Some Thoughts on Church

This week, I read two very solid articles that, in some way or other, spent time discussing the nature of the church.

For those who know me, you will know that church (or ekklesia) is very deep in my heart. Hence why I have posted 42 articles on my blog on the topic of church, one of the highest totals of any other topic in the two and half years I have been writing. Well, this article now makes it 43 in total.

What are those two articles?

The first is by Scot McKnight. It was posted on Christianity Today and is actually 4 years old. Well, in the bigger scheme of things, that isn’t old. But in today’s world, 4 years is a long time.

McKnight’s article is entitled, Five Streams of the Emerging Church, with the subtitle giving even greater clarity to the purpose of the article – Key elements of the most controversial and misunderstood movement in the church today.

I believe that 1) McKnight is a top-notch evangelical theologian in the 21st century and 2) knowing he includes himself as part of the emerging movement, as well as being willing to critique that movement, I believe he has the right to share his thoughts on the subject.

So, take some time to read this very interesting article. If anything, it might clarify some misunderstood aspects of the emerging church.

The second article was just posted this week at InternetMonk. I used to frequent the blog very often, but I don’t as much anymore. I try not to spread myself too thin in what I read on varying blogs. But I still love the Jesus-centred and pastoral way the writers of InternetMonk approach so many topics within the church and world at hand.

Earlier this week, main writer, Chaplain Mike, posted an article entitled, Is It a Church? In the article, Mike takes time to wisely (pastorally) address a concern of modern day churches, whether or not you want to label it emerging or just contemporary (or come up with another term).

One of his main critiques is that modern churches of today can become so homogeneous in nature, meaning their mission is focused on one group. Even more, that group can usually consist of people 25 and under. It all flows out of a noble heart to reach this generation, the ’emerging’ generation. But he questions the health of such a narrow focus.

Actually, focusing on a specific demographic is not just a post-modern, emerging problem. It has likely been a problem throughout the history of the church, though my small perspective might say it seems especially heightened in the church growth movement. Find your particular niche and go after those people.

Such could be a great focus as a manager within a company. But maybe not so much within something that is called to be relational at its core. This doesn’t mean we don’t have times of management, or practically putting together what our vision and mission might look like. But we are a family, with brothers and sisters; we are a body, interconnected with one another. And we are reaching those created in the image of God. We are not selling a product to consumers (or, at least, I don’t believe we should be).

Of course, the post-modern, emerging movement has a heart to reach post-modern, emerging people – those who would not step foot in a church building, even if there was a full rock-band leading the time of gathered worship, even if there was Seattle’s Best coffee at a coffee bar, even if there was never a traditional altar-call given. So these emerging church communities are meeting in cafes, bars, homes, sitting around tables without a more programmed service.

Actually, I have no problem with this. I am aware that, to reach post-modern, post-Christian western Europe, these kind of measures will need to be considered as we re-pioneer the reality of Jesus in this land.

Still, the call is to guard against being so homogeneously focused, whether we are emerging or seeker-sensitive or whatever. We don’t want to miss opportunities within our grasp because of a focus that is too narrow.

Chaplain Mike also focuses in on the difference between the gathering of the church and the mission of the church. Many churches in today’s world, with the championing of such within the emerging movement, are focused on mission. That is awesome! Mission is the call of Jesus. But it is not the only call. There is a call to growth and maturity that happens as the church gathers in its varying ways.

Mike shares thoughts on the problem of much of modern-day evangelicalism being birthed out of parachurch organisations (those organisations started alongside [‘para’] the church or as a supplement to the church), rather than the church itself. Though both consist of followers of Jesus, they are different.

I am well aware that many parachurch organisations have been initiated because of the failure of the local church to address specific needs in mission. But such is not always the case. I’ve seen such birthed out of the local church.

Thus, his challenge that we must respect and allow for both the gathering and scattering of the church. The training-discipleship and the mission-service.

Needless to say, with the reading of these two articles, I thought I would share some thoughts, some ponderings, on the nature of the church. But, in all, I would encourage you to read the words of Scot McKnight and Chaplain Mike.

The Danger of Church Planting

In my recent post, Extending Outwards, Not Upwards, I basically emphasised God’s design for His people to be a mission-focused, apostolic, outward reaching people. This is contrary to some people’s philosophy and praxis, desiring rather to build upwards, highlighted in movements such as the church growth movement and mega-churches in places like the U.S.

