A couple of questions have bugged me for a while now: If we achieve the goal of everyone living a missional life then what is the purpose of the church as an institution? If the point is to work with God so that everyone is exhibiting the Kingdom of Heaven, then what do we do when that is the case?
My tradition is pretty clear that we understand the Church to be the “provisional demonstration of what God intends for humanity.” In other words: we are God’s demonstration classroom, the place people should be able to look and think, “Ah, that’s the way we should be doing this thing called life.”
And yet, we’re not really demonstrating anything. What we’re basically doing is fighting with each other over who’s got the right idea of how we can save all those darn heathens. It’s not a terribly productive strategy.
It is a strategy, however, is born from a belief that the Church is merely a more holy Social Service Organization. Many (if not most) of us believe that Church is little more than a glorified Rotary Club: We show up once a week, pay our dues, and do some service projects. I think we need to look beyond this. Rotary is great, but it’s not what the Church is called to be, I don’t think.
There is something exciting to me about the Church not being a Social Service Organization, but an intentional community of people sharing a similar space and working to rehearse life the way they beieve God intends it. But this would mean giving up the need to own every damn thing we want and be in control of everything. It would mean giving into collaboration and community in ways we have not yet been comfortable.
Among other things, this would change who we think the pastor is (not CEO, but Community Architect) and what we understand evangelism to be (not coercion…i mean conversion, but inviting them to be functional part of a community in order to possible start another one).
This is a place where I think the New Monastics have something to teach us. Can we learn it? What would a Mainline incarnational monasticism look like?
wicked questions, Landon, in the social architectural way of understanding ‘wicked’ – the questions that uncover, get to the heart of an issue (speaking as community architect – that’s a great, tho really humbling, image!). As a lover of St. Benedict I have asked this question a lot – you might check out Joan Chittister’s A RADICAL CHRISTIAN LIFE…
The idea of utopian communities has been around for a long time. Most, if not all, have flourished for a period and have faded from existence. Hippie communes and Christian “common life” communities began with fervor and commitment. I affirm that just because they haven’t worked in the past is no reason not to try again. I think we may need to ask how such communities might work within the midst of “middle class suburbia” I do not see mainline monasticism being widely accepted as intercity hovels or backwoods retreatists.
I think it might be worth trying, yet again. A place for new worshipping fellowships, covenantal communities or NCDs? I think this is an age to try new things and take “risks” (even though presbyterians are notoriously risk-averse).
Can we do this Landon? Pick a cool city like St. Louis or something and go found the first Presbyterian Monastery. Practice hospitality, establish a rule of life, invite the public into our worship etc…
No no no, come to some really uncool place like Clayton, CA where I am! We did a group study on Monastery of the Heart by Joan Chittister for Advent and I kept thinking that this is how we should be approaching church! Timely stuff.
I agree with Aric, especially a city like St Louis… however, as well as the Minneapolis area. Perhaps even enter into a discussion with some of our ecumenical partners, like The Episcopal Church, which already have monastic houses and are open to new adventures.
“But this would mean giving up the need to own every damn thing we want and be in control of everything. ”
sounds like some of the best adaptive leadership strategies i’ve seen.
We are years away from this. The planet will go round the sun a couple hundred more times at the very least.
But when it does happen, the Church, as institution, becomes the cultic centre of the community.
In the meantime, I’m all for monasticism in diaspora. As a member of the Order of Saint Luke, I’m already living into it.
Excellent post, Landon. Great questions.