Friday, November 10, 2006

Church and Witness

If you've not read the little post I wrote on Christian community yesterday, do check it out. Following that discussion, I've been thinking about just what witness my own community of Vine and Branches offers the wider church and the culture at large.

I think it offers a witness for the community of Christ, and against religiosity. We meet in a living room. We involve ourselves in one anothers' lives and learn to care for one another, and to be a blessing to our neighbors. We don't have big religious events. We don't offer free turkeys to the first 200 families, or whatever. We seek to be a cohesive Christian community that steadily offers the gift of presence and care to the people around us as well to each other. No big worship services or pep rallies for Jesus. And there is absolutely no chance that 150 new people are going to come to our liturgy next week to "get excited about the Lord" in some vague way. But what we are - and I think this is far more important, or else we wouldn't be this - is a group of people that will know your name. When people visit, they're going to be spoken with. Folks get to know us a little, and we get to know them. There can be no slipping in to for the dispensing of religious goods and services, and then slipping out again anonymously. It's a big risk, and it's very deeply real. I think that's one of the reason what we are actually intimidates many Christians, whether they're lapsed or not. It's not the "big things for God" that make or break churches or the Christian life as a whole: it's the little ways that we dedicate ourselves to our common discipleship and God's ongoing redemption of his world. The little things are an every day thing, not special occasions - that's why it's a real transforming experience, and not merely a religious high.

As for the wider culture, we are a Christian community that seeks to love others well. It's important to me that folks who are not Christians (or who are lapsed Christians) to see us as a blessing to the world around us. I'm not sure if we've got that wired, or if we ever will, but it's a matter of process.

Do come back at me on this; I'm interested to know what you think. Also, you might talk to me about your own church experience, and even introduce yourself if you've not done so before. Are you involved with a Christian community? What's the biggest reason you're involved with the community you are? If you aren't, what's the primary reason you aren't? And no, I'm not going to harass you, but I'm curious.

Peace be with you all, and thanks for reading.

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Mabley said...

"The little things are an every day thing, not special occasions - that's why it's a real transforming experience, and not merely a religious high."

I'm not sure how much more spot-on you could be.

You know a little of my religious background (traditional SB). And from the outside in, smaller "house-churches" were a much needed breath of fresh air. My ONLY reasons for being there were merely to blend in, to feel safe and encouraged, leave, and come back next week. That became impossible. I felt challenged and exposed. Wanting the spiritual "high" without the willingness to be broken enough to love and be a path that only allows one to run away.

This evangelist guy used to come to my old church all the time. He always used to say that secrecy is the power of badness. I thought badness was a stupid word, but I understood what he meant. And I understood it even more when I was actually confronted with people that wanted to really "get in" my life and not just lightly tap it with spiritual advice and anecdotes.

(This is long. Sorry.)

Also, being in a small community was scary. In the church I grew up in, elitism reigned supreme - If you came in our church from off the street, you'd feel like you were in some sort of secret club where only code words were spouted off...You'd feel like people didn't really want you to know what they were talking about. You'd feel like an outsider. I think it was unintentional, but that's beside the point. I felt like that on occasion when I'd visit "house-churches." Again, it was unintentional, but honestly, their way of living out Christianity was foreign to me and it didn't seem like they were very interested in familiarizing me with it.
Maybe they wanted me to understand it by watching and not having it explained to me. I don't know. Either way, I still felt like I needed to become a member of a club.

I'm not involved with a community now because...well, I guess the whole elitist thing has a lot to do with it...and I guess I need to really believe that being involved in a community was purposeful without the reasoning that "being involved in a church is biblical...we do it because we have to."

Anonymous said...


I wholeheartedly endorse your approach to church as a community of mutually comitted christians, rather than an event to be attended.

One of the things I found hardest in moving from my Charismatic House Church background [which was very good at this despite being guilty of much of what mabley says] into the Anglican chruch was that the sense of community and mutaul obligation was missing, even in a low Anglican Church.

However, we have created cell groups within the church to provide an opporunity for deeper relations, and although we still have a long way to go things are getting better.

In summary, the model you present in this post is absolutely spot on.

Anonymous said...

Sorry man I have to head out for a retreat this weekend but I will get back to you!

+ Alan said...

I guess I've been invited to speak. ha. First, I appreciate your breakdown of what we are and what we do Kyle. I hope that it's true. At least I think we're definitely on the path, as you said.

To Allison, I think you explained at least part of what you might have experienced among us by going into your background, how things worked, etc. I think that factors huge in both the good and perhaps some of the perceived negative things. I won't make any excuses for an atmosphere that wasn't welcoming or hospitable, if it was so. There's no excuse for that. I'm sorry if any of that was true of us.

