of Jesus giving us the same amount of responsibility and trust as God gave him.
Being sent in such a way makes mission a much more bountiful word than it has been lately in mainstream, western Christianity. Mission isn’t simply a two-week trip to build roofs and eat ethnic food. It isn’t simply regurgitating key points about salvation to a stranger. It isn’t simply inviting people to a church service. Mission is simply living our lives like Jesus led his disciples to live. Sounds easy.
We live in what some would call a post-Christian (or at least post-Christendom) culture. Europe has been in this mode for a long time, and now we’re catching up in our corner of the West. Besides a shift away from Christianity, our culture is moving between modern and postmodern epistemologies (this is how we view knowledge). We are blossoming into a love of cultural pluralism and moral relativism, mixed with skepticism and a loss of access to anything relating to truth…nothing new for our world. All of this is connected with a growing cultural paradigm of loving all through acceptance, which we call tolerance. And heck if our churches aren’t caught up in all this mess of culture in one way or another; we are either so tied into our culture that we are practically indistinguishable from it or worse, or we are so anxious to separate ourselves from the culture that we are cut off from it and make ourselves stumbling blocks to people who might love Jesus were it not for our strange, separatist, fearful, intentionally-ghetto’ed ways marked by bumper stickers and bad attitudes.
It’s difficult to know how to follow Jesus in such a milieu. How do we be the church? How and what do we believe? How do we act? How do we love without compromising what must not be compromised? And how do we compromise all that may be compromised for the sake of love?
There are many questions we must ask. These require us to be a mature community of mutual, corporate discernment. That means we do it together. No lone pastor tells us the answer, neither do we just answer for ourselves. We all of us have the Holy Spirit so that we can do this together. We have to think through what it means to be a Christian today. This means we have to be willing to admit all the ways we are failing or sinning or being lukewarm or numb or apathetic. This means taking on new tasks and new challenges, acting in ways we are not used to. This means challenging one another, giving one another both accountability and grace. This means knowing each other well, so we can call each other out and call each other forth.
Too long, too many of us have been lethargic, non-critically thinking/discerning, pew-sitting, Sunday Christians, myself included. This calls us to take our mission so seriously that we will no longer let ourselves be numb to the issues around us. For there are many.
-A Centered Set
In the book The Shaping of Things to Come, Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch discuss a few ways people gather. I will simplify them into two versions, a bounded set and a centered set.
A bounded set is “a social system that has clearly delineated boundaries but has no strong ideological center.” It is made clear who is in and who is out based on who follows the boundaries, which are often of a moral, cultural, & creedal nature.
A centered set has a “very strong ideology or culture at the center but no boundaries”.
Frost and Hirsch spell it out with this image. When people let their livestock graze, they often use fences to contain their animals as well as to define which animals belong to them. Any animals in the enclosure are their livestock. This is a bounded set. In Australia, however, some of the land for their livestock is so expansive, it does no good to use fences. Instead, they will go bore a well somewhere to provide water for the livestock. The animals never stray far from the water source, so they can be defined by their proximity to the water or by where they are in relation to the water. This is a centered set.
One simple application for this is that I keep finding that the words “christian” and “nonchristian” are becoming somewhat meaningless to me. I struggle particularly when the so-called nonchristians do wonders at loving others and living lives of conviction; at times, besides their active love, they seem to have more faith even than the so-called christians. Many of the christians, on the other hand, seem to be altogether unaffected by Jesus living lives neither of love nor conviction nor faith nor even repentance for their lack of all the other things. Moreover, I find myself all over the map at different times in my life where I sometimes feel I am truly following Jesus and at other times act like he’s a mere token.
Instead of these labels, it is easier for me to visualize a centered set with Jesus as the center. Where are we in relation to Jesus? Where am I in relation to him? And am I moving toward or away from the water?
Furthermore, I believe this is a more faithful way of viewing things, because I believe God is at work in all people’s lives. They are all in relation to him in some way, and we respect that God is the one working among people (not us!) when we see in centered sets.
to be continued next Friday…or you can read the rest early by viewing whole thing at once here: Adaptive Community. The password is: password. Sorry, I had to do do it that way to make this work!)