My wife, Mary Jo, and I have been reading and discussing a book that is causing us to really dig into our marital relationship and what it can and should be. Not unlike other marriages, our marriage can be so much better than it has been, in the area of true and deep intimacy which is oneness. A covenant relationship, which marriage is, is also a communal relationship. It is in and through the living of life together through which deeper and deeper intimacy should come.
Unfortunately, many marriages, and ours is not immune to this, have been affected by a compartmentalizing of life. While some compartmentalizing in life may be good, too much of it has the effect of making it easy to construct walls in life and relationships behind which a person can hide and not truly fully reveal one’s self to another.
While our marriage has been okay and has had its ups and downs, it has also been ordinary. What I desire is an extraordinary marital relationship with her and she desires the same. With God’s help, we will walk the path to that destination.
As I have contemplated all of this, a desire for another covenant relationship has arisen – that of the church. The church is a community of people who are living together in a covenant relationship. That means that those of the community live life together. Two ways in which Merriam-Webster defines community are “an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location” and “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.”
Regarding the “community” of the local church, how much has the perspective toward community sneaked its way into the church? For example, “church” (by which they really mean going to a building for a worship experience) is typically done on a Sunday morning. People come, due their due diligence or fulfill some type of obligation, and then go home, thankful to have gotten that responsibility out of the way. There is an underlying attitude that one “goes to church.” To me, that demonstrates a perspective or attitude that being a part of a believing community is something I go do or is an add-on to who I am. From this perspective or attitude comes an attitude of separation and division because of compartmentalization of one’s life.
The idea of true community, of living life together must be recaptured. Because this piece is often missing, what has replaced which is actually shallow, but looks good on the surface. Because this piece is often missing, I am of the belief that the perspective exists that one comes to a gathering of the church to receive a service or services. It is often called a worship “service.”
When my car isn’t running right, I take it to my mechanic to get it serviced. That means I take it to him/her to have that person do something for or to me and my car. S/he does it; I am an inactive bystander. And then I pay that person for “services rendered.” What often is the approach and perspective when a gathering of the believing community for worship is for a worship “service?” The people come and those up front who have been trained or educated, the “experts” if you will, do the service for or to us as we sit in the pews and receive it and then go home. People then place money in the collection plate as “payment” for “services rendered.”
What is missing is the true intimacy of the community gathering for worship in which all those present are actively involved. And, having read numerous times that the generation known as the “Millenials” is a “tribal” generation, I wonder if the lack of this true communal intimacy which they also see in the world-at-large is a big reason why many dismiss the church altogether.
So, what to do about this?
One of the best ways I know for community and intimacy to happen is around the table – the eating of food. I often wonder what would be the result if the following scenario was the norm for a local community of believers.
From the conclusion of the previous worship gathering, everyone in that particular community of believers begins to listen for what God, through His Spirit, wanted to share with him/her for the possible edification of the body at the next gathering of the believing community. That could be in a word from God, be it a prophecy, an encouragement, an admonition, or something else, a song, a tongue, an interpretation, an artful display or some other expression of the gifting of the Holy Spirit. This all begins as the gathered community sits down to tables and eats brunch in a “community” room. People share with each other around the tables which then breaks out into more “communal” sharing which would involve multiple tables or all tables. It could be someone who has a word for the Lord to share stands up and shares it with the whole gathered community. It could be someone who stands up and shares something s/he saw the Lord do the previous week. It could be a song of praise that then the whole gathered community sings and meditates on the words they just sang.
Some might say that this approach throws out order (which is defined as an “order of service”) and invites chaos. Well, maybe from a human viewpoint that would be true, but if what is being shared is what God through His Spirit wants shared, isn’t it then God’s order that is being experienced? I often wonder if people are so tied to their idea of “order” for what is “order” in worship that they, in essence, tell God to “sit back and relax; we got this handled ourselves. Our order is better than Yours.”
From this communal sharing and experience of intimacy, new ideas of how the Lord wants to reach out through those of the gathered community into the overall community in which this gathered community can be discovered and shared. New ideas of how to draw in others who have been rejected by the world’s “community” for whatever reason might be shared. The older-in-the-faith, more mature Christians can be involved in the lives of younger-in-the-faith, less mature Christians through which those younger in the faith can learn and go deeper into what it means to follow and live for Christ (think Titus 2).
From this, there is an intimacy that becomes integral to the life of the individual believer and the life of the gathered community. From this, the importance of being in community is not only stressed, but truly experienced.
Much like the path Mary Jo and I are currently walking has showed me/us the crucial, but missing, piece of our marriage known as true intimacy in covenant living, too often this crucial piece is truly missing from the gathered community of God’s people.
I have a deep desire that this truly changes.