Now, let me say this: I do not believe big is bad, or that mega-churches are inherently wrong. There are plenty of ‘mega-churches’ around the world, especially in places like the underground church of China, where some churches are 80,000 strong. But the modus operandi and outlook does not consist of building upwards, but remain very mission-oriented and outward extending. Imagine how the Chinese underground church operates with not all 80,000 able to meet together, but hundreds packing into basements and cellars for teaching, fellowship and other such beautiful things.

So big is not bad. But big becomes bad when our outlook and focus become somewhat undergirded with things such as movement fascination, networking programmes and unbridled capitalism. That is where I believe it can become quite the unhealthy practise. Bigger is better and the bigger always engulfs the smaller.

But, while I am absolutely convinced that the church is to maintain its apostolic and mission focus of extending outwards, I also want to point out a possible danger as we consider our call to mission. It centres around the modern concept of church planting.

I know. I sound self-contradictory. And sometimes I do that very well with myself. But I want to share some things where I believe we can lose focus with our concept of church planting.

We must admit, church planting is a huge phenomenon of the past decade. I mean HUGE! Church planting is to today as church growth was to the 80’s and 90’s. Do a Google search on church planting and you get some 532,000 results. It is the fashion of today. And, you know what, I believe church planting is healthy, for, as I’ve communicated, I am convinced extending outwards with the gospel of the kingdom is important. And those who respond to the rule of God will prove quite helpful in starting new ‘church plants’. But there are mainly 3 points I challenge with the current craze of church planting.

1) It becomes quite easy to forget that it begins with the gospel of the kingdom.

The church is not the kingdom of God. Rather than share a whole lot here, I will point you to two articles (post 1, post 2) in which I discuss this more in depth. But what God is doing in the earth is first and foremost about the kingdom rule of God extending into the earth. This is why we are told to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness (Matt 6:33), rather than seek the church. We are told to pray for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, not that the church come on earth (Matt 6:10).

Yes, I agree that the church is the greatest tool for seeing the kingdom of God proclaimed in all the earth (as I share more here and here). But we start with the rule of God coming on earth as it is in heaven. And from there, those who respond to the lordship of Christ will help form the people of God, the ekklesia, the church, in both its worldwide and local context.

2) We have made it mainly about a movement.

I am not opposed to movements. They happen, and many of them are good. Look down the line of church history. But I am not too excited when we try and push something beyond what we should.

This is what I believe has happened with church planting. And the same happened with church growth. Church growth is not bad. Of course not. Who wouldn’t want to see their church grow? Even God wants the church to grow, which is a sign that His rule is extending into people’s lives and that we are extending outwards. But the church growth movement took on board some unhealthy thinking. It became too concerned with demographics, programmes, and what is hip and sensitive enough to draw the people in the doors. But all of these contribute to a lack of understanding what it truly means for God’s rule to be a reality in our lives, meaning that Jesus is Master and He can actually tell us what to do. I share more here on where the church growth movement misses the mark.

And so, church planting is important. But we have to guard against turning it into a movement, making it the programme. I have a heart to plant out. I continue to keep before the Lord whether He might call us one day to plant out into the inner-city of Brussels, as well as both Flemish and French speaking churches in Belgium. It’s deeply embedded in me. But I don’t do this because I want to start a network that is based solely on church planting as a sign of how healthy we are and how great we are doing. I want to hear the voice of the Lord and go as He sends.

This leads me to my third and final point…

3) Church planting starts with hearing the voice of the Lord.

This is absolutely vital. Read the book of Acts, our kind of basis for understanding church growth and church planting. People listened to the Lord as they went out, or if they weren’t listening, He sent persecution so that they would extend outwards (see Acts 8:1-4). But I love these words that we find in Acts 13 within the gathering of some prophets and teachers from the church of Antioch:

1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)

Did you catch vs2? ‘The Holy Spirit said.’ Absolutely vital!

And, then, we go on to read in vs4, ‘So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit…’

While church planting is a very good, healthy and biblical practise of being the church that Jesus meant us to be by extending outwards, some of the time I don’t get the sense that people are actually looking to discern the voice of the Lord here. Rather, because it is the sign of healthy Christianity in this decade, there seems an immense pressure to actually plant out. We have got to be in and to be in we must plant out.

I think God would rather us listen to Him and not plant out than plant out a church and not listen to Him. That’s important to remember.

