A churchless Church | Die Well Here.

Just back from Greenbelt which, again, was an excellent time to kick back and bump into all sorts of interesting people. Really enjoyed hooking up with Will, Jonny, Karen, Pete etc.

One of the most interesting sessions was a panel discussion with Dave Tomlinson and Jenny McIntosh about churchless faith. Dave’s book, The Post Evangelical, was published 10 years ago this summer, and it was interesting to reflect with him about the impact it has had. It’s only just been released in the US, so those stateside might not be aware of the fuss it created back here in the UK… I remember reading it virtually out of a brown paper bag – you just couldn’t be seen in my church reading stuff like that at the time! It’s not really seen particularly as an ‘Emerging Church’ text as it was released before much of the discussion started, but it was without doubt a book that broke me out of many blinkers.

Jenny is part of Spirited Exchanges, an umbrella organisation from New Zealand, and they were discussing how people’s faith might exist outside of ‘normal church’.

A couple of things struck me during the discourse:

1. It’s important to help people to die well.

The hospice movement is all about caring for people who are suffering terminal illness, and helping them and their families face it with dignity and understanding. For a faith based on the death and resurrection of its founder, we are surprisingly shy about the subject of death. I think we almost need to have hospice ministries within our networks: places where people can come to put to death their old ways of faith in ways that will minimise hurt, guilt and recrimination. Places where new beyonds can be presented.

Brueggemann resonates again:

“The royal consciousness leads people to numbness, especially to numbness about death. It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering to death”

The Prophetic Imagination [Quite simply one of the most profound books ever written]

A lot of people were asking about Vaux and why it had ended. I think we gave it a good death: a mixture of celebration and sadness. Hope and despair. Light and dark.

2. Perhaps we need a churchless Church.

The body of Christ is a given – we have to belong to the Church [macro]. But perhaps we should give up calling the things we are involved in church [micro]. It is just such an unhelpful and loaded word to use. “Do you want to come to church?” To be honest, no I don’t. And by the numbers and temper of those in the debate, there’s plenty others who don’t either. Church can be something I am a part of. But it’s not something I want to ‘go to’.


8 responses to “A churchless Church | Die Well Here.”

  1. Death is something that seems to be occupying my mind a lot lately. I’m a cheery sort of person normally (no, really!), but jst lately…
    You know when you’re a kid, you have these moments of revelation that you are you, and you are not someone else – the realisation that you and only you, are the only person seeing out of your eyes, the only person having these thoughts, etc.
    Well, recently, I had a realisation that one day I will not see out of these eyes anymore. One day I will not be, will not exist. That I will die.
    It was quite a scary and depressing revelation, and it was more weird for the fact that I was thinking in terms of someone who had no belief in God at all. My life would end and that would be it.
    These thoughts could be the result of early mid-life crisis, or impending fatherhood, I suppose, but I’m not sure what it really means yet.
    Apparently the Victorians had a much better sense of death and looked forward to it in a way, planning it, and planning to go through it with dignity and courage.
    I also met someone once who was a nurse, and who worked at one of those hospices. She told me that people absolutely die as they have lived. They take the same attitude to death as they have done to life, which is quite hard to watch, I imagine, as you try to hold someone’s hand whilst they try to go through this experience.
    Maybe in facing the full horror of death, and trying to avoid denial about it, I’ll be a more well rounded person from the experience, but I’m wondering if anyone else has these thoughts at all?

  2. Dallas Willard, in the Divine Conspiracy, had a few things to say about the way the New Testament treats death, as a no-thing, as nothing to be feared, not a horrible thing at all, but more like a crossing, a movement into the next phase of life (or something to this affect).
    I wonder if the death of our “churches” and ministries, etc, should be like this as well: a bittersweet burying of the old thing, allowing it to truly die. I suppose if in the life of the church/ministry we held on to it for dear life and squeezed our identities out of it, well then death will be a very horrific and panicky time. But if we’ve managed to hold lightly to it, then the death can be a simple thing, not without some grieving and some joy and some what-ifs, but simple nonetheless. A simple realization that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone, and bears no fruit. But if it dies… well, then some really good stuff can start happening.

  3. your right, our churches will die. maybe not in our lifetime; maybe in our lifetime; maybe tomarrow. it will happen. the local church is good to be with but not to go to, and that’s because it’s only a small lake or river on it’s way to joining up with the big ocean that is the Body of Christ. no local church has survived since they were established by whoever they were established by. even the roman catholic church had a time when the pope didn’t lead mass in rome (the babylonian captivity as it’s called), and the church at ephesus is no longer there, and niether is ephesus the city. so the only thing to do, in my opion, is keep a local church going in your local, wherever that is, and to encourage your local body to be the deepest lake or the widest river it can be.

  4. but im not encouraging churches to go out kicking and screaming. there is a time to cut the field, find some good seed and some good soil, and replant.

  5. Strange Mike, I had exactly the same thoughts around the time of my son’s birth… Some strange hormonal reaction?
    Perhaps it’s right: the cycles of birth and death continue despite all our efforts to foil them. There is some thin membrane from where new life comes and exhausted life returns… And despite sending men to the moon and splitting the atom into its infinitessimal parts, all our struggles and efforts, all our science and technology, all our physics and philosophy cannot pierce this thin place and explore one millimetre beyond.
    And no one has explored this mystery better than Bill Viola in his ‘Nantes Triptych’. My favourite work of art bar none. In fact, it feels too cheap to even label it art. It’s pixelated epiphany.

  6. One of the best books I’ve read on “death” in relation to church is Mike Regele’s (with Mark Schulz) wonderful “Death of the Church: The Church has a Choice: to die as a result of its resistance to change or die in order to live” (Harper Collins / Zondervan ISBN 0310200067). And then, importantly, there’s the place of ‘death’ in our formation and growth. Important and needful subjects for discussion Kester. Thanks.

  7. Thanks Paul – looks like a fascinating read. Personal reality check: I’m not going to get time to read that in the near future – just had a birthday and a generous mountain of books to get through!
    Any chance of a quick precis of the argument?
    Death as part of our formation and growth is really important… Vaux did some work on this as part of the ‘Sine’ series of services – looking at cycles of death/life etc, and in the more recent ‘meditations on finitude’ services. We are working on updating the site, so there should be some stuff up on them soon.

  8. How bizarre. I had just started refering to my church as the Murdered Church recently!! Definately something in that! K, I’ve started putting our little pompey thing into words and form, if u wanna go looky or spam, visit us on: http://www.enginecreations.com/unseenchurch
    It’s all in the making but I’m trying to get it to make sense!