It seems every time I read Scot McKnight’s blog, I walk away with a great nugget of truth to ponder. Today’s nugget, in a series about the Emergent Church as a “fourth way” (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism being the other three ways), is especially poignant for me on a different, yet extremely emotional level:
“So, in summary, a fourth way will truly get underway when Christians can genuinely trust the Spirit in others as much as they trust the Spirit in themselves.”
Our faith-community is an experiment at providing a viable corporate alternative to the local church model — one that helps those desiring to become like Jesus to do so without all of the “overhead” of the local church. As part of this exploration, I have had to tinker with my role as a leader in this group.
One of my personal goals as a “leader/facilitator” in our faith community has been to discern the Spirit’s working in the personal lives of our community members and then help facilitate that into a corporate expression. Hopefully then, our corporate meetings become the authentic expression of our personal journeys with Jesus rather than corporate religious activities that are not an actual part of our community’s personal lives.
Right or wrong, this has been the “leadership path” I’ve chosen. And it has been very difficult in two ways. First, because I’m not good at it and have blundered terribly over the last two and half years. And second, because sixteen years of ministry have trained me to manage a religious company designed to offer religious goods and services: People need worship, so our corporate gatherings will offer worship; people need prayer, so our corporate gatherings will offer prayer; people need mission, so our corporate gatherings will offer mission. (I think you know what I mean.)
But as I’ve written about before, being Jesus’ apprentices is about following Jesus — learning to become by grace what he is by nature. Much too often, following our Risen Lord is easily replaced by participation in an organization’s structure or programs. And soon I discover that my personal apprenticeship with Christ becomes confused with and primarily defined by my involvement in the organization.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying the local church structure or programs are bad. What I am saying is that the local community of faith — whether it’s a large mega- or giga- church or whether it is an organic missional community — should be a supplement, support and authentic expression of the personal faith journeys of the community’s members. In this way, the community becomes the living embodiment or incarnation of Jesus’ presence. That has been one of the foundational priorities that our faith-community has been working from.
That means if the individual members are personally engaged with God’s Spirit in worship, then the corporate life should incorporate worship. If the individual members are personally engaged with God’s Spirit in prayer, then the corporate life should incorporate prayer. If the individual members are personally engaged with God’s Spirit in mission, then the corporate life should incorporate mission. And so on… In other words, the horse (personal apprenticeship to Christ) should be pulling the cart (corporate expression) and not the other way around.
Then, the local community of faith can act as a supplement to the personal faith journeys. The way I see it, vitamin supplements are supposed to supplement a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise. A person cannot simply take a handful of vitamins and expect to be healthy through a lifestyle of junk food and inactivity. Supplements are not the primary vehicle for health, although they can support and enhance an overall program for health.
All of this is to say, as a leader, I have chosen (for the most part and with various levels of success and failure) to let the personal spiritual lives of our community’s members form our corporate gatherings rather than forming our corporate gatherings around some ideal of what I think our church is supposed to be doing. This has been a difficult lesson of learning to trust the Spirit in others, especially when confronted with disappointment, discontentment, my own personal failures and others’ good-byes.