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Church is also an event

I long for church communities that are Christ-centred, grace-filled, all-of-life and intentionally missional.  I love the vision that Tim Chester casts for this and have benefited massively from the resources he's offered the wider church in this direction (see these superb talks for instance).

Let me raise one issue though - it's an issue that generated some good discussion on Tim's blog and I hope it will generate some more here - perhaps from Tim but from any others too.

Tim was writing about the imbalance of resources that many churches pour into "the Sunday morning event".   Very true.  I've heard people speak in hushed tones about some gold standard of sermon preparation - an hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit.  Yowsers!  If that's the cost of gathering around word and sacrament then I can well understand the desire to re-balance the expenditure of resources.

But there's something deeper to discuss than the re-allocation of resources or the degree of formality to our meetings.  What I want to establish is the absolute necessity of the event for the life of church.  Church is not just family, it is also an event and irreducibly so.  I'll say it that starkly because I know how popular it is to speak of church as ongoing-missional-community in opposition to chuch as event.

In our discussions, Tim said this:

Church is not an event, but a Christ-centred community of people with a shared life.

I disagree.  I’d say say church is also an event and irreducibly so.

Church has its being in becoming.  It ever becomes what it is as it hears God's word.  In this way church is the community called out (ekklesia) to listen to its risen Lord in the proclamation of word and sacrament.  This is the centre of the life of the community.

Let me just take one Scriptural example from Paul.  We are one body because we all share in the one bread (1 Cor 10:17). That is pretty stunning language – and it’s very ‘eventist’.  Here is a consummation of one-body-ness in which we become what we are. The event and the on-going life of the body are inter-dependent.

Think of marriage.  The covenant reality is that husband and wife are one flesh.  But there is an event in which they become one flesh (if you were Presbyterian you might even call it covenant renewal!).

It’s commanded in Scripture (cf 1 Cor 7) and it takes time and effort and a measure of ritual and it’s irreducibly an event.  Of course the degree of ritual and cost and time-expenditure will vary according to many factors.  But to imagine I can think of an ongoing covenant life without also thinking about the one-flesh event is a big danger in marriage.

And, by parallel, church life needs to be maintained by consciously enjoyed and anticipated and ritualised “events” in our church life together.  We can't do without them.  And however much it's necessary to speak of day-in, day-out community life we dare not lose language of event either.  The old reformed ecclesiologies speak of gathering around word and sacrament.  They didn't forget that we were family, but they did highlight that there were foundational "events" at the centre of church life.

So we say Yes to shared life, Yes to Christ-centred community.  But the way in which our community is “centred” around Christ takes a certain form.  The centre is an actual, concrete centre around which we orient ourselves.  As Christ's community therefore we order ourselves around the place where Christ is given to us. And He is given to us supremely in word and sacrament.

Tim speaks of the community life of church in these terms:

There is nowhere else when grace is experienced. There is nowhere else where God is present by his Spirit.

I'd say that in word and sacrament there are certain promises attached of God’s special presence by His Spirit.  I think therefore the language of ‘event’ needs to be held onto.

And primarily I think it needs to be maintained for the sake of up-holding two other concerns:

1) We are communities of grace.  Tim is huge on this and I've been very blessed by his insights on this (e.g.).  But if we want to be communities of grace we need to orient ourselves around where Christ is given to us, not primarily around what Christ would have us do.

2) We are communities of proclamation.  Where we honour the “event” of Church, we honour “proclamation”.  While our community life preaches to the world (John 13:35; 17:21) I'd want to co-ordinate this to a centre of verbal proclamation that constitutes and re-constitutes the community.

I'm very well aware that Tim and his churches manage to preserve what I'm seeking to preserve a thousand times better than I ever will.  But I just wanted to raise a flag for the absolute importance of "event" in church life.  I hope you can see why.

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0 thoughts on “Church is also an event

  1. Chris E

    I think there is an important and related distinction between the church gathered and scattered that needs to be preserved - and yes, part of that is a focus on the event.

  2. Rich Owen

    Yep, gracious and constructive.

    I think to add clarity to "event" we need to be mindful of what brings clarity at the event - order and other centredness. That will necessarily lead to a certain level of formality at the meetings - it has to.

    In reference to church as a family.... aren't we a household? Not sure if church is ever described as a family...? Household is a different ball game to family (correct me if i am wrong - i usually am!).

    Food for thought ....

  3. pgjackson

    Glen.

    Good post. Church is more than formal meetings but it is also not less than them.

    This is, to my mind, related to your 'church as date night' post on worship.

    I have a lot of respect for Tim Chester, so I really appreciate your tone here.

