Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Growing Community

Craig Dykstra has suggested 13 ways that the church cultivates community.

These “ecclesiastical practices” shape the nature and form of the communities of Christians that we call congregations. This is a much more complex enterprise than we generally realize.

Our lack of clarity about this creates several problems. One is that we are not as effective in cultivating community as we should be. Another is that we are building certain characteristics into our congregations that we are not aware of, characteristics that might be in conflict with the truth we believe.

Healthy Christian community does not just happen. We need to understand how this process works and how we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit in building true

To that end, I have paraphrased, reordered and grouped these 13 “ecclesiastical practices” into the following categories.

(This list comes from Dykstra’s book
Growing in the Life of Christian Faith, as quoted in Cultivating Missional Communities by Inagrace Dietterich.)

Commonly recognized practices
These are the practices nearly all Christians recognize and employ to “be the church.”
Worshipping God together: Worship is the primary way that most congregations shape their communities. This includes hearing the preaching of the Word and receiving the sacraments.

Praying: This includes both public and private prayer.

Commonly recognized but narrowly implemented practices
These are the practices most Christians engage in but often in a limited manner.
Interpreting the Scriptures together: This is usually a practice reserved for the clergy. But this should include more than woodenly applying the historical-grammatical method. The Scriptures must be understood in our present context.

Telling the Christian story to one another: This is usually done as preparation for evangelism or as evangelism itself. As Christians, we would do well to follow the example of the Jews who retell the stories of their past. It is the stories that shape their identities and values. We are the ones who need to hear these stories.

Carrying out specific faithful acts of service and witness together: When this is done, it is usually done as a chore or obligation. It is either performed with ulterior motives (as a pretext for evangelism) or with distance and arrogance. We should understand service as integral to “being the Church.”

Practices that either supplant the Gospel or are avoided for fear that they will supplant the Gospel
These are primarily done by “liberal” Christians who reduce the Gospel to social action. They are often avoided by “conservative” Christians because they seem insignificant compared to the “spiritual” matters.
Opposing the “powers”: This often takes the form of social action. It means standing against people and organizations that damage human life, that disrupt human community or that harm God’s creation.

Social justice: This is the positive aspect. It means working together to establish and maintain social structures which will sustain life in the world in ways that are in accord with God’s will.

Practices that rarely happen at the congregational level
When these activities take place, it is usually in the context of a small group. They seem too threatening for most Westerners.
Confession: This was a significant part of John Wesley’s weekly class meetings. It is not some legalistic ritual performed out of fear of condemnation. It is rather an expression of deep community. We confess our sins to one another and forgive those who have wronged us. The goal is not so much a “clean slate” before God as it is reconciliation with one another as well as God.

Hospitality: This is much more than having potluck dinners, as valuable as they are. We must not only extend hospitality to our friends but also to the stranger.

Dialogue: We must listen carefully to one another as they tell us their stories, not just wait for a break to jump in with our own story.

Solidarity: We are called to suffer with and for each other (and for all who are our neighbors according to Jesus’ definition).

Practices that are so rare as to be statistically nonexistent in the Church
These practices were common in the early Church but are virtually extinct nowadays.
Acceptance: This is practiced better in Alcoholics Anonymous than in the church. We need to see each other with God’s eyes as valuable right now, even with all our flaws. Then we can encourage and challenge each other as we pursue our own vocations. This requires deep knowledge of one another.

Awareness: This means understanding the context in which we live as well as the “timeless truth” of the Gospel. We must struggle together to become aware of that context and to understand how the Gospel of Jesus Christ takes shape in that context.

So what do you think?

Do you find this list helpful? Do you agree with my categories? Would you organize them differently? Did Dykstra leave anything out? Would you exclude anything from his list?

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


daniel the smith said...

Great post (as was the last one). I'd really love to see you expand on what exactly you mean by confession, or maybe what that would look like in practice. (Maybe a good topic for a future post?)

In my experience I don't think I've found acceptance or awareness to be less prevalent than the things in the "rarely happen" category (perhaps I should say I haven't really seen either, though...).

Pastor Rod said...

Thanks, Daniel.

Yes, that would make an excellent topic for a post. The short answer is that it would have a lot in common with "Acceptance."

The things in the "rarely happen" category could probably be moved down into the last one, unfortunately.