What’s the Future of Christian Community?

In my first post in this series I explored the question “what is God’s mission?”, and the second post briefly answered “who are we and how did we get here?” in regards to our New Creation Christian Community. In this final post in the series I’ll set out to describe some of the new vision stirring in our community.

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Western society is rapidly changing: it is becoming increasingly post-Christian and is splitting into a myriad of subcultures. God raised us up 40 years ago to be an expression of the kingdom of God to that culture, but as culture changes our expression of the kingdom must adapt to speak into the longings and values of today. That’s my heart for Christian community.

Incarnational Community

In Jesus’ Great Commission He lays down a very practical mandate for teaching, living and passing on His way of life between generations of disciples. Deeper though than all the activity of going, teaching, baptising and forgiving is a truth more fundamental to His commission as it expresses the heart and nature of the commission. In John 20:21 Jesus says:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

How did the Father send Jesus?

Jesus was born as one of us. Incarnated, in-carnari, in-flesh: he enfleshed God. In the same way the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends us in the power of his Spirit to incarnate the good news, to “be” good news to people. God is not far from anyone and the kingdom is always at hand, but humanity is blind and needs God’s goodness translating into vernacular, to be demonstrated, to be spelt out in flesh and blood.

John 1:14 describes how The Word became a human and pitched his tent among us, and thus we’ve seen his glory from the Father:

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
(The Message)

Once we become reconciled to God and adopted into His family through new birth the key questions we should then ask ourselves are “who is God sending us to?” and “how can we embody the good news among them?”.

I have three thoughts as to where those questions will lead us:

1. Variety of Expression

Incarnation is the art of translation. To Middle Eastern Jews the Son of God was born a Middle Eastern Jew. If Jesus calls us to “enflesh” Himself by expressing the good news of the kingdom to other people groups, it can most effectively be expressed as a native, as one of them. A variety of mission fields will require a variety of expressions of the one kingdom.

Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor, missionary to China

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 9 Hudson Taylor said “let us in everything not sinful, become like the Chinese, that by all means we may save some”. We could paraphrase Paul ourselves by saying “To the bricklayers I became like a bricklayer, without laying a brick. To the students I became like a student, though not locked into study…” That requires a great variety of expressions if our communities are to become incarnational.

Creation is full of variety, colour and diversity, so it’s clearly God’s style. Diversity with interdependence is beautiful and reflects the trinity. Our theology tells us we each have unique ministries that work together like organs of a body, but have we considered that every church and community can also have a unique ministry too? Allowing for a greater variety of expressions of community allows each household’s way of life to be shaped to suit both the gifting of its people and the context to which they are called, their mission field.

The seed of the kingdom comes already packaged with every piece of DNA it needs to grow, it’s like if you plant Jesus in the soil of a locality and water it, the seed will unzip itself from the inside and grow into a plant suited for fruitfulness in that environment. We must be careful not to impose structures and expectations contrary to the kingdom’s natural expression in a context. Let’s see the end of a “cut and paste” franchised community model and the end of communities working in isolation.

2. Neighbourliness

“The incarnation had a purpose. God’s strategy was to move in, live deep, and share everything. Jesus lived up to his elbows in human need; his life was embedded in the lumpy contours of everyday life.”
Rt Revd John Pritchard

“Move in, live deep, share everything”, I love that! That simple little vision encapsulates drawing alongside neighbours (outward relationship), being close to God (upward relationship) and radical community (interrelationship).

Many future communities will not be large or distant from their neighbours either culturally or geographically but very local. They will be among the people by default, not by exception, living in close natural proximity to unbelieving neighbours in the daily routines of life. They may choose to shop at the open-air market, use the local laundrette, go to the local barbers…

This will probably mean more clusters, small groups living in close proximity to each other and to unbelieving neighbours in a neighbourhood, and we’ll have fewer big community houses of over 20 people in one building. Big houses usually have at most two neighbours at a distance, whereas four smaller houses can have eight neighbours all physically closer by.

As community activist Yusef Bunchy said “we’ve got to put the neighbour back into the hood”.

In Matthew 5 when Jesus first paints a picture of what His kingdom looks like, He describes it as both a city shining on a hill, a lamp on a stand and as salt. With big community we’ve been very good at being a city and a light, but not so good at being ‘salty’. God is turning us outward again. Let’s pray that our light isn’t hidden by a ‘community bubble’ and also that new communities don’t lose their saltiness as they engage.

