I have been struck, at various times over the years, that the Church isn’t all it’s cut out to be. I mean this almost literally. I’m thinking of the “church” as a pattern—like a tailor uses—of how to live, just now. It’s not that it can’t be altered, embellished, customised, and stretched—these are right and useful. It’s more that the pattern itself is often distorted, or badly copied.
What we know of Jesus’ life is full of relationships, and the “Kingdom of God” he talks about is built through the interactions of parts of his “body”—the people of the church. There are whole bunches of metaphors around who we are and what we’re called, but the prime message is about getting along and looking after one another. His definition of who’s in, and who’s out isn’t particularly clear—something I’m sure will raise some eyebrows—and included prostitutes, dodgy businessmen, lawyers and murderers. The only group he seems to have no time for are the religious.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
Holding a weekly service has been the definition of church for a very long time, especially among protestant Christians and especially in the West. It seems that often church means attendance at a weekly service. It has become part of our language:
ʻI have church on a Sunday,ʼ
ʼIʼm off to church,ʼ
ʻWeʼll have a big roast after church,ʼ
In the new Testament, the word most commonly used for church is ecclesia, which means: ʻa called-out company’—but for what have we been called out?
A couple years ago, I was thinking of a project our “church” had been involved in: the Noise. The Noise is an annual event which brings together literally scores of villagers to help one another out in practical ways. Over the past years, it’s tackled elderly folks’ gardens, public paths, school buildings, and family’s houses.
As something to look forward to each year, it’s hard to beat. I cannot think of a single place where I’ve seen young people and very old people and everyone in between helping out and simply sharing a common love. Needs are met, relationships forged (and mended) and people of all ages work, and laugh, and eat together. It’s a picture, to me, of what I think I mean by “community”.
But, what struck me was the idea that a noise only lasts for a moment and quickly fades. It also lead me to think that the church wasn’t being church, except at this time of year. Please understand, I don’t mean that nothing good happened all year, but that something of the essence of a love-driven community was only really experienced during these few, summer days.
Eventually, I started thinking that instead of a “project”, perhaps we should think in terms of a framework, or a network, or another platform for experiencing and sharing this love actively. I called the initiative “resound”—a noise that keeps going.
What follows are some of my thoughts, slightly updated, from the time.
Resound’s principles include:
- Worship of God through works of service
- Active Love
- Network of Relationships / Community
- Every-member ministry
- Church outside of church
Worship often takes the form of singing or declaring love and worth to God. I believe that all our actions can be worship. We have been called to be “living sacrifices” in Romans 12. Hebrews 13:15-16 ties the sacrifice of praise from out mouths with doing good:
ʼ15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.ʼ
Active love or ʻlove in actionʼ is a primary facet of Christianity itself. Jesus repeatedly challenged lip-service and religiosity and his teachings are littered with examples of a love so deeply held that it motivates action. We read (1 John 3:17-18):
ʻ17 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.ʼ
We are also told that if someone needs food and we say: ʻBe blessed with food,ʼ but do not feed him, we are uncharitable. Relationships form the basis of our faith in Jesus.
Christianity is described as a relationship with God through Jesus. Fellowship plays a vital role in humanity. We use language to interact, we are capable of loving without reward, and we are born into families which (ideally) teach us to get along. I do not believe that all of this charity, love, and fellowship is to be a reward for ʻbecoming a Christian,ʼ. It should, rather, be a consequence of the Love God has so freely given us.
I believe that the Church is present and active in the community, and that its ʻneighboursʼ are a huge part of its life. In traditional weekly services, there are several members whose roles are obvious (preacher, singers, musicians, and—unfortunately —the technical team) and those whose role is needed but less obvious (deacons, elders, and those who count offerings). For the most part, however, the church comprises people whose role is not so much unobvious as undefined. There is no precedent in the Bible for people to have no active role in the church. If this means that there is only so much that can be done in a Sunday service, perhaps there may be more outside this which requires their attention. Many people who cannot preach can paint. Many who cannot sing can scrape old paint off an elderly ladyʼs house. Resound offers a framework for more peopleʼs ministry. It should offer support to natural village networkers as well as to handy(wo)men.
As part of being ʻin ministryʼ through doing practical needs and building relationships, Church is taken outside the church. I believe that our acts of worshipful service are as spiritually significant as the songs sung and prayers proclaimed within the walls of a special building. Without discounting the need and importance of worshipping and gathering together, Resound offers a chance to put principles into action and let the Spirit free to minister. If we find our neighbours difficult to love and serve, surely we will not find anyone easier.