God is a Verb that Acts like Jesus

One of my friends, David Fitch, routinely opines about megachurches, and I often (as one attached at the hip to Willow Creek) say that whatever can be done in a small church can be done in a megachurch. Small groups, check; friends, check; group formation, check; corporate worship, check; corporate instruction, check; community embodiment of gospel, check. Yet…

What is lacking in megachurches is the same thing lacking in smaller churches, but it is more exaggerated in the megachurch. Corporate fellowship. Megachurches make obvious the fellowship issue. Namely, if you want a church that fellowships as a group, the bigger the church the less that can happen.

But the issue, so I want to argue, is not the size of the church. I do think megachurches can only come about because of this problem: the problem is individualism. One of the core issues in church dysfunctions today is individualism, which is a modernity issue and not just a church issue, and the church puts on display what it looks like when individualism takes deep root. The critique of the church as a consumerist culture is a species of individualism. Don’t get me wrong, we are individuals and as individuals we are accountable to God and to ourselves and to others and to the world, but being individuals and being infected with individualism are not the same thing. (Though some have almost identified the two.) It’s a matter of degree; when the critical mass shifts to me then we move from being individuals to becoming part of an individualism culture. When the gospel is about me and what it does for me, when the church service is measured by what it does for me, and when marriage has run its course because it is no longer doing anything for me … when these are observed, we are stuck in modernity’s individualism.

The solution to individualism is not smaller churches; the solution to individualism is a decade or more of teaching and embodying the community nature of the Body of Christ, and a good place to begin is with the 3d chapter in Daniel Kirk’s new book, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?

Daniel gets it right with this: “My relationship with God is always, and must ever be, about how I am participating in the narrative of God’s people” (54) and not what that people is doing for me. The church should be offering a counter narrative to individualism instead of reflecting individualism back to the culture.

Beside God, the three most important words in the Bible are Israel, kingdom and church. These are People words, group words. The word “I” takes its meaning only in one of those contexts. The Bible’s narrative is from individuals (Genesis 1-11) to People (Genesis 12 — Revelation). The fundamental value of the Bible is love, and that means relationship with others; the fundamental value of modernity is happiness, and that is self-oriented.

What did sin do in Genesis 3, and that means what does the gospel heal? Cracked relationships with others — Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel — and these relationships are not given a solution until God forms through Abram/Abraham a new people, called Israel and kingdom and church.

Over and over the message of Jesus is addressed to forming a new family, a new people: Mark 3:31-35 is just one example. It’s everywhere. Kingdom is about people. This people is to act like God, who acts like Jesus or as Daniel says (quoting someone else):

God is a verb that acts like Jesus.

Which means grace, love, forgiveness, and giving ourselves for others. These are the marks of the community; it takes a community to act like Jesus.

Paul, too, tells that story of community formation: God is a verb that acts like Jesus. Paul sees the church as full of Gentiles and he sees the church as continuation of the life of Jesus. Which means these Gentiles learn to see Israel’s Story fulfilled in Jesus as their new Story. Justification by faith is a doctrine designed to assert the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Abraham’s family. They are no longer gentiles, Kirk contends; they are part of the Body of Christ.

Identity here is communal; there are no soloists. To be in Christ is to be in the church, the Body of Christ.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    I have attended and been seriously involved in two churches as an adult. One averaged about 50 with kids, one is one of the larger megachurches in the country.

    Clearly each size has some problems that are particular to it, but both can be great places of community.

    I am quite proud of the fact that my current megachurch has a higher (much higher) percent of people in community groups than the small church did. But the small church was able to have a monthly meal where most everyone ate together.

  • Tom Howard

    To add complexity to the conundrum. . . when I return to the small church near the “home place” I always say, I don’t think I could come back. Not true, I always go back and why. . . . because those folks have been family and community to me for over 45 years and they still are even on my infrequent visits. The smallness makes the community of God feel like/ no, act like / real family. And the good, the bad, and the ugly all work together for His best.

  • JohnM

    Scot, though I know you’ve said before the trend is not in the direction of new denominations, it almost sounds like megachurch is sometimes functionally a new kind of denomination and small group is functionally a small church within the denomination. If the case is anything like that, or could reasonably be viewed as like that, perhaps the problem of corporate fellowship is already taken care of. Anyone’s experience of megachurch like that at all?

