I’ve wrestled with the western idea of church for years. What Christ ordained with His follower Peter seems to have been warped by 2000 years of oversight by publicans and modern day Pharisees. The western church is broken. The statistics don’t lie. The western church has declining attendance, overburdening debt, little ability to reach the community and a reputation of ignorance, irrelevancy and hypocrisy.
Whenever I share this thought, I generally get two reactions based on my audience. The western church attendee doesn’t like the claim, “the church is broken.” They love the institution as it is. It suits a purpose for them. They question my word choice. They retort “the church is God’s chosen vehicle to reach the world” to which I agree. However, the ensuing discussion makes it clear “religion” along with rationalization and justification have entered the building. On the other side of the pendulum, the “none, done and undone” faith refuges nod their heads about my observation. Their affirmations get more pronounced the further they are away from the western church mentality of Sunday gatherings. They add their negative bias and/or previous experiences to my observation. The stories break my heart. The word “church” has become a synonym for an outdated mode of indoctrination into a former way of thinking that hurts instead of healing. Personally, both sides offer good fodder for the discussion surround our reasons to gather together.
Jesus authorized the “Ecclesia” to be the vehicle for the movement. “Ecclesia” is a greek word that talks of groups of people who came together to form a community. The earliest Christian groups were very inter-connected. They were more than a small bible study group or church of programmed “life” groups. The earliest Christian relied on one another, fostered each other's physical, spiritual and mental growth while continually inviting others to join the movement. The group was not a “holy huddle” afraid of inviting others into the group. It was a group of families who became the living breathing organism born to live for God’s purpose above and beyond everyday survival. These groups were the cornerstone of life. Group life embodied what it meant to be a Christ follower. It was the example by which one modeled the rest of life. If I asked you what the majority of the western church demonstrates as its core activity today, what would your answer be? I believe for a good many the core activity would be to gather a once or twice a week, check in, sing a familiar tune, eat a familiar snack, hear a familiar message and don’t risk, change, sacrifice or surrender any aspect of life, except maybe the hour. Unfortunately, the American church pattern has been so ingrained we need to re-establish the idea of community by renewing the forgotten task of neighboring.
RENEW hopes to help in this endeavor by establishing the two cornerstones of building one’s faith: relationship with God and relationship with others. We were built for community. We are called to be inconstant contact with God, His Son and the Holy Spirit. It is through this ongoing relationship we are able to be God’s servant to those around us. Hugh Halter uses the term incarnational community to describe the deeper meaning of community. We are to become Jesus through our words and actions.
RENEW purposely meets during the week versus Sunday morning. We do so to emphasize the idea that true Christian community is not set apart from our daily lives but included as a cornerstone. The sheer act of having to arrange one’s everyday life around a regular connection with God and others helps crystalize its importance as well as the relationships represented. I agree Sunday morning can have the power of Christ but for many, it has become a ritual of self-gratification. It exists not to show God’s place in one's life or to serve others but to have semi-professionals serve a plate of spiritual experience or entertainment without life changing engagement.
RENEW meets every week on Thursdays. We currently meet at 1251 Windham Parkway in space provided by our friends at The Sanctuary. We are also in the process of expanding to a second night in Itasca. Please check our website latest news before coming. We strive to serve the community so sometimes we forgo our time together so we can be His hands and feet. Come join us!