A mini-odyssey with small groups (epilogue; 6 of 6)

The writing of this six-part “mini-odyssey” has in each case involved the categorizing action of selecting a check-box.  This might be considered a merely esoteric element, but the technically-blog-astute might have noticed my choices:

  • Organic church” (a crystallization of my topic in these six posts)
  • Assembly” (my thesis is that small-group assemblies have the same spiritual significance as large-church assemblies)

I could also have checked the box for “Leadership” or “Church tradition and practice.”  Disregarding the bit of blogger-wisdom that says you shouldn’t choose too may categories or tags at once, it would have been appropriate to choose all four of those and maybe “Inspiration,” too.

I’ve opted not to do much preaching/teaching here, so I haven’t talked about “Biblical or abiblical) doctrine.”

Nor have I gotten into the “Parenting” aspects, i.e., in a small group, what do you do with children in your living room floor or in a play room or spare bedroom?

Nor have I discussed particulars related to small groups in the “Amer. Rest. Mvmt. (Stone-Campbell),” although there is at least one particular worthy of note.

While it should be clear that I have been discussing relatively small versions of the “Gathering” or “Assembly,” and while I’ve been writing about the development and experience Organic/Simple/House church models in my life, I have also been intersecting, at least conceptually, with the broad idea of “Christian living.”  Perhaps the most glaring omission from my category selection, then, is “Christian living.”  I am coming to see the “Assembly” more as an organic component of Christian living.  Gatherings and associations with other Christians—by no means to be downplayed—are a vital component of “living Christianly.”  (So I’ve just added the appropriate checkbox to this post.)

What other aspects are there?  I haven’t gotten into the dynamics and phases of forming and sustaining small groups.  I haven’t appealed to scholars or gurus, nor have I cited scripture.  In considering the kinds of Christian gatherings I prefer, I haven’t discussed aspects that the small group does not typically incorporate well.  There is so much more to say (not that I should try to say it). . . .

A couple decades ago, I was a strong proponent of being at every meeting of my church (not to mention events and assemblies of other churches), being involved in lots of programs and special events, etc.  Now, my paradigm for Christian gatherings is, in one way of looking at it, more restricted and careful . . . but simultaneously broader and more liberating.

Enter my ever-increasing perceptions of, and distaste for, institutional aspects of “church.”  These days, in scanning someone’s church bulletin or hearing her talk about her church, I am likely, simultaneously, 1) to feel glad for the impressive “ministries” and the genuine attention to people and 2) to experience a sour stomach over the salaries and real estate and complexities and business-like protocols involved.

I am by no means unique in my negative feeling about churchdom.  Many people through the years have been put off by institutionalized religion, running the other way and often allowing it to block their relationship with God.  I feel some need to distance myself from those people in practice, although I presumably share much of their raison d’etre.  Put another way:  I feel their pain; I get their angst; I share many of their gut reactions.  I refuse to turn my back on Christian associations, though.  Rather, I want renewed emphasis on them.

I don’t wish to support institutional churches monetarily, but I don’t fault siblings who do.  I know local churches that do immense amounts of good for others through their offerings of money and time and skills.  I feel some inner longing to be a part of some of those activities (and who’s to say I couldn’t be?), but the whole package is more than my soul can currently bear.

I sometimes feel funny these days, not doing everything that “good Christians” do.  Decades of ingrained habits are difficult to break, and breaking them with some conscientious purposefulness still creates spiritual dissonance in me.  I don’t know, for instance, what is or isn’t sustainable—not only in my life but in the life my son will have in a couple decades (if the Lord doesn’t return first).  In the interim, I feel good about his inclusion in a high-quality children’s Bible class on Wednesdays, not to mention my own learning and positive associations in a study led by a knowledgeable, capable servant.

I even wonder if there will be some negative “witness” in my physical neighborhood.  That is a real possibility in this particular, southern town in which probably more than half of the population goes to some relatively conservative, “Bible-believing” church on Sunday mornings!  Could there be a weaker, “backslidden” (even the reference there betrays an institutional view of what it is to be a Christian) person nearby who notices my rarely “attending” somewhere on Sunday mornings, and to whom to the Romans 14 principle might actually end up applying?

Being a subject in God’s kingdom is not about membership in one or more groups . . . any kind of groups—whether institutional, informal, simple and organically grown, or what-have-you.  Yet association with other believers is not only wise; it is strongly commended in the scriptures and downright beneficial.  So I continue to look for—and contribute to—worthwhile, smaller-group associations.

If you really believe, as I do, the Rx that small groups are better for most of us than large groups, at some point, you have to take a solid step forward into the Land of Discomfort.  Having awaited the arrival of my passport, I have received it . . . am currently ambling around gingerly on the shores of LD.  My visa has been stamped (with no return date), and I wasn’t detained in customs, although my baggage is noteworthy.  To force the metaphor further:  maybe, just maybe, the Ruler of this Land and all other lands will favor LD with a “Developing Country” status in the eyes of neighboring governments.  Trade agreements could follow.  (I’ll quit there.)

The point is this:  I am beginning to allow a mix of one semi-institutional cell group, a local, substantive scripture study and others assisted by technology, plus various, more organic small-group associations, to be church for me.

B. Casey, 10/10-20/2015

Simply following—a blog by Roger Thoman


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