Last week we said goodbye to our church of three years, Network Vineyard. It was a sad thing; I believe in church loyalty, and yet here I am leaving a church which isn’t bad and at which there are a lot of people I like.
Three years ago, at the disbanding of our Anabaptist fellowship, Nicole and I joined Network after going there to hear Ray Gingerich, a visiting Mennonite academic, speak. I thought that any church which invites a Mennonite academic to speak and is only a few kilometres from my house has to be good. What’s more, we had been hoping for a stronger experience of the Holy Spirit, and it was a charismatic church. We were also hoping to plant a new house church, and this was the sort of thing Network encouraged.
Planting a house church didn’t work out. But we stuck around at Network, not happy, trying to make the most of it. It was my first go at a conventional church in quite a while. It’s in a wealthy area, and the profile of the church is busy professionals and busy parents with young children. This, of course, makes strong community very hard. I have little doubt it’s a problem facing most churches, especially amongst certain demographics. I don’t think you can have strong community if everyone’s busy. What can you do? You can try to critique the culture of busyness from the pulpit (which the pastor did) and in small groups; but it’s really hard to defy the spirit of busyness in our society, even if you want to, and most people don’t want to and wouldn’t see it as an aspect of discipleship. (I’m too busy myself, not in a career driven way, but with my jealously guarded time for writing, reading, thinking.)
I grew increasingly cynical toward charismatic-ness, at least to what I saw. I believe there is a strong witness in the New Testament to the outpouring of charismatic gifts on the body of Christ. But just because it’s meant to happen, doesn’t mean it IS happening, even when people stand up and say what they think God is saying to them. In 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul instructs the church at Corinth in orderly use of the charismatic gifts, he imagines a church where prophecies and tongues and all sorts of other things come to people. Network, to its credit, attempts to recreate this, with a space for anyone to stand up and say what God has been speaking to them through the worship. But for me, prophecy and the like finds its full meaning in a church which is a strong community. Prophecy means far more when you are involved in each other’s lives and are wrestling with things together. I think genuine prophecy is more likely to come in this situation too. Strong community should be foundational; then we should seek the showy gifts. As it was, I was asked what God was telling me through the worship (nothing – I didn’t connect to the worship in its style or substance) and I wasn’t asked what was going on in my discipleship during the whole week.
I have a theological belief in the diversity of the body, as I’ve written about on this blog, but I can’t live it when it comes to diversity of theology itself. Most evangelicals have such a different understanding of God, a different Jesus. I find it so hard when I feel I don’t have enough common ground to even have meaningful theological conversations. What is an Anabaptist to say to a YWAMer, a Zionist, a creationist? The last few years I’ve been too shaky in my faith to have robust conversation, and encountering so much diversity has only discouraged me. I think I’ve needed to be around similar-minded people to reinforce what I believe for a while. (And I’m saying this, if you can’t hear it, with a strong element of self-critique; I guess we all want reinforcement that we’re right. That’s why we have so many different types of churches. I wish there was one more, an Anabaptist one, in this city.)
There are a lot of people sincerely trying to follow Jesus at Network, and open to the Spirit. I hope they flourish; they’re doing things differently, and are willing to give things a go. I’ll miss them.