I think I am actually formulating some more logical thoughts about the book and so here goes post 2.
I believe the major thrusts of the book are two fold. The first thrust being the barriers to living in authentic Christian community. Namely the implications and consequences of Individualism, Isolation and Consumerism. And the second thrust being the rediscovery of what it takes to initiate and enable authentic community. Namely, commonality in purpose, place and possessions.
This is not my first experience with this book and I am still not completely convinced that I fully embrace the model in its entirety. There is undisputable truth revealed in the discussion, as well as examples that appear to be somewhat common in all North American contexts currently. However, I think the real strength in the work will be the ability to contextualize the essence and not try to mimic the model.
While there is an overarching need in North America for real community experiences it seems we would oversimplify the issue by saying the need is the same no matter the context. Frazee writes this book out of the context of Arlington, Texas. Metroplex city sprawl has people crying out for community because their lives have been reduced to work, travel, home and non relaxing entertainment. However, there are boroughs in our largest cities that still have a powerful sense of community. People who live in the Bronx and Queens who have shopped at the same family owned deli and grocery for years, who still live in row housing, who walk to work or bus stop do not have the same level of community need simply because of their setting. They have roots with history and meaning. Here in Amarillo, the culture is such that generations of family units live close and work in family businesses and attend the same churches. They still have need for authentic biblical community simply because that is how God created us to be, but the needs are different once again. It would be an oversight not to realize that people are moving into both neighborhoods in the Bronx as well as Amarillo, Texas and thus their needs for community will be greater than those whose history has rooted them in natural community.
If community in any form was the goal, I could see the book not applying in certain settings, but the goal is authentic Christian community. And for most church going believers in North America in 2006 they can not escape the consequences of Individualism, Isolation and Consumerism on their faith. Thus, the barriers he delineates are pertinent to the conversation if we are to take seriously the living out of church and discipleship on a daily basis. We may even be able to ignore them if our position is merely to “go to church” but we certainly can’t ignore them if we want to “be the church.”
The implications of Individualism are too extensive to discuss exhaustively in a blog post but in essence I believe we have been left incomplete because of it. Our language, our experiences, our faith and our families are functioning at a sub-par level because we do not look like the one who we were created to reflect. God in essence is community. Three in one from the beginning. Jesus’ model for church life, church planting, mentorship, teaching and sharing life included community groups of differing sizes. In the darkest times, he was away but not alone. He communed with the Father.
As we recognize the impact of America’s history and the “rugged individualism” that emerged because of it, the idea of becoming a communally-dependant society is a Kingdom value and not a typical American one. Frazee suggests commonality of purpose as the key to overcoming this barrier to community. The idea is that when we come together around shared beliefs, values and practices we begin the sacred work of transformation. People begin to look like Christ and that is the central mission that draws together a community of Christians. The focus of the spiritual life is to not to satisfy our own needs and desires but to love God completely and out of that source we love each other. I am very impressed with the 30 core beliefs and the small group covenant that Pantego use to shape their people for community. I value the idea of a developed, intentional and articulated statement of belief. It is no surprise that people are able to identify with it and feel connected to something larger than themselves. It is also important to note that this is not merely a cognitive exercise for these believers but rather it is one that intends to saturate their life so that the way they live and see life is changed. I also believe in the model of multi-layer groups. Belonging in larger settings like corporate worship experiences, mid-size settings of Bible Classes and small intimate home groups all fulfill a specific role and need.
However, I have questions and struggles thinking about the practical implementation of this model for church plants in post-modern America. I do not believe for one minute that Frazee was intending to map out a system for church planting, but I am reading this material in relation to application for church planting. Understanding that this has worked well at Pantego and that I have never planted a church, I am hesitant to present myself as a critic, but rather a learner with question. And so, I wonder about taking post-modern thinkers and trying to unite around common beliefs as step one. Generally this audience is quite skeptical about organized church and how it is presented. Uniting around core beliefs would seem to be several steps along in the process. I also wonder about where theological teaching happens. Pantego’s answer was in the midsize groups and I think this is probably best. However, in church plants do we have the luxury of this type of system, or do our home groups become both intimate community and learning laboratory? I embrace the ideas as concepts but wonder how they look fleshed out in church plants.
My mind is pondering this so much that I will stop here and leave the next 2 barriers (Isolation and Consumerism) to rattle around in my head and not on my blog.