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Size and structure

Enjoyed last night's New Horizons Dessert Extravaganza with barlow_girl, shemaiah & JG, and a couple of their friends. I'm so glad our church supports the beautiful work they do in relationship with homeless youth; it's something I'd love to become more involved with if I had the bandwidth. Yet another case of running into limits—by choosing to do some things, I choose not to do others. I wish I could more readily accept that reality instead of feeling twinges of guilt and regret over all I'm not doing and being.

That's just one factor that has me thinking about the church and how our cultures and structures support or detract from our mission. Another stimulus was this great piece from prester_scott discussing, among other things, what hypocrisy in the church is and isn't. I'm sure the current Ted Haggard evangelical scandal (just in time for elections—how handy!) will open the church to yet another dose of armchair quarterbacking; regrettably, much of this will come from places of contempt or schadenfreude than from one rooted in Christ's love for her. That said, it's very good to have how we're living out the church's mission be an open question. We know from Scripture that Jesus has prayed for the unity in love of all believers, that God has established structures for authority and service within the church, and that we are commanded to love one another and serve the world. Beyond that, with the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, we're figuring it out as we go.

One arising question is, "What are we doing with our time?" God's given us the dignity of making that choice, and perhaps it would be easier (though not better) if He just gave us a calendar with all the blanks already filled in for us. It's not that easy, and in that choice we face competing priorities and our own finitude. Non-negotiables for the Christian include prayer, time in Scripture, fellowship with other believers, worship, service, work, and rest. But how much time for each? Are churches filling the schedules of their congregations without respect for their limits? Are we encouraging people to learn to say no and respecting that, or are we just trying to get them to say yes until they can't handle any more? Is there a deeper purpose to fellowship than just the good vibes of hanging out with people who believe as we do about Christ? Do we further narrow our interactions to be only with those who agree with us on a number of other doctrinal, cultural, economic, and political criteria, and how might this be limiting God's use of us in the ongoing ministry of Christ, in making the invisible Kingdom visible?

Secondly, prester_scott's entry spurs me to ask, "Are the church's systems and norms structured to support her mission?" I can think of dozens of subsets of that question, but right now I'm wondering about size and intimacy. Consider the standard interactions at a Sunday worship service: welcomes, smiles, small talk, etc. Some of what's noted as an expectation of sinlessness may well be a function of size—in a larger, less personal environment, the question of "How are you?" is difficult to answer in any deep sense. We aren't necessarily intentionally hiding ourselves so much as working within the norms and limitations of public large-group interaction. I'm not convinced this is wholly a bad thing—it's reasonable to do so, and I'm often taken aback when someone tries to pull me into a private interaction in a public venue. And just because there isn't space for an intimate interaction to take place in a public venue doesn't mean there isn't room for it in the church as a whole. Even with this public aspect acknowledged, however, I think excessive congregational size can be a hindrance to true community.

As with time, it seems as if it'd be easier for us if God just told us how large individual congregations were supposed to be. Instead, His Body has great adaptability as He continues His ministry. Possessing both dignity and finitude calls for both freedom and restraint. We need both public and intimate spaces. Our churches should be welcoming to those who seek God, or even to those who just seek love and don't know where else to turn. Though one might lament the surface-y nature of Sunday morning interactions, let's be honest—a lobby full of people emotionally vomiting on each other isn't very welcoming for most newcomers. Like the temple before it, the church needs varying kinds of spaces for its purposes, some public and some intimate. As in our relationship with God, people should be invited ever deeper in their relationships within the church.

On-demand intimacy is as perverse as on-demand sex. Forced intimacy is as grotesque as forced sex. It is a precious gift to be given and received, not an entitlement. But we need it—we're designed to need it, and not just the positive strokes that tickle our sensibilities. We also need intimacy so that God can use others to call bullshit on us, so that we can confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. Show me anyone who's fallen to temptation and I can show you someone who's kept part of his/her life hidden. "Transparency" is one of the current church-y buzzwords I hate because it's often used in a way that shows little awareness of or respect for healthy boundaries. Yet in this case I'll give the concept some ground—we must allow others who have the Spirit of our God to see inside us, and we're responsible for making good choices about who and when. Intentional small groups within a congregation can be a good launching pad for such intimacy, with even greater intimacy developing within individual relationships.

Whew. That was a lot more than I thought I was going to write—developing a personal philosophy of ministry takes a great deal of mental mapping and connecting of many, many dots. But it matters. It's worth doing.

Comments

That last sentence about intimacy and transparency I just love. I know there is much to talk about there. I ve noticed lately that my mind isn't in the place the think concepts through well, like it once was. I need to get sharp again. With that said, I ll say that I do like having to work for a bit of intimacy with someone. I ve had a couple of Christians whom I ve just met share way too much information with me. Not necessarily intimate information but just explaining their every move, I find that a little annoying since we really don't know each other. I don't know if that makes sense.

