(in)authentic faith community part 2

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.

in the previous post i relayed the story of my friend who is struggling with the church and feeling isolated and frustrated. having talked with her again a couple times since the initial conversation some things have become more clear. her frustration really centers on the notion that church should be more than just singing & bible study – that there should be on some level a relational investment in the people you are worshiping & bible-studying with.

this has caused me to look at my own experience with church because we have some of the same issues. my wife and i are a part of what is called an adult bible fellowship which is simply our churches authentic faith community approach. essentially its a group of people who get together every sunday morning for coffee and bible study. theres also an effort to plan a shindig outside of this once every month. along with these we have had a couple of sunday lunches together. so our authentic faith community spends roughly 6 hours together per month give or take.

6 hours.

in lukes commentary on the church from acts 2 he states that they devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship – to eating together and praying. he says the believers were together and had all things in common and that all of this was an everyday occurrence. in reading his account it certainly seems to have been more than a 6 hour investment.

i realize the world we live in is different. i understand that the way things are now is not conducive to such togetherness. but im convinced that an authentic faith community takes more than 6 hours a month. i believe it requires a daily commitment – whether that means text messages and phone calls or sitting down at the dinner table together or hanging out at the coffee shop. it may include a weekly q&a over a given bible passage but it will necessarily be more than that.

a few years ago i had the rare joy to be a part of something that i believe came close to lukes description in acts 2. it was essentially a house church composed of a handful of people who not only worshiped & studied together but actually shared life. on weekdays.

house church at snuffers

it wasnt always a planned event either. the organic nature of our relationships meant that no two weeks looked alike. some things were similar while other things were very different.

for example:

aside from our regular monday night time when we got together to eat dinner at our home and talk about some scripture passage or concept, we also sometimes hooked up & went to see a movie or grabbed coffee/breakfast from time to time. come to think of it a lot of our interaction centered around eating together. or watching football.

and we prayed. for each other and those in our lives – those we were trying to build relationships with at work or in classes or in the community. we never sat in a circle and shared prayers requests but as conversations exposed providence or need we would join together before the throne in thanks or petition. this stands in sharp contrast to a 2 minute prayer request time at the end of a bible study on sunday morning

another thing that set this experience apart was that between the group when bills came up short or someone was in need we met it. there was no paperwork at the church office and no one had to ask the group for help. we helped each other out because we knew each others issues and were able to help without it being a big deal.

these are only a few of the things that set this experience apart from every other church experience in my life and in an ironic twist they ruined me for the typical traditional institutional approach at many churches. which is why im skeptical every time i see a church advertising itself as an authentic faith community because generally speaking in my experience it just isnt the case.

at the conclusion of my previous post i asked a few questions. i want to take a look at them now in light of the experiences related above.

is it unreasonable to expect broken people to achieve this or is the desire for such integrated relationships merely a pipe-dream?

i dont think so and theres a couple reasons. first is that it certainly seems like it was the experience of the early church according to eyewitnesses such as luke. his statements depict a group of people fully integrated in each others lives. but i too have experienced broken people living this way. our time with the house church in alpine always gives me hope that it can happen again.

can we ever take ourselves seriously as christians if the basic rhythms of our lives in no way resemble those of the first christians?

i think not. i know our world is different now and there are a hundred excuses for why we dont have enough time but i think this is all the more reason the way we live and interact with each other and those around us should look vastly different.

im not calling for a wholesale withdrawal from society. in fact i think that would be a devastatingly poor decision. im convinced those christians who have done so have abdicated their voice and are among the least likely to influence anyone for the good. on the contrary i am calling for an immersion in the society coupled with a complete withdrawal from the societal value system. and though it seems a paradox i think its completely possible. just as the first century christians in lukes account remained integrated socially in their world while withdrawing from its value system i think followers of jesus must find a way to do the same.

im not sure what that will look like in every situation because i think it will be malleable. but our efforts should have the purpose of gods kingdom community while using the methods of the context in which we find ourselves. because if this is what we saw jesus and his first followers doing – and it is – then this is what it means to follow him. being an authentic faith community requires it.