  • Susan N.

    “God is a verb that acts like Jesus.”

    I’ve heard, “Love is a verb.”

    If God = Jesus
    and Jesus = Love
    Then Love = Compassionate Church

    Compassion sees, is present *with*, and cares (i.e., Danielle Mitchell)

    Fellowship is certainly one important way to extend hospitality, friendship, and encouragement. I think, like Danielle Mitchell, a sense of “mission” reaching outward from the church walls is important.

    Megachurches just don’t attract me, but I know people who love the whirlwind of activity. It’s a little “too much” of everything for me. I need more quiet and simple. Is that too “me-oriented?” I’m happy for those who thrive in a megachurch which has “got it going on” for God. More power to them!

    Really, I don’t think Spirit-filled depends on size/numbers. In my experiences, there often tends to be a corporate “atmosphere” that is either cool or on fire with love, hospitality, and general activity of the Holy Spirit. :-) That’s where you want to be, right in the middle of *that*!

    I watched a video online a year or so ago of an interview that Bill Hybels did with Richard Stearns at Willow Creek. I would have given an eye tooth or two to hear Richard Stearns in person. He’s a hero of the faith, in my eyes! So inspiring.

  • Jason Lee

    Megachurches do just as well … not true. Research by social scientists using national congregational data 1sets shows that megachurches (and larger churches in general) do not in fact have the same levels of belonging and participation among their members. Even when you take into account small groups, the unfortunate megachurch effect persists. In other words, the evidence we have now indicates that small groups do not in fact make up for the disadvantages of large size.

    There are a variety of reasons for this, but many of the reasons boil down to the fact that these bigger churches have to function in a more bureacratized way. In general, people are not treated as holistically, but more as parts of a machine. Also, people can remain more anonymous and so evade discipleship, being ministered to, and ministering to others.

  • Rick

    JohnM #3-

    I have seen that. But I began to see that the lack of fellowship and community around the sacraments (baptism and communion) in small groups was a missing, yet needed, element. As Christians, we need to express our fellowship not just in gathering, but in some of the things we gather around, and participate in.

  • CJ

    Amen! I had the same revelation this week. We hear things (sermons, lessons, etc) individually so we act on them individually. When we do that, we basically forget that Bible was written for the community of the faithful. Almost all of Paul’s letters were addressed to the church(es)/all who are loved by God/God’s holy people. There is so much more power when we act on them corporately as well. As I told the teens in our church Wednesday’, it takes all of us doing this together to do it well.

  • Susan N.

    Rick (#6) – adding on to the thought that corporate participation in the sacraments is a vital element of unity (?) in a church fellowship: I can attest to a strong sense of belonging and participating in church life through the sacraments of communion and baptism.

    In my current church tradition, communion is open and conducted in the process of each aisle in turn proceeding to the altar rail and receiving communion from the pastor and communion attendants. I have really never had such a strong sense of being “with” a community of faith, as well as affirming my “oneness” with Christ, in the sacrament of communion as I have at this church. As I witness each batch of individuals proceeding, receiving, and returning to their seats, I have a sense of who is a part of my faith community. It’s really a beautiful thing… I think it’s harder to get that sense of participation when sitting in a seat and having the bread and grape juice passed down the rows. (Though I may just lack imagination.)

    For infant baptisms, we always sing Child of Blessing, Child of Promise as the pastor carries the newly baptized child down the center aisle and back, for his or her congregation to meet and greet. :-)

    I love these traditions. They are ways that draw us, the passively seated congregation, *in*to the worship. I know that these are simply stylized ways of worshiping; but spiritually, they have been very substantial in my apprehension of the full meaning of these symbolic acts.

    ~Peace~

  • PLTK

    Jason (#5) — can you give me some sources for your data? I have been thinking about advantages/disadvantages of small vs. large and wondering about this issue. I have thought that large churches probably do a very good job ministering to the “in-group” but very poor job ministering to the “out-group.” E.g., people in the central circle of the church gets lots of discipleship and attention while those in outer circles get little attention and little discipleship. The extra resources are all focused on a relatively small group of people rather than spread out more evenly among church members.

