“It Takes A Village” (Community Discipleship And Childcare)

July 11, 2013 at 11:13 am

1423201_miniature_pennan_fishing_villageMy wife and I were tremendously blessed last night by one of Church of the Cross’ Missional Communities who watched our kids so we could have a date night. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but remember, we currently have eight kids (yes, I know, All Aboard The Crazy Train)!

We went to an Indian restaurant that used to be a Black Bear Diner and was still decorated as such. For most of the time, we were the only customers there, which was both nice and semi-creepy. The food was great, but I digress. I say that we were tremendously blessed, and that’s true, but not just because my wife and I got to spend some much-coveted time together. It has reminded me about so much of what we as the Church of the Cross family value and hold dear. I was reminded of the importance of community in discipleship. Consider just some of the ways this is true even when we watch one another’s children for a date night:

We are tangibly bearing one another’s burden. When that Missional Community offered to watch all eight of our children, they were indeed helping to bear our burden. I don’t mean that kids are a burden, but come on, eight kids is a lot. We are simply tired. All of the time. So, for our church family to give us a break, even for a few hours, is something more tangible than it might initially seem.

We are being reminded of the importance of marriage. By watching our kids so we could go out, everyone involved, even the children, were reminded of the importance of marriage. One of the things I often talk about with couples in pre-marital counseling is that, once they marry, they are a family. They don’t have to wait until they have children to “become a family,” children enlarge the family, but they do not make it. And marriage is at the center of the family. If the marriage is suffering, odds are the home-life is also suffering. Our Church of the Cross family recognizes the importance of marriage so much that they are willing to help make dates happen for others.

We are learning to parent better by doing it with others.  Though we are not always as conscious of this as we maybe should be, when we come together as a group of several adults to watch a large group of children, we are continually watching how others do it and we’re talking notes. Or at least we should be. Not everyone parents the same way. And frankly, some are just naturally better at it than others. So when we come together and care for children in community, it is a great opportunity to learn from those who do it better than us, and to humbly admit where we might improve.

Though there is much more that could be said, I’ll just leave it at this for now. When community comes together, even for something we might not think is a big deal, like to watch children, we grow stronger. We get a glimpse into the daily routines of others and we get a better idea of how to serve one another.

Thank you to the Church of the Cross family for living this out.

Be The Church (GCM Collective)

March 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Be the Church from Caesar Kalinowski on Vimeo.

Missional Communities And The Gospel: “Don’t Just Make It Clear, Make It Real”

April 30, 2012 at 7:29 am

Francois de la Rochefoucauld famously said: “The only thing constant in life is change.” Life is not static, it is dynamic. We mark the passage of time through the changing of the seasons, we measure our lives by the roadside monuments to change; births, marriages, career changes wins and losses.

God tells us that a life following Jesus is also a process of change. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that those who belong to Jesus are being transformed “into the same image” (the image of Jesus; we are being made more like Him), from one degree or glory to another. In other words, not only have we been changed at salvation, we are being changed as we continue to follow Jesus. As much as I’d like to stop an marvel how it is that Paul can say we have any degree of glory from which to be transformed in the first place, I want to focus instead on the idea that he simply expects continued transformation to be part of the Christian life.

Scripture uses the imagery of growth and maturation to describe the process we often call “sanctification.” In short, salvation is pictured as a new birth (John 3:1-15). Paul says that the church works together so that we can 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 (Ephesians 4:13). The goal is that everyone will be “presented mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). We know that this process of change, of becoming more like Jesus will not be complete until “he appears” and “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

All of this seems to me, to imply that the Christian life should be a process of active growth. When children are passive, when they simply sit and watch television all the time, they don’t develop the way they’re supposed to. Metabolism and growth slow. I worry that we have created a church culture where the excuse “oh, he’s just a baby Christian” has become all too common. I worry that we have created a church culture that has lulled people into passivity, making them dependent on on paid professionals and isolating them from the power of the Gospel in everyday life.

In his wonderful series on Preaching To The Heart, argues that the point of preaching is not just to make the Truth clear but to make it real. In other words, preachers should be applying the Gospel to the motivational structures of the heart while people are there listening. If you’re not sure what he means, I highly suggest listening to this series. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of Keller’s idea. I believe that it applies, not just to preaching but to the very ways in which we “do church.”

I’m not convinced that there is only one right model of church. In fact, I believe in contextualization and I love the fact that the Church is such a beautiful tapestry of different backgrounds and approaches all coming together. And yet, I do have lots of reservations about the “come and see/bigger is always better/consumer-driven” approach that seems to have become the default. I worry that it simply reinforces the false division between the “sacred” and the “secular” and enforces the false notions that the “spiritual” aspects of life are our “quiet times” and what happens at the church building. We see lots of teachers making God’s truth clear to people, but I’m not sure we really see it becoming “real” to people.

If you’re not sure what Keller means by the distinction between making it “clear” and making it “real,” Keller references Jonathan Edwards’ A Divine and Supernatural Light, where Edwards argues:

“There is a twofold knowledge of good of which God has made the mind of man capable. The first, that which is merely notional … And the other is, that which consists in the sense of the heart; as when the heart is sensible of pleasure and delight in the presence of the idea of it.  In the former is exercised merely…the understanding, in distinction from the… disposition of the soul …Thus there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace.  There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness.  A man may have the former that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.”

