This morning, I’m not going to some high-cost building to find a parking space, be greeted by ushers I barely know, sit in a pew, be psyched up by a loud worship band, or inspired by some finely honed monologue sermon from a front podium.
Rather, my wife and I are opening our home to those who want to come and share breakfast at our table as we talk, sing, teach, disciple and encourage one another in the Lord. Our time together is not scripted or directed – except by the Holy Spirit.
Joining us will be folks with graduate degrees and fancy houses, along with folks living in the woods, and just about everything in between. We are very diverse yet know and honor one another – while welcoming others with open hospitality – as we learn to be co-heirs and co-participants together in Christ.
Several of our fellowships want to open additional recovery homes in the county for those putting their lives back together following abuse, imprisonment, addiction, economic distress or other major disruption. Over the last several years, we have teamed up with another ministry to support this local need, but its focus is only on addiction – which is very much needed. However, we also need similar homes for those dealing with other issues.
Our desire is to create transitional, peer recovery homes where there is functional, Christ-centered community within each house. This would involve mutual support, encouragement and accountability among the residents – with appropriate outside support and oversight.
Our experiences to date have confirmed that such a focus is essential for real change to occur among those in each home. Otherwise, the houses become little more than a warehouse for knuckleheads, and become a detriment rather than an asset for those seeking to put their lives back together.
The other morning a young man stopped by the house.
He had been struggling with emotional pain and bondage, and said he hadn’t come earlier because he didn’t want to be a burden.
I shocked him by responding that he and his problems were a burden – that there were other things I could be doing that morning. But, I explained with a huge grin, it was my joy to be burdened by him.
He paused and thought about it, then nodded as he realized I was being totally transparent and real with him. Thus started an amazing time of talking, sharing and ministry.
Do we minister “to” the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we open our lives to each other, in mutual ministry one to another?
Do we have programs “for” the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we open our tables to each other, in mutual fellowship one with another?
Do we “go” to the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we hang with each other, in mutual friendship one for another?
Do we “fix” the poor, despised, destitute and abandoned…
Or do we need each other, in mutual humility one with another?
Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more from folks who are frustrated because they are wanting, but not finding, participatory fellowship rooted in ongoing community.
In our area, we’ve been seen such fellowships emerge over the last several years. Many of my blogs arise from what God is doing among us.
Those fellowships typically involve anywhere from eight to as many as twenty-five people intentionally meeting at least weekly to encourage and minister to one another.
More importantly, folks in those fellowships are relating together and supporting each other throughout the week.
Such fellowships don’t look anything like traditional “church” or even appear on traditional organizational radar screens – often because they are informal (even though intentional) and functioning within communities on the fringes of society.
Rather than come together for directed meetings or spectator “services”, the folks I relate to are learning to allow Christ in them to be expressed among them and through them – both in our gatherings and in existing communities.
Lately, though, things have become somewhat comical as we watch others try to figure us out.
Over the last several years, I’ve been learning to surrender my vision of community to the Lord, to just be part of community, and to let it express itself in all its wonderful diversity – in His timing, as He wants.
David Lim, an international leader in “organic” missions, wrote an important and probing article called Towards Closure.
Basically, he discusses (from a more academic but still very pragmatic standpoint) the difference between an “imperial” and an “incarnational” approach to church planting, the Great Commission and bringing Christ into new communities and contexts.
Like me, Dr. Lim is an advocate of organic (or simple) churches because he sees them as not only faithful to New Testament examples and principles, but as best able to fully express Christ in all His gloriously diverse ways in different communities and cultures.
According to him, when such churches emerge within the context of local communities, Jesus then becomes more fully “incarnational” (i.e., embodied and alive) in and through those communities.
He also makes another very important point: By allowing the Lord to adapt to each culture and setting, without imposing some intense, cookie-cutter concept of Him – and how His Church must look and operate – we avoid the trap of “imperialism”.
A newly-wed couple in our fellowship invited Marianne and me to a Super Bowl party at their apartment last night.
Marianne couldn’t make it because she needed to finish her lesson plans for the week (she’s an elementary school teacher), so I went.
When I showed up, I was blessed to see some old friends – including guys I knew from the surrounding woods. That evening, we enjoyed lots of good food and good times as we hung out and watched the game together.
Single parents are ubiquitous in the church; however, often they are a very misunderstood group that usually doesn’t quite comfortably fit anywhere.
As a former single mom with 25 years of single parenting experience, these are some of the impressions I have collected. Maybe it is different if you are a single dad, but I don’t have any expertise in that area.
