from A Living Alternative Our Missional Pilgrimage by Jamie
Each of these five practices- or rather especially, when these five practices are seen together- lead us to living into the gospel in the whole of our lives and before a watching world. It is when we see these happening- not as expressions of ritual formality or rigid moral obligation- it is then that we begin to encounter God at work in His world and participate with Him in building His kingdom.
The way each of these practices are engaged helps us dismantle an approach to church life that is built by the assumption (conscious or otherwise) that the “Christian life” is somehow lived apart from the “real world”. Many people have told me that what we are trying to do a Little Flowers Community is commendable, but surely not very realistic outside of Sunday worship. It’s upside-down to the real world, they say. However, we stand with Matt Woodley:
“Maybe the world as we know it is upside down, but we’re so used to it that it seems right side up. When Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom (Mt 4:17), he initiated a revolutionary movement to set things right, to restore this upside down, off-kilter, broken world by turning it right side up.” (from “Gospel of Matthew: God With Us”, IVPress 2011)
Thus, becoming this living alternative in a world where “common sense” suggests otherwise is part of our identity and purpose as a people of Christ. The very fact that it is so very different from the world is what gives it the evangelical authority, offering the hope of a new life never before considered. For some, this will offend and threaten, thus Christ’s frequent reminders that we should expect and take joy in our suffering for His sake. You cannot make such an absolute allegiance to Christ without alienating the expectations of the state, society, economic systems and much more.
However, many will be drawn to this new way of life as one of hope and peace. The beauty of it is that, while distinctly Christian, these practices hold powerful appeal to a watching world, providing a way into the life of Christ that doesn’t require them to don the garments of Christendom, but instead can enter in with their own celebrated individuality and gifting. It is simultaneously counter-cultural where necessary, yet redemptively affirming of who we are as individuals and groups.
Some will say that these practices fail to make the verbal proclamation of the gospel a central practice. I would suggest that this way of life invariably produces such proclamation as the natural fruit of a life lived in the Spirit. Further, such proclamation is given authority by the credibility of the people proclaiming it- not only from their love and devotion to Christ, but also in light of the humility and confession in the face of their sin and brokenness. Rather than a practice that comes alongside these five, I would suggest that proclamation is an overarching given to this kind of Church life. (As an important aside, the challenge also lies with what we are to be proclaiming as gospel. To that end, I cannot more strongly endorse to you Scot McKnight’s book “The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited”.)
In our experience, which I do not suggest should be universally applied, such practices have worked best when a community of faith is of a size that allows for the time and energy to embrace these practices. Further, it requires a willingness to allow for the inefficiency that such formation demands for the great good of the fruit that will be produced in the long term. It also requires a posture of humility, where the standard of righteousness is emphasized graciously inward, not as a standard for acceptance and embrace (see my post, “Believing, Behaving, Belonging”, which I also explore in more detail in my book, “The Cost of Community”).
These practices are not meant to describe all of what the church is. Further, they will be practiced differently in different contexts. Yet, we believe that they provide an essential foundation for being the people of God together, living into our identity and purpose as Christ’s Body. It is when this is done that God is given the greatest glory before a waiting and watching world.
Does your community embrace these practices in this way? What would it take to do so?