A few of us have been batting ideas about why it is we are living together (as the Church) in the way we are, what we're looking for, and "how long" we're willing to do it, over on Alan's blog for the last couple of days. If you find that interesting, check out these two posts and their comments.
I'll offer a version of my thoughts.
Why am I doing it this way? Being with the Vine and Branches Community and doing the "house church" thing? Let me tell you first what my rationale is not: transformation is not a sudden event that's going to come to completion before Jesus returns to renew the entire Creation with a fresh act of power and love. There is not a particular benchmark I'm looking for in my life, such that this way of being religious might finally accomplish. I don't really have a picture in my mind of what it'll look like to be "completely transformed" in this stage of my life. I really do trust Jesus (not me!) to finish the job, because he's the one who knows what he's doing. My life with VBCC could never fail to "do it for me" because I'm not after anything like that.
If I were part of our common life because I thought it would "finally work" to accomplish some particular goal of sanctification in my life, I might be asking myself, "how long am I willing do this before I see results, and then try something else?"
We are the Church of Jesus Christ, not a hemorrhoid cream.
What am I after? It sounds a little cliched to say, but transformation is about the journey more than the destination. Transformation is something that Jesus sneaks up on us while we cooperate and choose to be with him and live in the fellowship of his Church. I want to be with some people who love Jesus and are willing to stick around love me. I want them to stick around for awhile so I can learn to love them. Let us learn to love on and be like Jesus by learning and loving one another. Let's be very much a part of the places where we live and seek to transform the lives and situations of the people around us by being agents of God's Reign.
I can't judge whether that's happening "good enough." I can only be part of that, or not.
I often find our context a little challenging because I have committed to this way of being together not because I'm sold on a particular way of "being church" rather than another, but because I live in these relationships.
While I have particular values and criticisms that would keep me from building and budget-oriented fellowships, that's not important. I do what I do and stay with the people I stay with because we are important to one another. If somebody wanders off from our fellowship because "it wasn't working for them," they just never got it. What wasn't working? Human relationships? That's about being a new person, and about it being hard. Not about our corporate personality, or the way we order our common life, necessarily.
Are we close "enough" to one another? I don't know who might have suggested to us that it is possible to put people in a liturgical setting for a few months and at the end see friendships that look years old (or substitute years and decades), but they were wrong. Trust takes time and learning. My closest friends have been my friends for anywhere between three and seven years. I'm still learning what feels like basic lessons in trust with them.
The tree might be a sapling because it takes time to grow, not because it's being tended poorly.
How long are we willing to do it this way? That's the question everybody is going to have to answer on their own. The really difficult thing is not assuming everyone has the ability to understand and answer the question, and not insisting that they do so.
That's my challenge: letting people come into the fellowship even though they want to try the new religious thing that just might work this time. It's the wrong thing to look for, but it's not their fault. I can only hope and pray that Jesus will sneak up on and surprise all of us as we ask him.
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