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~ by graceshaker on February 23, 2011.

26 Responses to “(in)authentic faith community part 2”

  1. at times it seems almost impossible. to be an authentic faith community takes intimacy and courage. i wonder if i have it in me to do this.

  2. “centered around eating together” seems to have been common for New Testament fellowship too. I’ve learned a bit about it, but I’m curious why this is.

    Good post.
    To God be all glory,
    Lisa of Longbourn

  3. Good stuff and I agree completely that there is little to no authentic faith community in many places. Do you think this is more of an issue of culture infiltrating and dictating to the church how we should relate to one another, or is it laziness? I mean individualism has to play a role on some level in a lack of A.F.C….right?

    • sure – individualistic culture. and prolly some bleed over from the comfort buffer zone we all seem to have (bc being vulnerable & investing in lives isnt very comfortable) but also i think that it has to do with some underlying eschatalogical views as well. perhaps i should tackle that in a part 3?

  4. bravo. unfortunately we are one stroke too late, 5million “i’ve re-written or let god or whoever rewrite my own histories to far, and please feel free: enjoy : i thought a real free god fearing community would take me. and the name my loving parents gave me. i protect noone anymore except the weak. i still defend the church [as a whole] it just is in my nature. in the same manner our whole family n every direction is attacked at all times. we have no facetime really with church people and do not think i dont try to get it. i have to work for it and it still doesnt happen. even tho i actually: AND UNDErstand i speak FROM THE FLESH WHEN I SAY This I HAVE BEEN SHIPWRECKED SNAKE BIt WE HAVE HAD STROKES SEIZURES ABUSED IN EVERY WAY HAVE HAD COSMIC BEINGS TRY TO KILL US VERY LOVED AND ADMIRED “BIG GUNZ” SNEER AT US, and yet we are still alive even tho we were left for dead. more than fingers on 2 HUGE HANDS, and i was playing in manhattan before i came here not to become a musician [89] but because i was “let out” of my dorm and THAT guys grandson along with another guy saved my life. i was doing gigs apparently in grenich villiage just to survive and hanging with bums and talking of god. and i came from a lofe where we spoke of god. you cant volunteer ENUFF to get people to spend time with you unless YOU GO to THEM and do their gd DISHES AND TAKE CARE OF THEIR KIDS and forget it if you happen to not “look good” in their eyes. or you are mentally challenged. or now have even more handicapped than before. thankyou. thankyou. but i am not bitter. i am NOW TELLING THE TRUTH. i am NOT A LAPDOG AND I AM NOT A MUTE I AM NOT RETArded. I JUST FIGURED THIS OUT LIKE today.TODAY. i apologize to people if i so much as THINK i have hurt their feelings. i now have changed my mind. i am no longer investing like i was , i am still participating. but believe me I KNOW this will have impact. but i cannot sin with my anger. this I KNOW to be true. i know it becasue i have done it before and it just hurts EVERYONE. your place here where we are aliens in a strange land for now: looks very nice graceshaker. please i would ask that all of you would pray for us. there are good things happening and very terrifying things: namely our families and then circles around us are being so heavily hurt i am in shambles. much luv to you. we are so tired. be well.only the kindness of God only the Love of God. we are in Him. xo.eternal

  5. Faith community can not be forced and it is hard work. There are people you just click with and people that you can barely put up with. If a community is arbitrarily formed or assigned chances are it will not work. It is usually easy to find a few people you click with; but what about those people who are so damaged that no-one wants to hang out with them? We often feel unsafe sharing with them or feel an energy drain from being with them. They are part of the body. I belong to a couple of small groups,one meets and eats together weekly. we help each other out. we pray for each other. I also belong to an assigned group that is struggling to make a go of it. Some of the people do not have time. Some don’t have the energy. We don’t meet often enough. And then there is the Body of believers we left behind in Montana when we moved down here and are still attached to enough to say something like this
    “11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. “-Romans 1
    I saw some of those people at a funeral today and miss them already.