I believe God’s Spirit moves in us most powerfully when we’re joining Him in His work. God is close to the broken-hearted, so that’s where we should be too, and not just when we decide to go out on special excursions.

3. Generosity

The early church was simple, and it was poor. Future communities will revolve around meals, their devotion to apostle’s teaching, prayer and giving alms to the poor.

Simple church is light-footed, flexible and easily reproducible. Movement requires simplicity. Let’s not put up over-structural barriers to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

One of the problems of becoming established is that there is less risk and therefore less room for faith. We will become at peace again with being prophetically poor at times, not rich and self-sufficient but abounding in generosity and therefore also necessarily in faith.

Poverty creates connection and plays a part in making incarnation genuine; there is opportunity for the gospel in being in need when we become “one of them” rather than just giving handouts (Waiting to be Welcomed is a brilliant story on our need to be needy in mission).

Let’s Paint a Picture

So with that in mind, let’s imagine how a few communities could branch out in order to be relevant to their unique gospel-audiences.

  1. God’s led House of Faith to reach out to people living in a Birmingham tower block. Working in conjunction with a countryside household base they spread out renting flats in threes and fours across different floors of a tower block, so they have as many combined neighbours as possible. They alternate their meeting place between flats and occasionally go out on Luke 10 missions. They set up a residents association for the area. HoF have a few more evangelists than most and their key phrase is “be with”.
  2. God’s led House of Hope to reach students. Most of them live in a suburb away from campus but they also rent a semi eight months a year close to campus, which they take it in turns to live in and invite students back to for potlucks as a ‘bridge’ house. They also use the house as a house of prayer (think 24-7 boiler-room). The HoH calendar changes throughout the year with Sabbath months to offset frenzied activities with students. HoH have a few more shepherds and youth workers than most and their key phrase is “share everything”.
  3. God’s led the larger and more rural House of Love to support House of Faith in their outreach. They become a prayer and training centre building new disciples strongly in the faith, restoring burnt out Christians from any church, hosting larger church events, providing prayer fire-power for HoF etc. They’re also specialist hosts for Christians to do a discipleship training year in community. HoL have a few more intercessors and teachers than most and their key phrase is “live deep”.

Of course these examples are descriptive, not prescriptive. They illustrate a principle, not a blueprint.

Where do we go from here?

Express your vision to the people around you, pray about it and start exploring a mission field as God leads, then see who gathers to the vision.

Joey in her mother's pouch, just like any new christian communityIf it seems God is drawing together a team and a witness about the way forward, start meeting together as a household-within-a-household, like a joey in a kangaroo’s pouch. Meet together weekly like that to seek God, to discern His lead. Worship and eat together. Start learning to love one another, to work together as a team and disciple one another in your personal walks with God.

Then move in where God is calling you (it could be right where you already are). Start simple, and start slow. When you get there don’t just spring into action running a foodbank or whatever, slow down and learn to become a native. Plant yourself deep into the soil of the (mission)field. Go to pub quizzes, chat to the corner shop cashier and pray like you’ve never prayed before. Ask God what He’s doing and what good news looks like to these people. Then follow the lead of the Lord of the Harvest.

Let’s see in what beautiful ways the kingdom can grow when we plant it in new, rich and thirsty soils.

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4:26-29

Courageous Disruption

Either we will disrupt the present with God-given vision or crisis will disrupt our future. This will require some courageous disruption.

Will it be easy? No worthwhile vision ever is, but I have a hunch that fresh vision draws its own resources as it inspires people to throw their lot in, like a fire sucking up fresh air. That’s how it happened last time.

Let’s learn to pioneer again.

Let’s learn to dream again.

 

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

Tree climber, pancake eater, initiator. Trying to keep up with Jesus. Webmaster, writer, video maker & creative coordinator thingamibob for Jesus Army.

  • em

    This is exciting writing. You write very well. I moved to the West Country 18 months ago. It is a lonely and mistaken place. Nascent faith is vulnerable and high risk when the community bubble no longer protects. You need a strong faith presence to live as you suggest. Protect your pioneers.

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