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Where Will the Future Church Meet? Not in Church – Guest Blog

Today’s blog comes to us from reader, John Backman (bio below).  John and I have had several conversations about Emerging Church and we seem to be of the same mind on this topic.  I appreciate the way John continues to remind me of the things of value in the traditional church and things not to be left behind as we allow space for the Church that is trying to be born!  John, thank you for keeping me grounded and humble!   

Where Will the Future Church Meet? Not in Church

My wife and I raise guinea pigs. That makes us part of an obscure hobby with maybe 1,000 other folks across the U.S. We meet at shows, often in barns, wearing jeans and sweats sprinkled with animal hair.

A hobby this small has its own dynamic, and it’s much like a family. We attract colorful eccentrics and needy people. We gossip, fight, and disagree about silly things. We may be “related,” but we are very different. We also rally around one another in times of crisis.

And in most cases, we have found a place where we can be fully ourselves. That makes our hobby a sort of living laboratory for how to see and embrace people as they are, warts and all.

In other words, without even thinking about it, we are living into Jesus’ vision of community.

According to some churches I have attended, it’s not supposed to be this way. The local church, they say, is supposed to be our family. We guinea pig folk may be practicing Christian community in a way, but not within a Christian community. Right idea, wrong place.

But maybe it’s not the wrong place. Maybe it’s a glimpse of where the Spirit wants to lead the church of the future.

For centuries, church was the center of the local community. Even into modern times, it was expected that Catholics attend Mass in their neighborhood parish. Some evangelicals quote the Letter to the Hebrews (“not neglecting to meet together,” Hebrews 10:25) to tout the church’s role in the center of the believer’s life. Yes, churches were called to outreach, but the weight of the spiritual life was in the sanctuary, and the community that worshiped there.

Times have changed. So many people have abandoned church that this model is fast becoming irrelevant to the wider world. Moreover, few churches meet the standard of community that I find in my motley group of guinea pig people. How can the Church continue to speak from a model that no longer works?

Maybe it shifts the model. Maybe the Church gives up its role as the center of the Christian life—and becomes a facilitator of the Christian life.

It might look like this: for Christians, the world becomes our living laboratory, the place where we spend most of our time, the place where we strive to live the ideals of Jesus. The Church, meanwhile, continues to share its treasure trove of ideas, practices, and values to facilitate our progress.

Actually, this sounds a lot like the Jesus of the gospels. He spent nearly all his time in the public square: on the streets, with tax collectors and other disreputables, in people’s homes, and in the courts of the Temple, healing and teaching. When he needed sustenance, he retreated to the hills for prayer, and then back he went into the crowds. Yes, he interacted with his fellow rabbis, but mostly to challenge them, not to fellowship with them.

This would be a massive shift. The Church would no longer be a nexus of power, but rather a facilitator of service. It would stand on the sidelines, the way a head coach does. The game happens on the field; the coach simply gives the players the necessary resources and guidance to play well. It is an important role, but not the central role.

With the Church’s facilitation, people could immerse themselves in the world more fully oriented (and better equipped) to love all, accept the outcast, be vulnerable, and commit to others in a way that does not end with the first falling out. People living like this could do a world of good. The treasures of the Church would be used in service to humanity. Christendom would inform individuals and cultures rather than trying to control them.

What would happen if the Church followed this call? No one can say for sure. But it would be a worthy venture indeed.


About the Author

Backman at PA show 2.2014John Backman, the author of Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart(SkyLight Paths Publishing), writes extensively on contemplative spirituality and its ability to help us dialogue across divides. As a regular contributor to Huffington Post Religion and an associate of an Episcopal monastery, he has written articles for numerous faith-based publications, both progressive and conservative.John currently serves on the board of directors for the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, and he has presented on dialogue-related topics at academic conferences and faith gatherings.




I am a trained, professional Spiritual Director, Author and Hands-on Healer. I offer services, programs and classes that empower you to hear the voice of the Divine that speaks from within you. It is the voice of the Divine that leads us to our highest truth, to the discovery and cultivation of our gifts and to a life of Authentic Freedom where we know contentment, compassion and joy. Your truth will set you free!

8 thoughts on “Where Will the Future Church Meet? Not in Church – Guest Blog

  1. That Christians gather as Church to facilitate the Spiritual life (or Christian life as you said) speaks to me. It is what I hope for our weekly worship where I pastor. Community can take place around all sorts of things, and the community you have around raising ginnea pigs ilustrates that, but the community of the church isn’t about being community but being formed into something, thus why I find your language of facilitation, The Christian life is about being formed into the Mind of Christ, being transformed into something we aren’t that is also most truly who we are. This is something more than community.
    But from my sense of things this has always been the point of life together in the church. From my perspective the shift you are describing is more about the loss of Christendom than a change in purpose of the church. I’d argue that church as center and locus of community was a function of Christendom, and was the means of facilitating the spiritual life where all were in the orbit of some form of Christianity as the religious underpinning of society. We of course are in a time of the disappearance of Christendom in North America and Europe( and it’s been happening for awhile).
    Lastly, in my reading of the Gospels, sure he is rarely described as entering a synagogue (Though Luke has him start his public ministry in the synagogue, and a number of the confrontations with other Rabbi’s and his fellow Pharisees happen in the synagogue) and it is unclear from the Gospels how often in his public ministry he went to Jerusalem. But, the Gospels never say he avoided the synagogue nor do they say he refused to make the pilgrimages at the festivals. To speak to how involved Jesus was or was not with the gatherings of fellow 1st Palestinian Jews, the Gospels only give hints, like what I alluded to above. Yes, his public ministry had a special character, other Rabbi’s weren’t doing what the Rabbi Jesus did in the years of his public ministry, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t in the Synagogue on the Sabbath and wasn’t going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the festivals.

    What does seem clear that Jesus in his ministry was symbolically reconstituting the people of God, Israel (12 apostles/disciples) and that his ministry was demonstrating that in this reconstituting of Israel, God was including those whom many Rabbi’s and “religious” were excluding for a variety of reasons some without ground in the Torah but some on the ground of an interpretation of the Torah. From that I conclude that Jesus was a Torah observant Jew, who went to the synagogue, was a Pharisee, and participated in the life of the people of God as outlined in the Torah. Jesus came to fulfill the Torah not abolish it. Now his way of doing so was controversial and broke with certain interpretations of the Torah, but as his disputation of the greatest commandment shows he saw what he was doing as grounded in the Revelation of God at Mt. Sinai, and was a new Moses.

    1. You will laugh …but I immediately thought of you as I read this and totally agreed with it. Then I saw that you wrote the comment!! I fully agree that we must become His church again, and I also believe that by His Divine provdence, that is in process of happening.

  2. So good to hear from someone who “gets it”. When you think about it, we have recreated the same temple worship Jesus encountered when He came to earth. We do this over and over again. The Jews did it in Israel, the Catholics did it in Europe, and now the Christians are doing it around the world. We begin by building buildings to meet in, but then they come to own us as we make them, and not the community, the hub of our experience. The size of our temples comes to determine our spiritual prowess. Our temple leaders stand within them and proclaim, “If you want to know God, come to us!” Jesus ignored the system in His day, as He is largely doing now, went forth in to the marketplace, as I also believe He is doing now, and created His true church. It is my goal to find and expose to people looking for the true church, as many of these pockets of true Christian Community as I can. They will be found among the Guinea Pig farmers, not in halls of our temples.

    For a trailer and documentary on one such group I produced, please follow the links below:

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