And if we hear Him speak, we know we will have the measure of faith, the provision and the resources to accomplish what He asks of us in extending outwards, similar to that guy named Paul that we read about in so much of the New Testament.

So, let us continue to extend outwards, to see the good news of Jesus’ rule proclaimed in all the earth with people responding to his rule. Let us see churches established and growing. And let us keep multiplying. I think this is all of God. But it is of God as we keep the right perspective and hear from Him, rather than make it the move of the decade.

Signs of Immaturity

Two of my favourite passages in all of Scripture are found embedded in two short epistles of Paul. But both speak to the same subject – the maturity of God’s people. And this is a deeply important topic to me, not just because I am a pastor, but because Jesus and the New Testament put it high on the list.

Of the two passages, the first is in Ephesians:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (4:11-13)

One of the main practical reasons why I believe apostles and prophets are still needed and given to the church today is to help us reach the goal of a unified faith in Christ and becoming mature. That is what this passage communicates very strongly. Hence, the need for all five ministries (or four, if one sees the shepherd-teacher as one) to help us get to that goal.

The second passage is found in Colossians:

28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (1:28-29)

These words communicate very directly one of the passions of Paul. He obviously struggled with all the energy of Christ to present the saints of Colossae, and elsewhere, as mature in Christ. Something worth being gripped over.

But, unfortunately, few can grasp the calling of the body of Christ to maturity. Or as John worded it, the Bride making herself ready and prepared (see Revelation 19:7; 21:2). Simply stated, we are moving towards a day of unity, maturity and preparedness. I’m just not sure it had to take 2000 years to get there.

True, Christ is both the founder and perfecter of our faith. And we are called to a very Christ-centred and Christ-focused faith. But I doubt anyone would argue the responsibility we have to submit to the founder and perfecter of our faith. Hence, our calling to, ourselves, take ownership of moving towards maturity.

I think there are few pointers that can immediately identify whether we have begun to walk the path towards maturity in Christ or whether we are still land-locked within an immature state. These are very, very practical. And so I share three simple questions to ask ourselves.

1) Do we recognise that the church is relational at its core?

This seems simple enough, but it is absolutely foundational. Many have moved past a belief that ‘church’ is mainly an institution or a building or a specific day of the week. But, many times, we can fail to move beyond confession of belief to practical outworking, beyond what some term as orthodoxy and into orthopraxy.

What I mean is that we can easily get caught up in seeing ‘church’ as just another appointment on the schedule (or ‘diary’ for Brits). We can simply act as if ‘church’ is just another social club we have joined. So, to miss a gathering or to only see people every once in while, well, it’s all ok. Why? Because we see it simply as another scheduled appointment just like the eye doctor or workout at the gym. If we are tired or don’t feel like it, we bypass joining in the corporate gathering or purposefully meeting up with those in the body because, in the end, it’s not a big deal that we missed another appointment.

Please know I do not advocate legalism here. I abhor legalism, though sometimes it looks enticing to the eyes. But I believe that when we get a true vision of the relational nature of the church, the church as Jesus imagined it, we understand that we are actually a family together, a body deeply interconnected to one another. And people who understand that want to stay regularly connected to our own body and family.

Yet, if we are not family, if we are not called to covenant commitment with one another, if ‘church’ simply is just another appointment at another social club, well, we can take it or leave it. It really doesn’t matter. But I cannot envision that this is what Jesus had in mind when he envisioned the church. it’s not what he bled, died and rose victorious for. Just as he was relational at his core with the Father, so was the church to be relational at its core.

2) Is our only engagement with the body of Christ in church-scheduled activities?

If the church is relational at its core, then we should realise our main calling is not simply to join in during scheduled activities by the church secretary, or whomever. Church scheduled gatherings, training times, home groups, Bible study, prayer gatherings, outreach opportunities, youth group events, etc, are not bad things. I know I will continue to organise such opportunities as I am stirred by God and sense a need within our local church. But if our only engagement with the actual body of Christ is found in those activities, then I think it shows a level of immaturity.

I absolutely love these words found in the early church record of Acts:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (2:42-47)

In those days there were no websites, no church bulletins, probably no regularly scheduled slot in their gatherings known as the ‘announcements’. But they were still purposefully gathering together on a regular basis, on a day by day basis. And I will bank on this being more than simply church-scheduled activities. They were constantly involved in each others’ lives.