    • if im being honest id have to say that most of the idiosyncrasies that give birth to annoyance for me are a result of learned behavior. when i am willing to release them i find that i appreciate what would normally annoy me.

      so the real question here is am i willing to release and be changed?

  6. I think you’re entering into dangerous territory here: I’m thinking of Matthew 5:47

    (note: I thought I’d put a more extensive comment up, but it seems not to be here).

  7. “but what about those people who are so damaged that no-one wants to hang out with them? We often feel unsafe sharing with them or feel an energy drain from being with them.”
    ..
    “too damaged people” are doing the dirty work.
    and they will keep doing it for as long as it takes.
    yes , you are in very very dangerous territory: thankfully damaged people have a lot of love. so so so much love.
    xo.eternal damaged: beyond repair: no reason but to move towards soon which is closer now than it ever has been before forever and a day. i have a best friend. i am alone with the Alone. i cry that i am loved by Love.~speechleesly damaged.

  8. What a fine mess we’ve made?

    I wish I could offer up solutions but unfortunately all I have are a few observations.

    – At some point we lost the ability to disagree as xian brothers & sisters. We’ve got volumes of work based on our creeds. A denomination for almost any minor disagreement (because our doctrine is sound & not minor but very important.)

    Jesus managed to summarize things so nicely in Matthew 22. But for must of us that simply won’t do. We need to agree on the importance of other things as well or we simply can’t fellowship together. It also reminds me of Romans 14 and 15 to some extent. Our inability to disagree, discuss our beliefs, work out our salvation together, and practice self-denial on behalf of others is splitting our communities. Often by choice.

    – This could be a direct cause of one of the other roadblocks to authentic faith communities. Too much choice. Normally I would be all for choice. But with so many church options I think it is harder for those seeking an authentic faith community to actually meet. I can just imagine others struggling with these same issues in churches spread across our communities. And we brush past one another in our grocery stores and we sit behind one another at the movies and we never know that we share the same desire the same ache.

    – Mobility. We seem to be growing more and more mobile. My grandparents lived the majority of their lives in one town. My parents have lived in 3-4 now and I’ve spent significant time in 5-6 now. I think someone already said something about community taking time. For some reason I picture an Oak tree and how ridiculous it would be to try and uproot it every couple of years and plant it somewhere else.

    I guess ultimately we have to invest ourselves in others. We have to love like Christ loved. With enough time, a community will form. That type of commitment, that depth of love is challenging to say the least.

    • one of the things ive always appreciated about u bro is that we can disagree w/o disengaging.

      i see ur point about unknowingly being in proximity w others who share this longing. one of the things ive noticed recently over the past few weeks even is that its in talkn about it that i have discovered similar aches in others. theres at least four people who r ready to try something different & r interested in wot im talkn about. only one of them currently goes to church.

      i agree that community takes time. theres a trust factor that builds with familiarity. i guess im just frustrated w the 6 hr thing bc its really never gonna happen like that. when its happened its taken an investment.

      sometimes i long for the new earth ya kno?

