Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why we failed at 'Total Church'

On Friday I sat in on a session at college with aspiring church planters and Steve Timmis. It made me realise something that I think I'd not quite grasped previously. That is how "radically radical" the reshaping around community really is.

I first read Total Church back in 2008, and it really resonated with me (as it did for many others). I suspect the call to a reshaping around gospel and community filled something of a void for many Sydney-siders, who generally feel ecclesiologically lite and have a slight suspicion (a fundamental conviction in my case) that maybe the Anabaptists were right on this one all along.

Listening to Timmis talk on Friday, and field questions from the students, I was struck by how different his life is shaped. Their community group really does 'do life' together - eating, going out, leisure, errands, jobs, and so on. Whereas in our culture (and I imagine UK culture too), we are conditioned around doing things in family units at best. What is it truly like to spend most meals with people not from your family? To have a fairly open drop-around culture with fellow christians? To never have the sense of 'this is my time to do solely as I please', but always to be asking what it is to love those around me, which will then include time for myself and my wife?

The reason why Sydney (Anglicans) love and fail at a total-church model is that we're not truly convicted enought to embrace the communitarianism that it's suggesting. We're looking for sunday service + home groups on steroids. But it's more than that. It's a counter-cultural pattern of communitarian life that will upside-down our individual and individualistic agendas.

The two best things we did in my context were for our evening service to share dinner every fortnight (not my idea), and for my home group to eat together every week. These two factors by themselves greatly increased our sense of 'community', but they didn't challenge our underlying cultural assumptions and commitments. We never quite got to 'doing life together' in a full-time capacity, and so we never quite got to 'doing mission as community'.

Timmis and Chester's suggestion for those in a position where they aren't leaders or have some kind of reshaping power, is simply to start living it out, set an example. But I suspect this is not quite enough. We need to grasp and thus to be challenged and provoked to see and to believe this reshaping around community. Living in each other's pockets in a post-community 21st century atomistic and alienating society is a radical break, and it's not one that comes from a few shared meals, but from a shared gospel understanding.


Roger said...

Seumas, I have just reviewed the same book here

I note your comment about communitarianism and it is one of the concerns I have about the model. Does it raise any concerns for you?

Seumas Macdonald said...

Thanks for your comment and review Roger.

I think we are perhaps so ingrained to be individualists, that we have a certain defensiveness to expressions of communitarianism that go 'too far', even if they might not be, more objectively, so lop-sided. I suppose the real challenge is to keep the gospel at the centre of community, lest community become the gospel.

Good point about the challenges of suburban sprawl.