“There are common, shared, foundational human experiences that underpin all cultures and unite rather than divide us. There is a central human story. Childbirth and ambition; love and jealousy; sickness, fear and death all belong to this core story. They may find expression in many different forms, but their presence is universal: they are the basis of what it means to be human.”
What is your church like? Perhaps more poignantly, what are you like in respect to your church?
How much is your church a commuter church or a community church?
Let me explain what I mean, based not only on my own church experience, but also on discussions I’ve had with my local community members. Perhaps it would also be relevant to let you know (if you don’t already) that we live within 30 seconds walk the local community school where our children attend and about 40 seconds walk from The Bethel – our church in Old Trafford and have done for the last almost 10 years.
Someone who commutes to church is anyone who does not live within walking distance of their church.
In a predominantly commuter church, the majority of members are generally not people that live in the local community of the church but tend to drive to the church from somewhere else. They may know some of the local people but not usually at any depth. Members are perceived as ‘outsiders’ by the community which can feel like the church is an unwelcome, unwelcoming building.
Most churches in the community which I am part of are much more likely (due to the structure and way the community is set up) to be ‘commuter’ churches as opposed to be community churches. Regardless of how committed and how many things they turn up to do, the impression from within the local community can be that of “it’s all very well you saying that you care about our community, but you clearly don’t care enough to live in our community”. Whether this is a reasonable accusation or not, whatever the myriad of good reasons people have to live where they live and drive to church, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to change the way local community people perceive the people who commute in to church.
Someone who lives within walking distance (I guess that depends how far you are prepared or able to walk!) of the church lives within the community of the church.
In a predominantly community church, members primarily live within the local vicinity of the church and are integral parts of the local community. Their children attend the local school and they know people and are known by people of the community. Members are seen as ‘stakeholders’ in both the church and the community. The church is known as a community resource and as the people, not the building.
The ‘local church’ – i.e. Catholic / Anglican etc. churches tend to fall, again probably mainly to do with the inherant open fellowship with paid ministry structure of the church into the ‘community’ churches model and excel in this type of role. The majority of the congregation live locally and walk to church, which is seen as a community hub. Plenty of activities extra to Sunday services go on in the building, not all of which are necessarily primarily focussed on overt Gospel preaching. The Building can be hired out for events that are not church activities or spiritually related, increasing its use and arguably its usefulness to the local community.
I would argue that all churches should be aiming at being more community focussed. Church is not an exclusive club, it is not a clique or group, church is a movement of God, working by using His spirit, through His people. Church should be Strong at the centre, Open at the edges. Diverse and yet still united, unity is not the same as uniformity. I couldn’t put it better than Gerard Kelly in a recent post of his so I’ve included it here:
The great thing about the people God has made is this: we are all different enough to be interesting, but similar enough to connect. At heart, we are all made of the same stuff. Human experiences unite us, human concerns are common to us. And yet we are each unique. Knowing another person, when knowledge runs deeper than ‘hello’ on the station platform or ‘is this seat taken?’ adds to my total understanding of the world. Discovering the lives of others; hearing their perspectives; exploring my own assumptions through the lens of theirs: all these are enriching, empowering experiences. Which is why diversity is so important to God’s idea of church.
Saint paul, especially, draws attention to the nature of the church as unity-in-diversity. Emphasising classes and categories rather than individuals – male and female; slave and free; Jew and Gentile; Greek and Barbarian – Paul presents the church as an environment in which tribes in tension find the power to co-exist.
In this redeemed community historic enemies become fellow-travellers. But this is a salad bowl, not a melting pot. The tribes are not homogenised into a bland mush, like play-dough colours mixed once to often. Rather, they are woven together into a beautiful picture – the image of God rediscovered in the colours of the human family. In this unity identity is retained: it is the unity of the collage, not the crowd.
And Paul attributes this picture not only to his virtual notion of the universal church, but also to his actual vision of the local church: real people in real places displaying the wonder of unity-in-diversity.
Genders and generations together.
Each individual finding identity and thriving in community: this is Paul’s description of the localised ecclesia – a deposit, in each town and city, of God’s new and wondrous family. What changes might your local church need to journey from bland monochrome to glorious colour?
It’s easy to say it and easy to agree with it but for me, the proof of the “pudding is in the eating”, how easy is it to live it?
That’s what drives us to live in our (what was once referred to by a church member as a ‘poky little’) house with its ‘poky little’ garden in ‘not-very-salubrious’ Old Trafford (about five years ago “two parts of Old Trafford were in the top 3% most deprived areas in the country.” [Government Index of Multiple Deprivation])
I happen to really love my ‘poky little’ house, I really love the area, I love the people, I love the community, Its my (and Kate’s) desire to see the face of Christ in everyone there and love them as Christ has loved us by being Christ to them. Sure, we could have, if we had wanted to keep more stuff for ourselves, spent our money on a bigger house or a bigger garden, a ‘nicer’ area or a new car every few years, but we feel that the way we love our community is by living with them, living like them, living simply and inexpensively, not having too much stuff just because we can afford it (we can’t anyway), giving plenty away to the various charities we give to is a much more powerful witness to Christ.
The Community round our church is generally not rich (with some exceptions I imagine), there are many, many people in Old Trafford who are quite poor and we felt that it is more God-honouring, more Christ-like to be an integral part of the community, not have flash, expensive, newest, fastest, best, latest things in the same way that many parts of our community might not be able to afford these things.
I imagine there are a few other people who also live here in our fantastic, friendly, culturally diverse, beautiful, honest and mainly joyful community that might be able to afford bigger houses or bigger gardens etc but exercise restraint and I also imagine they are more humble than me and don’t share those facts about themselves publicly!
Who is to say how our lives are going to look as the children grow up and require more space / whatever possibly. But for now, that’s what motivates our way of life which IS our outreach and our preaching.
If you see us living anything like Jesus you are seeing Jesus living through us.
The King who left perfection for poverty is satisfied to stay in our humble house in Lilian Street, and would rather drive our Focus than a Ferrari. The Miracle Man who fed five thousand sponsors children in Kenya. The Friend who forgave Peter’s betrayal has forgiven those who have hurt us. The Servant who washed his friends’ feet is taking out the rubbish and recycling and doing the dishes in our house and cleaning the church and giving away a morning each week to provide a service that probably a fair few of the local community couldn’t normally afford.
There is no good in me but Jesus. And because He is in me I do good.
Don’t think for one moment we have got it all right, but by the grace of God and the power He gives us by living in us, we are partnering with Him and trying to glorify him by what we do and how we do it.
We love where we live, I couldn’t imagine choosing anywhere else, I can’t imagine why anyone thinking of moving and wanting to be part of our (what I think is great) church congregation wouldn’t want to live here, with the rest of the amazing, wonderful people!
Maybe someone needs to let me know!