Like I was saying last time, the responses to our mapping survey are inspiring. I think they are honest about our weaknesses and I think they are even more honest about what we hope. We are definitely a circle of hope.
I decided to do a series of posts about this major question: Given what you think is going to happen in our society and in the world in the next five years, what do you think Jesus wants to do through his church, in general, not just us?
People did not shy away from answering that meaty question—there are eighteen pages of responses! Right at the top of the list is are thoughts about how Jesus wants to be seen and understood. I sorted out one collection of answers: Demonstrate an alternative. That is a main way the Lord wants us to respond to what is going on.
There was a lot of thinking about just what being an alternative might mean, in general.
It means we are a people who love.
- Be the people who offer love to everyone, even if that means receiving some hate in return.
- Love is an action word. Being open to acceptance, communication, and understanding and how key they are in the action of love.
- We recognized that our society is rapidly fragmenting and we believe that Jesus would want us to exhibit a countercultural community of reconciliation that connects people on a very human level and loves everyone despite economic or political beliefs, where ANY one is loved.
We opt out of the norm.
- Show that we as the church are not in competition with each other or the world and that there is enough—resources, love, goodness
- Be an alternative to politics and oppressive ways of the world.
- Staying focused on Bible and how the Holy Spirit is leading despite societal changes; for people to be kind and serve each other in two ways: 1) interpersonally and 2) through joining together to change larger systems or create alternative systems
We take action.
- Be visible and vocal—find ways to [pardon their language] “drown out the assholes” (people who claim Christ’s name and do a lot of damage, loudly). We should have less timidity, more openness about topics that are avoided.
- Our cell felt the church will need to address what’s happening in the world, do a better job being the church in the world, be countercultural, address things like racism/anti-racism, become open/affirming, address climate change and environmental racism and mobilize around these things.
- Be more involved, more active, more integrated, more integral… and less “set apart.”
Then there were a list of things that contribute to being an alternative. Existence in Christ is resistance to the ways of the world. We are human beings, not just human doings. While we are rather critical of what we do (or don’t) as not good enough, we are also aware that it is Christ in us who is the hope of glory, not our exceptional enactment of Christianity.
To be the alternative that demonstrates the gospel, we will have to:
For some people, this is the only thing the church is really about: their personal, private spirituality. We know there is more, but what is happening Spirit-to-spirit is basic to everything else.
- Pray: We need more time to pray and meditate together to listen to what the Lord is trying to say.
- Practice silence: Practice our commitment to silence as a means of restoration and resistance.
- Seek wholeness: Distinguish between being and doing in a way that leads to greater wholeness and participation in the life of God.
- Worship: Deepen our unique way to worship; preserve our reverence for tradition.
- Be wild: Can we change the Sunday Meeting/Cell structure? What can we experiment with? The pop-up Sunday Meetings feel great! We are getting bigger and feeling bigger, and thus there is potentially more to lose. We don’t want the fear of loss to motivate us. We want to keep being daring like we truly are. Nurture our wildness in Christ!
- Stay vulnerable: Keep being vulnerable.
- Be humble: Stop being experts and be humble learners.
- Study: We would benefit from more opportunities to study the Bible but when we don’t really want to put the effort in now—we need to be held onto until we are ready.
- Listen: We talked about how he would want us to continue to listen to him in the moments we need his love.
- Discern: Be aware of the movement in the body of Christ.
Develop radical community
The community we have developed might be our best trait. We want to be a covenant people who don’t love just in word, but in deed.
- Resist isolation: The media (screens of all kinds) creates. We have to resist lies about self-sufficiency and keep community alive. We need a loving and supportive community more than ever in the face of devastating isolation of the world that makes family and togetherness a thing of the “old days.” Offer a countercultural way to feel connected to one another in authentic, Christ-centered togetherness as an alternative to the isolation perpetuated by our culture.
- Share: Let’s exit consumer culture. Develop practical, communal sharing in the face of global warming and autocracy.
