This is numero three in a multi-part series on Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways. Get the book and follow along, or just read the blog and leave your comments.
Generally speaking, people like God. They have a spirituality. They dig Jesus. They pray, or they want to know how to pray.
But, generally speaking–people can’t stand the church. That includes people who have left the church, who have never been a part of the church, and even people who are actively engaged in the church. For a while, I left the church in my early adulthood. Two months ago I left the United Methodist tribe (yesterday morning I was a Presbyterian, no telling what I’ll ‘be’ next Sunday). So I guess that puts me in that “I like God/spiritual/Jesus/prayer but not the institution the church has become” camp. And I know I’m not alone. What I found, however, when I tried to ‘do church’ with Simple Church, I ended up just replicating all the trappings of the institutional church, but in a living room instead of a sanctuary. If I’m honest, after the first one, I didn’t really like it. If I’m really honest, I didn’t much like the first worship service, either. Not to say that it wasn’t true and edifying worship, because it was. But I was–and still am–longing for something different. At a practical sense, Simple Church can’t even begin to compete with the institutional church in the things that it’s really good at. Simple Church is to reach those people who say ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ or ‘meh’ to the institutional church, it’s gotta be something different at its core.
However, space is important. Where a church meets to worship, to do mission, to hang out, to learn, etc. says a lot about the community and shapes the mission and the personality of the church. Simple Church, however, is committed to never owning a dedicated building. So that limits us in where we ‘do’ church, but I believe it does so in a positive way. Simple Church, then, must meet in what Alan calls a “proximity space” (37). In other words, “it involves the creation of places and/or events where Christians and not-yet-Christians can interact meaningfully with each other” (37-8). This looks like living rooms, parks, Panara Bread, Starbucks, and so on.
As important as space may be, however, church can easily become about the space, no matter where it is because space is so defining for human beings. Just because Simple Church rejets traditional worship spaces for itself, doesn’t mean that it is automatically more effective at the mission of the church for doing so. You cannot make disciples as easily in a living room as you can not make disciples in a traditional church building. It’s at this point that Alan goes back to bullet points to describe what a church really is. The core of a church is:
- A covenant community – not just people hanging out together, but people who have a deep sense of obligation for one another, formed by a promise to each other and to God.
- Centered on Jesus – Not on just God, and not just on the teachings of Jesus, but on the relationship shared with the Second Person of the Trinity, The Son, Jesus Christ.
A church with this center lives in a threefold manner:
- It worships together the Trinity–The Father through the Son, by the Holy Spirit–offering up their lives as a holy and living sacrifice to the one who creates, redeems, and sustains them and the world
- They are disciples who seek to become like him, perfected in Christ-like love in this life, walking as he walked and with minds conformed to his.
- They works as co-redeemers in the world, bringing the peace of God’s Kingdom into the world through works of mercy.
It’s my opinion that the Western church, for the most part, fails in all of these things. They have shadows of each of these characteristics, but lives and communities are not being radically redeemed and reformed through the work of the church. I have no interest in these churches, and I have no interest in starting one that is not fully dedicated to this identity and work.