I keep thinking about this journey we've been on for almost three years. What I mean is that I reflect on where God has been leading us, how in general terms it is what we vaguely imagined, but how in specific ways we have moved along in ways I didn't imagine.
There are at least two reasons this keeps churning over in my mind: 1) as a congregation we continue to talk about what we are to be, reviewing and adjusting our sense of community and mission to hopefully tune our walk to the Spirit's rhythm, and 2) we've had and receive opportunities to discuss with others how they might embark on a similar trek through non-institutionalized Christian life.
Our general idea of being a congregation that does nothing to further its own existence but only seeks to be involved in God's Mission in the world has been an interesting goal. This value has led us to have no weekly contributions, to abolish any sort of church membership, to de-emphasize the Sunday gathering so as to not let it be the penultimate mark of faithfulness or Christian life, to remain largely unstructured and unorganized, and to choose to meet in a leased building.
This concept has also entered into our reluctance to do much with having signs. Anything that moves our focus off living for Christ daily and onto building up "our church" has been suspect. By implication all marketing is out. So is any proselyting of people to come to "our church."
This is not to suggest that sharing this vision has been all that easy. We've all had to struggle with tendencies to fall back into institutionally-focused ways of thinking and acting. It is easy to want to ensure our own existence by planning for our corporate future, and harder to allow God the freedom to do whatever He wants.
One leader of another church in town, on hearing of our original vision of being a church that welcomed and accepted marginalized people, remarked that one couldn't build a church with people like that. In other words, you need resources to build a church . . . and when you focus on the needy - they "consume" resources rather than provide them.
Interestingly enough, our congregation - which continues to try as best we can to simply do what God asks and not to think of our own institutional needs - is having no trouble finding resources to do whatever is needed. Obviously, God really is faithful even when we aren't planning our own path.
What I take away from my review is not a prideful "pat-on-the-back" for how well we are doing, but a gratefulness for God's faithfulness and a sober realization that we must continue on the difficult path of being willing to lose everything - even our community - for the sake of God.
A few weeks ago I came to the decision that my role is not to "defend" the journey we are on, but to simply be on that journey. A non-institutional community won't try and preserve its non-institutional character. Such defensiveness is an institutional trait. A truly non-institutional group will remain such by staying focused on life in God rather than the nature of its own existence. As soon as I start defending rather than simply being - I've become more concerned with how we exist in this world rather than how we participate in God's Reign.
So . . . when we lose it, we gain it. And if we try and keep it, we lose it. Imagine that!