A Church without a box?

Posted by Kevin |

I wanted to continue a conversation I was having with my buddy Dave last night and it has to do with this box analogy I've been playing with.

So here's the question. In the free-market American society we live in, is it possible to create a church without a box? Let me expand. Any change in methodology, style, etc, for a church, only becomes the tradition of tomorrow. So changes made to "church" today, in response to culture, will ultimately just become another structure that will work for some and won't for others. Assuming your still reading, now factor in all the ways our culture is segregated. There are gaps between race, wealth, politics, generations, religions and sub-groups of religions (namely us Christians). Then there are all the individual preferences and baggage each person brings to the table. So, what most people would answer the question with, would probably sound something like this, "decide who your church is for, who you feel God has gifted you to reach and then commit to a structure that works for them."

But I just feel like that is a cop-out. Because it seems like the easy answer and also seems like what will work, or is already working. But - here's my problem. Isn't God's Kingdom for poor and rich, for all ethnic groups, for the young and the old, for legal and illegal immigrants - even for Democrats and Republicans? If God's Kingdom has no segregation and we are supposed to be working to have God's Kingdom on earth as it already exists in heaven - why do we have to have a church with a box? Why do we have to have a specific style, or a church culture that alienates others?

The answer is we don’t have to, it just leads to the bigger question I want answered. What would a church that exemplified the complex, beautiful diversity of God’s human creation look like? How would it corporately gather, how would it worship together, how would it disciple followers of Jesus, how would it bridge the gaps of segregation in the American culture? So many more questions come to mind but I’d love to hear other’s thoughts.


Anonymous said...

wow, your post blew me away.

After all we are supposed to be one single body of Christ, not multiple versions of it.

Imagining one church without segregation is hard to imagine in all honesty, but there have been moments when i felt that it was possible. I went to a worship event once in Downtown Los Angeles and I was overwhelmed by the diversity standing in that auditorium. There were people there of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and i'm sure denominations but in spite of that everyone worshiped one God. It was for a lack of better words 'amazing'. Everything that segregated us was put aside and we focused on worshiping God... I just think we need to get to that point... where we recognize that we have a common belief in God... and we must let Him work in all of us to achieve that goal of unity... i don't know if i'm making any sense... but i'm glad for your post, it totally made my day.

Brad said...

i think step one should be to cut a whole in the box.....;). But seriously i don't know if it's possible to truly have a church outside of the box. The only way it can truly exist is to have a church in which the people fully understand and except the reality that they are the church.

Because i am one person by default i'm going to attract people who either "like me" or "are like me" so every church reflects the personality of the pastor. thus creating the segregation of which you speak. I don't believe this is the pastors fault however. I believe then it becomes the job of those in the church to attract people like them through genuine relationships. Bottom line. until the individual people accept responsibility for reaching the lost, the individual church will by and large only reflect the educational, ethnic, and economic status of the pastor.

Kevin Davis said...

Okay - so I found this crazy example of a church - it's a church in the game Second Life - it's kinda cool. http://youtube.com/watch?v=1MB4Gwg0k_U

Alexis said...

Hi Kevin, I am Nicky's super opinionated Friend...;)

I think what you are talking about is beautiful, and something that should be reached for, but I wonder if it is at all attainable?

I have been through a journey of my own with regard to what the church in america looks like.

(This would be so much more coherent if my kids would let it be)

I'm kinda going back to an earlier post of yours as well...

The biggest problem I see in the church is that most people go looking for a nice Sunday dose of "What can God do for me today". How many people actually walk in on a Sunday morning and expect to have their world view challenged, and if it happens to be, how many people are willing to go to the extreme to change?

I know I only *really* looked at church like this in my teens and in the last year... I have always heard about coming hungry...and I think I did that. But I was hungry to see how God would feed *me*.

The only way to open this box, expand it, destroy it...is for us to finally put down the me-me-me attitude and expectations. We should expect every day to have God stretch and change us.

Did any of that make sense? :)

Nicky said...

Oh, Kevin...I should have warned you that by putting you in my favorites, it might get you a bunch of new readers...;o) I hope that's okay! LOL =)

As for your topic, I find it very thought provoking. I'm not sure if I have an intelligent response at the moment, but I'm interested in reading others' responses. I hope you get more!

Cassi said...

another one of Nicky's friends:

It seems that is why all of these "Mega" churches are forming everywhere... they can be everything to everyone...

