Seven Circles of Community

circlesAt church, the elders and ministers are working through a visioning process based on the book Church Unique — which I really like because it combines some of my favorite ideas from some of my favorite books.

And we were talking through the “DNA” of our church. At the same time, one of our ministers was excited about, of all things, a public hearing he’d attended at the local VA. Well, it really was pretty exciting.

You see, the VA is offering a building and land for free to anyone who will turn it into a homeless shelter. And our minister has been contacting other churches in town (sadly, not Churches of Christ, as they won’t cooperate with the “denominations”) to pull together enough resources to make it happen. It’s bigger than any one church can do.

The pastor of one church told him, “I’m glad the University Church of Christ is taking the lead, because we know it’ll be done right.” Well, we had no idea people thought this way about us.

And we talked about it and wondered if bringing the local churches together in this way is part of what God is calling us to. It could be …

We were also talking about personal transformation (or spiritual formation) as well as congregational transformation. All of which reminded me of a post I started on but didn’t get very far on … and this a working draft. It needs work …

You see, I think that Christians and churches should think in terms of 7 levels of community — and church leaders should guide their churches to serve Jesus at all 7 levels.

First, there is our personal relationship with Jesus. The fashionable term is “spiritual formation.” We need to grow — be transformed by God’s Spirit.

Second, there’s the family. Nowadays, it’s very important that churches help husbands and wives build stronger marriages and parents become better parents.

Third, there’s the congregation. We leaders need to help our members form the chuch into community.

Fourth, there’s the community, that is, the city or town. The churches — all Christ’s churches in town — should be community, especially when it comes to mission. We’re not going to save the lost and help the needy in competition with each other. Cooperation in love is the Biblical model.

Fifth, there’s the denomination. I’m hoping we one day get away from denominations, but that day isn’t today. Churches need to be involved at the denominational level — to help them overcome their problems, to keep them from being isolated from their sister denominations, and to support other congregations with similar heritages and, hence, similar needs.

Sixth, there’s the church universal. I’m not  big on the ecumenical movement. And the World Council of Churches hasn’t been very effective. But there must be a way for all Christ’s churches to work together in God’s mission.

We may find that something evolves radically different from what we have today as church cooperation at the community level overtakes cooperation at the denominational level. God will help us find a way.

Of course, there already are important ways in which churches work together cross-denominationally worldwide — through books, seminars, blogs, and such. I mean, Saddleback and Willow Creek have influenced all of Christendom without the need for some kind of ecumenical council.

Umm … that’s it. There really needs to be seven, and I guess I need all seven to start with the same letter. But I’m not a preacher and I’m just not good at that kind of stuff.

I could add in small groups, I guess. But I keep getting the feeling that I’m missing something else.

Oh, well …

Now, notice this. There’s lots of literature about individual spiritual formation. And there’s lots on marriage and parenting. And on congregational leadership.

But there’s next to nothing on the rest. The Church of Irresistible Influence, a great book, addresses church cooperation at the local level somewhat. That’s about it.

You see, we just don’t think at the supra-congregational level. We have very little sense of obligation to other churches in town.

We expect someone else to deal with denominational cooperation. In Churches of Christ, we expect some publishing house or university to do that for us — and it’s frankly not that important to us, until it goes wrong.

So maybe this model will help us think in larger terms. I’m not ready to roll out some kind of huge, seven-layer model of how to do church. I’m missing a level, you know. And I need to get a cool acronym. Or a baseball diamond. (What sport uses a heptagon?) But maybe it’ll come to me.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Seven Circles of Community

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    Very Few churches of Christ work together with other churches inter and intra denominationally. Neither do typical Baptist churches do this or most other older denominations. In my opinion the Methodist do the best job of this they will serve the poor of the community with anyone who is willing. Most denominations are still institutionally loyal with their giving and community service. For them to give or join other denominations in feeding the poor or visiting the sick would constitute doctrinal error by association or support. If you feel that I paint with too broad a brush please understand that your church may be different but it is the exception. Unfortunately the ever watching unbelieving world looks at traditional Christianity that will not cooperate with each other to feed and clothe the poor or take care of the sick because of doctrinal differences and the cannot believe that God is like that. The community churches do very well at putting doctrinal differences aside to partner with other people doing God’s greater will even if they have differences in pet doctrines.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    I know that here in Tuscaloosa and in Birmingham the Baptists cooperate across denominational lines — as do the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, at least. We are unique among Churches of Christ in Tuscaloosa — as would surprise no one.

    As you note, until we all learn to work together locally, the unbelieving world we see as representing our "brands," and not Jesus. Crossing denominational lines is essential to reach a Post-modern world.

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    Yeah Jay I think you are right. We just moved from a town and the Alpine church of Christ did a thing called Inn Keepers where we rotated once a week housing, feeding and caring for homeless single families. We were the only church of Christ that did this of the 10 or so in the area. There was one Baptist one Methodist and one Lutheran. But only one of each brand of church. It was ironic that there was dozens of Baptist churches but only one participant so was the case for most brands. It seems that in some towns there are few churches that choose to step out in faith across denominational lines and they always are chastised for it. The larger and more metro the town or city is the more likely it is to have churches that are willingly to serve interdenominational. All you have to do Jay is drive north south east or west from Tuscaloosa and stop in the next little town you come to and you will find the majority of churches are still rigidly institutionally loyal.

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