Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Small Communities

For the first 300 years, the church didn’t have small groups – it was small groups.

The above quote is the teaser line of a brochure for an upcoming conference on Ancient-Future Community. (Wished I had the time and money to go to that conference!)

It doesn't take much digging to discover the truth of the teaser. While the church in Jerusalem began as a mega-church (3,000 on day one!)--Acts 2:42-46 makes it quite clear the normative practice of "church" involved meeting in homes around a common meal. There the Jerusalem disciples discussed the teachings they heard from the apostles, they prayed, and they shared food and possessions.*

If you read the post scripts at the end of the New Testament letters (e.g., Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Philemon) you can't help but notice the frequent mention of "house churches". A cursory examination of passages using the phrase "one another" (especially in the book of Hebrews) makes it fairly clear intimate smaller groups were in mind.

There were several reasons for this approach. In Rome, for instance, Jewish Christians met in the synagogues until 41 AD when Claudius clamped down on the Jews (he would later expel them in 49). The house became an ideal meeting place. Also, since the disciples in various cities were not large in number, house meetings just made sense. Most importantly, the smaller groups allowed Christ followers to encourage each other and help each other out. Christianity focuses upon relationships. The two greatest commands taken from the Hebrew Scriptures as the summation of God's will were: Love God and love others. The two commands are not expressions of emotional gushing--but practical love which included hospitality, sharing of resources, forgiveness, and mutual encouragement to live life the way Jesus modeled.

In our culture it seems the mega-church experience is the essence of "Church." Christ-followers and even those not interested in Christianity have a difficult time thinking of "church" without imagining a building complete with paid professionals and an institutional structure. Instead of a web of relationships, we think of corporate charts. Instead of an organism we think of an organization.

And all the while, people starve for relationships.**

According to a 2006 study by Yale, Harvard, and the University of Arizona most American adults have only two close confidantes. We are becoming more and more alone. Our technology encourages us to wall ourselves in and to avoid relationships. And we hunger for friends.

I suggest we don't need more mega-churches. We need small groups of Christ-followers who will become friends--and who will extend their friendship to others: Christian or not.

What do you think?
*The sharing of food was not merely a convenience--several disciples were evidently without the means to support themselves. The common meal was an example of hospitality and financial support.
**This includes both the Christ-follower and those who do not follow Christ. It is a common human condition!

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