Last weekend we had the pleasure of hosting a group of students from the Praxis Urban Discipleship program at Columbia Bible College. I love what this program represents: a year of urban theology and practice with the intention of creating space for students to discern their futures. Great stuff! David Warkentin, a fellow Anabaptist, runs the program. He brought about ten students to our home last Saturday night to discuss urban church planting in a post-Christian environment.
Instead of simply doing an interview format (although such conversation was built into the evening), we ate Vegetarian Thai food, sang together, recited liturgy, and took Holy Communion. We gave them a mini-experience of our worship ethos. What a great group of folks to center on Jesus with!
This week, on his blog, David reflects on his group’s time in Seattle. He talks about our community (which they experienced in a “mock” form) and Mars Hill. He makes some interesting points.
Before sharing an excerpt, I want say that this post isn’t supposed to create a platform for either: 1) talking about how great it is that an Anabaptist group can finally put the prolific pastor of MH in his place, 2) creating an “us vs. them” space. The LAST thing that we want to be as a church plant is to become defined by what we are “not” or what we are “against.” Thus, David’s title “From House Church to Mega-Church” ought to keep us focused on the point of his reflection. He starts out by talking about Pangea Communities – a movement of peace, justice, & hope:
Saturday evening was spent with a house-church movement called Pangea Communities in which we experienced a dinner and communion service – a sort-of hybrid of their typical gatherings. Warm hospitality and connection was coupled with a new experience for all of us: “Anabaptist Liturgical Charismatic worship” (as described by leader Kurt Willems). It was rich.
In the morning we attended Mars Hill Church Downtown, a campus of the famed megachurch led by Mark Driscoll (who preached live at the service we attended). I was grateful he didn’t talk about pacifism (!!!) Students were actively processing the contrast of the mega church service with the house-church experience of the night before….
It was interesting, however, to observe how and where community fit into each particular expression of church. As a house church, everything Pangea Communities does flows from relationship together as sisters and brothers in Christ, to the point of where any language spoken in the group is intentionally corporate (e.g. “I” is changed to “we” in familiar songs). For Mars Hill Church, preaching and singing focus on the profound meaning of personal faith and life in Christ, with the value on community mentioned in announcements following the service.
It was clear that both groups firmly believe community is important for Christians. Community is a gospel truth in this sense. But how we emphasize community will invariably influence how we practice it. The medium (i.e. how community is presented) is the message. In a house church gathering, the very practices of eating together and having open discussion reflect a centrality of faith and community. In a megachurch gathering, a format of teaching and singing that aims at developing a vibrant personal faith has community as an extension of such faith.This isn’t a right or wrong issue. But it is different.