  9. here is what is a catch22 for me, and this is probably only my experience. or maybe not? which would be somewhat helpful to know either way in kindness :] because my goal here: in this place:[the holy wild or wotever] which is “removed-not a “face to face , like in the picture at snuffers place as shown above-” actually not a “community” it is a lot of “typing” and some know each other one way and others know each other another way-i guess?, and this one little thread is very much a strange “biopic” vew into something which is still very manageable. well actually in Love’s eyes- everything is manageable. we- or i will say “i” just feel everything is unmanageable at times or for long lengths of times: and these incongruencies seem very disparaging to “my spirit” and seems to cause a lot of “stress” and i am not even bringing “doctrine’ outside of The Love Which first Loved Us into the biopsy. so there is a intensifyied agitation spanning 3 decades: full of a lot of i will say “work” not necessarily “works” though “works” has been i the picture? and i will say “a need for “relief”. and yet still “evergrowing desire for the initial Promises Even If They Have Been Their All Along And Over Looked” “Despite Obvious Quadruble Double Bind Peril”.
    ..
    usually i try or at least have been trying to keep things very “story- like” positive or a good balance?. i want to remain in full contact with anyone who Loves the Love who First Loved me/them/you and i am so learning to Be Not Anxious even when everything is just so scary,absurd/crazy or whatever? i mean we all have really ruff times, and i think sometimes we can “sit with each other” and sometimes we are specifically told do not live beyond your means even emotional and i could if i could remember or had the time and energy or even attention span look up cross-reference all i am writing to back this up but i think some or maybe a lot of us in different ways feel yuckeh is we feel we both have had to defend ourselves/our friends/those we know / dont know/places we go/those who cannot defend themselves and then we are caught in the middle and then we are ” in trouble either way? when we dont have the ability and others and we dont have the ability except our mouths and knowlege we know to much and have experience but sometimes not the relief or the “we are stretched beyond our means” and yet Love is always Calling” Faith Does not ask anything but FAith which is a beyond yer means in the sense that it is not Seen, but it is not beyond yer means in that it is under a Gentle and Just Fair Rule WHo Understads All Sides Intricate and has NO INTENTION of basically ruining us to “that kind of amputation which is irrepairable. and to know that and yet “see that happening: with fleshly eyes: it feels so bleh. and our emotions and our depth of love and anger or ‘shut down’ or wish to retaliate at basically nothing by now? and our : things that are unique to each of us are so unique and easily wounded which is not a bad thing at all because it is so precious like a fine jewel and so powerful but also so sacred it is not for anyone to say “hey go make that hing better with that” THIS IS WHERE COMMUNITY IS to be tended carefully by very careful leaders and this is described very carefully but strangely in the the word and also a unch of cool writers have also been gien to us for fun…over many years who read the word: to help leaders and pastors and: i could get real specific on the church: but i dont anymore. the ancient boundary stones have been removed bu the CORNERstone has not. this we d not argue on. for we have all falen in love and we agreed to let the cornerstone not offend us even tho he did? but that was like for a second. and it happens all the time but we get used to it because we all became one with Our Best Friend.

    believe me: i have asbergers it is very difficult to lie and as you can see it is very difficult to not be verbose :] and also BE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE. and i deal with people who are told they are damaged /too damaged all the time/ when i am trying to get things done and have time for myself and my husband has had a subarrachnoid stroke /craniotomy: it is really hard but i have to remain positive and noone will and noone has had time really to spend much face time with us for the last i do not know how mny years. my perception was this was because “once we didnt look good and were not semi quazi not really the focal point of a “thing”‘ and then people saw we were sad, or both, or dysfunctional just like everyone else- people ran away. and then when they saw that i had real probs- forget it: and i was fine with that: but then i was called back by MANY because i can DO THINGS FOR THEM. and yet they do not wan to deal with the fact that i have a different way of doing things: and i had come to believe NO I AM NOT AN ARTIST I AM RETArded. THO i will deal with the most destitute messy person ever and the “others” will actually call those people unbelievable things- and they represent : here is where i stop. it is MY PERCEPTION IT IS RANK. PUtrid iT must GO AWAy. please let this be burnt up in the holy wild. this table is made of yes i didnt even build it it was given to me: and yet i still try to chew the legs off. xo.eternal.

    this is NOT drama THIS is for the benefit of all love together with – and i am talking about now: not after SOON. xo.eternal.

    i hope this came across “balanced” and i dont have asbergers that bad that is just one out of many probs. everybuddys got probs, bob! but we can all have sound minds in LOVE.XO.ETERNAL deepthraot

    • Hey –

      I come from a long line of autistic folks, both borderline and full-blown, so I feel your pain …. but the stream of consciousness you just posted is really hard to understand.

