I recently came across a t-shirt slogan that also manifested itself on a bumper sticker smacked on a 4 x 4, Ford F-450 pickup. The slogan on the t-shirt seemed apropos but on the truck, it seemed both out of context and glib. The slogan was, “No religion, just a relationship.” The t-shirt seemed low risk, simple, and innocently non-offensive. The huge pickup, it seemed the slogan was preachy and intimidating. It provoked thought which continues to swirl in my mind and in my moments of reflection.
Jesus did not come to bring us a new religion. He came to bring reconciliation of relationship between God and man. His mission and goal, has always been about life and about relationship, not religion. It continues to this day. The Christian religion is a ruse to confuse the daylights out of religious people!
IS IT ALL ABUNDANT HYPE OR ABUNDANT LIFE?
I have become equally tired of slogans and hype that plagues what we call Evangelical Christianity. I am just as much bored with it all as I am just tired of hearing, and seeing, the “stuff” of Postmodern Christianity becoming less and less a reflection of who Jesus is and the message of His Kingdom, so watered down, that it is a contradiction of the substance of the core DNA of all Jesus came to give and provide for us through His life, ministry and work of redemption. The core substance was and still is about LIFE, and it is even defined further by the pronoun “abundant”. I have experienced a variety of measures of Kingdom LIFE, but only small portions of what I would call, “abundant”.
There are some real questions for me as to why in this Postmodern age, there are many Christians who have just become totally bored with what they call “church” and “Christianity”. It seems there is a tension between “purpose” and “passion” and that tension seems to have worsened over time. Sure we can all remember that wonderful book from the mid 1990’s that made a lot of money for the author and created a movement within Evangelicalism, that book, by Rick Warren, “The Purpose Driven Church” and the sequel, “The Purpose Driven Life”, both of which angered and provoked me when I was first exposed and subjected to its content and message. It was bad enough to be subjected to the message of “working for God” but to be “driven” to do it with “intentional purpose” just made doing the “work” of the Kingdom all that more tedious and tiring and instead of purposed, it seemed to become more pointless working for work’s sake, all for the sake of working for God along life’s journey.
THE MANTRA OF GIFTING, CALLING AND DESTINY
Then as if a new “light” on the horizon came the new buzz word, “passion” which was combined with “gifting” and “calling”, and to top it all off, the word “destiny”. How could we not “work for God” when all we needed to do is to passionately pursue after Him, and discover our spiritual gifts and the destiny and calling that God has for us? Sure, I jumped at bits and portions of this, but could I not fully swallow the Kool-Aid, for it sounded hollow and the din of the noise this has produced makes me run for cover and look for the mute button!
The hype tires me. I am worn out by all the various messages coming from the Evangelical church camp, especially the Charismatic one, and how they have been shrink wrapped in hype. I am looking for life in Christ and community, blended with serenity and authenticity and wrapped in simplicity and redemptive relationships. I don’t find much of that in what I am looking for. Even some house churches that I have known and been a part of are caught up in the hype and caught up in the work of ministry and “Kingdom activity” (whatever that means).
LIVING IN THE TENSION OF LIVING IN CHRIST AND MISSION
For over a year I have been part of a wonderful congregation that has become a timely place of peace and refuge for me. I have come to know the leadership there and some of the wonderful people that comprise this fellowship. I have been honored and preferred and given opportunities to serve, using my teaching and equipping gifts and contributing to the life of the church community.
This has been a stretch for me, after eleven years of simple church, gathering in homes and expressing life in Christ together. To now be in a Mennonite structured church has allowed me to engage in a new place and experience Anabaptist community life and mission, and to see the Kingdom through new lenses. I have treasured my regular coffee and connection times with Jim, the lead pastor of the fellowship. He is a dear and precious brother in Christ.
I have found that in each context, people who really love the Lord Jesus and want to pursue after His heart and purposes for their lives. The work of the ministry seems to be flowing out of the passion they have for Him, instead of being used to validate their lives. It is service from within a healthy relationship. There are of course exceptions to this, and I have seen those as well, but not as readily, as you need to get to know people by spending time with them. I have gotten to know some of the people and intend on developing and growing more relationships there.
