Wednesday, June 29, 2005

yes but is it church?

Context: we have been planting a new congregation, called espresso, at Opawa Baptist. And it has caused me to reflect more deeply on what is church. It has been a very intuitive journey. I don’t have a plan. Nor, I think does the rest of the leadership team of Paul and Anne and Lynne. We are sort of shaping it up as we go.

Below is the outline of last night. The use of an “*” (a theological star) equals some theological thinking that shaped why I did what I did last nite and if you hit the link at the bottom of this post, you’ll get that theological thinking.

8pm: 6 people turn up and there are apologies from 4 people with hospitalised family. Only 6. There are 150 people on a Sunday morning. Is 6 people church? “*1”

8.10pm: We say our regular gathering prayer. “*2”

8.15pm: We play a game. Cranium. The boys lose to the girls. But is playing a game church? “*3”

9.05pm: We celebrate communion. Bread is such a let down if you’ve dined on cake and pineapple and chocolate slice. So we have sparkling grape juice and fruit bun. “*4”

9.10pm: We take some time to reflect as a community on how espresso is going. What is working? What is not? “*5”

9.15pm: We decide on the question for next week – Why are there 4 gospels? (Each week of discussion starts with a question, which emerges from our group life). We allocate among the community who will provide food and the closing ritual and the discussion starter. Until next week. “*6”

As I drive home I reflect on how it seems so low-tech and organic. Is there a danger that something can be so low-key that it doesn’t grab people’s vision and time and energy? And does it matter? It was for me, a sustaining among friends of my following of Christ into the world.

Theological thinking:
*1. There’s a sheer pragmatism at work here as well. Energy Steve. You’re busy. More efficient to focus your energy on 150 than 6. There’s also the perception that the emerging church is small and is opposed to large church. So will a congregation of 6/10 (after 4 weeks) continue these wider perceptions? Yet there are always people at espresso who are never at Sunday morning. And how else do I as pastor follow the Christ who left the 100 to seek the 1?

*2 Tonite is about community. But I don’t like the dualism that separates sacred from secular. So if we pray and then play, then perhaps we are overcoming the dualisms.

*3. As church, espresso gathers to grow in God, in community and in mission. For the last 4 weeks we have discussed God. For the last 2 weeks we have focused on mission, specifically on those without water. So playing a game is a great way to grow in community. We might, in time, eat or go to a cafe. But this is early days, so we need continuity. Someone suggested and provided a board game, so away we go.

*4. Again I want to unite the sacred and the secular. I want spirituality laced with community. So surely the perfect time to eat bread and take cup together is after the laughter and play. For Baptists, the community is sacramental. For where 2 or 3 are gathered, there is Christ. So amid the sacred, we take sacrament.

*5. This is an on the spot decision. But I really want espresso to be organic and team lead. It is about a community, not about an up-front leader. So we need ways to talk and process and evaluate together. And what better way than amid game board and eucharistic elements.

*6. So much of church starts with the church’s agenda. At espresso, we want to let people’s questions and people’s discussion shape our agenda.

Posted by steve at 03:16 PM


  1. fascinating post … got me thinking on church again

    Comment by Sivin — June 29, 2005 @ 6:35 pm

  2. I think it’s church.

    And the question that is raised for me in your *’ed musings is this: yes, maybe it’s more efficient for _you_ to focus on 150, but is God calling a pastor out of the little group and you’re there to facilitate the calling? Or, a different way to look at this, perhaps it’s not you, the singular, who is called out, but you, the group that ministers to each other?

    Comment by Lisa — June 30, 2005 @ 5:27 am

  3. I like the shared nature of it, the way that diff ones take leadership for diff things on diff nights. Having said that, we are all “big kids” and therefore ARE taking responsibility. Perhaps it will need to be more formalised later, but for now I think it is fine.

    Comment by lynne — June 30, 2005 @ 9:35 am

  4. YES! Fellowship is church.

    This gathering seems a lot more like church to me than a regular Sunday morning/evening meeting. For years I’ve heard preacher’s say “church is people” but by their priorities and actions reinforce the hierarchy and political structure.

    I’m so glad that in this congregation “church is people”. I’m encouraged by reading your posts and would encourage you to continue to pursue realtionship and organic development in this congregation.

    (I’m not saying that there is no value in the wider denominational structures.)

    Comment by mars-hill — June 30, 2005 @ 10:19 am

  5. Of course it’s church – keep it going, I think less people bring with them an intimacy and integrity that the big group gatherings lack, even the alt.worship ones. More often than not, I myself feel more real, more related to, more body than in the bigger meetings. Isn’t espresso the small but very strong coffee – there you go. There could be coming some frothed milk soon, than you’ll have a latte 😉
    I reread the part of your book about Brian yesterday and it moved me – Redemptive portals, I even wrote some notes down for our community (which is called @home) and gave them to my team. So again – thank you for your honesty and your encouraging posts.

    Comment by Bjoern Wagner — June 30, 2005 @ 5:34 pm


    Comment by Vance — July 1, 2005 @ 4:52 pm

  7. I currently serve at a Baptist church (for whatever that’s worth), and when attendance doesn’t usually turn out the way people had hoped for a service or event, it’s usually followed by the comment: “Oh well…where two or three are gathered, right?” It’s not a statement of hope and power as intended by Christ…but instead turned into a “Well, I guess we have the very minimum, and if Jesus hadn’t said this was enough for him, then we’d be packing up and heading home rather than go through all this for just a couple people.” Christ is committed to the Reflection of Himself in us regardless of number (he exists outside of numbers and measurement). What matters is that He Is.

    And if the emergent church is anything, isn’t it to reach out and connect to those who wouldn’t be caught up in the “norm?” It was mentioned that those who attend espresso don’t make it to the Sunday morning service. It seems ironic when an emergent community or service (as different as it may be from a more ‘traditional’ or ‘standard’ affair) may still not be quite what searchers are looking for or able to connect with. Even in this emergence, we have to be careful in thinking that it has to be “something” or that there is a common look or feel that we have to keep with. Isn’t that the very thing that sparks so many to look to emergence in the first place?

    Comment by Ron — July 2, 2005 @ 4:26 am

  8. Ron, I’m not totally sure of what you are saying. My reflection on numbers was an attempt to be honest, for one of the criticisms from outside the emerging church is “fruit.”

    Also I would stress that expresso is not a journey toward “real church” ie Sunday morning. We have worked hard theologically to reflect on “what is church” and to have all those elements in all our congregations, including espresso.

    Comment by steve — July 2, 2005 @ 10:05 am

  9. I’ve followed your expresso musings closely Steve, we’re in the process of considering a Sunday evening service that is without singing and that emphasises community and participation. Our church is a little further back on the journey than Opawa and so we are approaching it tentitively. I, with our evening service in mind, share your concerns about fruit. Surely though these different ways of doing and being church need a six month period before evaluation? Our Sunday morning services fluctuate as wildly during winter!

    Comment by Andrew — July 7, 2005 @ 11:22 am

  10. Great post, very similar to where my community is at. Great stuff

    Comment by Digger — August 26, 2005 @ 12:50 pm

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