One thing too, is that we're not really set up to be very "seeker-sensitive." We are who and what we are, and we're not really about the job of getting people convinced that we're the coolest thing and they need to come be a part of our cool ass thing. At least we tried to give you food to eat, even though you never ate it. ha! :)

On the explaining thing, our thinking is that this is usually to be done relationally and not in a pushy sort of way. Maybe a little like you said, through observation, just being with us for a while. So, in a situation like that, I won't be coming to you after "the service" and saying, Allison, let me sit down and have a talk and explain all this to you (so that you are convinced and sign on). I don't think that works very well. And if it did "work" I'm not sure I'd want what that offers, generally speaking.

So, there's no visitor packet. There are no Ushers to greet you or answer questions. There's no prospective members class (other than just being there for a while). It seems like there may be a lot of factors involved in yours and in many people's situations that might make figuring out a community like ours a bit difficult. It will at least take some time. I've actually written some things recently about who we are and what it means to be a part of vbcc that might be helpful to even someone who is new. It might be a good idea to have some of that laying around to hand to someone - even then, after maybe the 3rd or 4th time they come around. Interesting stuff Allison. I'm sure many can relate to your experiences. Thanks for puttin' it out there. Peace to you.

Mabley said...


I actually wanted to particularly hear your feedback on the "Community and Growth" post. Glad you commented here, as well.

I didn't name VBCC in my comment for two reasons: 1) I wasn't speaking about VBCC at all, and 2) mentioning you wouldn't be necessary even if I were speaking of VBCC. I wouldn't do that - that's more of a face-to-face or e-mail conversation.

ANYway...I'm totally with you in everything you said in this comment. I think it IS true of VBCC and it SHOULD be true of everyone else.

+ Alan said...

Well, never mind then. Ha. Thanks Allison. I wasn't offended even if you were talking about us. Peace - I figured out were you were talking about after all this.

Rob the Cuban said...

This is off topic, but William Temple looks pleasant and serious. Wow.

Kyle said...

Allison, I assumed that you were talking about VBCC, since (hello!) we are a house church and you spent time with us, and you didn't clarify that you weren't talking about us. You are, after all, the young woman who sat in the living room and informed us that we were a cult, remember?

But I'm glad that you didn't mean us. Even so, I would insist that it's impossible to "make" someone feel comfortable. You can welcome somebody or not, but what they feel is what they feel.

Rob, you kill me. :0)

Cheers, SaintSimon. May we all continue to grow along that path.

Mabley said...

It's unfortunate that you made that last comment, Kyle.

I remember sitting in Alan's living room and sharing the reservations I had about VBCC...and saying that it felt like a cult to me. Knowing my background as you do, you should also know why I felt that way...and I think I explained it sufficiently. I exposed myself and what I was thinking when that conversation took place. I was at a very tender place and felt comfortable being vulnerable enough to share that.

Your last comment undermined that. And it was very hurtful.

Anonymous said...

Hi kyle

Sorry, i simply don't have time to keep up with everything you post and may have missed some of your points - I think you are competing for the 'prolific blogger' award.

i meant to add to my previous comment a compalint about people who talk about 'going to church' or ask 'what church do you go to?'. It misses the point. We must talk about BEING PART of a church, and ask "what church are you in?". I recall a housegroup meeting in a member's house near our church building. He kept saying how happy he had been since he came to 'that church over there'. I blew his mind by saying "its not 'that church over there', its YOUR church, meeting in YOUR house."

Keep blogging!

Kyle said...

Thanks, Simon. Cute story. :0)

Anonymous said...

"We seek to be a cohesive Christian community that steadily offers the gift of presence and care to the people around us as well to each other."

Interesting...While I am not disagreeing that your community is a good thing, and I have no doubt you are very passionate about what you do as a community. I am curious though as to how exactly this is uniquely Christian as opposed to a clique or a family unit or for that matter a Masonic lodge meeting. They would all seem to fit your definition.

Anonymous said...

Archer of the Forest

Your point is a valid one which is always a challenge to me.

I have two answers, which probably both contain part but not all of the truth.

1) We were made by God to live this way. God expresses himself through his creation, notwithstanding the failures of the church.

2) For every good thing God does and proposes, the Devil sets up a counterfeit to distract us and cause doubt. Of course, God's sovereignty means that 1 still applies and the Devil ends up unwittingly doing God's work for him.

Kyle said...

Hiya, Ryan! That's an important question. Here's the important distinction: that phrase is not the sole or even the primary definition of a church. Members of Christ's church have been mystically united to him and through word and sacrament in their life together are being transformed as part of God's new Creation. God is healing us and making us whole as the Church. This is not true of a clique, family unit, or lodge meeting.

Seeking to be "cohesive" and offering "the gift of presence and care" to one's neighbors does not in itself define a Christian community, but one that is not those things is a poor Christian community.

Simon offers good points. I'd elaborate that it is only God through the Church as the Church that has the efficacious power to enable us to live in the ways we were meant.