Andrew Wehrheim has written a blog worth reading, called A Message to the Organic Church Movement from One on the Outside.
In it, he provides a frank assessment of his experience – and disappointment – with “organic” church.
On Facebook, I posted a comment supporting a recent blog by Neil Cole about why the “organic church movement” is important. One of my smart-aleck Facebook friends responded:
Organic Church Movement? Is that a movement naturally fertilized? Or maybe movement marching only to organ music. Could also be a church movement of Kidneys, Livers and Colons?
So I thought I’d be a smart aleck in responding:
Several weeks ago, I was asked how to find “ekklesia” (the Greek word in the New Testament often translated as “church”).
Many today are frustrated because they can’t seem to find authentic fellowship, or feel stuck in the “wilderness” after leaving the institutional church.
As I’ve thought about this, it’s been hard for me to know how to respond. The last thing anyone needs is another “program”, “method” or “three easy steps” to find something that God designed to be authentically birthed, and sustained, organically.
You see, God intends that life reproduce life. That principle is built into the very fabric of creation. Like all things that impart life, real ekklesia is organic, through and through.
And by “organic”, I mean simply this: The authentic and diverse life of Christ in me, which is then expressed among us and through us as we become the wonderful, dynamic, multi-gifted and participatory Body of Christ.
The key to finding this, I think, is found in those two words: authentic and diverse.
So here’s my response on how to find ekklesia, rooted in my own experience of finding, and then helping others find, real life and real fellowship – not as one who’s arrived, but simply as one who has been on the path maybe a little longer.
Danger, Danger, Danger: Are you someone who is adamant about Jesus and fellowship needing to reflect your own theories and sensibilities, yet are not yourself in functional ekklesia (the Greek word used in the New Testament for “church”)?
By ekklesia, I’m not talking about your traditional Sunday-go-to-meeting “church” with it’s hour of worship-band sing along, directed prayer and monologue sermon. Nor am I talking about posting on Facebook.
Rather, I mean authentic, flesh-and-blood community which finds expression as the multifaceted, multi-gifted Body of Christ – including dynamic, diverse and participatory fellowship gatherings.
Because I am very, very careful not to spout off pet theories divorced from reality, I try to keep my blog rooted in such fellowship. There’s enough naive, aspirational gibberish in the blogsphere these days, and practical reality seems to be sorely lacking.
Sure, institutional churches have great programs, services and staff, and lives are touched. But have they produced a mature Body of Christ?
Isn’t this the nub of the matter?
Folks can rationalize all they want and try to read their human traditions back into the Bible, but after it is all said and done, has the institutional church succeeded in seeing a mature Body of Christ emerge?
God speaks to some subjectively, and to others objectively, and each often forgets that Jesus is multilingual. Regardless, His subjective love is rooted in objective truth, and He never limits Himself to just one or the other.
When we become so focused on one, to the exclusion of the other, we are not really relating to a complete Jesus. Rather, we often are seeking self affirmation – a Jesus who simply relates to us on our own terms and within the confines of our own comfort zones.
We need each other in the context of the whole Body of Christ if we truly want Jesus as our wonderful and multifaceted Lord and savior – who then transcends our individual limitations.
As I work with fellowships and minister to individuals, I see that an overly subjective perspective (or, if you prefer, “heart” and feelings) eventually becomes mired in unhealthy sentimentality.
Those, however, who are overly objective (“mind” and logic) eventually become mired in a dry impersonality.
When we together find both the subjective and the objective Jesus, however, we find mature health.
Different Spiritual Languages
Each of us will naturally tend to speak in our own God-given spiritual language of the heart or of the mind, and that’s as it should be. But we nonetheless need each other.
In my own life, God has given me a wonderful wife who relates to God very subjectively. He speaks to her through feelings, while I, on the other hand, hear God very logically and rationally.
When we started dating, we almost didn’t make it because I thought my spiritual language was superior to her’s. I kept insisting that she communicate with me about the Lord in my own language.
She, in turn, couldn’t understand that relating to Jesus through my logic and reason, and my need to figure things out, was just as intensely personal and intimate as her way – even though it was very different.
Where she primarily felt the subjective heart of Jesus, I primarily pursued the objective wonder of Jesus – with very different spiritual languages that matched our different natures.
Several months after we started dating, she broke up with me – through my own fault – because of those differences. But the Lord used our time apart to teach us to honor and value our differences, and to start learning to become bilingual.
For me, it was gut wrenching – literally and figuratively! When the Lord finally allowed me to “figure” out what I had done – by not accepting the validity of how God spoke to her and related to her and thinking my way was superior – I was deeply humbled and I asked her to forgive me. Fortunately, she did!
