About 5 or 6 years ago my friend GeorgiaAna pointed out a parable in Luke 14–the one about the rich man who gives a great banquet and how some of the well-heeled folks he has invited decline with various excuses. The master is enraged and tells his servant to go into the streets and invite everyone, even riff-raff like you and me. The parable is usually interpreted as being about how salvation is offered to the Jews but when they reject Jesus, God opens the Kingdom up to us Gentiles (hooray).
However, my friend was making a point that she saw ministry as an exercise in party-giving. That had never occurred to me, but it certainly makes sense, and it’s something I’ve pondered over the years. Obviously, folks are going to be more attracted to a joyous celebration than some lugubrious sermon about sin. It is so obvious, and yet so rarely observed. The usual focus of witnessing has to do with what a doomed sinner one is and how turning one’s life over to Jesus is the only hope for avoiding an eternity of damnation. This may be true, but would not a focus on the great banquet of the Kingdom with Jesus and all the saints present be more appealing? There’s gonna be a party goin’ on, and who would want to miss it when Jesus drinks the fruit of the vine again? In his commentary on Luke, the great scholar William Barclay states that, “Jesus thought of his kingdom and his service in terms of a feast. The symbol of the kingdom was the happiest thing that human life could know. Surely this is the final condemnation of Christians who are afraid to enjoy themselves.”
My home church, THE Church at Orlando, had a party today and I was the host. We were a smaller group than usual, nine adults and two kiddoes. A tenth adult arrived just before we broke up. Steve had been on National Guard duty in South Carolina and was driving in today after being gone for nearly three weeks. He showed up in uniform and it was sure good to see him, but he missed most of the festivities. We had some great food, sang a few songs and had a good discussion–its always great when I run my mouth a lot, and being the host I felt entitled. I shared some of Graham Cooke’s brilliant thoughts on judgment from 1st Cor. 4–about how we are not presently being judged by God and how harsh our judgments usually are on ourselves (a trick of the devil for sure). There was also some serious discussion about the Christ-focus of “organic” church. We had a couple first-timers present and that made our “banquet” even more special. It was a special time, even though a few members of our family were missing today.
It is nice to think of church in terms of a party that goes on for four hours or more. I’ve had some people tell me that that is simply toooo long for church; they don’t get the picture. We spend an hour and a half just eating and socializing (the love feast), and the rest of the festivities unfold at a leisurely pace. There is no leader, though Matt, our guitar player, sometimes brings material that provides our focus. Everyone is expected to participate per 1st Cor. 14:26. The idea is to mirror the First Century Church which occurred in homes and which was apparetly very participatory. Sometimes our discussions are brilliant and edifying and sometimes they seem to founder. I usually find that if I come prepared with a scripture or a teaching that things go better. Sometimes people just share about the painful stuff in their not-so-perfect lives.
I’ve been partying with this group for about a year and a half, and being led there was sheer grace. I worry about folks who don’t get the experience that I was given, just like I worry about the unsaved who for some reason seem to be outside of God’s grace. For the prior 18 years I had attended two megachurches with celebrity pastors, and at the time I was led to my home church I was considering a third megachurch with a high-powered pastor. One interesting thing about the Orlando area, there’s a plethora of megachurches. However, for several years prior to being called to “simple” church, I’d had this growing sense of feeling unfulfilled in big church. I even tried a small charismatic church that met in a drafty warehouse down by the airport. The folks were nice but I was distracted by the manipulation I could see going on–that and the people laying on the floor praying and some expectation that I should probably do the same to feel really holy and accepted.
About five years ago I realized how heavily marketed the big churches were and how cookie-cutter the programs that most offered were–complete with the same buzzwords, words like “relevant” and “connect.” For me, they just didn’t feel right anymore. Then about three years ago I read Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. That book articulated a lot of what I’d been just vaguely feeling about what was wrong with the institutional church. In a sense, Viola spit in my soup; the soup (church) would never again look quite so appetizing. Over the past year and a half I’ve read Jon Zens A Church Building Every One Half Mile as well as dozens of blogs by Jim Wright, Milt Rodriguez, Jamal Jivangee and others on the theory of ekklesia–what is sometimes called organic church or simple church. In a nutshell, we (Christ’s Body) are the church (not a building), and He is brought to life in the world through us. And when we take primary responsibilty for that, instead of entrusting it to the pastor/preacher/administrator that run most churches, we grow toward Christian maturity. However, I’ve come to see that big-church has its place in the kingdom too. They are mostly beginner churches; they bring the folks in and get them started–hopefully, on a journey to maturity in Jesus. They also have resources and facilities that a dozen home churches couldn’t begin to match. I still go to the megachurch part of the time.
But me, I’m mostly into partying. I’m in good company–Jesus was accused of that.