Over the last couple of months, I have been meeting weekly with a group of four other people over a meal and learning to be a Christian community.
This is not a Bible study group. Nor is it a social club. And it definitely isn’t a substitute for a church. But maybe, in some ways, it’s a bit of all of those things. Hopefully, it will grow into a lot more.
We mostly come from a middle-class, evangelical Protestant background. We’re all college-educated folks making a decent living, mostly in the nonprofit sector. We tend to have more good days than bad days.
Yet, we all ended up coming to the group with an eerily similar sense of something…missing. There is a hollow, practically unnamable ache we have in common that we’re still trying to parse out. The institutional Church in America is still, even after years of criticism from the surrounding culture, very closely tied to a culture of Empire, of marginalization, of greed, of complacence, of White Sameness.
Because of this, there is still a certain amount of privilege in most parts of the country with claiming to be a Christian. Being Christian in America no longer means you’re dedicated to bringing the Kingdom come. That would be disorienting. That would ask too much of us.
And so this group of friends and I come to the table of dinner and the table of God and listen to each other. We have no agenda when we gather. We gather to enjoy each other, and through each other, God. We have no leader. We have no “home” for our meetings. We talk about what the world has given us just by the nature of our physical and sociocultural characteristics, and how we can empty ourselves of those so that we may be filled with the Spirit.
Yes, the Spirit can fill that hollowness, but what then? How do we translate that feeling of true fulfillment into something that is good for the rest of the world? How do we from talking about justice to doing justice?
A few things I’ve taken away from my experience: First, it takes a whole lot of time to build anything with integrity. I mean a lot. A whole lot. Many founders of new monastic communities in America say that it can take three to five years or more just to determine how the Christian community can impact its surroundings. And that’s just the time it takes to get started.
Second, reflection means nothing without action. The ancient Christian idea of praxis is something that must be intentional. We tend to idle on one side of that concept or the other. We either think too much and become too self-absorbed to act, or we act too much and forget to take time with each and God to process the experience.
Third, the Church cannot look the same as it always has. If your church is resistant to even the tiniest changes, it certainly won’t be able to make the changes necessary to survive the next generation. Numerically speaking, churches in this country are dying. Perhaps that is as it should be. Perhaps only out of a crucible can a true Church arise, more finely wrought than before. We cannot keep worshipping like it’s 1952. We just can’t. People of my generation (I’m almost 36.) and younger expect differently. This is not to say churches have to go out of their way to be “hip.” However, keeping music, liturgy, leadership structure, membership, predetermined gender roles, etc. the same out of some desperate grasp at “tradition” is weak. And it will kill the Church.
But thanks be to God that we have the Savior we do. Thanks also that we all have people around us with whom we can create cracks between our world and the Kingdom, to allow it to seep in and flood our own. His will, not ours, be done.
Kenneth J. Pruitt is a teacher by trade, and the Director of Volunteer Management at Kingdom House, an IVC partner agency focused on social services and founded during the settlement house movement. He is proud of St. Louis, his adopted home. His wife is far more attractive and intelligent than he. He loves what you’ve done with your hair.