    One thing my husband and I note at our current church (which is a mega church) is that the large church doesn’t seem to have any economy of scale as compared to the small and in many ways may consume more resources per person, but that isn’t research based and just based on our anecdotal observations (analyzing staff members and resources per attendee). Just wondering how much our church trends are following economic and cultural trends toward the presumed bigger is better and more efficient without counting the social costs. Yes, we do get better performances and generally better preaching, but lose a lot in fellowship, discipleship, cross-generational interactions as well as interactions between people who in large churches tend to congregate in cliques of others like them, etc.

  • TSG

    Individualism is stated not as a hypothesis, but fact. That fellowship is only more exaggerated in one form over another, that this is a modernity issue, that this will take time(education) to shift are agreed.

    However, to the problem of community( may I say children of a family), I would like to see other assumptions or conditions taken as grounds for action.

    Being inclusive is a magnificent word because it is of religion. It is amazing how a theology of inclusivism is a simple shift that changes attitude, approach to bible reading, body language, and fellowship. I believe we have mixed up inclusivism with unversalism, evidenced in the furor over Love Wins, and a thousand other examples.

    To act inclusively takes a shift from separated from the world to in it reconciling. So many of our communities are inherently not joinable from this perspective. This necessarily excludes talk about seeking and projecting homogeneity(Rene Girard).

  • Fred

    “the solution to individualism is a decade or more of teaching…” I disagree. It would be better to say that the solution to individualism is a decade or more of learning, but not simply teaching. We assume that because we are talking (leading a smalll group, sermonizing, discipling, etc.) that people are learning.

  • Rick

    Susan N #8-

    Good thoughts. I agree that the method used can have an impact on how we see that fellowship, but a sense of “community” still breaks through even in the more isolated methods. Of course, even how a church building and service is designed (audience, speaker, etc…) can lead to the individualism problem.

    Ben Witherington had some good thoughts on John Wesley, spiritual formation, and the problem of individualism:

    John Wesley’s approach..stands at odds with some of the models of spiritual formation we hear so much about in our era— models that promote extreme introspection, individual isolation and individualistic seeking, and spiritual athleticism of various sorts, even spiritual navel gazing of a sort…the primary form of spiritual formation in the Wesleyan mode focuses on activities, and more specifically on group activities and even more specifically on the activities of the body of Christ gathered— activities like worship, shared teaching or Bible study sessions, fellowship meals and times, taking Holy communion, works of piety and charity undertaken together, and the like. I believe that primary spiritual formation happens during the times two or more are gathered, Christ is present as well, and we are all caught up in love and wonder and praise. For example, for a Wesleyan, congregational singing is one of the primary means of spiritual formation, as opposed to someone singing to themselves in the shower or in their prayer closet. Saying the Lord’s Prayer together is a means of grace. Saying the Apostle’s Creed together is a means of grace, and so on…spiritual formation in the Wesleyan tradition is not primarily an individual’s lonely personal quest for spiritual transcendence and growing closer to God.”

  • http://www.theodigital.com Chris Ridgeway

    I think the question, Scot, is whether individualism is successfully countered by, say, right *teaching* on the Biblical narrative of the people of God.

    There’s a medium/message problem.

    A community where the primary weekly rhythm involves sitting in section FF, seat 24, and sitting relatively passively for an hour absorbing professional music and speaking… this embodies individualistic consumerism, doesn’t it? It’s mode is anonymous and individual.

    There is a reason the bad guy always dives into the CROWD to get away from the FBI agents! :)

    A smaller church–Dunbar’s number here–seems to have (potential for) a key ingredient that the mega-church does not: it can embody communal identity more effectively. It’s nearly impossible to be anonymous.

    Doesn’t *hospitality*–that gospel central quality–become possible only when you know who the stranger IS?

  • CJ

    Rick (#12) – We’ve truncated his statement, “The gospel of Christ knows no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness” to just “There’s no holiness but social holiness” and take it be a call to action for social justice. It’s not. It’s a call to do faith together in community.

