Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Connecting Church

If you're like me (or the fictional Bob and Karen Johnson), genuine community is hard to come by, even in small groups. Ever find yourself frustrated by the low-level of relational connections at church? Have small groups, no matter how small, ever failed to meet your expectations, your need, of community? Have you ever deliberately avoided talking to a neighbor because you felt like you didn't have time to talk? If so, I encourage you to read two books--Kindgom of Couches (which i posted on earlier) and The Connecting Church: Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Community. If Walker's book focuses more on the inner workings of community, Frazee focuses on the outer obstacles and structural solutions to a culture rife with individualism.

Former pastor of Pantego Bible in Arlington, Texas, Randy Frazee lays out a simple, straightforward critique and cure to the ills of the Evangelical church's lack of significant, authentic community. Small groups won't cut it. Something greater, more systemic is at odds with our need for community. Frazee writes: "The church of the twenty-first century must do more than add worlds [i.e. personal world, parent world, etc.] to an already overbooked society; it must design new structures that help people simplify their lives and deveop more meaning, depth, purpose and community." (37) Frazee delivers. He gives us vision and structure for more satisfying community.

The obstacles of individualism, isolationism, and consmerism are critiqued by Frazee through his pastoral experience and sociological analysis (Locke, Meeks, etc). These ills are offered a cure through three main venues: Common Purpose, Common Place, and Common Possessions. The book is full of pastoral insights, some of which can be found on (49, 67, 82-3, 92). I'll just give some broadstrokes here.

Common Purpose - Too many churches don't really share common beliefs. Sure, the church has a statement of faith, and members sign off on it, but most churches fail to shepherd thier flock into a common creed. This raises Frazee's more questionable solution, identifying 52 values (community), beliefs (Trinity), and practices (social justice) that constitute his preaching calendar. It seems to me that the biblical interpretation will inevitably be forced to fit the mold of his Spiritual Formation Calendar. Nevertheless, the critique rings true and the solution is to more faithfully catechize, not just doctrinally, but also practically.

Common Place - Frazee essentially argues for a return to the neighborhood concept, where your neighbors really are people you hang out with. He recommends several Christians moving into a neighborhood to deliberately pursue community and outreach, making small groups geographic-specific and involvement intensive. Alongside these small, neighborhood groups, he recommends larger, mid-size groups, composed of regional small groups for the purpose of corporate teaching instructionand fellowship. The large worship service is reserved for inspiration and preaching.

Common Possessions - It's not what you think. Frazee doesn't recommend forming a commune and sharing everything you own- one T.V. per 10 families- no. Instead, he recognizes in Acts a willingness to and practice of sharing one's possessions. He suggests several key characteristics: interdependence (consider how you can share your resources, not just add to them), intergenerational life (seek the wisdom possessed by others), sacrifice (giving to others, even when it hurts), responsibility (recognize the biblical imperative to care for others), and children (include them, no matter how difficult, in small groups).

More could be said. I'll leave you to read it. Suffice it to say, this book will significantly shape the structure of my approach to community. One thing the book lacks is a biblical motivation for community (the gospel- forgiveness for failure and strength for victory). It is, at times, hyper-optomistic, but it does cast a vision.

1 Comments:

At 12:03 PM , Blogger Josh said...

Very helpful review. Me and my fellow elders have been re-evaluating our small groups just recently. I like some of the ideas that Frazee mentions. In our situation, we are encouraging small groups to not become isolated from their (geographic) communities. We are challenging each small group to look for opportunities to serve or involve their neighbors and friends. Kind of what you had mentioned about Porch and Altar. That ministry and mission must flow out of our small groups. Praise God that we have such a high percentage of our congregation that is involved in small groups. Nevertheless, we need to go to the next level.

 

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