This the third of five principles from Wayne Jacobsen's book, Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More? I believe this adds a whole new dimension to a discussion on church as authentic community. And it offers some compelling food for thought -- especially for those of us wrestling with a similar dilemma!
Avoid What Feels Religiously Artificial.
When Sara and I found ourselves outside the congregational lifestyle, we felt the pressure to organize something to replace what we had lost. We even had some discussion about starting another congregation that would embrace more relational priorities. But everything we tried felt a bit awkward and artificial. We could feel the environment change just in moving from a meal with a free-flowing conversation of friends, to the formality of starting a meeting together. We were sharing great conversations about our spiritual journeys, but as soon as we tried to fit that into a meeting the dialogue grew stilted. We finally gave up the meetings and continued our friendships as we stumbled into a growing conversation about his transforming life in us. That pool of relationship provided all the opportunity we needed to continue to grow in Jesus, to explore what church might look like, and to care for others as each had need or resource. I watched that circle of friends grow, not only with new local people who shared our passion, but also with people around the world.
Five years later we had the chance to do it all over again. We moved 200 miles south into an area of Southern California where we knew no one. Since we wanted to continue this journey outside the traditional congregation, we had a new challenge. How do we meet other followers of Jesus if we don’t attend a local fellowship? We continued to follow him and simply love the people God put around us. We got to know our neighbors and though none of them were passionate followers of Jesus at the time, all had some spiritual curiosity that came up in our growing friendship. We always kept our ears open for people who wanted to connect more deeply with Jesus and to God’s nudges to involve ourselves in the city as opportunities emerged. I volunteered to help out the local mission , and at one point we were drawn to connect with a small fellowship that was coming unraveled after their pastor’s moral failure. We found them endearing and stayed for a season as they asked us to help them explore an authentic life in Jesus.
Our connection with his church became richer than it would have if we attended the same meeting every week. The Spirit sets you in the family by putting the people around you he wants you to know, or he can nudge you to engage others the way we did. You might hear about a small group fellowship, prayer breakfast, or outreach that tugs at your heart. It’s not about the meeting, but the people.
It can happen in so many ways. I met a man who lived in a remote location and knew no one with whom he could share his life in Jesus. One day he lost his wallet in a mall a hundred miles away. He didn't realize it until he got home. He called the mall and no one had turned it in. Two hours later he got a call from a local family. They found his wallet and, noticing he lived in the same town they did, decided to bring it back to him . As they exchanged the wallet they found they’d both been praying for the same kind of connection and began a journey together.
I’m not suggesting you toss your wallet into a mall and see what happens, but it shows that God has an infinite number of ways to connect his people. I know a young mom who found her way into a group of moms and kids that got together regularly because she overheard two women talking about it in line at the grocery store. She was new in the city and hoping to meet some other moms. As she inquired more, they invited her to come and bring her children. It was not a Christian group, but this young mother has found great friendship there and now some of those moms have found their way into a relationship with God and have become a source of great fellowship to her.
I've traveled halfway around the world to share some of my journey with people who invited me, only for them to discover that there were others in town they did not know and who became fast friends after I left. As you navigate through life, keep your eyes and ears open. If something draws you, give it a try and see what you find there. Small group studies, recreation groups, breakfast groups, or para -church outreaches are excellent places to meet people and get to know them as you share a task together. I've even hosted Bible studies for a limited time in my home with a few friends and watched as others heard about it and wanted to join us.
Any thoughts on this?
Jacobsen, Wayne (2014-10-13). Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More (Kindle Locations 2653-2669). TrailView Media. Kindle Edition.