So, what would we do if our leaders decided to cancel all church scheduled activities for the month of October? Would we survive? Would we freak out? Or would we continue to move forward into the purposes of God? If we don’t think we would survive, I think it shows a somewhat immature church. If we would freak out, again, I think it shows that we don’t understand the relational nature of the church and the importance of being a part of one another’s lives outside church scheduled activities.

So, when Jesus and the first Christians taught about ‘church’, it wasn’t to make sure we all attended church-ordained meetings. Again, they are not bad, even being a launching point into greater things. But Jesus didn’t imagine a people gathering one morning a week for an hour and a half and then another evening a week for another hour and a half, stamping it with word ‘church’ as a seal of approval. Jesus imagined a people who understood that we were called to be involved in each other’s lives on a regular basis, continually sharing life, gathering together in the smallness of two or three, and much more.

Sure, we all have busy schedules with family, work and varying extra-curricular activities to juggle, not to mention our children’s varying extra-curricular activities as well. This is a very real situation for many people. Hence, the call is not to join a monastery. But the call is to be the relationally-focused body of Christ that we see breathed across the pages of Scripture. The call is to be what Jesus imagined when he imagined the church.

Where is the best place to start in moving beyond church scheduled activities? As we see in places like Acts 2, the best place to start is in our homes. What an inviting place of hospitality. As a friend reminded us this past weekend, we don’t need to entertain, we need to be hospitable, which calls for us to be seen in the normal, ordinary life that we actually live. Quite beautiful.

And the best setting to start with in our homes is over a meal. There is something special about the home, one reason being that it is a place of family, and the church is called to be a family. And there is something special about sharing life around food, which is probably why Jesus gave us a meal to share in the bread and wine until he completes all things. Hospitality through food is a sure way to build towards the relational nature of the church. At least that seems to be a foundational practise of the saints of old.

Therefore, let’s move not just beyond the walls of our church buildings (if we have one), but beyond our church scheduled activities. And we might even find that we need to have a willingness to say ‘no’ to a church activity so that we might say ‘yes’ to the Christ-intended purpose of church.

3) Is our main question – What can the church offer me? – rather than the more mature question – How can I serve within the church?

I am glad I have never had to church shop. I have been in 4 churches since I became a Christian almost 14 years ago. But I have never had to church shop. But, even more, I must say that I am not a huge fan of the concept of church shopping. There is something so, how do I say it, wrong about such a mentality.

Now, please understand. I know that many of us move cities, move states, move countries, and there is a practical reality of finding a church body to connect into. We utilise the internet, we attend a few varying church gatherings, all to get a feel of God might be calling us to. It is a practical reality. But I believe that the mindset of church-shopping, as well as church-hopping, has a very unhealthy focus about it. Remember, I said a mindset about these things.

But what happens is that, as we attend the gatherings, as we get a feel of things, one of the major questions going off in the heads of many is, ‘What does this church have to offer me?’ I don’t believe that is the best question to ask, at least for those ready to move into maturity in Christ.

Listen, I believe it is good to look for a local church with healthy and biblical teaching, a church that is a solid relational community, a church that allows for the full gifts and full body of Christ to express themselves within the setting of gathered worship. I understand parents will consider solid opportunities for their children and other such things. But if our mindset is continually, ‘What can they offer to me?,’ I think it is a sign of immaturity.

This is part and parcel of our consumerist mentality, which took a leap into the church a while back now. So, we go to church to select a plethora of products that they provide for us not only on Sunday mornings, but also every day of the week. ‘I’ll take some of that and some of this, oh, and don’t forgot the non-fat latte at the coffee bar.’ Such becomes detrimental to the people of God actually growing up into maturity.

Rather, I believe a mature people will ask, ‘What can I do to serve the people of this church?’ And we might even ask that question with a willingness to serve in an area that does not extremely excite us, like on the cleaning team or children’s ministry (probably two of the more neglected ministries in the average church that does not have money to pay people to do those things). And we might join a church community that doesn’t seem to offer as much as the one down the street. But, hey, they already have 10 people on ‘staff’ and hundreds (or thousands) of people to draw from.

Think of the major move across planet earth (or at least the western world) if the people of God started asking what they can do to serve the church rather than what the church can do to serve them. I believe major transformation would take place, maybe even in a matter of weeks. We would start to see fruit bore in our lives like never before. Ripe and delicious fruit.

