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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Just how sick we really are

It has recently dawned on me that we really have no idea whatsoever what living in true community is. Perhaps the most telling symptom is found in the response so many of us receive when we speak of multiplying groups. It is quite common that people do not want to reproduce a group because they value the relationships they currently have and are afraid that if they start a new group they will lose the relationship. A recent review of Search & Rescue even mentioned that Life Transformation Groups foster short term relationships because they are to multiply frequently and discipleship must involve much longer relationships than LTGs promote.

Well, this is actually a glaring symptom of a much more serious issue: we do not have very good relationships! If our relationships cannot endure maturation and development over the years then they are weak and anemic.

For centuries church has been mostly defined by meetings. As a result we have settled into a superficial understanding of how we relate to one another that is completely limited to scheduled meetings together. The result is that we think if the weekly meeting changes the relationship is lost. This, my friends, is shallow and sick. A relationship is so much more than seeing one another at a weekly event. Church is so much more as well. I believe that church is to be a spiritual family on mission together, not a weekly meeting or religious event. We actually believe that when we send people out to start meeting in another group that we have lost or severely hurt the original relationships. Really? Is your relationship simply about meeting for a once a week Bible study, worship service or potluck? We must have stronger "ties that bind" than these.

Once we begin to see church as a family instead of a religious meeting everything changes. We are no longer restricted to a two hour scheduled meeting. Family is 24/7. Even when a child grows up and moves away they are still part of the family and thought of with affection and belonging, right? Of course. They will be missed and there may be more expensive phone bills, but the relationship is still strong and in tact. To be honest, when I look at old photos of my children as toddlers I miss them in that stage, but I am so glad I get to know them in all the stages of life. I look forward to the thrill of grandchildren, and I would never know this thrill if I somehow kept my own kids from maturing. And if children mature and become parents themselves, the family is stronger for it, not weaker. The fact that we are so concerned with a church giving birth to another indicates that we really do not understand church naturally--as a family. Imagine if you actually treated your own family they way we practice church. What would your family be like if you only saw each other once a week, seated in rows, with one person doing all the talking and another collecting the weekly offering. Then you sing a song and depart for the week not to see each other until the following meeting. That is not a strong family at all, nor is it a strong church.

I maintain strong relationships with people that have moved on to start new groups and reach new people. Our relationship matures over the years but doesn't diminish. We may begin to know each other in a Life Transformation Group, but when the group multiplies into two other groups our relationship has ended! No, in fact most of the time it matures into something better, not worse.

I think that the reason people cling to a group meeting with such desperation is because it is the closest thing to relationships in church that they have every known, which is quite sad when you think of it. We simply must develop stronger relationships that are not threatened by the thought of naturally birthing new generations. If in your own family you stuck together and never matured or allowed your children to grow into independent adults and parents themselves you would have an extremely unhealthy family. Grandchildren do not weaken familial ties, they tend to strengthen the family in almost every way.

Grow up church! Become the family you are meant to be. Celebrate the birth of the next generation and enjoy your grand kids! If you are too afraid to do it you will miss out on the best part of family.

12 comments:

upstream said...

mate this is gold!

Diane said...

Thanks Neil. We have been hurt by church often where we have thought we had friends but in reality they have been what my husband calls "working church relationship". That once we are no longer at the same meeting, working in the same congregation then the relationship was the same as someone you work in an office with, once you change jobs the relationship is over.
I have friends, both Christian and not, who I have known over time and experience and who know me and love me, and visa versa, and I'm not sure if we've ever had a "meeting" together.
Thanks again

molong nacua said...

Great Article. Until we stop meeting we cannot be family. We don't do meetings but we met a lot!"

The saints here are doing-life-together as family for over 23 years!

www.organichurchlife.com

Neil Cole said...

Thanks Hammo!

Missional Organic said...

Perhaps the diagnosis is even worse than we can imagine. Perhaps it is not that we don't know how to act in community, but we no longer know how to act in family. In many cases, I would suspect that communal relationships are stronger outside of the house than inside. Perhaps...

I have often wondered if the kind of community that seemed to be biblically prevalent in that context, culture, and time is even possible today. If it is, then it seems it is indeed something we need to get back to. If it is not, then we had better figure out what kind of community is possible and biblical and work towards that.

Regardless, great post Neil and from personal experience, I can say that Life Transformation Groups, at least in our neck of the woods, has increased both aspects of community and family.

Miguel

John S Wilson III said...

I like Miguel's point that too many of us do not know how to live as a family so how can the body of Christ live like a family? We do what we know. The foundation of Christ, living by His life together as the family of God is key. Perhaps on day one, the body of Christ should learn to get to know each other first in day-to-day life, sharing Christ with each other along the way, before they even have a "gathering" so that the gathering naturally flows from their daily life. We too often put the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said...

Neil

Well said. Many years ago when I left my institutional church, people there didn't bother to reach out to me at all. It was as if our relationship was based on the church structure. That's really sad if you think about it.

That just goes to say that I didn't really have any real relationships at all. How sad. It also tells me that most church people don't really have real relationships either. Their relationships in church wouldn't be there without the structure.

Julie Wenzel said...

I posted this to my FB wall & my blog. I found it to be very insightful and so true! Thank you for sharing your perspective. :)

Anonymous said...

This i great! Thanks! Jesus says that the one who loves his parents or children more than he loves Jesus is not worthy, and then Jesus says that the one who loves children of God loves Him. Do you love a child of God as a child of your wife? Is someone that you present as your close child not an offspring of your flesh? Grace and peace!

Dan Benson said...

I've begun to realize this too. Attendance at meetings is equated with being spiritual. I'm in a traditional church and my wife and I have had to cut back on meetings because of work and a couple other issues, which doesn't bother me much because the meetings are usually dominated by a couple people. And it's made me realize that I really don't have much of a relationship with these people outside of those meetings. So it says something about me, those others and church in general.

Jennifer Taylor said...

Neil, I would love to repost this (with links and credit, of course) on www.moreatstake.com. Please check out the site and let me know if we have permission to repost.

Neil Cole said...

Jennifer, feel free to repost.

Neil