The Quest for Community

To be sure, experiences can become idolatrous as well as addictive. Postmoderns collect experiences like moderns collect stuff. The church must offer Christ-initiated–or what Donald Whitney calls “Scripture-induced”–experiences.

Count me in

A fellow eBay-er calls the auction site a “participant sport.” I felt such an adrenaline rush during my weeklong bidding war over an 1827 pewter communion token. eBay has made me into a global trader. It’s exhilarating.

At eBay the power belongs to the people, not to the producers. In electronic commerce, the buyer sets the price. It/s the medieval bazaar come to life in cyberspace.

Some call this haggling the “age of participation.” Others call it the “horizontal society.” Postmodern people take cues not from those above them but from others around them. There are no more bosses, only clients.

The Web typifies the trend. Online, we’re all experts: we’re all priests, we’re all doctors or lawyers or architects, we’re all authorities in whatever we’re chatting about at the moment.

And we’re already seeing its impact in church. The rituals of marriage and remembrance are becoming more EPIC.

More than clinking glasses, weddings also feature pull-the-kiss-from-the-hat performances, the surrender of the keys, and couples presenting to each other symbols of the things they bring to their union.

Do-it-yourself funerals are at a record high. More people are burying their dead without embalming, mortuaries, or cemeteries. More participatory rites are being created alongside official rituals, including ad hoc shrines, white caskets that mourners can sign, and eulogies in which almost everyone present has got to say something.

The problem is no longer onerous taxation without representation. The problem now is worship without participation. In the church, representation simply isn’t enough anymore.

Get the picture?

Visit as many of the more than 2 million eBay sites as you want. You’ll find each one has an image of what is for sale. Each image comes to life with story and sometimes music. Each site tries to draw you into a relationship with that image and story.

eBay is not alone in using images to establish relationships. NCR’s ATM machines are “transforming transactions into relationships” according to their ads. is dedicated to what it calls “interactive relationship management.” Its slogan: “It’s not the medium, it’s the relationship.”

The lesson for the church is simple: images generate emotions and people will respond to their feelings.

Postmodern culture is image-driven. The modern world was word-based. Not until the fourteenth century did truth become embedded in principles and positions. Its theologians tried to create an intellectual faith, placing reason and order at the heart of religion. Mystery and metaphor were seen as too fuzzy, too mystical, too illogical.

The church now enters a world where metaphor is at the heart of spirituality. Propositions are lost on postmodern ears; but metaphor they will hear, images they will see and understand. These come as close as human beings will get to a universal language. Indeed, it seems clearer than ever that metaphysics is nothing but metaphor.

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Leonard Sweet

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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