Monday, November 29, 2010

Underground Heaven

Yesterday, as I sat and chatted informally with the two souls who showed up for a Biblically-based Advent mission study following worship, conversation drifted a bit.   The intent had been to do a formal mission know...with whiteboards and a structured conversation about how we can translate vision into action, just like I'd discussed face to face with the session of the church last week.  And with the lay pastor during our weekly meeting.  And in the email newsletter.  And in the bulletin.  But I neglected to account for the one o'clock start of the Redskins game.  When I returned to the parlor following a conversation, everyone had left.  So it goes.  One of the pitfalls of really not caring about sports, I suppose.

Given that you can't have a mission study if most of the church ain't there, our chatting wandered elsewhere.  A central element of the conversation I had with those who joined me was the future of my own ministry.  I'm in a bit of a fuddler.  On the one hand, I'm pretty much done where I am.  If there's a future for this church, I both can't discern it and am not part of it.  On the other, prospects for finding a call anywhere in the immediate vicinity are marginal at best.  And if I want to live with my family, which I do, well, I need to stay here.

So what we talked about was a resurfacing of a thread that has moved frequently across my thinking over the years.  I look at the structures of the church...and particularly the physical structures...and I see stuff that is for the most part unnecessary.  Big buildings and big staffs and large parking lots might be the goal of most pastors, but for me, they feel like a distraction.  I've watched over the last several years as good souls in my congregation have poured energy and thought and resources into our great honking edifice, and wished those energies could have been directed elsewhere.  To service.  To evangelism.

To my eyes, most of the real meat of faith comes in small groups, gathered with the purpose of worshipping simply, sharing a meal, supporting one another, and talking openly about the Gospel. Such things do not require a building.  Just homes and living rooms and tables at the local pub.

But...what about those moments in life when we need a temple?   What about the hatching/matching/dispatching?  Need to get married?  A beach or a mountainside or your back yard will do.   Need to be baptized?  The Potomac isn't that far away.   Remembering a lost loved one?  The funeral home or graveside works fine.

What about service?  Last time I checked, the world does not lack for places where a group of Christians can make themselves useful.

Over the week, I've nosed around online writings about house churches.  One thing that struck me was how ferociously house and cell churches have flourished in places where Christianity is restricted.  Like, say, China.  There, the word for such intimate micro-churches is 地下天國.  Which, if your Chinese is as nonexistent as mine, means "Underground Heaven."  

I like that.  So gently subversive.