I can only dream of such right now…..

We are ultimately headed towards the high calling of maturity. We will get there one day. I hope it begins to unfold in a greater way before my days end. But we will get there. Why not change our thinking now and head towards the goal a little more swiftly today?

On Being the Body

We are all probably familiar with the descriptive imagery of God’s people as a body. For some, it is probably an overused image. But I still consider it as one of the most beautiful and enlightening metaphors to describe the people of God.

And, we also know that one of the most important passages that teaches us how the church is to function like a body is found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. No doubt that, when reading this passage, we must guard against the words being all too familiar, lest we disregard the life-giving words.

While you can take time to read the passage yourself (by clicking on the link above), I wanted to draw out 8 points I find very helpful from the passage. Though some points will be common to all, I do hope there will be some fresh understanding for all as well.

1. A body calls for unity (vs12-13).

While I believe God has called his worldwide body to unity, it is interesting to note that Paul gave these words to the local gathering of the Corinthians. I would say that worldwide unity of the body of Christ starts at the local level. How many local churches struggle with true unity? Most, if not all.

But how is unity created? I am not sure it first comes through Bible study of doctrine, per se, though those things are important. I believe it is, first and foremost, created through serving one another. It is amazing how unity is formed through washing people’s feet. But, most of the time, we don’t want to go there – because we don’t have time, we don’t have the vision for it, the other person has hurt us, etc. But I believe this stuff is the ‘bread and butter’ of seeing unity outworked in our midst.

And I love how all of this truly echoes Jesus’ words in John 17:20-23.

It might do us well to ponder afresh what it means to be unified, starting at the local body level.

2. A body has no room for individualism (vs14).

Unfortunately, the theology of many Christians is founded on this statement – me, Jesus and my Bible. But there is a major problem with such an ideology. It’s not found anywhere on the lips of Jesus, or in all of Scripture. Sure, we are called to each walk with God, that ‘personal relationship’, if you will. So I don’t want to negate such.

But we are also in this together as a covenant community. We have been joined together. It is about us and we much more than it is about I or me. Again, I am thinking back to Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John’s Gospel. I don’t want to live out the ‘lone ranger’ mentality, for I know we can accomplish so much more together than alone. And, again, let this start at the local level before trying to imagine such amongst the worldwide body of Christ.

3. A body allows for diversity (vs15-20).

What many of us really desire is that people were more like us, right? But, can I just say I am glad we are not all like you, or all like me. What a definitely boring idea if everyone were gifted in the same way. I’m glad God was not that boring in creating us.

Rather, Christ’s church must recognise that we are all created with different personalities and that God gifts each person differently. And this should definitely be seen as a plus rather than a negative. I am more of a teacher-pastor. So I am glad God gifts others in other areas. And even God has put together other teacher-pastors different from me. But we are not called to control the body of Christ and make them become us. They are to become Christ-like in who they are in Christ.

In all, we need the full reality of Christ through the full reality of His body.

4. A body recognises that God arranges as He chooses (vs18, see also vs11).

This really relates to the point I just made in #3. Such knowledge gives freedom for diversity and allows each member of the whole body to function in all that God has called them to. If you have a probably with Suzy being gifted and shaped in certain ways in regards to her calling in Christ, then take it up with Him, not her.

Of course, this does not give room for sin. Sin must be dealt with, though I suppose we don’t always deal with it in the most godly and compassionate of ways. But we need diversity or we will die out. I restate it – I am so glad God is not so boring as to create us all the same.

5. A body has interdependency and need of the others (vs21).

This echoes point #2 that I emphasised out of vs14. Even in our diverse personality and gifting, we are called to abstain from being overly individualistic. We are called to communion with one another, to building one another up, to being in relationship with one another, to be dependent upon one another. I think that church in Jerusalem following Pentecost had a pretty good idea about this (Acts 2:42-47).

6. A body sees the glory of weakness (vs22-24).

What a contradictory statement for the world, and maybe even for most of Christianity. While many love to focus on our strengths, and God does give us strengths, we are actually in need of those weaker parts as well.

It is Paul who reminds us that, as with our own physical bodies, we give more attention to the weaker parts. Do we not? Next time you stub your time, record your reaction. You will immediately hunch over, grab the hurt toe, pull that foot in the air, hop on the one good foot, make weird noises, and then go on to clean and dress the wound as needed. You took good care of that weaker part.