But I would have to ask - doesn't that limit the closeness of a small church offers? I guess some people are seeking out the place where they can get lost and be anonymous... but is that what God really wants from us?? Jesus talked alot about being a servant... if we are just another face in the crowd - how does that serve others??

(I'm not sure if that is at all what you are talking about ... but that's where it lead me... )

Kevin Davis said...

So we all like the idea, we just question the attainability of it. We all also seem to agree that the 'me' factor is the biggest obstacle. It's the individual, their consumer mindset, their preferences and biases all add up to be a complicated hurdle to see unity in a worship place. But the sense of impossibility is why it would be so worth it, so amazing and so attractive to the world watching.

Ben said...

A church like that wouldn't exist.

The point at which the factor of "diversity" in terms of spiritual relevance comes in to play would cause it to cease being a "church" and simply become a fellowship of like-minded individuals. If all were to worship a God, and all were to worship the same God, and all believed that God was the same God as all the other gods of the religious institutions around the world, it would no longer be a religion, and the institutions would no longer be houses for the worship of that God. The focus of the church is to maintain a strict code of order based on one particular interpretation of an historical religious fact (if you want to call it that). Once the church strays away from that one strict code of order and begins accepting new ideas and concepts outside of its original "fact," it can no longer maintain that code of order and would have to invent a new one to compensate, at which point the members of that church would be the ones making the decisions and not the church itself.

True spiritual fellowship is a long way off. We aren't ready to accept each other's spiritual ideas yet, because of all the crap that's been engraved into the stones that are our religious histories. Everybody's story is different, and they will kill and die to defend those stories, despite the fact that every single message in those stories is the same. A "church without a box" simply couldn't exist as a "church" in today's society.

Kevin Davis said...

Ben - thanks for adding to the conversation. I'm not sure I totally understand where you are coming from and don't want to assume your spiritual/faith background, but for me, as a follower of Jesus, I believe we, I, you are the church. So I think church exists in the fact that you and I exist and choose to believe in God, partner in His mission and make a difference in this world.

The unfortunate side to the question I posed, to which you highlighted, is that people tend to gather with others like them. Even if you could create a church community that was racially and socio-economically diverse - it would only be that way because each individual was seeking it - if people don't want diversity, they won't seek it. So even if it looked diverse, it would still be a bunch of like-minded people - but it would be a step up from the monoculture churches I see everywhere I go.

Ben said...

Sorry, I form my opinion of the "church" being the organized body of religious sanctioning. I understand that some faiths focus on the "church" being part of the worshipper, that God exists in all of us and we are the vessels. Regarding that kind of "church," THAT might actually work in regards to an organic belief structure. When everybody has the same foundational beliefs and form a church of "themselves," then attract like-minded individuals with different ideas and beliefs, and accept those into their own self, then that "church" would be made up of those people who share those beliefs. If there's no single organized structure for that "church" to begin with, and the foundation is organic from the start, then it'd be much easier for people to grow that church into something more diverse.

But again, the issue there is whether non-followers will share those ideas and beliefs and contribute to that church, or go and form their own church based on their own beliefs, even if it's from the same organic foundation. There will always be some degree of separation, even if the foundation for those beliefs are the same, because of how varied the ideas will be in the structure of each church.

Just FYI, I'm not atheist or agnostic or anything like that. I have my own beliefs which were seeded through Christianity, but things like free will and free thought made me grow up with a different outlook on how God and life work than what's prescribed in religious texts.

Kevin Davis said...

Ben - since I believe I'm the church and you're the church - the corporate gathering I always think of as community. So you and me talking right now is church and what happens on Sunday's mornings is church community - just so you understand what I mean when I say it.

Anyway - in regards to your second paragraph, I think the challenge doesn't lie in getting non-believers to share the same beliefs but inviting them to be a part of what the community is doing. You should check out http://tomorrowschurch.blogspot.com it has some interesting thoughts on church community structures and organizing principles. But you also said there would be degrees of separation, but I think in any community there is separation and any pretense otherwise is dangerous, robotic, blind faith. It's impossible to try and have unity in all aspects of faith - yet so many communities put the emphasis on beliefs and not actions. I think it is easier to get people to find unity in a movement of love, wholeness and balance in life that can change their communities. There are plenty of church communities that pretend to all have the same beliefs and propositional understandings of God (thus membership), but their lives are lived quite different from one another - it's a false unity - we're all messed up, we all think differently and though beliefs are important we need more emphasis on the beliefs lived out.

And I have lots of friends into the spiritual but not conservative Christianity - I just love the conversation - so thanks.