All of Don’s posts about the Culture Driven Church got me to thinking about what it means to live in community. “Community” is one of those buzzwords you hear in the post-modern church vernacular. We want to foster “a sense of community.” We want to create loving “community.” We even want an “open community.” But, as you know, I dislike using terms without thinking about what they mean.
For instance, I live in a community of 932 nice people (it says so on the sign) here in Wayne, OH. I have dined with about 5 of them. I have spoken to about 20. I have seen from a distance another 100. There’s a community at Starbucks as well. It is the community hangout. People chat over coffee and exchange everything from phone numbers to directions. Then they go home. The same can be said about the “community center” where we take Palates classes and play softball perhaps with other members of the community.
On the other hand the community that I have with my small group of 8-10 people is awesome. One of them is on my speed dial as an accountability partner in case I get the urge to do something stupid. Two of them called me on the carpet for something a few months ago. One dear soul taught me the basics of using my grill. They have prayed for me, hugged me, and learned how I like my coffee. They babysit my kids (or their teenage daughters do), rejoiced with me when I got my new job, and will let me know when my bible study is not up to snuff. Come of think of it, I wouldn’t call this community but more like family. Cliche I know but . . .
Here’s a bold claim: I think a lot of churches do community like the first kind of community–the kind you get when you have a community center, club, or your local Starbucks. I am not saying this is what they intend necessarily but its what passes for community. I’ll use another analogy. Walking into some mega-churches I sometimes get the impression I’m treated like a guest at a bed and breakfast not a family of believers. A B & B can be a community of sorts. People eat breakfast together. They chat. Everyone is almost always friendly. Everyone is welcome no matter your race, creed, or beliefs. In an effort to explore this analogy, I asked some facebook friends to tell me in what ways do modern churches remind you of B & Bs. Here’s some of the results:
“They’re comfy and cozy and fun to visit, but it’s just not the same as home.”
“(1) you go whenever you want and stay as long as you please. (2) the people there are (usually) really super nice, but it always just steps onto the wrong side of creepy. (3) they’re constantly telling you how much they love having you there (4) always trying to make you feel at home – never quite works.”
“you go once and never go back again, they take your money for something you should be doing at home, you show up and it’s not at what you thought it would be.”
Not all of those responses are from Christians. But there are a couple of elements that ring true. I can think of three things B & Bs and some modern churches have in common.
First, they are both super accommodating. B & Bs spend a lot of time thinking about amenities. Do you like your pillow soft or hard? Are you allergic to goose down? No problem. Do you like your accommodations antique or modern? No problem. There’s an applique for that. I have been amazed at how much time is spent concerned about the perceptions of others that churches engage in. As with all things except the Holy, moderation is a virtue. I’m not saying the modern church should not consider its public face at all, but endlessly worrying about public perceptions of you, amounts to insecurity not grace.
Second, both are inclusive. If you go to a B & Bs with someone, no one is going to ask if are married. Not anymore. No one is going to comment on any of your personal habits. Liberalism reigns at B & Bs. By that I mean the venerable liberal principle that “as long as you don’t harm anyone else” your life is your own. After all, we don’t want to alienate anyone. Its bad for business. If the culture driven church measures success in reaching the world in terms of how many noses or nickles pass through the door, then it is acting more like a B & Bs than a family.
Third, both B & Bs and the Culture Driven Church, feel the need to make sure the guests have a good time. They are entertaining. Some of the best B&Bs boast all kinds of fun entertainment. So do cruises. Every year there are Christian cruises that promise both rockin concerts and hint at casual “bumping into” intimacy with the likes of Third Day or Matt Redmon. I mentioned to an acquaintance recently that I had visited the local Culture Driven Church in our area to give a talk on Christianity and Sexuality. It seems there was much internal concern about the gay people that were coming to church and what stance the church should take with sensitivity. My friend’s response was “How was the show?” It was innocent but I had to admit, a bit true.
So what’s the alternative to B & Bs style community? Family. But that’s for my next post. In the meantime, maybe you can help me. You see I don’t think all modern churches are culture driven. I don’t think a band is a bad thing. I drink my coffee, wear my shorts, and stack my folding chairs one at a time, just like everyone else. My own church is definitely a modern church. So I’m still figuring out what the middle ground is between cultural accommodation and cultural irrelevance. Perhaps we can discuss it in this forum. I promise to be accommodating and maybe a bit entertaining.