A big THANKS to all who participated, especially Michael Nelson for hosting our gatherings!
Big Takeaway from Session 5: The general consensus was that Theophilus does need “members” (although “member” may not be the best term to describe what we mean). Members of Theophilus are simply those that belong to the community. The discussion also led to an agreement that there should be certain behaviors that are expected of those that belong to the community. Some of the possible expected behaviors that were discussed include 1) embracing a baptismal spiritual journey, 2) embracing diversity and welcoming new people, 3) investing in Grace Groups and the community life of Theophilus, and 4) discovering your unique spiritual gifts and using them to participate in the ministry of Theophilus.
Several of us had a great time reflecting on the question,“What does it mean to be a church community?” on Wednesday night. You can download the handout that guided our discussion so you can follow along: Session 4 Handout
Big Takeaway from Session 4: We dove into some biblical and theological explanations of what the “church” is. The church is the creation of the Holy Spirit. No one really decides for themselves to become a part of the church. The Spirit of God is always drawing people into community first. The church’s model for community comes from the Trinity. The Trinity is our model for a relational, organic community of interconnected, mutually submissive relationships. The mission of the church is wrapped up in the narrative story of a Three-in-One (communal) God that is re-creating everything into a new and perfect community.
We also completed a comparison of how three different churches handle their membership practices. Several values and practices are beginning to emerge in defining how Theophilus might help people belong to our community:
It might be helpful for new Grace Groups to be created around new “members.”
A process for discerning whether “membership” is where God is leading someone might be a helpful thing to offer (but without a specific time frame expected for completion).
If a process for discernment is suggested, it would be helpful if the steps are easy to understand and communicated well.
It seems that regardless of people’s “membership” status, everyone should feel welcomed and encouraged to participate (with no guilt attached for not becoming a “member”).
If you’d like to keep up with the discussion from “Exploring the Future Church: an open discussion on what it means to be in a faith community” you can download the notes here: Session 1 Handout (.doc file)
Big Takeaway from Session 1: We had some significant discussion around the question, “Does church membership matter anymore?” We noted that the idea of “membership” has evolved from what it once was because people’s social needs have changed. One difficulty is that church membership rolls are never accurate. Some people will become a “member” of a church, but never participate or develop relationships. On the other hand, some people are highly engaged in the life and ministry of the church, but never officially become a “member.” Regardless of where people stand in their “membership,” it is essential that everyone feel welcome and invited. The conclusion the group came to was that “membership” as it has been known and experienced in most churches does not matter anymore. What does matter is “belonging to a community.”
Our future sessions will continue to explore this idea of how to encourage people to belong to our community.
Here is the video from Sunday’s message at Theophilus. Marcus and I had a great time “tag-teaming” the message.
We each had enough material to preach our own individual messages, so I left a couple of points out due to lack of time. Here they are:
If you’re going to follow Jesus, you might have to follow Jesus (even to death). Is it possible that I could be killed for my faith? Or one of you? I don’t know. The point is this: If we claim to be followers of a Savior who was crucified, should we expect any different? The question is, will we allow our own crosses and our own martyrdoms to be an opportunity to imitate Jesus, his compassion and mercy?
(Hat-Tip to Peter Rollins for this point, taken from his blog post)
Anecdote – “One evening a guy is driving home after a long and tiring day at work and gets a call from his concerned wife, “Dear, be careful on the way home as I just heard on the news that some crazy guy has been spotted going full speed the wrong way up the freeway” The husband says, “Sorry honey, can’t talk right now… there isn’t just one crazy guy, there are hundreds of them!!!”
This is funny, but this is the situation the Jewish mob that murders Stephen find themselves in. They don’t even consider that they may be wrong. This situation is sadly all too common. Now look at this story in your own life – put yourself in the shoes of the angry mob. How do we encounter people with different political, religious, and cultural values to our own? When we’re confronted with someone who thinks differently than us, how do we respond? Most people respond in 1 of 2 ways: (A) Consumption – attempting to neutralize the difference by changing them to our way of thinking (making them like us), or (B) Rejection – rejecting them from our group as a foreign agent that must be expelled (protecting the integrity of our group).
