(in)authentic faith community part 1
disclaimer: i am prolly the least qualified person to offer a critique of the state of the church. im a former pastor and church planter who has been rejected and hurt by the church and should therefore be thoroughly ignored by anyone who desires to read a balanced take on anything to do with the subject.
last week i had the opportunity to talk briefly with a friend who is struggling with the church. during our talk she lamented the lack of authenticity, faith and community in her authentic faith community. we didnt talk long but it was obvious that she was hungry for something more and was not getting it where she was.
my friend attends a fairly large church with about 1200-1400 in regular attendance. the pastor is a godly man who preaches the word passionately and has a healthy attitude about where the church is and where it needs to be. members of her church are involved in a variety of missions locally, nationally and abroad. from the outside it looks like a good church – a church looking in the right direction.
yet my friends experience in this church is cause for her growing disillusionment. her desire for community and discipleship go largely unsated and as i consider this i wonder how a church with this kind of pastoral leadership can be failing so thoroughly on the micro level for this fairly recent convert. how could my friends experience in a place boasting the language of authenticity faith and community be so devoid of all three?
maybe its her.
but prolly not.
we could break this down to the specific definitions of the words but i think its pretty safe to assume that an authentic faith community has as its core value the idea of being real about life and faith in a committed group setting. it seems in an authentic faith community there would be an open atmosphere for questions and doubts that challenge everything and people both celebrating as well as struggling thru their experiences with god and each other.
but this has not been my friends experience and to be honest it has not been mine either. in my 15 years of ministry experience i can not think of a single example at the various churches and in the various ministries ive been involved with. in fact the absence of this among the church attenders i am acquainted with only serves to increase my general skepticism about the state of the church. and it seems to be having a similar effect on my friend.
now to be fair living authentic faith in community is a biblical idea. its most succinct summation comes in acts 2 after peters sermon and the addition of 3000 to the previously tiny community of faith. luke describes it in plain terms:
acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
this statement is a simple and unassuming commentary on the events following pentecost. its the birth of the church and its a true expression of an authentic faith community. is this what my friend is finding in her church? is it the testimony of the missing generation of 18-35 year olds who are currently so absent from the church? have they seen this in the church and rejected it?
i think its highly unlikely.
in fact i think if they saw it many would be there. but somewhere these biblical ideas got co-opted. they ceased being operative adjectives about the church and became advertising catchwords for churches and ministries that recognized the power of their draw on the 18-35 crowd. seems like every other church or ministry website has a core values statement that includes these words – as if just stapling them on the exterior will make it true.
(ironically these terms are usually overlayed on a generic picture of smiling people who dont attend that church)
it might work on some and it might be enough gloss to get a few thru the doors but they wont be around long if it isnt true and i fear this may end up being the case with my friend. she seems poised to bounce but my hope is that she will stay and find a situation where the words are a reality instead of a gimmick – where real faith is hammered out with honesty and openness among people invested in each others lives.
is it unreasonable to expect broken people to achieve this? is the desire for such integrated relationships merely a pipe-dream? can we ever take ourselves seriously as christians if the basic rhythms of our lives in no way resemble those of the first christians?
these are some of the questions im pondering and will continue to address in part 2..