  • Jason Lee

    PLTK:

    Although not always necessarily primarily focused on this exact question, these studies’ results show the consistent pattern of the detrimental effects of size and cite related literature:

    http://socrel.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/09/03/socrel.srq067.full

    and

    Ellison, Christopher G., Neal Krause, B. C Shepherd, and Mark A. Chaves. 2009. “Size, conflict, and opportunities for interaction: Congregational effects on members’ anticipated support and negative interaction.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48(1):1–15.

    and

    Scheitle, Christopher P., and Roger Finke. 2008. “Maximizing Congregational Resources: Selection Versus Production.” Social Science Research 37(3):815-827.

  • Jason Lee

    PLTK:

    One of Marti’s (http://www3.davidson.edu/cms/x37146.xml) books/articles goes into the clique issue you describe, but I can’t remember which.

  • http://www.reclaimingthemission.com David Fitch

    Chris Ridgeway is speaking my language … or I am speaking his :)

  • http://www.OfDustAndKings.com T. E. Hanna

    I absolutely agree that the rampant individualism in contemporary western culture is a serious challenge both to Christian community (the church), orthodox theology (that God is all about me), and spiritual formation (discipleship cannot happen in isolation).

    However, I think there needs to be a balance between the individual and the corporate. Susan (above) cited Ben Witherington’s presentation of Wesley’s approach. Wesley emphasized two parallel threads – personal and social holiness. Richard Foster writes about both individual and corporate spiritual disciplines. The vibrant Christian life requires both. It seems to me that without a personal, individual relationship with Jesus, the corporate gathering becomes meaningless; likewise, without corporate discipleship, personal spirituality will inevitably become self-deceiving and shallow.

    A Christian life of any depth requires both.

  • http://www.OfDustAndKings.com T. E. Hanna

    Sorry, it wasn’t Susan I was referencing in my previous post, it was Rick #12.

  • Rick

    T.E. Hanna-

    You are right about “both”, and Witherington mentions the individual aspect as well in his write-up. His point, and using Wesley as a resource, was that it currently has gone so far to the individualistic side.

  • John Wilczewski

    I agree individualism is the problem. I would add, in the MC… it is MUCH easier to hide and remain anonymous. In fact, places like Willow used to advertise this as a strength! While, I also agree the weakness is also in a smaller community too. It is not just evidenced by economy of scale.

  • PLTK

    Thanks Jason–will look at these articles. We struggle with these issues–in many ways liking our church and what it offers, but having concerns about what we (both our family and the church body in general)also might have lost/be losing.

  • mark

    I was a very involved member at Willow for a number of years after college, and I found levels of community I hadn’t ever seen before at a church. However, this was accomplished by participating in smaller bodies within the big church, like Axis and a Palatine, IL based newly married medium-sized group. Small group participation stemmed from the intermediate sized groups, and I think that was key to a better sense of community.

    After having my first kid, I moved my family to the smaller neighborhood church halfway between Willow and Dr. Fitch’s church. It was far from the intergenerational body I was hoping for for my family, but it was better than Willow for us at that time. As our smaller church has been focused on numbers growth recently (and other issues) we visited a number of the area “megachurches” and a few small churches, including Dr. Fitch’s.

    I went to Willow last weekend for the first time since the big worship center/sanctuary was built. Recognized a few people from a distance, and talked to no one. I have been at Dr. Fitch’s church twice in 2011, and both times I was approached and welcomed with actual conversation by several people, including lengthy dialogue with Dr. Fitch both times (actually prior to the service).

    I still have a high level of respect for Willow, but there seems to be something to gleam from my experiences. Also, I really have come to dislike the church hopping that goes on between the mega-churches in the Nrthwest suburbs.

  • Susan N.

    Rick (#12), Chris (#13), C.J. (#14), and T.E. (#18/19) – I’m reading a lot of good, valuable thoughts re: pros and cons of corporate worship (and varying styles) vs. individualism. In a perfect world, I think we would all maintain a balance of inward-focused and outward-focused spirituality, beliefs and practices, “alone time” (with God), faith community activities, and “missional” outreach. When that balance is achieved, individuals flourish, and a faith community thrives. Our flourishing isn’t meant to be an end unto itself, but to be poured out for the world (presumably outside the church walls/society; hence, holiness as social action.)

