It’s now the fourth Sunday morning since I concluded my position helping out with worship at my friends’ congregation…and although I’m enjoying the break, I find that surprisingly, I miss the routine somewhat. Even though my heart is ultimately drawn to a different form of expression (which is why that assignment wasn’t permanent), there’s something I miss about the weekly act of getting together.
That might seem a bit surprising, even contradictory, to those who have been following this blog for awhile, after all I’ve said here about institutional church and all. But when I look back, I realize that when I started this blog, I was leading a house church–which was still a regular weekly gathering. So this is really the first time since I started the blog that I’ve been without a regular gathering of the community of faith, institutional or not. That’s why it feels different to me. It’s this in-between place, between the types of community that I’ve been part of, and the one I will be part of.
The truth is, when you write a blog like this one, you tend to get baked into the same pie with others who might sound like you. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s sometimes assumed by the type of blog I write that (along with other misconceptions) I don’t believe in the gathering of the church in general, simply because I don’t promote the institutional forms of gathering. It’s assumed that I have some sort of doctrinal belief that Christians ought to stay home on Sundays and never do anything organized.
But if you have read the blog closely, and not through a set of mental filters, you’ll realize that isn’t true. I’ve never said we shouldn’t gather. The Scripture says not to forsake the assembling together; I haven’t torn that page from my Bible, and neither should you. Of course we’re supposed to get together. No–my issue has never been whether that should happen, but what it should look like. I don’t believe it’s appropriate to use that “don’t forsake the assembling” passage to guilt people into attending the form of church you think is best. I do believe it’s appropriate, even necessary, to keep that Scripture in our hearts, to let it guide us into community with one another, whatever that community looks like. I don’t think a gathering has to be institutional in order to fulfill the mandate to assemble. Hopefully that makes sense.
That being said, because of the blog, I’ve obviously become friends with a lot of people who are Christ-followers but aren’t currently engaged in a regular gathering with other believers. Some of these folks have been “outsiders” for several years, others for a few months. Some of them even believe it’s okay not to belong to a community, and have no plans to be in one. Many others, though, express a sense of loneliness and loss, because they actually want to be in community–they just feel sort of exiled because they can’t in good conscience belong to any of the traditional forms of gathering taking place around them. (That longing is actually what’s drawn many of us into the blogosphere, because at least we can find someone else online who has an inkling of what we’re feeling–and that’s actually drawn some of us into a sort of pseudo-community.)
For me, on the issue of gathering or not gathering, I actually don’t take a hard-line approach either way–and there’s one huge reason why. The answer is the title of this blog post: The In Between.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned along this journey, it is to take the factor of time into account. Faith and belief and practice are not on/off switches; God is interacting with all of us on a timeline, and we are all in between different points on that line. So how I see the world and the church today might change over time, as God changes my perspective through my interaction with Him, with others, and with the world. Same with you; same with anyone else.
What’s more–I believe God interacts with the church herself over time, and I believe the church right now is undergoing a huge “in between” moment. I think that’s why there are so many Christians right now who are having serious doubts and disillusionments about the form of church we’ve all been brought up with. But I don’t think it’s time to draw up doctrinal statements about whether or not we should “go to church” on Sundays just because a lot of people are feeling differently about it. I think we need to ride it out and see what God reveals over time. We’re not at a stopping point here; we’re in the In Between. I think we’re in the process of stripping off the extra baggage so we can rediscover what true community is like–but I don’t think we’re there yet, and I don’t trust anyone right now who claims to have a clear handle on it. Just because it looks a certain way now doesn’t mean it will look that way in a few years. It’s just too early to draw a clear conclusion on a lot of things.
So where am I at on the timeline? I’m fairly confident that the church, and the institution that has grown up around the church, are not one and the same–so I obviously don’t buy into the claim that Sunday morning gathering is the only way and method to assemble together. In other words, I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years getting a clearer understanding of what true community is not. 🙂 I’m now in a personal “in between” place, having released both my house church in Tulsa and the church where I was helping out with worship here, so I am in a position to re-discover, as it were. I see before me the seeds of a new community of faith–and a fresh expression of community–which I’ll probably elaborate on in future posts. I’m not in a huge hurry to form anything; rather, I want to look and listen, and see what is already forming around us, and be part of that. I still believe that we should gather; I’m just patient about exploring what that can look like–because I understand a lot more about the timeline.
For now, though, I’m in the In Between–just like so many of us are.