  4. The Orange Mailman

    Yes. Glen, this is right on. The church is the assembly, the gathering. These are events. That was the original context of what was meant. I see that they viewed themselves as the assembly of the citizens of the kingdom.

    Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

    Where two or three are gathered....

  5. theoldadam

    I think the post is spot on!

    This is where we encounter the Living God and His Word of law, His promises, and His body and blood...broken and poured out for sinners.

    Thanks!

  6. Carl Chambers

    Helpful Glen. Thanks.

    A church can be likened to a family (indeed, is!).

    A family is concerned primarily with relationships. Yet when we gather for a meal - be it Christmas or Sunday lunch or simply a BBQ in the garden - we meet as family. Yet we don't ignore the event.

    So people work hard before hand to make it a good meal / meeting / event.

    The majority will play their part in ensuring things happen during the event - there are constant offers of help, etc.

    People will look out for others. Children know they are welcomed.

    Some may feel this describes the ideal family - but it is a norm we can aspire to where there is love.

  7. Glen

    Thanks everyone. Love to hear more about gathered/scattered from Chris, about 'household vs family' from Rich, really glad to hear from Orange again and from Carl for the first time - welcome to the blog!

    Not sure if Tim would agree/disagree with what I've written here. If it's just about allocation of resources then I totally see where he's coming from. But if there are definitional issues at the heart I think they need to surface. But you never know I might just be shooting my mouth off over nothing...

  8. Glen

    I should also say:

    Hey Dave, Pete and OldAdam - love hearing from you too!!

    And the "events" I'm arguing for are not community-building exercises in general but events of proclamation where Christ is specially given to the community in word and sacrament.

    The event therefore is not just one more meeting, but is consciously anticipated and enjoyed as the centre of community life and the place where the promise of Christ's special presence is attached.

    Maybe that helps to demarcate my position a little?

  9. Chris E

    Hi Glen -

    I think that your definitions of communities of grace and communities of proclamation mirror to a certain extent the idea of the church gathered and scattered, though there elements of both in each of these.

    My thoughts on this are rather unformed, but it seems to me that the key is that the rules for engagement within each of these modes of operation need to be kept distinct.

    As the gathered church, God serves us through word and sacrament and we respond through worship. As the scattered church we then serve the world around us. However, there are things like church discipline - which have more relevance to one side or the other.

    Crudely, megachurches recognise their members need to serve their neighbour, but try to address this by creating a plethora of church activities with a 'third space', whereas missional churches that realise that their members need to serve those around themtry and fix this by organising those members outside activities. Both end up approaching the Gospel Blimp from a different direction, each can become a new form of legalism.

  10. John B

    Thanks for your excellent and encouraging post!

    I think that many churches need to rediscover the Eucharist as the central act in the assembly of the baptized in worship. In the Eucharist the Holy Spirit constitutes the church and Christ's presence in His body is confirmed and sealed.

    The centrality of the Eucharist has been lost in many evangelical churches. Even in churches with a high liturgical worship, the Eucharist often becomes more of a personal mystical experience, rather than a participation in the body of Christ.

    "Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread." (Luke 24:35)

  11. Ben

    i think the real question is: are we too comfortable around our "event" and not actually going out and making disciples like we should?

    >event, <God's Spirit move us out!!

  12. Ben

    ey!!!

    i need to recant that last phrase....dont want to be the fire starter...

    i dont think tim is excluding the event of church but to downplay it enough to be mission minded.

    as Christ sent them out 2x2, i think the focus should be back to where it originally started. no?

    (now thats more gentle...sweat)

  13. John B

    I wouldn't want to pit the missional work of the church against its priestly work. We're multi-taskers! With the cross of Christ as our focal point, both the missional and priestly offices follow. But in Scripture we do find a sequence of these works, with the priestly preceding the missional.

    As the priesthood of Christ, the church prays for the body, preaches the gospel, and offers itself in spiritual sacrifice, rejecting our old fallen nature. In the act of worship God consecrates our works of mission in Christ, making them acceptable and pleasing before God.

    (Luke 24:49) "And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

  14. pgjackson

    As I understand it, arguing for church as (more than but not less than) an event, in which Christ is given in word and sacrament, does not conflict with a missional emphasis at all. It conflicts with a great deal of what the seeker sensitive movement has been about - which sees church as an event, and an almost solely evangelistic event at that. But a 'missional' view of church simply argues that every aspect of the church's life is a part of its mission in the world, albeit in different ways. The church is the city on a hill, and all of its good deeds, its communal life, its worship, are some sort of testimony to the world, without everything it does being an act of evangelism proper.

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