Friday, February 10, 2006


Future Church

(Originally posted on Long Haul Christian)

Sparked by Sam's post on intimacy with God as a church value, I've been thinking about church from two standpoints. One question is about what kind of church would revolutionize the world. The other question has to do with what kind of church would capture me.

Last night, tired from a busy day at work, I went to bed early and started a sort of guided imagery discussion of this with the Holy Spirit. I've had this fairly fuzzy idea that a church could be made with almost no structure. Let the Holy Spirit himself guide the people there and suggest what to do. It's a nice theory, a dance wherein each person is guided by the subtle cues of God's kindness. I entertained that image for a time, and then the Holy Spirit gently reminded me that, in a crowd, His voice is harder to hear.

I ran through my memories of various church meetings. Some overstructured and dead, some understructured and taken over by people with more enthusiasm than Spirit. Rather sadly I arrived at the idea that some structure is necessary, but those who are providing the structure need to be very sensitive to what's going on.

Then I imagined going someplace and starting a church. What would I do? Thought experiment. First, why do it? There are many churches just about everywhere. What could I offer that the others don't? It'd be a rather one-horse affair: teach about God, encourage intimacy with him, and then let the rest work out from there. It'd probably never be big, but what might be the outcome? The image of a new oak tree came to my mind: two inches of tree above the ground, with two tiny leaves and nothing else to show for a few years of development. Under the surface, though, is a root six feet down. The root does what it is designed to do.

Our root is in Jesus' heart. Why follow him? I don't have words for it. It's a feeling, but something other than the normal everyday feelings we have. It is stronger or weaker at times, but never gone, always leading toward light, always suggesting that now is not the time to quit. Eventually I fell asleep but had some wild dreams including one in which I was standing in a yard guarding someone else's stuff while my own stuff was all by itself. Story of my life. Guarding the old ideas I grew up with, leaving God's new ideas alone as if they're radioactive. I know his way is better, solidly, intellectually, but the root of intellect is way ahead of the emotional tree. Or something like that.

This is an experiment. An odd sort of experiment, with me as the guinea pig and my life depending upon the outcome. It's an experiment because I don't trust much of what I've been taught, so I'm figuring it out on the fly. This started the day God brought me back to himself by instigating a crisis in the quite literal sense: choice. Being the straightforward guy that I am, I asked God for help thinking through what had happened. He did, in the first of the guided-imagery sessions that I experienced.

I responded to Sam's post about church values because this is important to me. Any church must allow room for individual variation in experience. What I've experienced is assigned to the "Weird" hopper by many, but for every weird story I have, Lu and others have ten more that are even weirder. What kind of church would attract me? One that would allow weirdness. On one of the last times I went to church, one of the people I knew took me aside and lectured me about obedience. This was a man who hadn't seen me in about six months. How does he know me well enough to know what I need? And by what is he judging obedience?

If you look at that two-inch oak in objective terms, comparing it to the 50-foot ones nearby, it's a failure. Laughable. The root sits undergound and says "Just you watch." It, in obedience to its God-given biologic imperative, is growing. The tree will come.

Note that no magical faith-in-faith is required here. Roots make trees whether or not you, or I, or the rest of the universe is thinking about it. God makes followers of Jesus out of those who follow Jesus. They hold his hand and dance with the whirlwind.

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