It’s a bit like this. Some years ago, I drove from Charlottetown to Calgary, a trip that took the better part of 4 weeks. It turns out that Canada is vast, varied and in some parts, incredibly remote (hello out there, Chaplin, SK). Along the way we walked on the red beaches of PEI, saw fireworks in Ottawa on Canada Day, stood beside the statue of Terry Fox outside Thunder Bay, camped on the shores of Lake Superior. All that is true and then some.
But at some point, the broad strokes of travelling across the country needed to be filled in with specifics. When, for example, we arrived in Ottawa for Canada Day, where would we stay? Or after checking into my downtown hotel, where could I park my minivan? (The hotel was quite happy to help me with this for an additional $60). Broad strokes and specifics.
In my last blog post, I reflected on the question quo vadis? Where are we going as a church in a post-Christian culture? My initial thoughts (read it HERE) painted broad strokes: Go deep. Live wide. As we live as exiles in our culture, it will be vital that Christians journey deeply with Jesus and with each other. Whereas my first post offered a birds-eye view, this post aims to land those thoughts in specific ways. Quo vadis? Worship and community.
Like many of you, I live in a cultural moment that is largely indifferent to the things of God. Occasionally hostile, but mostly indifferent. I am not unaffected by this. Nor are you. We are daily formed by ways of living in the world that renders God practically irrelevant. Don’t believe me… Ask yourself the last time your colleagues gathered to pray when faced with a difficult decision. Or consider how little space there is for Christian values such as wonder, sabbath, simplicity, or compassion at work or at the shopping mall. The “absence of God” in these places, where we spend so much of our time, (mis)shapes how we see the world and our place in it. What is our response?
Our best response is Christian worship. This is not new—this is what churches around the world do every week. But in an increasingly post-Christian culture, Christian worship needs to be reclaimed. As Jamie Smith (my current favorite author) points out, “Christian worship is essentially a counterformation to those rival liturgies we are so often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, miscalibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life. This is why worship is the heart of discipleship.” We need to be reminded and drawn back into a story in which God is the center, a story that C. S. Lewis rightly refers to as “deeper magic.” Each week we need to gather with other followers of Jesus to be reminded that there is a God, and this God is present to his creation. Each week we need to be drawn back into the biblical contours of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. Each week we need to gather around word and table as tangible reminders that we need the nourishment that God provides. Each week Varsity Bible Church seeks to provide worship gatherings in which you can encounter God.
The second specific initiative that Varsity Bible Church seeks to provide is community groups in which you can journey with others. This is also not new—many churches encourage their members to belong to a small group. However, in a fragmented and increasingly diverse culture, there is a critical need to rediscover Christian community. We need places in which we know others and they know us deeply, places in which we will be encouraged, challenged and even admonished. We need places in which we can discuss openly what it means to follow Jesus in this cultural moment. And we might not agree. It is curious to me that in the biblical narrative, the people of God are renamed Israel, which literally means “the one who struggles with God.” (Genesis 32). Can Varsity Bible Church be a place in which we also wrestle with God? Confession: When I was a youth pastor many years ago, I was routinely beat up by Grade 8 boys who were on their school wrestling team. They taught me that wrestling is intimate, hard and not without cost. And I wasn’t very good at it… but I digress.
I envision most of these community groups forming around geography, similar to the Catholic parish. This is what we are experimenting with this fall with “community clusters.” Bringing together multiple households that live in the same neighbourhood creates the possibility of sharing more of life together. I am far more likely to borrow tools from you if you live down the street as opposed to across town. Jonathan Curniski would affirm this, as I borrow tools from him every second week. Occasionally his kids jump on my trampoline. And in small ways we share life together. Geographic community groups also bring together people who may share very little in common beyond their desire to follow Jesus. But there is richness is journeying with those who are not like us… people who are single, people who are older, people from other cultures. Additionally, because of our shared geography, these groups have the possibility of responding to real needs within their neighbourhoods (need-oriented outreach).
Quo vadis? A rediscovery of Christian worship and community. Not exactly rocket science, but vital in learning to be faithful to Jesus in our current cultural moment.
Quo vadis? Where are you going?
I don’t know. But if you’ll go with me, that is all I need to know.
Tecum, Domine. With you, dear Lord.