We all want community
We all want to participate
We don't now have community
We don't now participate (unless an authorized leader)
I have seen churches promise to be something new...cooler, more arts based, more relevant...
But rather than listen to their promises, what I like to do, is to just watch the journey of one or more individuals when they come in the church door, while they are inside, and then as they are leaving.
I still basically see them doing the same thing - coming in, taking a seat, listening to others and then leaving. The only thing they do that requires anything of them, is to sing well known songs.
There are some others who actually do something right before and right after the service begins - they set things up, clean things, take things down...custodial work.
In the end, I see very few people carrying any responsibility for the spiritual benefit of others - but a few at the top.
So, even though I hear hope for change, promises of change, in reality I'm not seeing any change in this passive consumer worship service. I just don't believe that changing the content of what is passively consumed, a little here, a little there, really matters at all.
And so I have wondered...what is it that causes us to not really change, when so many seem to want to change? And at the end of wondering for a long time, and praying about it passionately, what I think, is that it is the undergirding architecture that is responsible for what ultimately manifests - not the content. So that as long as that undergirding architecture remains the same, you essentially manifest the same thing.
The answer is obvious...the architecture must be changed.
I would describe the architecture as both the leadership structure, and the structure of the public worship service.
So here's some of my plans to change it.
Worship service...oops, I mean worship gathering:
Sermon...sorry, you have to go. You served well for a long time, but like the carriage, and the whip, your time is up, we leave you with sadness, we don't quite know what is ahead in this new world, but we know that you are not the future. To leave you in place would be to miss out on the most incredible opportunity to do something new, to change. Once you go, suddenly new worlds open up - and these new worlds are everything.
But you are such a huge behemoth, that it is only new church plants which can deal with you...you don't have to painfully uproot, that which was never there to begin with! (Yes!!! Church Planting Rules!!!)
Here's the new world...essentially what happens is that when you remove the sermon, this gaping huge wad of the public worship gathering, it creates a vaccum which has this positive sucking action of pulling all sorts of other people's giftings up into its void. It's the suck that doesn't suck. It's the suck of life. The suck that keeps sucking - sucking formerly passive consumers out of their seats and into being spiritual weight bearing do'ers. Bearing the weight of being responsible for the spiritual benefit of others.
When the weight bearing shifts from a few at the top, to many all over - much greater loads can be borne. Community in the spiritual - communion...comes when many bear responsibility for one another. You don't love those with whom you share nothing. Casual friends don't change your life. Jesus Christ cannot use one person to minister his love to another person if they don't have a significant relationship of bearing some load for one another (even though maybe strangers).
Many of these loads are of a joyful, "my burden is easy, my load is light" nature. They are love giving through care for the others needs in an enjoyable relational way. Sometimes the load is difficult, but the nature of God's creation, an unchangeable law of the universe, is that it is better to give than to receive, and so those who carry difficult heavy loads for others are always blessed in God's world.
Our new load bearing architecture: Every Wednesday night, all the small group leaders gather with the pastors and elders (these titles/names available for upgrade) in a room. They spend one hour privately studying that weeks passage (say Phil. 3) using an inductive study method (tweaked with help from two of my old professors during a long weekend in Toronto into a weekly two hour group format, and which I have used two summers in a row with amazing results)...then after that first hour of digging into the text alone, they gather together and have a huge wonderful dialog about everything they are seeing, or questions that were raised for the second hour...this is the most fun I have ever had, this second hour. A room full of people who have just intensely studied and are now digging out solid gold together. It is really more fun than skiing, or hang gliding.
Then, the fun continues...that was Wednesday evening...now it's Sunday morning, and we just finished the main public portion of the worship liturgy...congregational harmonies weaving through the room...prayer poem cycles...communion with real wine (port)...a dramatic rendering of a psalm.
One of the pastors or elders comes up front and puts up an overhead of Phil. 3. He walks through the major issues that the passage covers, he reviews a little of last weeks scripture, he builds context by talking about Paul and the church in Phillipi. He basically whets the appetite for ten or fifteen minutes, so that now the whole big group of the church can regather into small groups, permanent groups that last a year and a half and they can dig deeper into the passage together, led by the small group leader who was at Wednesday's inductive study/dialog. Each person must bring something to the table. They will teach one another. I promise it will work.
So...instead of one man sitting in his study alone all week and coming up with a public lecture (sermon), now we have many, many people carrying spiritual responsibility. Many, many people are now required to do something that benefits the spiritual life of others. They have all been wonderfully sucked up into the vacuum created by losing the sermon.
The suck that keeps sucking!!!!
Two years go by...that young small group leader has personally, inductively studied huge portions of scripture, and has carried the spiritual responsibility of showing up every week for the spiritual benefit of others - I think we've got a disciple. I think we've got a person who is well on the path to spiritual maturity. I think ten years from now out of twenty such young people, at least five will be multiplying into other church plants as pastors or foundational elders...I think I see my Kings kingdom expanding.
So, we changed the leadership structure - we spread it out to many. We changed the worship service structure - we lost the sermon, along with adding many other "spiritual weight bearing" liturgical art experssions. Therefore, we converted a bunch of either passive attenders or custodial workers into disciples who carry the responsibility of working for the spiritual benefit of others.
We also had tons of fun doing it. We also had tons of NYC artists excited about how their liturgical expressions of art were used as building blocks of the public worship gathering, and possibly they invited their friends from the off off Broadway play they are in, the ones who don't ever go to worship gatherings. Those friends were pretty impressed at the sense of community they felt, at the way everyone pitched in, and how everyone's voice was sought out, and there didn't appear to be any big mucky mucks who thought they knew it all telling everyone else what's up.
I am one emergent who still loves the word vision, because what I just described is a beautiful vision. I pray the Lord will allow us to do it. You're welcome to follow our journey as we attempt it.