In other words, someone can intellectually know that honey is sweet without having tasted its sweetness. But you cannot taste its sweetness without also knowing intellectually that honey is sweet. In fact, once you’ve tasted it, the intellectual knowledge becomes “more real.” Psalm 34:8 urges us to “taste and see that the LORD is good!” I am concerned that our passive approach to church (sit in a pew, sit in a class, sit in a study, etc.) has led to many people being able to intellectually describe God’s sweetness without having ever actually tasted. We need to do a better job in the church of creating contexts where people have the chance to actually taste God’s sweetness, to see Him in action, to rely on His power.

Much of Jesus’ ministry happened “along the way,” and in community. In fact, as Jesus traveled through life with those He was discipling, many of his “ministry opportunities” might have been what we would consider distractions. I’m becoming convinced that we need to marinate people in the Gospel, get them outside of the church walls in community and on mission (yes, this is an argument for missional communities).

If the goal of the way we do things is not just to make the Gospel clear but real, then I believe Sunday morning can no longer be the organizing principle of our local churches. Before you jump to condemnation, I’m not saying we shouldn’t value Gathering, and preaching and singing and prayer and fellowship or even church structure, just that it doesn’t seem to be the best way to make the Gospel real in people’s lives.

We need to intentionally place people where they are living in community and on mission while becoming fluent in the Gospel. This happens best in smaller groups outside the church walls and helps people come to grips with what it means for the Gospel to be real. We desperately need the Gospel to live in community, where “that person” pushes our buttons and my coffee table was just broken and people didn’t clean up after themselves and where people can speak the truth in love to me and we can bear one another’s burdens. We desperately need the Gospel to live on mission, living everyday life with Gospel intentionality, learning to live through the lens of missionary eyes.

I don’t have time or space to fully unpack the idea of missional communities (or GCM’s as some call them) here, but I do want to urge church planters, pastors and Christians in general to ask: is the Gospel simply “clear” in my life or has it become “real.” In order for this to happen, I believe we need to move beyond Sunday-driven church as we’ve known it and redeem the everyday, where God seems to do most of His work already.

  • Visit the GCM Collective website
  • Read Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester

Harry Potter, LOST, Community and Communitas

June 1, 2010 at 7:37 am

harry-potter2There’s a common thread in many of the great stories. It’s not just great story-telling, it’s not just great characters or even necessarily a good plot. In the best of stories, there’s often a deep-seated bond between characters that intensifies through the stories ups and downs.

We see this in the Harry Potter series as Harry, Ron and Hermione limp through their battle with he who shall not be named. We also see this in LOST, when Jack, Kate, Hurley and the others struggle to understand, not just the island, but their own purposes. What we see in these great stories is not just community but communitas.

If you’ve ever talked with solders who served in battle together, they’ll tell you how close they continue to feel with the soldiers with whom they served; a sense of brotherhood. They have a deep bond with people they had previously not known. A bond that lasts over years and circumstances.

Communitas is community, but it is more, it is a deeper level, a deeper bond, usually developed when individuals undergo some deep trial, some test, trouble, danger or trying circumstance. As Alan Hirsch points out, communitas is often brought about, when, people, together, experience liminality together.

Liminality is a psychological state brought about when people undergo severe stress together, they are brought to the brink. One’s sense of individuality often diminishes and melds into a hyper-sense of community, or, more precisely, communitas.

I have been in the experience of some sort of evangelicalism for the better part of my entire life. I grew up in, what at the time, was a large church, I went to a “Christian” university, worked for a “Christian” company, went to seminary, served as a volunteer youth leader, youth pastor, pastor and church planter. During those many years, I’ve experienced varying levels of community; some has been deep, some shallow, some real, some fake, some downright non-existent. My wife and I went to one church for almost eight months where no one talked to us. No one. Eight months.

Some of the deepest relationships I have are with fellow Believers. But I sometimes find myself wondering if there’s not more. I’ve experienced community, even what I would say is real community, deeper community than what many have experienced. But I’m not sure I’ve really experienced communitas and I sometimes wonder why.

I’ve come to think that at least part of the reason many believers experience community but not communitas is because we understand that the the life of the believer is to, by its very nature, involve others, but we’re not involved in anything that ever really brings us to the end of ourselves. We live lives of comfort, which breeds complacency, so the best we ever get is community. And, yes, while we all long for community, I wonder if it’s really as deep as we as believers should be going.

I’ve met believers in other countries; Muslim parts of Africa and China, even deep parts of Mexico and thsoe believers seem to have communitas while American believers only go so far as community. Why? These foreign (to us) believers experience trial, hardship and sometimes even persecution. By necessity, they live on mission in the face of hardship. It seems that some sense of opposition is necessary for community to turn into communitas.

But I also wonder if it’s not just the fact that American believers don’t face opposition but that we don’t actually live together on mission. What if we really lived as though we were, in our own contexts, missionaries on a mission? What if we understood ourselves to live in “enemy territory”? What if we understood the local church to be an outpost of eternity in time? What if we lived together in community on mission? Would that be enough to deepen our relationships to biblical levels?

But is there also something perhaps more subtle than not facing persecution and not living on mission together? I read the various “one another” passages in Scripture, I see that we are to bear one anothers’ burdens, restoring one another from sin (Galatians 6:1-2), we are to display our allegiance to Jesus through our love for one another (John 13:35), we’re to outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10), forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32). Perhaps part of the reason we don’t experience communitas is because we’re not really involved in the lives of other believers. Not only are we not living together in mission, we’re not even facing life’s “everyday trials” together. We don’t go through much of anything together, do we?

Have you experienced real Christian community? Have you experienced more? Have you moved beyond community to communitas? Why or why not?