I think it’s important for any gathering of people to recognise what it is that defines them as a group. Like how any given person is totally unique, any group of people is distinctly different from any other. This can hold even when most of the same people are in both groups. I’m sure most of us have experienced something like this:
You had been with one group of people for a while and suddenly someone joined this group. Then you noticed the atmosphere had changed, for better, worse or even without positive or negative connotation. It had changed with their presence.
(Now having said “group” five times in as many sentences I really hope I can make whatever point this is going towards really convincing.)
As Christians, what makes us stand out is Jesus.
(That wasn’t it, keep reading.)
But even as smaller groups of Christians we have defining traits. Probably about two years ago I stumbled upon a categorical way of understanding these differences, at least in a broad sense. I have been reminded of it a few times since, but most recently another element to it presented itself to me. I feel it fills in enough of the gaps in this theory that I’m happy to put it out there, so goes like this…
“I think that most churches, or other groups of Christians, are very good at two of these three aspects: Community, Theology and Spirituality. “
Community being the relationships between members: how we build up and look out for each other. Theology being the actual teaching: how well we understand or try to understand what Jesus or the Bible teaches. Spirituality being how in touch with the Holy Spirit we are: This is only to a certain extent about being Spirit led, although that does come into it, this is about how active the gifts of the Spirit are in the community.
In this model I would attribute community and theology as our focuses or strengths.
This isn’t saying that we aren’t spiritual or that our value of prayer is being overlooked, rather I have experienced strong moving in the gifts of the Spirit and that seemed not to be such a strength for us.
This experience was in a group where theology was an actual weakness. I found myself wondering why the spiritual gifts were so strong in my youth group when the teaching was so hard to see truth in, while on Sundays the theology was so insightful but no-one focused on the gifts of the spirit. I wondered if there was somehow a spiritual balance where not focusing so much on the teachings of the bible, the more the Spirit would act through you to prophesy or speak truth into the lives of people you don’t know. The idea of power in innocence, that the more we know scientifically about something the less it is filled in wonder.
This was hard to reconcile as true but thinking about the (limited) experiences I’ve had where it seemed like both theology and spirituality were present I came to the realisation that real community seemed lacking there. So this triangle came about.
If you’re Mark you will have noticed that worship isn’t part of this, and that was the most recent realisation I’ve had when thinking about it. In this framework, worship reflects the strengths of the church, or undefined gathering of Christians. It seems to be the outworking of these elements combining.
(Now I don’t know if I’ve made my point clearly enough, but it is still just a theoretical framework conceived by a 17 year old Zeph Phillips so there is plenty of room for discussion.)
So I’d like to finish by reiterating that this isn’t really meant as a cynical critique of our church but “I think it’s important for any gathering of people to recognise what it is that defines them as a group.”