But, even more, the weaker parts are actually much needed. I have a friend with Asperger’s syndrome. Now, at the college where I used to be on staff, this student was given special assistance by another upperclass student, to help with studies, be there as a specific friend, providing any help where needed. And this student did need the special attention. But, you know what? In reality, in retrospect, I realised how much we were all being blessed by him. His childlike faith, his submitted heart, his willing spirit, his learning attitude. God taught us a lot from this one ‘weaker’ vessel.

And, let’s just be honest, we are all weak apart from the grace and power of God. So let’s get on with valuing those weaker parts. They have something to offer as well.

7. A body understands the importance of caring (vs25-26).

As a body, we are also a family. Family want to care one for another. We want to provide, serve, give, listen, share, and so much more. This is a great opportunity to imitate our Father who is so excellent at all of these things Himself.

8. A body understands we already are the body and we are not trying to get there (vs27).

I think this is a good point to end out on. Most of the time, we spend so much effort trying to attain something that is already ours in Christ. We already are saints, we already are sons and daughters, we already are forgiven, and, even in one sense, we are already reigning with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6).

Therefore, we already are a body. This is why Paul exhorted us to be ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3). We are already here. So let’s be encouraged to walk out who we already are.

So, I have shared eight points I find highlighted in Paul’s well-known passage about God’s people functioning as a body. If we can catch a vision of what Christ meant when He meant His body, then I believe we will have an effect upon this planet like we’ve yet known.

Spiritual Community

Back in June, our small group finished up reading through Larry Crabb’s Becoming a True Spiritual Community. Larry Crabb is one of my favourite devotional authors.

The book is centrally about how the church is ultimately called to be a relational people, a familial community. And this is something dear to my heart. The church is not foremost an institution, a product to be consumed, a social club, or a bunch of programmes. It is mainly a family, a people, a body in relation to God, in relation with one another, and looking to draw others into that relational family as well.

In the book, some of Crabb’s thoughts might get a little psychological at times, and you would expect such from a psychologist by background. But, nonetheless, there are some beautiful, stirring and challenging words in these 184 pages.

I share some thoughts from the introduction of the book and then from the final paragraphs of the book, to give you some ‘book-end’ thoughts from Larry Crabb on the church as a true spiritual community.

Every Sunday morning we stand, then sit, then sing on command. Some of us raise our hands, most of us sit still while someone talks to us. At some point we reach into our wallets and drop a mixture of green and silver into a big soup bowl with a velvet lining to keep the silver from clanging.

We’re doing a lot. But I wonder if the Spirit, who lives in a circle with two Others who are always relating, sees us as Rachael [his wife] and I [recalling a recent occurrence in their lives] saw the retired folks on the Miami Beach porch: lined up in chairs facing straight ahead with no life passing back and forth among them. Is that what we really look like?

A pastor who ministers to small groups in a sizable church recently told me, “People in our home fellowships do what the manuals instruct them to do. They tell personal stories, share prayer requests, discuss interesting things, reflect on biblical texts, worship together, sometimes even weep for one another. But something’s not going on that should be, something everyone wants. I don’t know what it is, but it’s missing.” (italics his)

And the closing words of the book:

The church needs many things. But it will properly prioritize its needs only when it gets its purpose straight. Its puropse is to draw people into Christ, to mirror Christ to one another, to show Christ to others by the way we live.

That happens only in a community of people on a journey to God, only in a group of people who turn their chairs towards each other. Spiritual friends and spiritual directors are people filled with Christ’s energy who have turned their chairs, who pour their passions into each other and invite others to join them on the porch. But not many people, particularly not many men, have one truly spiritual friend. Even fewer have access to a spiritual director.

If the Spirit is stirring you with thoughts of community, and you’re wondering what we can do to develop spiritual communities filled with spiritual friends and sprinkled with spiritual directors, I invite you to join me in prayer to hear the mind of God, to see what He would have us do. I pray this book provides some help.

The church is meant to be a community of spiritual friends and spiritual directors who journey together to God. We must become that community. Prayer is the starting point. (italics his)

I want to be the church that Jesus had in mind as he bled on that cross. I want to be the church that Jesus had in mind as he burst out from the grave with resurrection life. I want to be the church that Jesus had in mind as he poured out the gift of his Spirit.