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Rituals Define Reality

Charles Kiser —  November 20, 2014 — Leave a comment

Baptism

[This is a guest post by Paul McMullen, a fellow leader in the Storyline Community.]

I was fortunate to take an intensive theology course this summer. The title was, Theology as a Way of Life, and it focused on the ways in which liturgical and ascetic theology spiritually form the community of God’s people. If that sounds a little heady, it was a bit beyond me, especially since it was taught out of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, which I’m unfamiliar with.

One of the big takeaways I did have is that God has gifted us with (at least) two rituals filled with power and mystery: baptism and communion. As followers of Jesus, these rituals form us. They define reality. Another way to say this is that, in a mysterious way, these rituals connect us to God’s story on the cosmic level.

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I’ve been reflecting lately on experiencing breakthrough in ministry – what it takes to really grow and thrive as a church, and how to know if we are cooperating with God so that breakthrough can happen.

Tim Keller provides a helpful discussion on how to evaluate ministry effectiveness in his new book Center Church that speaks to the topic of breakthrough.

In the end, however, I believe his discussion falls short.

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Reggie McNeal has a new book out that I’d like to recommend called Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church.

McNeal’s purpose in this book is to describe from high altitude the growing phenomenon in North America he calls “missional communities,” an alternative expression of church in our time.

The phrase “missional communities” suggests the distinctive characteristic of these groups: mission is the organizing principle. They are embedded in a particular neighborhood or network of relationships. They focus on discipleship, hospitality and justice work. They develop a close-knit sense of community around the mission. They are led most often by non-paid leaders. They aim to help searchers find their way into the Christian community.

McNeal submits that these ecclesial expressions are a legitimate form of church and should be embraced as such. They are very different from their congregational counterparts, and yet not necessarily a replacement for them.

After introducing key concepts in the first two chapters, he surveys five recent movements that give evidence to the rise of the “post-congregational church”:

  1. 3 Dimensional Ministries
  2. Soma Communities
  3. Campus Renewal UT
  4. Future Travelers
  5. Mission Houston

Here’s the value I see in McNeal’s book:

  • McNeal writes as a Baby Boomer – someone my parents’ age, many of whom have grown up and lead in congregational forms of church.
  • The book offers a helpful framework: I like the functional comparison of “congregational” form of church and “post-congregational” or “missional community.” It brings clarity to what’s happening in the North American church.
  • The approach is very gracious. The purpose is not to lambast the congregational expression but rather to uphold the missional community as a viable alternative. In fact, many networks of missional communities are nurtured out of the congregational form of church.
  • The stories. I have one friend who has said to me repeatedly: I really think the germinal/organic/missional church approach is the wave of the future, I just want to see it work! Read this book, friend, and see 5 movements that are thriving examples of the missional community approach.
  • It affirms God’s work in Storyline. To be honest, I feel like a church outsider most of the time and downright crazy just a little less of the time because of my work as a missional communities practitioner. What excites me about the five movements studied from all over North America is that it’s very clear that this is not an isolated incident. It is the movement of the Holy Spirit. The examples listed here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this growing expression of church.

Pick up the book! Share it with others who would benefit from seeing what God is up to in the North American church.

  1. What is the gospel?
  2. What is the mission of the church?
  3. What is a disciple?
  4. How are disciples made?
  5. How does our current approach to making disciples line up with #3 and #4?
  6. What changes need to be made to reflect better our understanding?
  7. How will we measure our effectiveness in disciple making?

From Josh Patrick, Lead Minister of the 4th Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, TN.

Our house church gatherings are at the heart of who we are as a church. Church to us is less of an institution than it is a web of relationships formed around a common purpose. Church isn’t a place we go to; it’s a community to which we belong. The way of Jesus is a way of life that is learned, modeled and lived out relationally.

This conviction about the nature of church is why we’re starting with house church ministry and not with a super-sized worship gathering. It’s why the worship gathering, even after it’s started, will be second (or fifth) place in importance. In fact, it will probably not take place weekly, especially in the early stages.

House church gatherings of 10-20 people are and will always be the central venue for life in the Storyline Community. They most fully embody the chief values of our community—dependence on God, mission, life change and genuine relationships.

To be honest, we use the term “house church” for lack of better words. Some call it organic church; others call it simple church; others call it cell church (as in a smaller part of something larger).

One thing I do like about the phrase is that “church” is part of it. House churches are not an appendage ministry for us among other ministries; house churches are the essence of who we are as a church—so much so that I would rather describe Storyline Christian Community as a network of house churches rather than just a church (though the latter is certainly still true).

Our hope and plan is that our ministry is reproductive: as followers of Jesus help to create other followers of Jesus, house churches will start other house churches, and Storyline will start other churches.

So what do our house church gatherings look like?

We gather for meals and share life. We share communion in the context of our meals. We joke around. We tell stories. We sing together. We confess our struggles to each other.

We have conversations about Scripture, current events, music, God, food, spirituality—things that really matter to us. We share our resources to help the poor and connect to those who are far from God.

We throw good parties. We welcome new people of all kinds into our midst. We participate in justice projects in the community. We pray for each other, our friends and our city.

It’s a little reminiscent of the early church (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35)—not only in the forms and activities, but also in its potential to turn the world upside down.