25 May, 2005 1:46 PM
Over the past week I've had a number of interactions with Christians that have left me feeling a little downhearted.
In each case I've had people asking questions about LivingRoom and 'churches like it' in a way that was verging on attacking.
Now before I write any more - I will say that I don't mind questions about LivingRoom - in fact I welcome them. I actually believe that questions from outside our group are very helpful in keeping us on track and developing a community that doesn't evolve into something that is unaccountable and disconnected from the mainstream theologically.
However questions can be asked in a variety of ways - one of which is aggressively.
The actual questions asked were the normal ones that I tend to get presented with - things like:
- Why don't you sing?
- Why don't you meet on Sunday?
- Who is your pastor/minister? Why don't you have one?
- Why don't you have a Sunday School program for kids?
- Do you have a building? Do you want one? Why not?
- Why don't you have an evangelism program?
- How many converts have you had?
Again the questions are not bad ones - but the tone with which they were asked seemed to be getting at whether we were legitimately a 'real church' or not - and in most cases the implied undertone was that the answer to this question was 'no we were not'.
I don't particularly mind if people want to work out if we're really a church or not - its a good question and one we seek to answer at LivingRoom. We believe we are a church - we believe that we're not a perfect one, but we're on the road and seeking to know what God would have us be in our context and hopefully are responding to this.
These conversations have left me wondering what would happen if every church were asked questions like these.
I have to say that when I worked in my last church (300 or so people, meeting in a largely mainstream way) that i never got asked any of these questions - in fact I don't remember ever being challenged on our model of doing church at all.
The reason for this is obviously because the church I was in was largely doing what was generally accepted by most Christians as 'doing church'. They met on Sundays, they had a pastoral team, they met in a building and had offices, they had established programs, they had contemporary worship services etc.
This would be an opportune time for me to weigh into the 'established vs emerging church' debate and to deconstruct and critique the 'established/mainline' church. Perhaps in a previous time I would have done so - but in the past 12 months I'm realizing more and more that such a debate isn't really helpful. My personal opinion is that there is room for a multitude of models and expressions of church. My previous church is a legitimate expression of a Jesus centered faith community for the context that they are in. I doubt any of their members would say they are perfect - but they, like us, are seeking to hear God's voice and respond to it.
I guess what I'm saying here (in a round about - not very well thought out way) is two things:
1. When we ask questions about models/logistics/styles of doing Church - perhaps we should first consider the tone of voice and the agenda that we have in asking the questions. Neil Coles words of 'if you're going to base the bride you better be willing to face the bridegroom' ring in my ears. This is a message that both emerging and establish church people need to hear as they make comment on one another.
2. Perhaps with this attitude in mind the questions should be asked in a dialogical way. You see being asked such questions in a positive tone is helpful for me as someone involved in LivingRoom - it keeps challenging me back to the basics of who we are, what God is saying to us, what our culture is like etc. I think all churches should revisit some of these sorts of questions from time to time.
For example, perhaps it would be helpful for my previous church to be asked questions like I have been this week (not accusingly - but genuinely to assist in their discerning of God's voice:
• Why do you sing?
• Why do you meet on Sunday and not Tuesday for your main gatherings?
• Why do is so much of your giving tied up in pastors wages
• Why do you separate kids from parents each Sunday?
• Why do you have a building? How is it being used?
• Why do you have so many programs?
• How many converts have you had?
Please hear me as asking these questions in a loving way - I know that the answers can be legitimately answered - some of the answers will reconfirm the choices that this church has made - but perhaps some of them will challenge paradigms that need a challenge and perhaps would identify a new expression of what God might be wanting to do in that place.
Interested in others thoughts.