Sometimes, when looking at the church scene in my community, I am bewildered by the huge diversity of expressions, some fruitful and contagious, others cumbersome, moribund—captive to their traditions—and passive with ‘what is’ for all practical purposes. Then I look at the emerging generational culture, replete with creativity, engaging the world in which they live as “pragmatic idealists” … and I think to myself that one would need to be a specialist in complexity science to know what to make of it all.

Then, last week I got the quarterly update from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Graduate and Faculty Ministry from its national field director, Bobby Gross. I was heartened because it tells of the clearly focused communities of faculty and graduate students that are emerging on many campuses. It gave me a glimpse of what intentional Christian communities might use as a model. These communities are formed around four clearly articulated reasons for their existence: 1) a community that is diverse and supportive, 2) spiritual formation that deepens their roots in Christ, and 3) empowerment for fruitful evangelism and service, and 4) resources for integration of faith, learning and practice.

Their form is fairly simple: they are indigenous to their context. In one sense they may be (as we all are)  “aliens and exiles,” still the campus is the locus of their incarnation, and as teachers and scholars they are part of the culture, though as those formed by a specific worldview. Their intent is to exhibit excellence in their responsible presence and in their various disciplines on that scene.

Keep that in mind as you look at the church scene in North America. How many church communities are that intentional in equipping every baptized participant in his or her calling to be the excellent presence of God’s new creation in the places of their incarnation?

When I read Bobby’s report I thought back a dozen years to an early InterVarsity Graduate-Faculty Conference, meeting in a ballroom in a Chicago hotel. Across the platform was the banner containing the motto for that conference and for those 1200 faculty and graduate students gathered there: “Following Christ, Changing the World.” As I looked at that company made up of so many nationalities, and from so many disciplines, I took hope. It was an awesome moment.

Back to my point here: every Christian community, as it is formed in obedience to Christ, needs to be equally intentional in equipping every participating believer in Jesus to be equally encouraged and resourced in faith, learning, and practice … and so to be empowered for evangelism and service in their 24/7 incarnation. Passive participation in Christian community is an oxymoron … and yet it is much to often the norm rather than the exception. Every participant should be self-consciously following Christ and changing the world.

InterVarsity’s communities possess no buildings, and their staff members are equippers. The real agents of God’s New Creation/Kingdom of God mission on those campuses are not the staff, but rather those faithful and equipped graduate students and faculty. Conversely, all too many existing (and unhealthy) church communities are clergy-dependent and building focused … and like it that way! The loss of such ostensible church communities would be no great loss to the Kingdom of God (remember Jesus’ word that branches that bear no fruit are cut off and burned?).

Vital and fruitful church communities are intentionally equipping their participants to be mature and active agents in the various places of their incarnation. What form do such communities need to accomplish such?

We’ll return to this along the way.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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