      – James

  10. “centered around eating together” seems to have been common for New Testament fellowship too. I’ve learned a bit about it, but I’m curious why this is.

    Good post.
    To God be all glory,
    Lisa of Longbourn”

    Lisa, it is a truth about human beings that is incorporated into old cultures. What I’m saying is important to understand. It is NOT Cultural, rather some cultures use this truth and others do not. God made humanity to eat together, and even more than that to make food together and for each other. Just read Genesis with this in mind. It isn’t an accident that God’s Holy Days for Israel are also called Feasts. The Lord’s Supper isn’t an accident, and the Love feasts of the NT are not either. God created us that way, and He honors those who live it. This truth even impacts the family.

  11. I think that the thing to think about is not the acts (being integrated into each-others’ lives) but why you’re doing it. Most of y’all are better biblical scholars, and better Xians, than I am, but here’s my take on it.

    Early Xians lived communally for two reasons: first, it was an outward sign of an inward change; giving up traditional worldly concerns, like wealth, status, primary focus on family, etc. Second, and probably more importantly, it was because living in close proximity frankly makes it easier to get things done. During the Manhattan project, a whole lot of scientists lived their lives together because they were working hard on getting a lot of scientific and technical problems solved in short order, and doing anything else would have cost time and effort they didn’t have to spare. The early church, if you’ll pardon the expression, was Jesus’ Manhattan Project.

    So here’s why I think this line of thought is dangerous: most churches that closely integrate their followers do it for entirely the wrong reasons. They do it to create a strong separation between us and them, and to create a closed community, rather than doing it for the reasons listed in the first paragraph. Even being less sinister, I have fond memories of my college years, when I lived in a big house with all my friends. I certainly enjoyed the fellowship, meant in a nonreligious sense, with my peers. But I enjoyed it for essentially selfish reasons: a sense of community is important to a person’s self worth.

    This brings me back to Matthew 5:47. “If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.” Don’t get me wrong: a sense of community is a good thing all on its own, but I’m not sure it’s got much to do with Christianity, unless the group has outwardly directed Christian goals.

    • sorry its taken so long to get back to this. i always value ur thots & wanted to give them time to settle in my mind before responding.

      i completely agree that churches develop isolation and im not in favor of that at all. i want 2 be a part of a community that is necessarily open – inviting even – to anyone whether or not they agree. its always been that way in the holy wild whether we were in homes or on the msg forums or blogs bc i believe the push & pull of differing views is divine. i actually enjoy the provacative tension that comes from disagreement & think it serves as a catalyst for further thot & development. i once spent a few months in a joint blog between me & a wiccan priestess discussing different ideas about god & creation & holiness & sabbath. it was a great experience.

      for that matter i remember when u first found us & began interacting. i was excited to have u be a part & i think at the time u were agnostic at best? maybe even atheist? i remember u telling me a story about u & ur wife that i wont go n2 but it perplexed u and we talked about it for a while. wot i found most appealing was that wotever ur belief or lack thereof u were honest w urself & interested in exploring ideas. ive appreciated that about u in every conversation we have had and still do.

      as far as im concerned – whatever it is u believe james – ur in the holy wild w me. we r bros on this journey wherever it leads.

  12. I haven’t read all the comments, but this is one close to my heart. I do realize this is an old post, but I am started to get back into reconfiguring my arguments for true authentic community and because I just found your blog again, and the fact that it says “used to be a pastor” breaks my heart, because I know that you have a heart for the lost.

