Thursday, March 11, 2010

What's in the narrative? Help define our Church! Please!

During the counsel meeting on Monday evening there was a discussion on the narrative we weave around who we are as a church.  Otherwise, what is the best way to describe The Gathering.  This was not an easy thing to do.

It was not easy, because we do so many things outside the box of traditional church life.  Yes, we have Sunday morning services, and Sunday evening services.  Yes, we have people who donate their money to help support The Gathering.  It keeps us in a church building on the main thoroughfare of public foot traffic in downtown Salem - well, at least our hearty little band is trying to do that.

BUT (yes I used the taboo big yelling letters, because it is a big but):
  • We also get involved helping with community events (still good so far). 
  • We organize a large missional outreach to the 500,000 visitors and the locals who spend their time in downtown Salem every October (still easy enough to fathom).  
  • We have taught hundreds of people to do this work in a post-modern, post-christian setting (now we are stretching and looking like something which would be defined as "parachurch" - otherwise not church but helping it).  
  • We have become a place for missionally minded people to travel and work on a volunteer vacation - a type of pilgrimage of their faith, and we put them up in our homes! (okay, now we are stretching the boundaries of description!).  
  • We have become a location for a number of city events, and want to see this increase as well. (and I know some churches do that, but it has not been my experience that a lot do it.)
  • We have been growing in the number of social justice educational activities we perform (now that adds a new twist).  
  • And we have befriended people not normally attached to typical evangelical or pentecostal churches - like witches, GLBT, atheists, and whoever typically doesn't like doctrinally conservative Christians (and I don't know what to do with that myself - except appreciate it a whole lot).
So Jeff Gentry described who we are as Open Source Christianity.  Well, that went over great with people who understand social networks and other computer jargon.  Joanne doesn't have a computer at home, and some others only just use their email.  It was a great way to say that everyone involved has something to share and contribute to the life and definition of who we are, and it describes well the fact that we are a place for others to come learn and also share.  Yet the terminology only works for the social networking and computer elites among us, and those who are growing up with this stuff (except even Melissa was lost in the Open Source narrative.)

So I suggested the abbey narrative.  Perhaps we are like the old abbeys, which became the center of community life for a region, places for the poor to be received, centers of worship, places of pilgrimage, training grounds for new ministers of the Gospel, and sending centers for missionaries.  This narrative works well for those with a knowledge of church history or a background from orthodoxy, but for evangelicals and those not brought up in church an abbey seems like a big old church building, which at one time had monks in it.  Today you visit, and throw a couple bucks in the kitty to keep the pretty old building from falling apart.

So, the question is:  What narrative works best to describe this crazy community of faith?  Is there a good and accurate one - one making sense to young and old, educated and uneducated, those with a background in church and those new to Christianity alike?  Or must we use multiple narratives to describe who we are:  the Open Source and abbey Christianity, and a few other descriptive story lines as well?

Do you have a narrative to describe us?  Is there an illustration from church history, everyday life, car repair, garbage retrieval, or knitting to define us?  If you have ideas send please comment below.  We-a needs-a the help-a! (Pentecostal accent applied to the last line.)


Jeremiah said...

Sometimes, open source church can feel like...!!!!!!!!.gif


Pastor Phil said...

Nice link Jere,

Looks anarchic to me - so, I positively identify with itt.

Steve Hayes said...

Sounds ominous, Phil.

Next thing you know, you'll be generating a mission statement.

Don't go there.

You blogged abut it, and there's a narrative. You can just refer people to your blog post. Or write another one.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Steve,

Don't really need the mission statement, we are already doing the mission, but we are trying to find the multiple narratives which help describe what we already do to people who don't quite understand us. So it is a kind of ecclesiological exercise.

John said...

I have nothing creative to add but you are really just being the church when most churches have lost their way in what it means to "be the church." I like The Gathering as it stresses what the church does but yet it misses what it is in another sense. My son calls his church New Hope Community, without using the word "church" with the front-loaded baggage it now has in the culture. Your point is that you exist for others, as did our Lord. Nothing you are doing is outside the box unless that box is man-made stuff, which a lot of it is of course.

The concept of the abbey is a very good one. In the end I think you use all of these and more as descriptors of The Gathering. I would say "we are rooted in ancient faith with a future-oriented vision" that values all people in the way Jesus of Nazareth did.

Shah Afshar said...

Hey, you witch loving heathen! I happen to agree with Steve. One word or phrase doesn’t justify what you do, so why box yourself in. I just read this blog and reminded me of you:
Kids, Social Justice and Glenn Beck

What does social-justice mean? Phrases like these are only used to label people. All of the sudden, Beck people accuse any Christian who is involved with a “social justice” ministry a liberal, and the Christians, who’ve been reaching out to the poor, the needy and the sick long before our friends put a label on it, call Beck a loon because they don’t know where he’s coming from. So, just do what you’ve been doing, and screw the narrative.

Pastor Phil said...


"we are rooted in ancient faith with a future-oriented vision"

Thanks for that quote. See you had something to offer! You are correct in that multiple narratives tell our story. That is in some sense what Jesus did with parables - gave multiple narratives for the Kingdom of God.

We are trying to do that with our little group.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Shah,

I think you misunderstand. We are attempting to help our own people, and those who already identify with us understand and be able to retell our story in a manner making simple sense to people.

Christianity has often made simple things look complex because of the manner in which we have defined the faith and the church. So, we are trying to find narratives: stories, like the parables Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of God to describe who we are and what we do.

Of course, ultimately even when we do that it blow right past many people like the parables do.

g13 said...

i've been thinking about this a bit and trying to generate another metaphor. i think that one of the ways we can talk about the gathering is that it is a contingent of loyal radicals who live in the tension between the center of our faith and the margins.

today i mused about this concept a bit on my blog. the focus of my post is more individual than ecclesial, but some of the ideas might translate.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Jeff g13,

"a contingent of loyal radicals who live in the tension between the center of our faith and the margins"

Does this make us tightrope walkers?

g13 said...

i suppose so. maybe we'll be buried at the circus cemetery in hugo, ok that mary told me about.

cern said...

'Does this make us tightrope walkers?'

Edge walkers..... :D

The Gathering doesn't hide itself away in its little sanctified micro-community, but as scripture suggests Jesus did, ventures out to be with those who are pushed to the edges. 'Blessed are the meek, the poor and the edge dwellers.....'



Pastor Phil said...

I do like edge walkers, and edge dwellers as metaphors here. Thanks Mike.

Jawed Ali said...

World's Most Latest Vehicles and Latest Cars pictures, Most speed and Expensive Cars with hot pictures