In continuing to respond to a letter from a church leader who is seeking revival in his congregation . . .
I reread your request about how to get off “dead center” and saw something that I don’t know how to understand: namely that you have listening/praying leaders and yet, at least you, feel that something is being missed. Do others feel like something is lacking? Is God calling your congregation, and despite sincere listening, the call isn’t being heard? Is God calling, people sense the message, but don’t know how to act on it? Are you hearing it and others are not, or do others hear it too? Do many hear it, understand it, but fear acting on it? Is the problem hearing, understanding, or acting? – some part of all three?
If people aren’t hearing a call that you hear, it may be because you’ve had the experience of that small, vibrant community you mentioned. You, better than I, understand the nature of the Spirit’s prompting – which seems often to be a message which needs interpreting. The process of us working through the discernment is one aspect of why the message was given. Do others know God is calling, but struggle to interpret the message?
Being able to convey the concept of a land of “milk and honey” so that people catch the vision in God’s call is important. For those who’ve witnessed it, they want to be there. For those who don’t know it even exists, how can they hear the call?
If others are not aware of what can be, and so don’t sense God urging them onward, a guide is necessary. In many ways we spent four years preparing for our jump, but others had labored for years before me in the recesses of discontent within the hearts of seekers. Anyone who knew what could be, started sharing that with others and helping them taste the possibilities. At the time that this group began moving they had longed for something with the vague shape of what we now do. They were hungry and thirsty for community, ministry, living out of “one briefcase” (faith intersecting with all of life), and moving beyond southern civil religion – but the group needed guides who could describe the forms this experience of faith would take. The guides didn’t have to do much convincing, for when they described how things could be quickly a majority seized on it and affirmed “that’s what we’ve been wanting!” The majority were not being equipped by the Spirit to put the longing into some form, but the confirmation was there throughout the community for each step. Obviously, we have still had our troubles discerning, and nothing is ever unanimous. There are some who consistently struggle more than others to catch the vision.
I am writing so that I may understand (a stream of consciousness here) rather than putting this down as an essay. You’ll have to bear with my process.
Where my thinking is taking me is to a place of recognizing the importance of visionary people – but not in the entrepreneurial sense. We don’t need people with grand visions of their own imagination, but who have a “Kingdom sense” and can communicate it. The means must be Kingdom expressions. Having Kingdom ends is not enough to justify any means.
For me, God showed me what could be through watching God build churches in Africa. He’s shown that to you through that unconventional church (and many other experiences as well). The question is, what can we do to help others see what congregational life can be like when it is a daily expression of living in Christ rather than membership in an organization? For us it was experientially realized, not informationally through seminars and classes. It might happen at a convention, but I doubt it unless the people are already extremely primed. Conventions are forms that are too institutional (like lectureships) where often things come down to “how to” classes – which feed the wrong mentality. The form is too institutional to convey a non-institutional freshness.
I think that perhaps sharing, even for short periods, in congregations that have the life you are seeking for your community is the way to go. Different experiences will help people realize that it is not about a certain configuration. Two couples from here visited Church of the Savior. That is a good place to see very authentic Christian life being lived out. Besides personally witnessing community I think that narrative can serve as a vehicle for experience – even though instruction does not work well. The Emergent idea of conversation is powerful too.
I guess these ramblings are coming down to how you can guide others into hearing more clearly the call of God: creating dissatisfaction with where we are, longing for more of God, and experiencing how that longing can be met in vibrant community. I know . . . I’ve said nothing new. Maybe this “methodology” could be wedded to my earlier thoughts about “abrupt” change and intentional negation of our worst religious pitfalls.
Keith Brenton commented on my blog saying “wasn’t I talking about new wineskins?” Yes, I am trying to give some detail to what it means to have new wineskins. That is something we have heard said, but how well do we know what it takes to have new wineskins? I guess that is what I’m trying to describe as best I understand it- but I am afraid that you will likely find little new in my thoughts. I wish I had better answers!