Monday, October 11, 2004

The Gathering

What is the Church?

I was thinking about this as I spoke to my parents about their experience at the voting booth on Saturday, this started me thinking again about what the Church is and why it exists.

My reflection is that the church is the gathering of God's people, what happens after that is still the Church, and the Church ministers wherever those who associate with the people of God care and proclaim the gospel.

I love the gathering of the Church, it is a great place that thrives in contexts and within people that would not step into a formalised religion, it exists where there is evangelical bands, speakers screaming 'come forward for salvation, I see that hand!!' it underpins youth groups, social gatherings, workplaces basically anywhere 2 or more gather.

Members of the Church minister in ways that the formalised Church can not. Wherever people who have confessed 'Christ is risen' proclaim the gospel the Church is ministry. This excites me, that this undercurrent of the gospel carries the Church into peoples houses, workplaces and schools. I was reading on another blog the danger of the 'emerging church' throwing out the programs and just being, and to a certain extent I agree. The gathered church can minister in some very powerful ways, but as a wise man once said, or was it Phil McCreddan, perhaps a wise man wrote it and Phil read then told everyone else that a wise man said it, anyway, this wise man said, "You can catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God, but you cannot build a program around a glimpse." Once you try to contain or repeat that glimpse of the kingdom, where the oppressed are set free, there is release to the captives, the blind can see....... If you try to contain that it slips away.

The gathering of the Church remains a powerful thing, my earliest experience of the kingdom came about at a rally for peace. Sitting on my dads shoulders looking around at the most people I had ever seen gathered in one place for the same reason, thinking 'Wow, this is great. I want ice cream.' (I was only about 6). But that experience has stayed with me and underpins my understanding of the power of the gathered church. And while I love this image I do not want to see the gathered church reduced to a flash mobbing type of event.

The Church gathers to proclaim the gospel as a choir, and to tell the stories of the people of God.

I was about to write a question but then again, I am a minister and I already know the answer...... To this question anyway.

Why the hell have we made the gathering of church so boring and conservative?
I am speaking from my own experiences here remember that before the social action Church of Christ steals my letterbox and sets fire to my cat in protest! But we have cut down the gathering and stories to one persons choice of songs, and then one or two people speaking of their experiences of God as if no one else is valid! Again, sweeping generalisation. But as a minster I can say, it is often easier to organise everything the same way, and keep in under your control, if you let people speak up in church they may say something that is controversial.

what do people think?


Digger said...

I agree with a lot of what ur saying mate, but the I want answers part of me wonders what it all means? Which i guess is something that has to be answered differently on a case by case basis.

My question to you is this: How do you respond to the myriad of people out there who claim that they don't need to go to church, that they can worship God at home-like in Homer the Heretic :) that they can grow by themself?

If the church really is wherever there are two or more gathered, why do we still need an organised gathering-whatever that may look like?

Sorry to answer a question with a question!

Saemon said...

(to be all Christianese about it)

Amen to what you said.

When did the "devotion to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the common meal, and to prayer" turn into who can choose the most annoying Hill Songs, and sing them at nauseam(sic), whilst listening to some guy (more often than not) give the uplifting "pep" talk, and then we'll pass the bucket around?

Being Church (for me anyway) is all about being a genuine community - something which doesn't seem to have a place in the traditional model of church.

All I seem to be doing of recent is church bashing - which I don't particularly like cos a part of me, still loves it! But another one of these wise men once wrote (on my blog site) - "If you are going to bash the bride, be prepared to face the bride groom".

Christop said...

I think one of the reasons church can be so boring is that people are trying to preserve it - they see it as their heritage and a part of a routine that gives them a sense of security.

Stephen said...

Hey mate. Got your info from Darren Rowse. Welcome to the blogosphere. I hope we can learn from each other in the journey.

Garth said...

I think along the same lines too. I recently finished up a non-Sunday home based church that survived and grew through a couple of years. It started as Christian only and later included our friends for a spiro discussion and sharing time over dinner or a couple of dark ales! Just as an experiment. I don't yet know what the next step is (consequently I started up a blog site to keep the fires burning). But prior to knowing anything about the emerging church etc we found ourselves in a place where we needed to re-define what church was. I suspect we went through similar thought processes to you. I continue to find this exciting seeing God challenge temporally and spatially separated people with similar strains of thought. We thought we’d pull everything apart and try to biblically put it back together again and see what it looked like without the accumulations of religious culture.

What we found contains the same flavours as your post. We believe that church is something you are, not something you do. We also found it hard not to be negative about the structured church we had left behind. But I don’t think we are knocking the bride but religious culture and the systematic approach to faith itself. The penny drops when you realise that the structured church has built a culture that reflects its own middle class members. I can’t expect my workmates to fit in there, or the great majority of Australians who look elsewhere for spirituality.

I lost my “churchianity” and became a guy who mixes it mostly with non-church mates and couples and our dialogue is unashamedly spiritual, our relationships nuturing. For the first time I seem to have a credibility with them to share who I have become in Christ without the church tag. And I’m going to use that for all I can!

Thanks for your interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Agree with your post Pete. A lot of what church has become is because it has always been done that way and it's quite a challenge to creatively change things.

Is church "a gathering of God's people"? I think this is a fine line, and would need a disclaimer. If me hanging with my mates constitutes church, there may be no accountability, growth, etc. These latter points need to be stipulated otherwise you end up with people just hanging out together, coasting through life, and God could becomes irrelevant.


Digger said...

Yeah great post, Ch6 I think it is in Shaping of Things to Come (did you like that book Pete?) has some interesting stuff to say about that.

I think I'd agree, I don't think any old meeting of Christians can truly be called church, I think we can get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God there, but my view of church is a little more defined than that. But then maybe thats just because of my experience?