For the subjective “feelers” among us, though, don’t start cheering because your side won! Trust me, I’ve seen too many instances where insisting that everything is about subjective, relational feelings is just as tyrannical and abusive (often in a seemingly sweet but passive-aggressive way) as insisting that Jesus is only about objective truth. Health and maturity in Christ comes through us learning to hear from, and value, each other.
God speaks things that you need to hear, but won’t hear, except through those who’s spiritual language resonates with His objective nature. Likewise, you will hear things that I won’t hear unless I affirm your subjectivity. And when my objectivity finds unity with your subjectivity, we experience Jesus more fully.
Now that we are married, my wife and I laugh over our very different ways of hearing from, and speaking to, the Lord. But we both know, at the core of our beings, that the other’s spiritual language is just as valid and profound as our own. And when Jesus speaks to my wife via subjective feelings, I listen! Likewise, she listens when Jesus speaks to my logic and reason.
You see, the Lord primarily relates to her in a beautiful language of subjective love and feeling. With me, it is through the wonder of objectively understanding Him and His creation.
Yes, I can be subjective and passionate, but the fact remains that Jesus gave me a very different spiritual language than my wife. And yes, she has logic and reason, but that’s not her primary spiritual language. Yet those differences are fascinating, and we complete each other!
Like in a marriage, a healthy community of believers must learn to understand and value each other’s different spiritual languages. Only as we develop the ability to truly hear and appreciate one another, and not be threatened or express impatience towards what often seems so “other” and foreign, will we experience all of Jesus – through each other!
Too often, I fear, we turn “church” into isolated enclaves of sameness, where we retreat into our mutually-affirming comfort zones by seeking to related only to those who speak our own spiritual language.
Only as we affirm the different multilingual voices of God in each of us, is He wholly expressed among all of us.
I thank God that I found this in my marriage, and in a fellowship of diverse brothers and sisters who value the fact that Jesus is multilingual.
Is there still no room at the inn?
It’s not too late: Invite to your time of Christmas family sharing, or to your Christmas meal, that man or woman who recently was released from prison, or that person who has no family in your area and is alone, or someone who is destitute and living in the woods near your home (trust me, they are there).
You and your family will bless them, and be blessed, more than you can ever imagine.
If you don’t know anyone to invite, call your local homeless shelter or battered women’s shelter. Ask for the staff person on duty. Tell him/her you want to invite someone to join your family Christmas morning, or to share a Christmas meal at your home.
Let them know if you are interested in inviting a family, or maybe just an individual or two, and ask for their recommendation. They will know the residents, and will do a good job introducing you to an appropriate person or family.
Some of my most enduring friendships have come from reaching outside my comfort zone to those who are destitute, abandoned, imprisoned or just plain alone. It will change you far more than them.
And please, don’t try to “fix” them – just be a friend. The rest just sort of follows naturally – including them fixing you as you open your heart and your life to those who you previously treated as “other” or only “helped” through impersonal “programs”.
Take a chance. Open your home and your lives to embrace the Joseph’s and Mary’s of our age.
This is true church. This is true religion. This is true grace.
~ Jim Wright
People often ask what it’s like being involved in smaller, participatory churches where folks are actively involved during the meetings (and during the week!) in encouraging and ministering one to another, rather than having podium-directed “services”.
Earlier this month I had the privilege of visiting a network of churches in Branson, Missouri, comprised of over a dozen recovery homes where people were ministering one to another in authentic community. In the context of that community of love, grace and fellowship, the Lord was using those whom He had redeemed from sin and addictions to bring healing and reconciliation to other broken people.
During the trip, I innocently made the comment that I was seeing an amazing example among them of what the “church” should be. One of the men I was talking to looked pained at my well-intentioned compliment, and responding by gently but emphatically stating they were NOT a “church”.
Over the next several days, I finally understood where he was coming from.
This PowerPoint presentation looks at the seven gifts listed in Romans 12, and the motivations and ways that different people use those differing gifts. More significantly, what is the resulting fruit when your church allows those seven gifts to be fully expressed in its structure, ministries, leadership, meetings and day-to-day fellowship?
It’s one thing to embrace Paul’s metaphor of being the Body of Christ, where everyone is a different part as we participate and minister one to another according to our unique spiritual gifts.
It’s quite another thing to figure out how to do that in practical terms, especially when we meet together and abstract principles hit cold, hard reality.
Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride! In this PowerPoint presentation, all that you think of as “church” is about to be challenged so God can woo us back to being, once more, the multi-faceted, wonderful, exciting Body of Christ.