Community Based on a Way of Life

I am always trying to think of good ways to describe what we are doing in this River City Christian Community experiment.  Church Plant is such a loaded word with all kinds of connotations.  So here is my latest thoughts on what kind of community River City is.

I grew up as a part of a large congregation with a big church building and a father who worked on staff as a youth minister, associate minister, and elder.  I loved church growing up.  It was my thing.  But as I got older and began to realize that I was headed into church planting I had some serious reservations about the way a church building could dominate the conversation and mission of a local congregation.  I was aware of too many good things that couldn’t be done because funds or other resources were already consumed by the building.  I also heard too many stories from friends in ministry of how their days were taken up trying to figure out how to stop an overflowing toilet or something similar rather than the really important stuff of ministry.  I also had my suspicions that many churches were held together primarily because of their location rather than Christ.  As I ventured off into my first church plant, I wanted to try to plant a church that wasn’t a community based around a specific location.

So when we planted the Sunrise Church of Christ, we never had a specific location to call our own.  We rented a couple of schools and a daycare and bounced around several times over our five years as a church and I had far fewer facility days than I heard from my friends in churches with buildings.  When we finally decided to call it quits, I thought that there would be a small core of people who would continue to live in spiritual community even though we no longer had our Sunday morning worship gathering.  After all we had shared the last five years together in mission.  However, it wasn’t two weeks before everyone had moved on to other things.  It was a disappointing realization to see that our community wasn’t primarily bound together because of shared life in Christ.  I had managed to avoid creating a community based on location, but we replaced it with a community based on an event – our weekly worship gathering.

This go around, with River City, we are experimenting with something different still.  We are not location oriented.  Our gatherings bounce around from house to house.  And we are not even event oriented, or at least we are trying not to be.  Our weekly communion gatherings are hardly uniform and we even cancel them from time to time to allow for acts of hospitality and justice.  So instead of a location or an event we are trying to build a community that shares a common way of following Jesus.  When we meet someone interested in seeking God our first and/or most important step is not to “invite her to church” but to invite them to follow Jesus.  And following Jesus is a way of life that is lived everyday, rather than what we do and where we go on one day a week.

We are not perfect and I’m sure we are not totally bound together by this way of life.  But we are closer than any community I’ve ever been  a part of.  It is a fun ride.

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About micahlewis

I am a follower of Jesus, servant of the church, husband to a wonderful wife, and father to 2 fantastic children.
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9 Responses to Community Based on a Way of Life

  1. James Starke says:

    God bless you all! So glad that you came to our community bringing a wonderful family and a wonderful spiritual partner, Kyle, both you and your families have inspired me and I truly believe has inspired others at RiverWalk. Our prayers are with you and if we can ever be of service please let us know.

    On Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 11:24 PM, Imagine a Daybreak… wrote:

    > ** > micahlewis posted: “I am always trying to think of good ways to > describe what we are doing in this River City Christian Community > experiment. Church Plant is such a loaded word with all kinds of > connotations. So here is my latest thoughts on what kind of community > River Ci”

  2. Tim Lewis says:

    I am so proud to see my son leading others to follow Jesus. Continues letting Jesus bring heaven to earth in Wichita. Mizpah

  3. Good stuff, Micah. I’m inspired by how you’re bringing a community of people together around a simple, profound way of life. It has made me think about ways we can focus more deeply on our way of life in Storyline.

    Here’s a question for you: what is the role of structure/gatherings in a community like RC3? Or perhaps a better question: what role will structure and gatherings play when RC3 grows to be a community of 100 people? Is there a way that structure and gatherings can actually help reinforce a community way of life rather than detract from it?

    I also think about the sociology of space – that people in communities typically function within four spaces: intimate (1-2 people); personal (3-20); social (20-70); public (70+). Thriving communities usually have an expression of each of the four, and the latter three are typically the ones that are created; intimate space happens organically. What implications does what you’re saying here about organizing around a way of life have for this kind of thinking about structure?

    These are very relevant questions for me and Storyline. Would love to engage in dialogue and be sharpened by your perspective.

  4. micahlewis says:

    I’m not really sure. I’m not against larger gatherings and I do anticipate having some as we continue to grow and add more churches. I definitely think it will be worthwhile to consider how a gathering can reinforce our way of life. And that is just it. A lot (not all) of weekly gatherings I have been a part of have done very little to help people follow Jesus day in and day out. At least the effort put in was not worth the result.

    I haven’t read much on the sociology of space, but I’m having trouble thinking of examples of those 4 levels in other kinds of communities. I’m more inclined to allow people to participate in the larger communities that they already are a part of rather than created a religious structure to share in as well. Hopefully they will invest themselves more deeply in their work place or hobby community and bring the way of Jesus to those communities. I certainly don’t have the answers.

  5. I agree with you – large, weekly gatherings (even if they’re well done, in my opinion) generally have less impact than many say they have. But I do still think they are important; just perhaps not important enough to have the majority of a church staff/volunteer group spend the majority of their time and effort to pull off.

    About sociology of space, common examples would be: personal (3-12) = small group; social (mid-sized) (20-70) = Sunday School class; public (70+) = worship service. Or, as I’ve thought about for Storyline: personal = formation groups / huddles; social = house churches/missional communities; public = worship gathering. Again, I think it’s hard to program the intimate space (1-2 people) because intimacy depends on chemistry, trust, etc. You can’t make people be best friends, if you get what I mean.