- Have healthy conflict: We must seek reconciliation. Some people need to learn and others relearn how to have healthy conflict. Some relationships are old, now. They might quench the Spirit by ignoring difficult disconnections people are harboring.
- Be transpolitical: Let’s focus our efforts on love and community regardless of the leadership of the country. How to disagree and continue talking about it, be an example of how disagreement and community can happen, voice for justice (speaking out against discrimination/segregation), creating a place of belonging.
- Share deeper security: We think Jesus wants the church to be connecting with people in a relational way, as an alternative to an increasingly virtual world. He wants us to point to a deeper truth, and a deeper reason for security, especially as the US economic system, global terror, environmental destruction and other forces shake our more superficial bases of stability.
- Communicate effectively: Let’s refine how we communicate (pick one mechanism and stick with it).
- Perfect our innovative structure: Another topic that came about is the trend towards a bigger ‘One’ Church, while keeping small congregations. The sense of concurrence centered on smaller congregational units make it easier for newcomers to join. What direction will we go towards? Bigger, or keep smaller separate conversations. There should be discernment between having a centralized identity vs. a centralized power structure.
Be a safe place to heal
This might be an aspect of the previous section, but it highlights how many times people talked about being a safe place.
- Be a safe place from sin and despair—a place for help and healing, a place to get balanced and healthy.
- Provide a safe environment for further mental health exploration and healing; help people to get past the anxiety of capitalism/consumerism, counter the fear and stress of our culture.
- Hold the contrast between joy and sorrow—create a safe space for people to celebrate and mourn together.
- Share with those who are struggling, financially, emotionally, and giving of our time and gifts.
Practice the next orthodoxy
We had quite a few cells name elements of our thinking that seems to be forming into a way of seeing the world. We named it the “next orthodoxy” Jesus seems to be forming in our era. Here is some of what people said:
- We don’t need to define Christianity too narrowly, which is actually really hard.
- The Church doesn’t need to be the morality police.
- Jesus wants us to continue to be a safe place for people to find their identity and this is in a world in which one is required to invent their own identity.
- Evangelical epistemology could use a reset button; people need to learn to hear God speak through further means than just the Bible.
- As Western Christianity fades in global importance, we’re going to have to reckon with white supremacy and how it has colored what the Church has taught.
- Beauty is becoming more important than truth; the church needs to develop way more artists to communicate as we move forward.
- The body of Christ can stand in the gap, stay strong in morals and follow the radical nature of Christ.
- We should articulate how Circle of Hope is an alternative to the ethos of modernity (e.g. individualism, treating relationships as interchangeable parts).
Consciously address technology
Underlying all these elements of demonstrating an alternative, people saw the threat of what technology is doing to undermine that reality. This is the first time this subject has ever been evident in our mapping.
- We need to develop our theology of technology. There has been a lot written, but we don’t know how to apply much practically.
- Rely on face-to-face relationships—resist relying on screen interactions, especially when we want to help people come to know Jesus. It’s incarnational, people.
- Social media makes the world worse— peer pressure and media bullying take that worse to another level.
- The world’s communication systems are better in many, many ways, but we don’t want to lose connecting one on one, in person anymore as we become fully enslaved to our phones. We are required to process more stimulation than can be processed.
- We are addicted to the promise of instant gratification that never satisfies. We have more virtual participation and less real world. We are always in a screen. We constantly want to be entertained, and that keeps us from deep. We are being trained to escape from ourselves. We need to foment a rebellion against porn and other screen addictions.
- We don’t have much consciousness of where we are heading. In five years life decisions might be guided and made by algorithms. Medical breakthroughs might be creating new kinds of humans. We might be entering a period when Jesus wants his people to stand up against ‘big evil’ and question what it means to be human as technology allows us to do things we never could before.
Last time the key word was “spread.” This whole post could have been part of the last one, since being the alternative is elemental to talking about it. We want to be the gospel so we can tell someone “Come and see what I am talking about.”