Let me start again with Bonhoeffer, and with one of my favourite quotes of his:
‘The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this’
For me, church is never about a series of events or a Sunday service, not even stuff in the week. Following the Way of Jesus is about our everyday moving, breathing, living. Bonhoeffer talks of a ‘new kind of monasticism’ – that is, people who seek to live life devoted to key principles of the gospel, allowing discipleship to pervade every sphere of their lives. I still meet too many people for whom church is an event, and where following Jesus is for ‘other people.’
I firmly believe that people need ‘pegs’ to be able to hang their approach to discipleship on. The traditional vows of ‘obedience, chastity and poverty,’ especially lived out in community, were one of the ways our predecessors have sought to flesh out discipleship. I’m not suggestion that those are the pegs that 21st century ‘new monasticism’ will look at adopting.
One such expression of this is Infinitum, a movement which has its birth in the Salvation Army, or certainly originating with some Salvation Army people that I know, which spans several countries. However, engagement is not restricted at all and non-Salvation Army people are engaging and building life around this. They express their ‘way of life’ like this:
One Vision – Following Jesus
Two Virtues – The Two Loves, that is, Loving God and Loving Others
Three Vows – Surrender, Generosity, Mission
Again, with this expression of community, there is nothing to join, nothing to pay, just a life to live. They suggest that people find themselves one or two friends or more, explore the framework, and then meet once a week for an hour to ask ‘OK, how have we gotten on with this this week?’ An opportunity to share, be refreshed, encouraged, share burdens, to pray and to help keep focussed.
In many ways, if that was my experience of ‘church’ I’d be glad of it. I also recognise the value of gathering together to express that common life and also to make ourselves visible in the community BUT ITS NOT ABOUT THE GATHERING – it’s about the life. This is so simple, and there are a variety of expressions of this ‘new monasticism’ which focuses on giving a simple frame work, a means of connecting life and faith, which builds in the expectation that this isn’t just about fronting up on a Sunday…it is ‘church’ from Monday to Saturday.
The longer I reflect, the more I’d see church planting as these things: firstly, releasing and empowering such a network of connections around a ‘way of life’; secondly, facilitating a regular gathering where all can come together to celebrate, eat, worship and be hospitable to those exploring church – a public face. A church that is dispersed AND gathered, missional AND attractional. Both/And.
If church is as ‘simple’ as this, then people are released to live life and engage in a whole feast of mission-focussed opportunities and lifestyles that isn’t hampered by 20 committee meetings before breakfast (slight exaggeration!). But just think of all the extra hours you wouldn’t have to spend inside church doors…
How does that grab you? I want in.