Posted on September 16, 2018
Posted on September 16, 2018
It can seem like we have less and less time, less relational energy and yet various voices within the Church consistently compete for when and where we should be spending that time.
“We should spend time with other Christians, it will build us up!” “No”, say others, “we should be out in ‘the world‘ making an impact”. Finally, others insist we should not “melt into the world, but neither should we lock ourselves away in the Church”. We should ‘reach out‘ by drawing not-yet believers into Christian community.
Within all this cross-tension of advice, we can often just give up figuring out who and where we should be. We instead default into either our personality-type-path-of-least-resistance or else conform to whatever is en vogue within the social tribe within which we find our sense of belonging.
David Fitch, in his book ‘Faithful Presence’ offers a thoughtful grid or set of analogies to figure out how to understand the spaces within our lives, not ‘forsaking meeting together’ as those who follow Christ, and yet having a presence in our communities. What is particularly helpful is his suggestion about who is the true host in each of these spaces.
In mission-oriented type groups, more complex theories of outreach or strategies for church planting find themselves with ‘in-house’ short-hand, acronyms and language. Although it can be tempting to poke fun or wash our hands of such moves, more and more it seems to me, that when humans gather around certain focus’, be it church planting, cycling or composting, they develop short-hand, in-house languages to communicate within themselves. Interestingly, in the last few years, much due to the work of Mike Breen and 3DM, shapes have become a popular way to display, in a short-hand way, these types of methods.
In reading David Fitch’s book Faithful Presence, and he used 3 types of circles to talk about the continual location (or in his words, “faithful presence“) of God through His people, the Church.
This circle (importantly called close not closed), is the committed people who are ‘In Christ’, those actively choosing to be in mutual submission to God, one another and His Kingdom. Helpfully I think, Fitch points out, there is a closeness that develops in this group which should about naturally and could even be understood to be supernatural. Often, in mission(al) circles, anyone who might confess an enthusiasm for gathering with others in this circle are seen as ‘churchy’ or ‘religious’. But Fitch takes as granted, that there will be an unmitigated reign of Christ in this space as no other, as all are in (at least stated) allegiance to Him.
Sometimes, enthused mission-ists,1 who are seeking to push people towards a missional practice, they can be caught doing it in an immature way. They create scarcity and shame, claiming that the real ‘heroes’ are the ones ‘out-there‘. This way does not recognise the abundance of dignity and honour that exist for all callings and spaces within the Kingdom of God. All spaces and callings within the Kingdom of God have honour and dignity, because they are God’s, not because the role or location is more en vogue. Frankly speaking, if this ‘circle’, is neglected or dishonoured, mission does not sustain its love for those it is co-missioning with, and therefore cannot display God’s love faithfully ‘out-there’. We renew and are renewed in this sphere to live faithfully present in the other two circles.
Of course, God’s presence is not meant to be contained or confined to the close circle, God’s love by its very character moves out and expands an embrace to others.
Importantly though, within the dotted circle, it remains a place where the followers of Jesus are the hosts and it is defined as a place where a circle of committed followers are present. The biggest difference in this liminal space is that strangers and neighbours can enter, watch and participate, as much as they can, in what God is doing here. This might be a meal, party, foodbank project, but the space is open and yet is hosted by followers.
When the dotted circle gets confused with the close circle mission becomes impossible. When the dotted circle does not welcome strangers, it remains close or even closed. But when the dotted circle is seen as sufficient, then the renewing work of God that happens around the communion table, an unmitigated place of worship, devotion and connection to those In-Christ is lost.
Christ presence goes with us from places of worship (close circle) to places of hospitality (the dotted circle), into the places we live and work (the half circle). In the half circle, our posture has changed, taking a cue from Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11, we go, not as hosts but as guests.
We take on the humility that comes from being a guest. Contrary to turning up with resources, handouts and a large presence, we turn up to the world with need. The question here, as Fitch puts it is.. “not whether Christ is here or not. Rather it is whether his presence will be welcomed”. Just as Jesus’ sends out the 72 in Luke 11, we are not forcing our way by being the ‘haves’ in a world of ‘have-nots’, we are not insisting on our way by reaching for cultural influence, we are coming as servants and ready to pronounce the peace of Christ to anyone or anywhere that welcomes Him.
Fitch ends by saying that when we see the Church as a people, our location…” cannot be seen in terms of in here or out there. It is an entire way of life”.
Of course, these types of ways of describing things can become systematic. In the negative sense, any language we use as a system very quickly becomes a static and therefore dead ideology that bears no fruit.
But sometimes, these ideas can act like coat hooks for the times we spend, helping us to engage God, the world and other followers of Jesus fruitfully.
Is this helpful to you? What other frameworks have helped you connect with God, other believers and the wider world?