Anyways, interesting stuff. Thank you! ANd thank you for coming last night. I think it is a great ministry even if their presentation was FAR TOO LONG AND BORING. And lacked booze but then again, it was a church function :)

OH and you are doing and being lots of great things for the kingdom :)
We had a great time—thanks for inviting us! Even with some of the...um...less engaging parts of the program, it's clear God is doing so much. I'm glad you're plugged in there.

I hear you on the oversharing thing. Sometimes it seems like a way for people to take control rather than actually wait on a relationship to grow and risk rejection.

All the conceptual stuff is one of the major reasons I keep an LJ—otherwise it all gets stuck in my head and I can't pin it down or move past it.
Sometimes it seems like a way for people to take control rather than actually wait on a relationship to grow and risk rejection.

Exactly! It seems like the people I am thinking of want to place certain limits and control on everything in a relationship that hasn't even really begun yet. In someways I think that they want to get rejected right at the beginning by being such a pain in the ass so they can say, "See people just don't have the patience to get to know me." Or whatever else the situation is.

I'd like to tie this into the whole concept that is popular in the church right now, brokenness. I understand that I am broken, that the world is broken, that I need Jesus , that others need Jesus but it almost becomes on excuse in Christian communities now. "I can't relate as a adult human being because I am very aware of my brokenness." As if we get stuck in this place where we can't live or experience the freedom and joy that comes after we realize that we are broken. Does that make sense?

Thanks for helping me "think" a little deeper.
Wow, that is spot on about how I interpret some of what I've experienced with others. Thanks for putting it so well.
I can see us not agreeing on the part you quote, though I'm not quite sure how to navigate the disagreement. I guess I'm really focused here on how we see ourselves/our sin and what we are choosing to hide—sin flourishes in hidden, unconfessed places. Do you see yourself as someone who is transparent but has nonetheless fallen to temptation, or is that just how you think some others might see you? If the fallenness you're referencing is something you think others attribute to you but isn't something you personally regard as sin, then it may be a different arena than what I was trying to work though.

Totally agreed on the rest—I love the way you put things.
I agree sin can flourish in hidden unconfessed places but just because someone has a part of their life that is private from mass public view doesn't necessarily mean sin is going on there. There are other valid reasons for keeping many things private.

Omigosh yes, absolutely, 100%. That's what I meant by dignity, choices, appropriate boundaries and levels of intimacy, etc. And that's why what many people mean by "transparency" makes me terribly uncomfortable. I don't think hiddenness is by any means a cause or indication of sin (that kind of thinking is so, so nasty); I just mean sin likes to hide.

The rest of what you share is a lot, and I'm truly saddened to see where you've been wronged and where grace has been withheld while judgment has been all-too-readily rendered. Beyond that, it'd be arrogant of me to presume to speak into your life except to say that I'm thankful you were willing to share that and I'm thankful that you're my friend.
You said schadenfreude :o]

And I love the application of 'bandwidth' to ones life/work quota, I feel that.
I do love me some Boston Legal.
There is so much to this post!

I think there is a ton of stuff the church has to force because the body doesn't do what it is supposed to do. It seems like a necessary evil.

I used to HATE it when we were asked to stand up and greet the people around us. I was secretly pleased when we got to church late and missed the mandatory socialization. Now I think of it as a chance to meet new people and find out if they are plugged into a community group. It isn't ideal, but if people come in and go out w/o wanting interaction then that is the only chance you get to connect.

And then there is service. I just got a letter in the mail today saying that in anticipation of moving into our new building in 2 weeks, they are asking all CGs to come to the church during their regularly scheduled time in order to work and help get things done-- we're doing that this week and next. Again, forced, and I think in this case, necessary.

Yeah, it is not an ideal scenario, but the universal church, it seems, is unhealthy and in need of being told what to do. I don't know if that need stems primarily from ignorance or disobedience.
Churches need leadership, and God ordains this. In some respects I agree that this isn't ideal, but in others, it seems to be God's very intention. It's a very hip, post-modern idea that the Church should just be Christians hanging out, each doing as he or she sees fit. That's not the Church—it's Israel in the time of the judges.

The Church is being groomed for marriage to the King. Learning to be led and to respect and respond to authority (even when they're authorities that also require forgiveness and grace) is a vital part of our preparation.

Still, I wish people got it on their own more often.
I deleted my comments here because of the sudden influx of people from Washington doing drive-bys in my journal without saying a thing. It feels like voyeurism.
Weird...sorry that happened.