    As an aside, I just heard (from a shut-in friend whom I visit on Friday mornings) an exciting story (and, coincidentally, one that is relevant to this discussion and recent posts on strong women in ministry and the church’s response to human trafficking). My former women’s ministry mentor is resigning her church position for a missional calling at ‘She Is Safe’ Org. This is the strong woman with a missional heart who encouraged me to boldly and fearlessly pursue my passion (nursing home ministry) outside the church walls. See why I loved her?

    In the best case scenario, this is an example of the fruit of a healthy, balanced corporate and personal spirituality…”All in” participation and bulls-eye focus. I’m SOOO thrilled for my sister!!

    Wherever you go to church, whatever the worship style, and however the Spirit is personally calling you (burning in your heart) — go with it. Is any way the wrong way, if God uses everything for good in His Grand Story?!!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    This whole post and many of the comments have not set well with me today. I frequently have the same feeling when I read posts how we all have to go fellowship together and being a church means being together.

    In today’s case, I think I understand my apprehension. It seems that we are generally confusing individualism with introversion. Worse yet, we are mixing it in ways that take the worst parts and put them together.

    FWIW, I can read Scot’s original post as not confusing introversion with individualism, and I think he gets that right. But when we start talking about having to do group fellowship, well, that just gets my introverted self all anxious.

    Individualism can be introverted and extroverted. But, being an extrovert in a church fellowship does not mean that that person is not being individualistic. From my perspective, some of the most extroverted group embracing fellowship seeking church folks are quite individualistic in that they are working on their salvation, their needs, their image.

    I agree with the premise that we do need to have fellowship as a Christian church, but that does not have to manifest in church association groups. We are all members of the same body but have different functions. I do not like going to a church fellowship event, I despise it. But, I will be more than happy to show that I am part of the Christian community in all interactions I do have with people, some in church, some not.

    So again, I don’t want to see going to church and fellowshipping with believers to be the test for non-individualism. I think that is wrong.

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#25) – you won’t hear any condemnation or exhortation to “get yourself to church” from me, brother. I’m the one who “sat in time out” from church for a year and a half, in the not-too-distant-past, remember? Sometimes we need a season to reflect and heal, as opposed to neurotically jumping from church to church, as though our (eternal) lives (e.g., salvation) depended upon being “in”. Not true.

    I’m sort of an introvert by nature, so I empathize with you in feeling like a fish out of water in many corporate- and fellowship-oriented programs and such. (Hence my aversion to “mega” anything.) I have one friend in my current church who gets anxious in the sanctuary, surrounded by such a (relatively – not mega-size) large group. She doesn’t attend worship service, but sits quietly in the library while her family attends. My church is O:K with that. And I love that about my church.

    When church is good, it can be really wonderful, DRT. People aren’t perfect, so there’s always something that could be improved. But, when you feel that you belong, and can be yourself, and it brings you closer to God, and fosters relationships with others (inside and outside the church), *and* it makes you want to give away from gratitude the blessings that you’ve received, *then* church is a beautiful thing.

    Some parts of my “year and a half of living dangerously with*out* church” were very bad. Painful (sad). Ugly (mad). Lonely (more sad). On the other hand, some of it was good for me. I sorted some stuff out for myself, and got real with God, *and* healed. My family grew closer.

    Just one introvert, church-shy person to another…

    I appreciate your perspective and fellowship here on the JC blog. I am reading Richard Rohr’s CAC meditations daily via e-mail (thanks so much for the recommendation; I subscribed immediately after you suggested it!) I love these meditations! You were right — his thinking is right up my alley.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Thank you Susan N., your comments help me.

    I could use some good fellowship, I lost my job again now….my wife is not too happy with me…

  • http://growinggrace-full.blogspot.com/ Chris Donato

    . . . the problem is individualism.

    Perhaps a more convicting way to say this is that the problem is narcissism—our collective personality disorder. But it’s not just that. Craig Gay, more than ten years ago now, put his finger on it in Way of the (Modern) World; or, Why It’s Tempting to Live as if God Doesn’t Exist:

    What we spend our time consuming is anti-teleological by nature. Our disdain of purpose then leads us to strive incessantly to create meaning for ourselves through political aspirations, through uncritical obeisance to science and the unthinking consumption of technology, through the dehumanization of others for financial gain, and so on. We are practical atheists, and we no longer know how to love self-sacrificially, to practice “faithful presence” (in Hunter’s words), to get our dirty hands dirtier with the lives of others, to simply practice friendship (with a nod to Clapp).