    I think the great value of a public size worship gathering is the sense of encouragement and momentum that comes out of it. The whole church is together, worshiping together, and people are thinking – “we really are a part of something big that God is doing in this city”; and “even if I may be discouraged with how the mission is going in my neighborhood, I’m encouraged because I can see breakthrough in other mission points within our community”; and “we’re not the only ones doing this/living this way.” Public gatherings have a kind of gravitational pull and social energy that small and mid-size don’t.

    Another thing about public gatherings in North America – they are a cultural staple. I suspect that most people, even nonbelievers, associate a public gathering with religion more than any of the other spaces, for better or worse. Especially Christianity. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be good contextualization to have a public gathering as a possible entry point for them? I have been getting the sense that some (nonbelievers, dechurched) don’t really think what we’re doing is real church because we don’t have a weekly public gathering. Of course they’re wrong. But should we meet them where they are? The trick is to have disciple-making so much at the core of our DNA that the worship gathering doesn’t devolve into a place for consumer Christians to come and get their fill.

    I know all of this is weird coming from me. Storyline, as you know, only has a monthly worship gathering. I guess I’ve wondered in my gut from time to time if that was regular enough to hold the community together and help us grow forward. One of the main reasons we haven’t done it more frequently up to this point is human resources – we simply don’t have enough people-power to do missional communities well AND a weekly worship gathering. But what will happen when we grow and we DO have that people-power? Would we benefit from a more regular gathering?

    You can tell I’m wrestling. Answer all my questions, Micah! 🙂

  6. I starting thinking about how the 4 spaces applies to other organizations beyond churches. Take the Dallas Junior Chamber, for example: public – monthly meetings, signature events; social – happy hours; personal – steering committees for signature events.

  7. micahlewis says:

    If the public worship gathering accomplishes the encouragement and momentum that you describe for a community as a whole then that certainly is a good reason to incorporate that into the rhythm of the community. I’m thinking about the public worship being similar to a pep rally for a high school student body. It is fun and gets us fired up to support our team. Maybe worship gatherings should only be planned before the church is going to do some great act of service and/or right after the act of mission has been done. Just thinking out loud. So maybe the pubic worship only happens as regularly for the church as does public acts of justice or mission.

    As to your cultural point, I think we can agree that there are both positive and negative elements in every culture. I lean toward the public worship actually keeping people from taking the step toward discipleship because the it is viewed as “the thing” more than the lifestyle of Jesus. I feel like the church gathering should not be the first step into the community because of that. I will also acknowledge that we haven’t connected with a large number of people either. So we are still learning how to do that.

    About your wondering if a monthly worship gathering is enough to hold everyone together and grow forward, I would just say that I want Jesus to be enough for that. That was why I was so disappointed with all my work with Sunrise. I spend a lot of time and energy on the public worship gathering and it was the only thing holding our community together. I don’t think Jesus really had much to do with it.

    BTW – thanks for the junior chamber example.

  8. “I lean toward the public worship actually keeping people from taking the step toward discipleship because the it is viewed as “the thing” more than the lifestyle of Jesus. I feel like the church gathering should not be the first step into the community because of that.”

    I think you’re getting to the heart of it here. Americans are consumers. We approach everything from a consumer mindset because it is the cultural air that we breathe. The tension of this conversation seems to lie between two questions: 1) how do we challenge a consumer mindset and prevent it from infecting the Christian community?; 2) how do we reach people who are culturally wired as consumers? Makes me think of the maxim: “what we win them with, we win them to.”

    A weekly worship gathering, a monthly worship gathering, or no worship gathering are all responses to that tension. “Weekly worship gathering” struggles more with question #1. “No worship gathering” struggles more with question #2. “Monthly worship gathering” gets to struggle with both questions – which may be why I’m wrestling as I am with this. I think all of them are potentially legitimate choices, though I have my biases against “no worship gathering.” Those questions must be navigated regardless.

    “About your wondering if a monthly worship gathering is enough to hold everyone together and grow forward, I would just say that I want Jesus to be enough for that. That was why I was so disappointed with all my work with Sunrise. I spend a lot of time and energy on the public worship gathering and it was the only thing holding our community together. I don’t think Jesus really had much to do with it.”

    What does it mean for Jesus to be enough to hold a community together? How does Jesus do that? By what means? Couldn’t Jesus hold a community together through it’s gatherings and life rhythms together? I guess I don’t see how those two things are mutually exclusive.

    And don’t be too hard on Sunrise. Having been a part of Sunrise for a season, I’d say it wasn’t perfect – just like no community is. But I could sense that Jesus had at least something to do with it. 🙂

    I’m enjoying this dialogue. You are helping me to reflect and pray about this.

  9. micahlewis says:

    I agree that there is probably not a right answer here. It all depends on how it is done and what it is accomplishing. I actually think the monthly gathering is a pretty reasonable approach that does address both questions. However, at this point I would probably lean toward a quarterly gathering myself.

    As far as Jesus holding things together – I think the way of Jesus is much larger than just our community gatherings. The gatherings certainly can help. I also think that our River City people probably enjoy and are blessed in our weekly house church gatherings. They don’t stink, haha. I am striving for a community that shares way more than just a community gathering – so that if the gathering goes away for a while, the community doesn’t. What mission do we share? What formation practices do we share? Etc. I think this was our problem at Sunrise. We pretty much had all our eggs in one basket, not in theory but in practice. And thanks for the encouragement about Sunrise. Jesus was definitely part of it

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