Followers of Christ gathering in small groups, within communities, supporting one another in the ministries God has called them to in the world. What a revolutionary idea! At least it was 2000 years ago when the followers of Jesus started to meet. In homes throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, believers gathered to work out this new understanding of God in their daily lives. It was not so much about determining a set of doctrines as building a connection to Jesus.
Since that time these original communities have grown into institutions whose goals are often structured around maintenance – though the actual words they use are much more inspiring. Of course they want to maintain the institution as a means to best help people to follow Jesus. If the the institution continues then so will Christianity. Somehow the two have become inseparable. Yet, more and more I’m seeing that people, including myself, don’t want merely to keep something going that has been set up before they came, especially if there appears to be a disconnect between the Bible and practice.
People can tell the difference between the essence of Christianity – that radical call of Jesus to live in the Kingdom of God that he came to announce – and the maintenance of human institutions. At times these institutions do carry the DNA of Christ and show it as they reach out beyond themselves. But many times they reveal a communal view of one definition of sin – being curved in on one’s self. Such communities eventually focus on providing a safe place for those inside and keep out others, either intentionally or not.
Returning to smaller communities seems like a need in the church. Though I have to say such missional communities are a bit scary. I’ve been reading about the work of Alan Hirsch (The Forgotten Ways) and Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (The Tangible Kingdom) as they revision church. In these books are images of people gathering in small groups of people within communities – being examples of Jesus and inviting in others who may never consider stepping through the door of a church building. They are spending time building relationships, responding to God’s Word by reaching out to others.
In my fear of starting such groups I ask – Where is the control? How can we be sure they will stay true to God’s Word? What will Christianity in these groups look like? These issues and more are often the domain of institutions that have the resources and desire to attend to them. But maybe that’s the problem; institutions are taking care of things that are essential in walking with Jesus. These are issues that individual followers of Jesus need to meet in the messiness of discipleship.
As I think about the small realm of campus ministry, I’m seeing how my first inclinations in setting up a new campus ministry were to create institutional elements: meetings, websites, brochures, strategic plans. All this before seeing the first students. But what if I encourage students to gather in smaller communities around God’s Word. Groups meeting for an hour a week, not to be fed pre-packaged information about how to live their lives as Christians, but groups praying with one another, exploring scripture, wrestling with what it looks like lived out in their lives, and then encouraging each other to go and do – all with Christ at the center. Some groups may gather around interests such as music, an academic field, or a desire to serve the homeless. Others may be students just starting to think about connecting their faith to the world.
In the end I’m not quite sure what these groups will look like, and that’s probably a good thing. For that initial revolution to revive, it needs not a renewed structure to maintain, but a renewed spirit in which to live – and that is promised to us.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:26-27