I believe God has a purpose on the creation of this world. Let's call it the Ultimate Purpose. I also believe that in order to achieve it, God has a purpose for every person in his Kingdom. And that for each person to be able to fulfil his/her purpose, he has given abilities, some natural, some supernatural. And also that that purpose is in line with the ultimate purpose of God.
But for that purpose to be fulfilled, it is not enough for each person to have his/her own individual purposes. It seems God has made things in such a way that people can't really fulfil their purposes all by themselves. They have to find a community, and synergize their abilities to really be able to fulfil the ultimate purpose.
Because of all that, one of the most important roles of a christian community, is for us to empower each other on our callings. And this can happen in very different ways: incentivating, contributing with our money and with our time, counselling, pray, share experiences, help founding out creative new ways to fulfil it, etc.
This has everything to do with what I wrote earlier about Unity and the Gifts, but goes further in saying that we are not only to respect other giftings for the sake of unity, but we are also to get involved in the working of the gifts of the members of our community. Give them all the help they need to fulfil their purposes. In the end, their purposes are our purposes too.
Another way of putting the question is: What criteria do you use to evaluate your community?
If you look at how most churches evaluate, you'll tend to think that it's all about numbers. The more, the merrier. How many "got saved" this year? What was the mean attendance at Sunday? And at Sunday School? How many are involved in the ministry?
I don't believe in numbers to evaluate the success of a community. There are better ways of evaluating the success of a community. A good christian community is a community where relationships are strong, no mater what may go wrong. Where there is an equilibrium of gifting, and a sense of respect and humility for each other gifting. That makes a difference wherever it is. That has connections with the outside world. It is also a community that is generating (or in he process of generating) other similar (not equal) communities (this last thing being the signal of complete maturity in a community).
What we have to question ourselves is: Is our community doing that? If not, is it taking measures to do it? Those are very important questions.
There is a very popular concept in both modern and post-modern churches called "neutral place". This is a concept coming from the seeker-sensitive movement, and the idea is that you should have meetings in a public neutral place, because unbelievers will feel more comfortable to go there then to go to a more personal space, like someone's house
I think it is time for someone to say it. Neutral places are completely overrated. Looking back on my experience, neutral places were the second biggest simple community / house church killer I have ever seen, right after re-institutionalizing. More specifically, moving from a personal space to a "neutral" space is a church killer. It will destroy much of the personal touch in the community, and in the end, the community itself.
The real question is that we move to "neutral" places because we are trying to evangelize people before we create relationships with them. We want them to come to the "neutral" place, and then we may want to create a relationship with them. But that's a much harder thing to happen than the opposite.
So, why do we want to evangelize before creating relationships? For a number of different reasons. The most common is that we don't have time to create relationships because we are too busy "doing church" (will you have time to create relationships after?). another popular reason is that when you work full-time in ministry, you don't have non-christian friends to create relationships with. Or you are so christian that all your friends are christian. All of those are really lousy reasons.
Are this words too harsh? Is your experience different than mine?
Recently I noticed Shema Community, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Looks really interesting, worth a look if you are interested in the Emerging Church. A little about them:
"Shema Community Movement is not another ‘church’ or ’denomination’ within the Christian faith or religion but a ‘grass-roots’ missional movement (missional means leading a ‘go to them’ life, instead of a ‘come to us and become like us’ life), sharing the belief that ‘good news must be good news for everybody or it is not good news at all.’ At our core, we embrace Judeo-Christian essentials measuring ‘goodness’ by what we practice, who we’re becoming, what we embrace, what we create, and whom we include."
We can't talk about direct access to God without organical flat structures, because hierarchical structures undermine that direct access. It is true that hierarchical structures don't force you to neglect your direct relationship with God, but it helps. People start depending on the leaders for prayer, teaching and advising. The pastor can say a thousand times from the pulpit that people should have direct access to God, but his hierarchical position undermines his own words.
Instead of hierarchical structures, what the church needs is relational structures, where everyone acts (or try to) in love, humility and sumission on to the other. A real interdependent community, where no one is superior to the other, where everyone has something to give and receive. As equals before God and men.
"If the electricity went out, and your walls fell down, and your biggest givers died, what would you have left? Would you have a community of people still seeking after the heart of God? Would you still worship even without a band? Would you still be able to learn about God even though you can't show a video or a PowerPoint slide? In other words, what you have when everything else goes away is what your church is really all about."
We got together on saturday to play some games and eat cake. We did play some cards, and almost playes mikado, but we ended up doing very little and just talking about stuff and having fun. Its good when the relationships get to a point where we can just be together and never find it boring. This is being a community. This is being church. We really need to spend more time like this.