Whether in a house church or traditional church setting, the issue is whether or not you will have substantive authentic relationships that create a caring compassionate community. The form of the wineskin can enhance or restrict relationship and community and mission, but the people themselves can make community work within almost any kind of wineskin, you just have to be led by the Spirit and the Word, and be committed to honour and prefer one another along the journey. And that can be a pretty tall order.
PRESSURE IN A POSTMODERN CULTURE: MAKING IT WORK FOR YOU
The tension comes down to finding relationships that matter. Our society, and the Postmodern culture we are a part of puts a lot of pressure on people and making and finding room for community is a chore at worst and a challenge at best. The rat race pace we find ourselves in, in the nano second high tech age we are a part of, continually connecting to information overload, and trying to disconnect from it, is a real balancing act. I want to disconnect from most of these things as I yearn for face to face connections, and that too proposes challenges, especially when so much of our daily life is interconnected to technology and people use the technology to connect with family and work and play, and yes, even ministry and church life.
We work all day, and in my case it is a computerized office and like many Canadian work places, it is a service based business where you talk to people all day and perform the best possible customer service, which really means that you take a lot of “bad” and a little of the “good” in providing that service. We become the mediators of service which is an exhausting task. We leave and journey home, which truly becomes a place of refuge, for our homes, if they are less than sixty years old, were and are designed to become “fortresses” and “places of refuge”.
Just look at the design. A hundred years ago houses had long and spacious front porches or wrap around verandas, very open and engaging spaces to engage with passers’ by along the street, where you could converse with your neighbours, rest and relax and enjoy one another’s company. These homes were from a different era, were community was as common and ordinary and without the complications of our Postmodern tech world and the architecture expressed itself as normative through the design of the houses.
Now, we are in a post World War II era, a very Postmodern society, where the industrial and post-industrial age converged into the age of micro-computing and the goods and services based economy, which has replaced much of the blue collar economy, where the goods and services economy is hinged on the faster you can deliver a quality product or service at minimal cost, the better it is.
That kind of rat race work world mixed in with the advancements in communication and wireless computer technology, which was intended to simplify work and give more leisure time, has in fact done the opposite, making us constantly connected to what I call the “digital umbilical cord” that never gets disconnected. It renders us slaves to non-essential information, social media, work related communication that never ceases, making us not only co-dependent but adding so much stress in our lives that the types and kinds of mental illness are escalading out of control, in a world that will not slow down and make room for rest and recovery.
We are all swimming in a human ocean, but we are texting rather than pausing and engaging in meaningful conversation and community. It somehow is such a poor alternative to what it could be.
COMMUNITY IS MORE THAN A BRAND NAME
The tension is real. There is a real lack of commitment not only in the church but in the world. Loyalty is a product of a bygone era. Employer loyalty is as passé as is brand loyalty. I find it ironic that many established churches in the last decade have embraced the term “community church” for their church, as if somehow having the name announces to the world that you are a community that embraces those seeking community.
There is nothing further from the truth. Many of the least community conscious organizations are churches. There may be a lot of activity, with a lot of people movement and engagement, but that does not imply that there is authentic biblical community and mission taking place. If churches want to bear the name “community”, they ought to be living out what that means. Just saying. Nothing worse than flat out false advertizing!
SO MUCH VARIETY OF STYLES AND NAMES, BUT IS THERE SUBSTANCE?
At the end of the day, we who are of the Body of Christ need to seek the Lord’s face and work toward creating relational redemptive authentic community. We need to be content that we cannot program this type of Christianity. We can only incarnate it, and live it out among the few who will choose to walk life with us. That may include many people from a variety of church backgrounds, to people of no church background, and it may mean gathering simple around meals, in homes, in parks, in the marketplace, in coffee shops, in and apart of regular community worship gatherings, coming together to share life in Christ together.
This is where the substance is found. It is in our personal pursuit of Jesus, and engaging Him in all aspects of our life, with family, work and friends. It is in our cultivation of that relationship with others who desire the same, where authenticity is lived and expressed and were devotion leads to meaningful engagement with others, serving them in the name and power of the risen Christ.
No matter your form or expression of church life, what is essential is your walk and journey with Jesus, and how you engage with others, walking out the way of love, peace and truth, affecting those about you with grace and seeing them transformed by the One who is love incarnate. Now that is audacious, and that should be how we should desire to live our lives to the full.