"The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning." -- Emil Brunner
Mission very easily becomes one activity among others in church life.  It sits on the agenda alongside a list of other items bying for attention.  Or it is left to the enthusiasts to get on with it at the edge of church life.

How often have you seen a church where the evangelist is over there, and you should talk to him if you are interested in that kind of stuff.  Not that I am any better, most likely far, far worse than the average person sitting in the rows of chairs (we don't have pews), but that doesn't make it any less important.  (Just because there are always earmarks in the bills our legislature passes, doesn't make the next one right)

The church [not individuals] should be at the heart of mission.  To be a Christian is, by definitio, to be part of the community of God's people.  To be united with Christ is to be part of his body.  The assumption of the New Testament is that this always finds expression in committment to a local church.  ...  Committment to the church is easy while the church is an abstract, universal reality.  But the New Testament assumes committment to real people in real local churches with all their faults and foibles.

They talk a little about "hit and run missions", where there isn't a continuous, local presence that can continue the original work of the evangelist in discipleship and pastoring, etc.  The mission trip that I went on (and yes, I am still planning on writing that up...) while one-time, or at best short-term, for most of us who were there for that one week, is supported on a continual basis by a group of missionaries, who serve the local communities in a variety of ways.  For the one guy who we talked to one afternoon and who desired to become a Christian, we talked and prayed with him, and I gave him my Spanish-English bible, but perhaps more importantly, I emailed his name and address to one pastor/missionary so he knows that he exists, and can check in on him from time to time (I am not sure about the churches around the village - we got some strange reports from some of the natives, and the only church that we knew anything about, was too far away to attend on a regular basis - so that is something to look into for future visits - this was our first planned trip to that village, so I don't think the mission organization that we were associated with knows too much about it - they are primarily focused on Haitians living in the Dominican, amd this was a Dominican (ie. not Haitian) village.

One interesting point the authors make about the first churches that Paul and others planted was that they weren't large.  They primarily met in homes (dedicated church buildings weren't very common prior to Constantine) and so as the Church grew, church plantings were normal, and necessary, because there simply wasn't room in a particular house, so a new church was started in another home.  I think we don't even think about that as churches seek for bigger buildings, etc.  Being community-centered, I obviously favor smaller communities, and the authors point out that the first churches by necessity were close-knit communities - you didn't have an usher assigned to look out for new people (or watch video tapes of the service afterwards to try to figure out who had filled in the visitor card - as one friend used to do in a church here in Pittsburgh).

Small communities determine a size in which mutual discipleship and care can realistically take place.  They create a simplicity that militates against a maintenance mentality: there are no expensive building to maintain or complex programs to run.  They determine a style that is participatory and inclusive, mirroring the discipleship model and table fellowship of Jesus himself.

Posted by Jon Daley on April 4, 2010, 6:01 pm | Read 3364 times
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Comments

In general I agree that small churches are best. Our church, while hardly big, has four services each Sunday, and it's very easy to lose track of people in the "other" services. I've never liked splitting the church into two, much less four.

That said, there are reasons for having larger group; it's important for a group to be the right size for its purpose, but the right size for something isn't always "small." So there needs to be a good way for small communities to join together periodically. I remember a friend's complaint about her small town, that there were many churches, each trying to have everything its members needed, and all struggling because they were just too small. If they would only work together, she said, they could have had very effective programs. But they were different denominations....

Working closely together with other congregations might also help achieve diversity; one problem with very small churches is the tendency to be homogeneous.

I'm also wondering if there isn't something to having a more fluid definition of church. It's important to have a fellowship of mutual commitment and dependable structure, and not flit from one place to another. (Solid leadership and structure are like medical care: when you're healthy, having a good doctor isn't all that important, but when you're sick it could be critical.) But the idea of "this one congregation is my one and only church" makes me claustrophobic. The Church is all Christians, and a situation in which one worships regularly with Congregation A but -- both internally and externally to that -- has a Bible study with Group B and builds Habitat for Humanity houses with Group C and makes music with Group D and plays baseball with Group E and does all of these things with an eye to Christian fellowship...I think that's a good thing.

Posted by SursumCorda on April 5, 2010, 6:33 am

I partially agree about the A,B,C groups and I've enjoyed my birthday parties when people from different circles of friends of mine have gotten together. And it is neat to see people remembering each other from previous years, and continuing conversations from where they left off.

But, given that most people don't have much time for other people, I think that a good way for more interaction is to have the same (or similar) groups of people in different activities. I've wondered if that is one thing that makes Hillsboro a more closely knit community - if you are interested in a barbershop quartet, you have one choice, and a large number of those people are going to go to certain churches, since those churches have more musical things going on. If you are interested in sports, you are going to show up on Saturday mornings, when the *only* sports opportunities are available (at least for the younger kids). If you are active in your kids' education (not counting home schooling) you will likely be going to the one public school available, since the private schools are far away, and so you'll be interacting with the set of parents that care about their children's education.

And since there is only one hardware store, etc. you'll get to know those people more as you visit them, rather than spreading out the visits to other stores based on cost, or convenient location, etc.

I used to say that people needed to live within 5 or 10 minutes driving distance to actually see each other, because after that, once you are in the car, it is mostly the same whether you drive 11 or 20 minutes. There is a bit more barrier to driving 45 for some people, though I tend to ignore that distance for our family.

But, I've changed that statement, and now say that the availability of community is defined by walking distance and then which grocery store you shop at, and after that, it is all the same, as far as driving distance/seeing each other is concerned.

Simply shopping at the same store doesn't force community, but it does provide more opportunities, and the more "forced" interactions (as in a small town, with limited choices of activities) there are, the more likely you will have community, whatever the personality types, though obviously some people are happier being by themselves than others.

Posted by jondaley on April 5, 2010, 10:32 am

I'm a fan of this "smaller" church concept. Good post.

PS. Where did the captcha go?

Posted by Mike on April 5, 2010, 8:25 pm

There hasn't been a captcha on this blog for a year or two... :) Captchas stopped working two or three years ago, but somehow some people haven't heard that, and keep using them.

Computers have a higher success rate than humans do now, so they are completely worthless, or actually, worse than worthless. I personally fail captchas at probably a 20% rate.

LifeType uses badbehavior, which works pretty well, though we had to turn off some of the tests, as it was causing humans to fail occasionally. And then hiddeninput is the other main one, plus the bayesian filter that we've always had.

The great thing about hidden input is that it is impossible for a human to fail (and you don't even know it exists unless you look at the HTML source). And so far, most computers fail it; and I suspect that most of the spam that gets through it is done by humans getting paid $.05/comment or something like that, and there isn't anything you can do for that, except maybe to have a registration requirement which is really annoying, and I don't read blogs that require registration to comment.

Posted by jondaley on April 5, 2010, 10:25 pm
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