Church is not about a building or strategies or programs. Church is relationships in, with, and under God as Father, Son, and Spirit. To be Church is to participate in the Trinity/divine life of God. Because God is the source of all relationality, to focus the church on relationships is to be Christian at the core.Bolger and Gibbs, Emergent Churches, add, "... to be a faithful Christian without community is a logical impossibility." This is absolutely true. We were redeemed from the Kingdom of darkness to join in the Kingdom of light - and this is done in community.
In regard to church organizations, Bolger and Gibbs continue, "meetings are scheduled to support the life of the community or to flow out of the life of the community, but they do not create community."
Absolutely, we are not about meetings but they took the statement too far by saying meetings do not create community. If the argument is that many elements go into making a community, then I can agree. If they are saying meetings are not a key ingredient, then I disagree. Meetings are a great way to create and build community. They clearly facilitate community. The key is that they are a means to an end, not the goal itself. We need to ensure we do not confuse meetings with community. If we do, we can drift in the purpose of the meeting and even convince ourselves that meetings are successful even when not in support of community.
Small groups clearly build relationships. Any small group leader that is confused into thinking that the meeting is the goal is not a good small group leader. But using the meeting as a focal point, a common place of celebration, etc. and especially a place to purposefully discuss the Word of God, is not only good, but I'd contend Biblical.
Even large group meetings facilitate community. Any sports fan can tell you the thrill of joining together with thousands of fellow fans for a home game. It is an experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Those fans flow with one voice. They carry that unity beyond the event. They spot each other all over town, high five each other, and yell the team whatever ... I think that is a sense of community. Certainly people feel a sense of community around their political party. As individuals they may or may not participate in meetings but their "leaders" must. And I believe those with higher commitment levels end up in those meetings as well.
So I'm not sure why the Emergent works so hard to deconstruct the value of meetings. Again, they seem bent on countering unhealthy practices found within the body of Christ but in doing so, they make statements that are too far in the other direction - even untrue and unhelpful.
Eventually they come full circle and come back in line with the Church. Todd Hunter, "We can't throw out meetings, but we must give them a new purpose and ask what they accomplish." To this Bolger and Gibbs add, "A meeting is only as good as the purpose behind it. A meeting should be a place where the Kingdom is expressed." Kevin Rains gets it when he says,
We've been down the road of deconstructing the idea that Church is just a meeting, but now we stop short of saying that church has nothing to do with gathering. We have found that it's too simplistic and ultimately unhelpful for people's spiritual formation to say that church has nothing to do with gathering.Exactly! This is further clarified by Dan Kimball speaking on meeting size, "[in the past] we communicated that small groups were the extra, and now, ... we are communicating that the big meeting is the extra. This is not easy, as most people have been taught to view things the opposite way." This is very true and reflects a proper understanding that community happens in many sized spaces and we need to shift the emphasis to relationships that are more personal in nature.
Unfortunately the Emergent quest for truth that we already know, leaves space for statements such as this by Joe Boyd, "My pagan friends are church for me as well." Ouch! I don't think that's the body referred to in Scripture.
The commitment to relationships occurring in the small group space allows Dwight Friesen to say, "We have a radical commitment to being small." I don't recall that instruction in the Bible. And I think it reflects an ignorance of how small groups and large groups can work in harmony. Hunters statement of getting clear regarding the purpose of the meeting is helpful here to allow us to jettison what isn't Biblical or helpful.
Bolger and Gibbs seem to accept the wrong notion by saying, "A community needs to remain a certain size in order to ensure the participation of all."
So I'm confused. I find contradiction in the Emergent ranks and I think even within statements from the same individuals. While I haven't found "heresy", I have found unhelpful ideas and thoughts that while arguable, don't seem to stem from Scripture.
Finally, it seems Emergents ultimately conclude what "we" already know. Yet I sense a pride in the journey of deconstructing and then get back to the same place. I don't have a value for that.