Ok – warning – this is a bit on the "academic" side of posts today – but worth some consideration!
This post began in conversation with some pals about what’s been going on at our faith community in Monroe. A few of us were reflecting on a recent event where our “preschool” community and “worship community” overlapped in activity…
Sidebar here – let me say clearly here and now that I don’t see two “separate” communities when I view the overall sphere of mission/Kingdom influence of Peace in Monroe…we have one community…one aspect that gathers and worships on Sunday and is involved in “doing life” with each other throughout the week in a variety of manners and we have another aspect of our community that has invested young hearts and lives into our preschool “family” and, as a result, is part of our lives during the work week.
Back to what I was reflecting on above before I rudely interrupted myself – that activity was truly a sight to behold because there were no boundaries that day between the two aspects of our faith community. Relationships were buzzing and there was an electricity or sense of aliveness in the air that was definitely Spirit inspired. In the course of the conversation, my friend Tim blurted out or better yet shared a perspective…he was saying something about how easy it would be to ask one of his friends (someone whom Tim knows and cares about outside of our faith community) to join in a rich relational time like we were having on that one Sunday afternoon. He said it was fun, relational, and a great time to be sharing life as well as some of the values and deeply held commitments that we experience in loving and following Jesus. Those aspects of life as we “share our lives and live our faith” come more naturally and powerfully in an environment as such…but then he made a powerful comment. Tim was reflecting out loud how that sense of ease would dramatically change if he were to invite a friend to “church” (i.e. a worship experience) and how he would need “my help” in coming up with a strategy for how that might occur.
Now, that one comment touched off one of those “light bulb” moments in our little group that night…because Tim’s story was the point, otherwise known as the main reason we were gathering for our conversation that night. You see, as followers of Jesus we have to ask ourselves, if we are going to attempt to live incarnationally with others (in other words, to live as one who reveals the Lord Jesus in and through our lives) when there comes a time to ask a friend to jump into a potential relational blending of “communities” (our “friendship communities” and our “faith” communities, in other words, those we share time with outside of the walls and ministry boundaries of traditional church and those we share life with in our neighborhoods, workplaces, etc.), which is the best place to which we should ask? Here’s my thinking on this…instead of asking a friend to jump right to a worship experience with songs and rituals they might not appreciate or understand, reading from a book (the bible) that they might not (or definitely don’t) believe in or see as authoritative, passively sitting and not being able to engage in conversation of any sort until “we” have dumped our religious load on them, not even including the issue of Communion or sermons (or as one of my friends said a while ago, “every time I go to a church service I feel like I’m in a time-share presentation), why not intentionally make it our “mission” to create “third places” where we can see a deliberate overlapping of our life communities (faith and other relational communities) for the sake of the Kingdom of God and trust the Holy Spirit with the results? It would seem to me that incarnating the presence of Jesus, asking the Kingdom of God to be present in the love and care and fun we have in relationships during those times, and trusting that it is the relational God we trust and serve who manifests Himself clearly in the midst of those community moments would be something that should be embracing with passion.
I don’t know when we got the impression that being in the pew is the end goal of ministry…being in a transformative relationship with Christ as His follower, participating in the life of HIS Body through relationships, exercising the gifts that He gives us in our life in Jesus and joining God in His mission to “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10) THAT is the end goal I came to understand as I read the bible and get the mentoring that I get from people in the Body of Christ that I trust.
There has been a lot of buzz over the past years within some Christ-following circles about “third places”. A definition of “Third Places” really emerges from sociology and was prominently displayed in the book, Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam a few years back. Essentially (by definition):
“Third places” are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true "third place": free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.”
So the question becomes, “where do we have an opportunity to build relationships with redemptive potentiality?” AND, where best do we build a “place” where relationships can be developed with integrity but also where these relationships have an opportunity to experience the grace, love and power of God’s Kingdom? Don’t get me wrong…worship experiences could be and might become part of the equation…but if people are going to see, experience and embrace transformation we are going to see them take a step toward that in “third places”…places we “design” or strategize to “build” so that our relational communities can overlap in Spirit-inspired and transformative manners. By the way, that’s what we are attempting to do in our faith community here in Monroe, Washington. I think it would be an understatement to say that we have this whole, “mission of God” thing figured out…but this is simply one step we are taking in attempting to be faithful to the call of Jesus to “go and make disciples”…we can’t depend on the fact that there are going to be more people “looking” for places to worship….that isn’t occurring anymore. I found out long ago that there are no more “Lutherans” moving into our community and searching for a “church home”. This is a post-Christendom world and culture and what was true long ago (during the earliest of recordings of ministry activities and mission-oriented movement of the early gatherings of followers of Christ) is true now…we must not sit back and wait for people to show up in our buildings…rather we must be a “sent” people…going where the Lord leads…tracking where the Spirit moves…looking for the activity of the Father and joining HIM there…if anything, building relationships with those who need to see a picture and revelation of Jesus in their lives more than they need to see the inside of a church building.
As usual, these thoughts are in process…so, I sign off where I usually do – more to come…