    First reasons I believe authentic commmunity is lost on the church:

    1. The emphasis is on the ever after.

    Most of the entire church emphasis is on sin, the consequense of sin, and how that consequence relates to the afterlife. Since moving to the NorthWest my wife and I have been to many many repackaged Modern Church’s who still preach this message, but have cooler people playing. This message is: You sin. That seperates you from God and Heaven. You need Jesus to get back to God and Heaven otherwise your Going to Hell. There is very little emphasis on transformation other than that intial “Holy Spirit” covering of sin. This creates the idea that when we are “spritually” cleaned we therefore we need not “dwell” on that sin or talk about that sin. The “trasnformation” is instant, and now we wait for heaven. Though there is not one shread of Biblical Evidence this is the way that it works (from Peter’s betrayals with Jesus and in acts, to the very reason Paul wrote so many letters telling them to stop thier silly sinning), this is the predominant belief. We are saved to get to heaven. And we are saved from hell, not from sin.

    2. Lone Wolf Christianity

    There is the idea that we should be cleaned completely of past sin when we become a Christ. If you watched porn you don’t do it anymore. This is a direct result of a really good thing. Many people who were damaging themselfs and others in very public and awful ways DO have an instant transformation out of that sin. This instant stop of that sin gives in to the belief that all I need is Jesus and the Bible and I can move problem. However, in almost every case I have seen of drug addicts, sex addicts, ect that do not have some sort of community they actually begin to foster the sin that originally caused that problem. I.E. Guilt, shame, or Self centeredness. People who experience the first two issues normally leave such churchs, or live in a life of lies because they go back to those things. Shame and Guilt rarely lead one to continue in a “saved” state because those issues are self inflicted, and need others to “figure out” a way out of that shame. The Second Group of people (Self Centereness) become leaders in the church and fosters the first problem of Salvation from Hell. The idea of saved from hell is actually a ego centric belief system. That is, I am the cause and my belief in Jesus is the cure. This is egocentric because both things are about me. I caused my seperation from God, I get to be saved, I get to go to heaven, I get saved from hell because I accepted Jesus in my heart. Though that is all true (in a sense) the emphasis is not on what God is doing, but what I did and what God did. It’s all past and future and not in the present. What I feel happens is since the main people in the church believe they are now “saved” and there is no Journey involved it fosters a “hiding” of sins those people do not do, and more egocentrism for people who can live by the things that are “worldly” but completely ignore the things that they do now that are still sin.

    3. The idea that true Biblical reading requires no interpretation of Scripture

    Most people who argue against any point that you bring up about how Jesus works, about the need for community, and really any contrary point to thier belief system they state that interpretation is not needed it’s right there. Though you and I know that’s the Logical Fallacy known as appeal to authority, this is one the main points people say. You are interpreting but I am just reading it like it is. This is also egocentric because it assumes an amount of understanding that others do not have. You just don’t understand, but I do. This is an idealism that is the worst to break because it hinges on the idea that everyone else is wrong but I am right. Again, same egocentrism that caused all the ones after it.

    I think that is one post in itself. Maybe I should come back talk about the others.

    • 1. some folks spend their whole lives engaged in trying to understand and relate what we are saved from. i prefer spending my time dreaming about and living out what we are saved for. i think its time the church moved past the cross to the empty tomb. if more people lived on the other side of the tomb this might begin to be a different world.

      2. ive tried to divorce myself from my prejudices but the best i could do was a temporary restraining order.

      3. the unexamined faith is not worth trusting eh?

      • 1. Amen

        2. I try very hard not to hate the Church, and all I can come up with is Tolerating it. Luckly I have a wife who doesn’t share the same spiritual damage and she reminds me to be Graceful.

        3. Amen. So tired of the “danger danger you sound like a universalist/that means Jesus isn’t the way, that means the Bible holds no truth” enter your complaint here, but very little “well this is what I have seen to be true because this is what I found”.

  13. first time on your blog in nearly forever and just read this post.

    I miss y’all.

    Been trying (not forcing) to get something kinda similar to what we had but it isnt happening.

    See ya in a few days!

  14. […] another example is the current sunday school/adult bible fellowship model disparaged in previous posts here and here. […]

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