So I guess there is a part of me that likes Doug Sloan's post over at [D]mergent. And yet, I view it with a bit of hesitation.
His concept is revolutionary: it's to get rid of all the buildings and the trappings of the modern church and just be the people of God taking care of the poor and worshiping whenever and wherever:
What would happen if the church universal – every congregational property, every regional office, every national office, every seminary, every camp – was sold and the net proceeds were used to establish a trust fund endowment to support nutritional, medical, legal, and educational services for the poor, the lost, and the hurt?
When you want a new status quo – a status quo different than the current status quo – you are asking for revolution. When you desire radical transformation – you are asking for revolution. When you are tired of capital campaigns for more structural imagery; nauseated by controversy over who is fit to be a church member, deacon, or elder; repulsed by the aggregation and protection of authority that defines narrow rigid paths to ordination; grievously hurt by the abandonment and refusal to acknowledge congregations who dare to be excited by their proclaiming and living the Good News; or sick of choosing better organization over better outreach – you are asking for revolution.
“Doing” has to be the new definition of faith. A “new definition” will not be statements of purpose/mission/vision or political participation or public stances on issues or styles of worship. It will be specific activities; specific ways of living that are the new definition. Participating in CODA or LifeLine or Habitat for Humanity will not be an outreach activity; it will be what we do and definitive of who we are. Supporting a free clinic or a food pantry or a shelter for the homeless will not be the focus of an annual fund-raising event; it will be part of our continuously active and visible theological and spiritual DNA. Worship will not be every Sunday morning – it will be whenever and wherever 2 or 3 (not 200 or 300, not 2,000 or 3,000, not 20,000 or 30,000) are gathered to live, study, and contemplate the Good News. Indeed, “doing” will be about living and being the Good News, not scheduling it as a repetitive activity on our digital calendar on the same day at the same time that always occurs at the same location and always follows the same sequence. “Doing” our faith does not require capital campaigns; local, regional, or national governing boards; seminaries; or licensing/ordination policies.
“Doing” our faith has to be seen as a radical, counter-cultural, defiant way of living. By its very nature, our faith is not supposed to be institutionalized and not measured by largeness, cultural pervasiveness, or authoritarianism. Our faith is supposed to be personal and divinely humane. Our faithful doing is to be delivered person-to-person, face-to-face, one-to-one – not by an invisible faceless remote committee or collective. “Doing” our faith can be accomplished only with more personal involvement and not with more technology that is better, more pervasive, more invasive, and increasingly remote and detached.
Congregations should be small groups meeting for worship in the homes of different members. Just imagine: Church with no offerings, no church governing boards and no board meetings, no committees and no committee meetings, no rehearsals, no fund raisers, no capital campaigns, no finances, no buildings, no property, no maintenance or repairs or replacements, no employees, no membership drives. Just imagine: Church as only worship, only studying, only witnessing in word and service to each other and the world.
On one level it sounds wonderful, if not utopian. What if the church were not an institution, but just a bunch of people getting together and praising God and helping the poor?
And yet, I tend to think were this to happen on a massive scale, it would end up as one hot mess.
It's not that such communities can take place. In fact, they have. But I worry that this wonderful vision that Sloan creates can in reality end up doing some harm.
As someone who is gay, I can resonate with some of what I have deemed silly rules regarding ordination. But that said, I don't want to just junk ordination either. My guess is, those standards came into being because of some form of abuse that had taken place.
Or take the matter of preaching and teaching. I've heard people say they don't need pastors, but in this new paradigm, who will want to lead and teach? If there is a large movement of the Spirit to call forth people, I will be happy,but I tend to think a lot of people don't want to be bothered with that.
Then comes worship. If Sloan thinks the worship wars will go away just because there is no more institutional church, he has another thing coming.
I guess what I'm getting at is that there are sometimes good reasons why the institution of the church came into being. Some of it no longer serves a good purpose and need to be cast aside. For example, I don't think we need the large physical plants that we once needed. I also think that shrinking church budgets and the rising costs of education mean will we have to reimagine ordination and find ways for more lay-driven ministry.But I think that at times you need the framework of the institution in order to allow the church to thrive. The question is what to keep, what to change and what to throw away.
In politics, I tend to lean towards libertarianism. I want a small government that can do a few good things very well. But libertarianism is not anarchy. I still want a government.
I think in someways, we need a libertarian view of modern ecclesiology. We need to see what of the institutional church is needed and what might be thrown away. We need to think about what matters in a community of faith in 2010. Do we need committees, big buildings and ordained ministers? Or can we have a lighter structure, small or no building and a lay-driven ministry?
This is something the modern church has to discern. Sloan's vision is wonderful, but I fear it leads to anarchy. I'm more in favor of the church having a garage sale than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.