Monday, July 7, 2008

Centrifugal Community

It has taken me a long time to set up a blog and write my first one. This is weird because in many things in my life I am an innovator. I had to have the first color Mac laptop. It may have weighed more than my four year old son, and the screen was not much bigger than my phone screen now, but I had it. I remember taking it on a plane with me to London, writing my first thoughts about the nature of biblical community. I am not sure what I wrote at the age of 23. I am sure they were profoundly informed. Ha! Even now I feel I am struggling to find words for the call God has on our lives in the church. I feel like a wilderness wanderer who is no longer satisfied with institutional forms of church life, but is still trying to find the new rhythm of being God's people in this age. At times, I have felt like I had a clear picture of what it looks like, but then I realize there is another piece that is undeveloped. 

Recently, I have come to realize how small groups have been used to prop up the traditional forms of church in America. In other words, churches have used groups to become better institutional churches by using groups to close the back door and get people involved in the ministry of the church. Even as I write this, I find it hard to articulate why this perspective misses the point. So much talk about the church and the various mechanisms like small groups is centered around how to make the church successful. In other words, there is an internal focus to all of it. We have been shaped by the goal of "making the church work" and getting people into the programs of the church. I even remember my thoughts about church as a kid, growing up in a congregation of about 50 people in rural North Texas. Every Sunday morning I would walk out from Sunday school and look up at the board to the left side of the front of the church auditorium. This was the place that marked our success as it listed the number that attending Sunday school. I wanted so badly to be a part of a successful church and that meant getting people to attend the primary program of the church.

I transfered this imagination upon small groups. The measure of success became the number of people involved in groups and then the number of groups that multiplied. Attendance at groups and group growth became the measure of success. This measurement was founded upon the belief that if we could just get people to attend groups then we were accomplishing our goal. 

This imagination was about using groups for internal development of the church. This was a centripetal focus. Everything about the church was drawing people into the center, resulting in a static fixed vision that required people to line up with that center. 

I am now seeing that community in group life must be centrifugal, that is directed out from the center. The point of group life is not to prop up the center of the church institution and events. The point of community is to be a people who live as a light to the nations, who are impacting the surrounding context

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