I’ve been following this the discussion on this blog with great interest. The blog entry started with a reflection on a service that was held at Nexus Church where I am pastor. I wasn’t leading the service that day, our Minister of Spiritual Formation Deb Wiggins, was. It was a great time of sharing in a very intimate setting.
Brian Smith, the blog’s author, is a member of Nexus Church and a huge source of great ideas in our community. He is de-churched (my term). His experience with the churches he had encountered had almost turned him completely away from God [correction: from church attendance, not God]. I am pleased to know that he finds a safe place to find community and be in communion with other believers.
In our discussions on the topic I offered Brian my understanding of what communal worship is:
“The theological position I find most helpful is that communal worship is where we experience God as ‘the body of Christ.’ It’s where we let our guard down and explicitly (and sometimes uncomfortably) enter into a communal experience of God. It is where we embrace the power of Christ’s gospel as a people – and sometimes that has individual implications, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t have personal implications it always affects the community. That can’t happen if one is isolated from ‘the body of Christ.’ At its best communal worship should lead us toward an understanding of God’s will for us, (re)vitalize us to be the people of God, and help us find practical ways of communicating the good news – again, all of this in light of ‘the body of Christ.’ When the ‘we/us’ in the previous sentence becomes an ‘I/me, worship is merely entertainment or self-actualization.”
Now, communal worship doesn’t have to happen on Sunday morning – it just happens to be the time that most people in our society have set aside for that.
What is so threatening about that definition? The threat is in letting go of individualism to earnestly strive to find the will of God with others. That is a terrible and frightening thought to those who have been injured by the church – told that they are worthless in the eyes of God, told that they don’t fit in with other “Christians”, told that they need to measure up or they will go to hell, told that who they are as a person doesn’t matter…
(I’m typing this with my own hands, can’t you see that I’d rather by TYPING IN ALL CAPS!!! – Gal 6:11)
My heart grieves when I encounter people who have been through that sort of abuse in the church. The thought of being in community is so dangerous to them because in that abusive relationship they were told they had to subsume to the community to be “righteous.” What has that produced? I’m afraid it has produced a generation of (in clinical, not accusational, terms) narcissistic untrusting cynics – and that makes me terribly sad. The uber-individualism displayed by this generation is a reaction to the pain of abuse. The thought of giving up that individualism within a group context (any group, not just the church) is terrifying.
The point of Christian (or Buddhist or Jewish or Muslim or etc.) communal worship is to explore what God is doing among the gathered people. It isn’t to provide ‘individual spaces’ where people can get their spiritual groove on. On the other hand, when the church forgets that as a people it needs to encourage complimentary times, places, or events where people can have that sort of individual retreat it has forgotten the power Jesus found in solitude. It is another ‘both/and’ that is such a requirement to be ‘a church’ in the postmodern era.
Autonomous fellowships, denominations, and national organizations have failed to be authentic community when they have not provided space for individuals. Home fellowships, small groups, retreats, workshops, and other means of self-exploration are needed because we can only be true to a group if we are brutally honest with who we are. It is only when someone has gone through that level of heart-wrenching honesty that they are ready to fully contribute to a group/corporate setting. In my experience, anything short of that level of personal development in abused populations leaves victims with a sense of protected isolationism.
To that end I believe the organized church needs to step forward and specifically call out to and offer nurture and healing to those believers who see no need for church. I’ve encountered Fundamentalists Anonymous – people recovering from the abuse of literalism and legalism.
Maybe it is time for De-Churched Anonymous – a safe place for those still struggling with the pain of controlling church communities, ego-maniacal pastors, and doctrinal/dogmatic certainty. A place to talk about that pain. A place to heal. Mostly, a place to rediscover the grace and hope found in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ – and the ability to hear God within the assembly of believers. I’ve seen people come through this before – and like steel that has gone through fire they come out stronger, more certain of themselves AND more certain of the power found by being part of the Body of Christ.
Peace to you on your journey…