  • Susan N.

    I’m sorry, DRT. My husband, being the sole breadwinner, often loses sleep (I suspect) with the worry that his job security is an illusion, and an IT guy pushing 50 is not a hot commodity in today’s hyper-competitive job market.

    If prayers are any consolation, I will be faithful to the task. Definitely *peace* for your wife, and you; wisdom, and courage. My mama used to have a cloth wall-hanging with ‘The Serenity Prayer’ that she displayed in a prominent place in each of our (many) homes. From the time I learned how to read (first grade?), that prayer got sunk into my head and heart.

    Keep us glued together, Lord, when we feel like coming unglued; show us the way forward; give us strength and courage. Let love always be the rule. Amen.

    ~Peace, friend.~

  • Rick

    DRT and Susan N-

    As an introvert, I appreciate your thoughts. It brings to mind the words of Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church, as recently posted on IMonk:

    “Often, in Christian circles, we idealize those people that have a “passion” for community. Those people who constantly want to be around other people and who love organizing and mobilizing social events are often considered those people who have the most “love” for people, and by derivation, God. And, let’s be clear, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community. Those churches that don’t have those people suffer because of it. At the same time, let’s also acknowledge that there is more than “love for people” that is happening here. For those social galvanizers, it feels good to be around people and to see people connect with one another. They are thriving on the dopamine that is released in their brain from those experiences. And that’s how God intended it for them. Love for God’s people does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others. Love, as we know from the scriptures, is self-sacrificial, in which we lay down our rights and place the good of others ahead of our own. Thus, it can be a great display of love for those of us who relish our inner worlds, to lay those things down sometimes and be present with others, when we might otherwise prefer to be alone.”

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/adam-mchugh-on-a-matter-of-motivation

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Susan N., thanks for that prayer, I will use it.

    I just turned 50 as this was happening, not the best of times.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Very nice Rick.

    In my last church I did a lot of everything (trustee, speaker, finance, web etc.). I one of the meetings the subject of introverts came up, and they roundly laughed at introverts saying that they are, more or less, defective people. I did not chose to fight that battle then….

  • Rick

    DRT #31-

    I don’t blame you for not wanting to fight that battle. I have heard the same type comment. However, in recent years, and because of resources like McHugh, I have seen the topic become more common. And usually when a large group is asked about it, there are plenty of introverts that speak up. I do think some progress needs to be made on that front in regards to church leadership, and how they handle the issue, but I have seen some encouraging signs.

    Finally, I too will pray for your situation. I appreciate you letting us know.

  • Susan N.

    Rick (#30) – I would like to build on these thoughts.

    I hope to read ‘Introverts in the Church’ one of these days. I’ve heard good reviews. Thanks for reminding me of this title.

    In discussing the dynamic of introverts in the church, do we have to pose being with and in community as a self-sacrificial denial of quality alone time?

    Somehow, this implies an anti-social, neurotic defect in introversion. It also suggests that being with people (in the manner that is deemed good and right) is a loss to be suffered for the cause (greater good of community and to glorify God.)

    I would like to suggest another way to describe introversion. Classic definition is – a person who recharges by being alone. Even Jesus did that, so I don’t feel bad about needing my quiet, “down” time. :-)

    I think that introverts, when among other humanoids, have a very different way of “being with” than your average extrovert. Why is extroversion the better way, again?

    We have talked recently (Soterian vs. Story Gospel post, I believe) about the difference between caring vs. “curing.” Caring allows for people to be themselves and not feel bad about how they are made. Is introversion equivalent to indifference? Is introversion a selfish type of “sin?” Not necessarily.

    It is possible to be quiet and caring/empathetic, and be very deeply committed to being a healing, helping presence. It is also possible, on the other hand, to be very busy socially (extroverted) but only go an inch deep in those interactions. It is possible to be in a crowd of people and be alone, for all intents and purposes.