But there is a better option. The better option is Communion. Communion can be described as eating with the other who thinks differently. Here the community seeks to sit down with the other and seek out places of convergence. Communion is saying there are places where we are both right, lets see where those places are, and move forward together.
To be in Communion with someone means we put ourselves in the other’s shoes, we look at the situation through their eyes. This is an alternative type of encounter with people who are different than us. And it’s what Jesus came to show us. Jesus came to show us that there is a different way to treat people. We don’t have to change them and we don’t have to reject them. God can save us as we are, whether right or wrong.
On Sunday at Theophilus, I improvised some words as we prepared to celebrate God’s meal together. Someone asked me to re-share what I said, so I wrote it down in an email. I’m reposting it here, just in case anyone else would like to reflect on it more:
Now is the time in the service when we celebrate God’s meal together. I want to share 4 stories from the Bible that included meals:
In the story of God’s people in the Old Testament, there was an event called Passover. It was the time when God freed his people from bondage and slavery in Egypt and gave them a new home. It included a meal. And in the meal God’s people were supposed to eat unleavened bread, which is bread that didn’t sit and rise. After God’s people were rescued from slavery, they were to re-commemorate the event every year by eating this meal. And when they ate the unleavened bread it was a reminder that God’s mercy and redemption were going to come quickly, and there wasn’t time to wait for the bread to rise.
Jesus, the night before he was handed over to his death, ate a meal with his closest followers, his disciples. And that night he got on the floor and washed his disciples feet. And he told them that he was giving them a new commandment – that they were to love one another. Jesus was teaching his disciples that power and leadership doesn’t come from beating people down with violence or intimidation, but it comes from humility and service. Jesus’ followers were going to be known by their love, not their hatred or violence toward others.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, a couple of his followers were on the road walking. They were discouraged and confused about what had happen to their teacher. A stranger came alongside them, and began explaining to them what had happen to Jesus and why it was necessary. Jesus’ followers stopped and invited the stranger to eat a meal together. When they sat down, the stranger took bread, broke it, and gave thanks for it. And suddenly the disciples recognized something they had heard before. And then it clicked – and they realized it was Jesus with them, risen from the dead! And instantly he was gone.
The final meal that Jesus eats with his friends is yet to happen. It will be the meal that we celebrate with Jesus for eternity in the new heaven and the new earth. This meal is the feast that every tribe, tongue, and nation are invited to. And Jesus will be there with us, face to face.
This meal that we celebrate today is a reminder and a foretaste of all these stories that include meals. Everyone is welcome – come to the feast at God’s table!
Here is the benediction we have been using the last couple of weeks at Theophilus:
We have been washed in the Word, We have been nourished at God’s table,
We are sent forth as agents in God’s Kingdom
To love and serve our neighbors.
Go in peace and live the church.
This benediction clearly outlines the order of service that is concluding (Gathering – Word – Meal – Sending). It reminds you of everything we’ve just experienced:
We’ve heard portions of God’s Word read and the Gospel proclaimed in the message
I borrowed the phrase “washed in the word” from Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
“Washing” also reminds us of our baptism and our inheritance as God’s children
We’ve celebrated the Eucharistic feast at God’s table (where all are welcome), a foretaste of the eternal banquet that Christ presides over
With the conclusion of this benediction we are sent forth to work in God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of light
What does work in God’s Kingdom practically look like? Loving and serving our neighbors.
We’re reminded that as we leave our liturgy, we don’t just return to normal life and self-centered thoughts/actions. We are launched out as missionary vessels to witness to God’s purposes and redemption of the world.
We are sent in peace. We have peace with God through Christ, and we are sent with the ministry of reconciliation, bringing more people peace.
“Live the church” is a little phrase that we end every benediction with. I borrowed it from Vox Veniae. The church isn’t a building or a social club. It’s the living/breathing Body of Christ, and it needs to be lived out in the world.