conscience and community III

Ok, here’s part III in a series of posts titled “conscience and community.”

Post I

Post II

So, how do we "do" shalom, especially in the church?

I’m not a program-oriented person, especially when it comes to the church. I’m not convinced you can easily program individuals and community. Sure, programs are inevitable for any organized group, many times serving to achieve good things in people’s lives. But too often church becomes about programs, hence the concept we “go” to church, not unlike going to the mall or going to a sporting event. In a program oriented faith, community is something we do.

This “doing” church, however, is too impersonal. Programs easily replace community, at best creating the illusion that individuals are united. Yet sadly many people in churches still feel alone or uninspired to faithfully follow Jesus in the often-dizzying context of modern life. Being part of a church community just makes life busier.

When I ask how we “do” shalom, I’ve been considering how the term “practices” can perhaps be more helpful than “programs.” Just as athletes practice their sport to master it, the church’s practices help us to become a community. What we do is related to who we are.

So, what are some practices I see for “doing” shalom in the community of faith? Here’s a few ideas (an incomplete list, to which you can feel free to add to):

Service – I know it’s a bit simplistic, but I’ve heard it said that people who complain “I don’t get anything out of church” should flip their critique to ask, “what is the church getting from me.” And no, I don’t mean simply signing up to volunteer. I mean getting into the practice of sharing your particular talents with others as a way to both express yourself and serve others. Churches need to give space for the variety of ways in which people can serve (e.g. not everyone can or should sing).

Discernment – closely related to service is the need to practice discernment. I think every church should spend time helping discern each individuals place in the community and in the world. For example, when I graduated from Bible College, I went through a discernment process where I completed a self-reflection paper (beliefs, goals, skills, etc…) and met with a group of family, friends, teachers, and peers. They told me where I was right, where I was wrong, and what was missing. That meeting was integral to where I am today. I’d love to see something like that happen in churches before we simply call for volunteers for whatever empty slot needs filling.

Teaching/learning – Why do churches have sermons, Sunday School, membership classes, and Bible studies? Sadly, I’m not always sure. But I do know, as I mentioned above, that who we are relates to what we do. The practice of teaching/learning, then, provides the basis for what we do in community. Worship gatherings, for example, should remind us who we are as individuals and a community, giving space to affirm what we know, and hopefully learn a little on the way. My biggest concern with 21st century corporate worship isn’t with the how of a corporate gathering (i.e. style or format), but with with what of our worship.

Fellowship (i.e. eating) – I actually think the best practice of fellowship is to eat together. Besides the obvious theological connections for community in both the OT and NT, there is something unexplainable about sharing a meal that brings individuals together.

Prayer – I wonder if churches can explore what it means to be a praying people beyond the programs for prayer (e.g. prayer meetings, prayer teams, etc...)? A friend’s church has the kids say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday before they go to learning center. Another friend’s church has share and prayer every Sunday together in person. I think both these churches are on to something in that all people are invited to participate, not just the prayer “experts.”

Remembering – so much of church practices look forward. Vision and strategic planning, board meetings, and church health studies all serve to lead churches forward, and rightly so. But what about the past, the notion that where we’ve been will affect where we go? I think we need to incorporate storytelling into our gatherings and into our lives. And I’m not talking sermon illustrations for you preachers. Finding ways to tell our individual stories and the stories of our community in relation to the Biblical story, reminds us that all we do has a context – most importantly, a context of God’s love for us, and our call to respond in love of God and neighbour.


Anonymous said...

a good summary of the "do's" of shalom!

David Warkentin said...

Thanks Dora!

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