    How would we push extroverts to self-sacrificial love in the church?

    Must love always be hard? If we work with the strengths that God has designed in us, serving and being in community is less a chore, and more of a naturally-occurring joyful experience. At times, we do have to put aside our own “happiness” and act on another person’s behalf ahead of our own. I’m just saying, that if, on a regular and permanent basis, we are required to change our entire personality in order to be acceptable to our community and have our “faith” validated, then sooner or later burnout and discouragement is going to occur.

    I like the idea of really meeting people (one at a time, if at all possible) just where they are, listening long and deep, and respecting their “story.” Like a good book. Just my thoughts on an issue I have pondered at length.

  • Rick

    Susan N-

    I don’t disagree, and nor do I think McHugh would either, with your definition of introversion.

    I also think your take on putting aside happiness at times is correct. To ask otherwise would be draining, and counterproductive, to introverts and the community as a whole. Furthermore, it would only further increase the misperception.

  • Pat Pope

    I agree with this. I often hear people in larger churches lament about people being more involved, but really, if you’re into yourself or what you have going on in your life apart from the Church, you will pursue that regardless of church size. The one difference though, is in a smaller church, your absence is likely to be noticed and there may be group pressure for you to show up more and participate simply because one’s absence may be more noticeable. But other than that, I think it does come down to individual choice and to some degree, I think that needs to be respected because you can go to the other extreme and be at church every time the doors open (which is something some churches used to preach). However, if we do that, we run the risk of becoming insular and at what point do we engage the culture?

  • Susan N.

    Rick (#35) – Thanks. I have been thinking about how much more difficult being an introvert would be for a man. Cultural expectations would tend, it seems to me, to clash with outward appearances, at least, of introversion. A woman can at least claim a meek and submissive identity, which in many church cultures is the ideal in terms of virtuous character.

    You know, I was also thinking about the Apostle Paul and his take on strength and weakness.

    “8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:8-10, NKJV)

    Maybe we turn the label introversion / extroversion, whichever is applicable for us personally, on its head, claim honestly the qualities that we lack, and believe that God uses us, in spite of and through our weaknesses? How does the “power of Christ” rest upon us in weakness more than in a position of strength?

    It takes all types of parts to make a whole body. I think that could be said of different ways of doing church, too. It’s all good. ~Peace~

  • http://www.OfDustAndKings.com T. E. Hanna

    DRT-

    I think introversion and individualism are different. The problem I see in much of western Christianity is the notion that “I can do Jesus all by myself.”

    When I speak of community, I am not apeaking of showing up to sunday morning worship (though corporate worship is a discipline that cultivates the soul). What I am instead speaking of is the sense of community by which we engage life and faith together. It is in this context where we pray for each other, care for each other, confess to one another, and hold one another accountable. The sad truth is that, as a species, we have an uncanny ability to deceive ourselves, and we need one another not only to carry each other through the difficult times, but also to reveal to each other our own inevitable self deception. This is why small groups, the topic of this article, are so vitally important.

    There is another aspect of community, as well. God is so imensely marvelous, that I simply cannot experience His fullness alone. My personality will interact with him in a different way than yours, in the same manner as two siblings interact with their parents differently than one another. We are each unique, and encounter God uniquely. This means that you will have experienced aspects of God that I never imagined, and vice versa. Without you to reveal that aspect to me, I may never know that side of Him exists, much less connect with it. But when you reveal God to me in a fresh, new way… my own encounter with Him just grew to allow a little more God in.

    Introverts will naturally gravitate towards the personal disciplines, just as an extrovert will naturally gravitate towards the social disciplines. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I just believe that sometimes, the things which atretch us beyond our comfort zones move us to new depths. However, I will also say that such stretching generally needs to be prompted by and led by the Holy Spirit, not some crackpot on the other side of a keyboard (such as myself). ;)

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I appreciate Daniel’s words, and also appreciate (again) how difficult it is to find good fellowship w/ people who share our passion for Jesus lived out in our communities (not just inside some walls, among a certain group of people ministering to one another). Thanks.

    DRT, we’ve skated close a few times. We’ll be praying for you & for your family as you seek – in all the ways you need to seek!


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