Saturday, January 31, 2009

I want to be a part of a church...

In recent weeks, Ronnie and I have been thinking a lot about the specific characteristics we desire to find in a church. We've talked about it, prayed about it, argued about it, and even dreamt about it. This afternoon, as I meditated on God's goodness and where we are in his plan, I wrote out the following thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. These are not all-encompassing, but for where we are right now, these make up the deepest cries of our hearts as we look forward to joining the people of God in another local context. These are the longings of our souls put into words.

I want to be a part of a church…

Where I am in real relationship with my fellow-disciples, so that I know others and am known by them, as well.

Where I am expected to extend grace to all and where I can expect to receive grace, as well. Where weakness is accepted, where love covers a multitude of sins, where tolerance is offered when disagreements arise.

Where I am expected to confess my sins and receive forgiveness, even as I hear the confessions of others and offer forgiveness in return.

Where I am held responsible for the bearing of good fruit, the evidencing of the fruit of the Spirit, and the production of “good works,” without which faith is dead.

Where my place of service is determined by the gifting of the Holy Spirit and the needs within the congregation, and not by my age or gender.

Where I am expected to give sacrificially, not because God needs my money, or others need my charity, but because I have more than enough for my needs and the dangers of wealth and comfort, preached by Christ, are very real.

Where I am challenged to think deeply about my faith, both theoretically and practically; never allowed to remain content for the Scripture to be my friend, but also to be my adversary, as well.

Where the call to intentional discipleship is central to the proclamation of the Good News, so that all are called to take up their cross daily and follow Christ.

Where the life of discipleship is not reduced to a checklist of dos and don’ts, but proclaimed and practiced to be about walking in the Spirit, pursuing love of God and love of others.

Where it is understood and proclaimed that God is making all things new, meaning that the effects of Christ’s redemptive work are understood to encompass all aspects of life: marriage, family, government, science, history, economics, business, technology, art, music, dance, and much more.

Where it is believed and practiced that all Truth is God’s Truth, wherever and in whatever form it is found.

Where worship is offered to God for who he is, shamelessly ascribing to him the greatness, goodness, and glory due his name, reminding disciples of their place in God’s world and plan.

Where as few stumbling blocks as possible are put in the way of people knowing Christ, but also where disciples do not apologize for the mysterious and sometimes puzzling truths of Christ.

Where the sacred rituals of the Christian faith, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are neither exalted above their place, nor emptied of their power, but practiced regularly, with a sense of participating in the worship of the one, holy, catholic church.

Where play, fun, and laughter are valued as integral parts of the abundant life in Christ.

Where children are valued. Where they are not merely hidden or entertained during worship, but encouraged to find their place in Christ’s community, however that works out in practice.

Where single and married disciples feel equally affirmed and valued, so that disciples are not made to feel incomplete without a partner, nor is marriage disdained or disrespected in the manner of our culture.

Where those who struggle with same-sex attraction can find love and acceptance, so that they are not defined by their temptation or denied the love of God because of it. But, instead, where they are offered the Good News of Christ and the abundant life of discipleship, which leads to God’s best life for all.

Where skeptics can safely voice their concerns, even if disciples cannot always provide the answers. And, where disciples do not shrink back from declaring truth, even when it is foolishness to the world.

Where the needs of the congregation and their families are known and addressed in practical ways, so that, as much as is possible, no one goes without essentials, whether food, shelter, clothing, security, or healthcare.

Where Scripture-focused thoughtfulness goes into the ethical ramifications of the Good News, impacting the way disciples view all manner of issues: abortion, capital punishment, incarceration, illegal immigration, torture, civil rights, war and peace, and much more.


Gary Snowden said...

Great reflections on what church really ought to be like. I pray that you and Ronnie find such a congregation in which to servce.

Lory said...

I love this. Thank you for calling me to a higher standard in my leading in a local church.

Steve said...

Now-now-now waaaaaaait just a minute! Your reading of religion doesn't leave any room for beating other people over the head with it!! And, changing the rule book every couple of decades just to make things a little tighter on everybody else. And what about us back-pew snipers?

Very nicely and sincerely written, Miss Emily. :-)

Joshua Rhodes said...

Wow... well thought and expressed. Thanks for sharing Emily.

UnderMidnight said...

let me know when you find that.

churches and mausoleums both have pretty stained glass.
both contain the bodies of the dead.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

My friend, you are a fountain of optimism. :) But, you make a good observation. I think Jesus himself made a comparison between religious folks and tombs. So, you're in good company.

Really, I don't want to "find" this community. I want to create it by being a part of it. Maybe I should I have titled this piece, "I want to help a church become the kind of community..." because I'm as much responsible for it as "they" are.

UnderMidnight said...

i feel exactly what you mean.

UnderMidnight said...

you're my church.

ddflowers said...

Hey Emily,
I'm sure you know that there is no such thing as a church utopia. However, there are expressions of Jesus (ekklesias) where Christ is allowed to be Head; where men do not control the Body life. My journey (7 years in vocational ministry) as well as my rethinking of the New Testament... tells me you will not find the kind of gathering you describe in the hierarchal top-down institutional system of Christianity.

We have discovered the simple community of the saints in natural "home" settings where we can be family and share life together; where we do not merely embrace "priesthood of the believer" as a cliche; where we are all called brother and sister AND the gifts flow from Christ's members in a way that draws not attention to man.

I am likely to get some rocks thrown at me for this comment, but I do consider you an "online" friend and I see you guys are in a season of growth. It is in this time I want to encourage you guys to run hard after the Person of Jesus and not church life. Out of Christ will come the church life you seek. Let this become reality and practical advice... not empty rhetoric.

Peace. Your Brother in Christ, David.

If you are looking for a good book to read on this... check out "Reimagining Church" by Frank Viola. I have reviewed it at my blog and at Amazon.