Monday, February 19, 2018

Gathered vs. Scattered and the Middle Ring

To get this out of the way up front,... apologies in advance to my former colleague Pastor Ben Loos here,... the "Middle Ring" is not a Tolkien reference : )

I remember a few years back some friends mentioning that they had neighbours who were not Christians but who were interested in spending more time with them. The comment that was then made to my friends by their neighbours was, "but we know how busy you are with your church activities." Through the years, this comment has made me think more carefully on what is faithfulness to serving God's Kingdom- most of us who have been around "church" for a while generally think of faithfulness defined by what Neil Hudson in his book Imagine Church calls "gathered church" activities. If the doors of the church are open and there are events offered there, or if church members are gathering for a mid-week activity, then we feel a bit guilty if we do not participate or show up to those particular activities. The next Sunday we show up and the pastor may say to us, "I noticed you weren't at the neighbourhood outreach the other day" and shame begins to wash over us. But truth of the matter is that we may have been spending time with those particular neighbours that evening who had commented not so long ago regarding "how busy you are with your church activities." Perhaps we were being faithful to the very thing the neighbourhood outreach at the church facility was seeking to model for all of our members, being a faithful presence to others in our own neighbourhoods and places of habitation.

The reality of our lives in a place like Vancouver is that we find ourselves scattered throughout the city, given an assortment of economic factors our city brings to us. The older idea of making a conscious decision to move into the same neighbourhood together, preferably close to the church facility for the sake of community and mission, is simply not an option for many here in our city, especially for Grace Vancouver Church members where we find our church building to be located in the very expensive west side of Vancouver and in an area of town where there are primarily one and two bedroom apartments (our primary demographic at the church is young families). I believe here Neil Hudson helps us greatly by getting us to think about the roughly 2-10 hours per week we might spend in "gathered church" activities; Hudson then adds up the rest of the hours of the week, minus necessary sleep time and calls those engagements "scattered church" activities, since the Church is about God's people, not so much a bricks and mortar building. He comes up with roughly 110 hours that represent the rest of a typical week. We are still Christ's Church during the week as we scatter, as we are when we gather on the Lord's Day and take on other ministry initiatives together. Hudson uses the number "10" symbolically by simply calling "gathered church" activities the "10." He then calls "scattered church" activities the "110." And the question Hudson brings up is this, how do we see the "110" being as significant as the "10" for faithful service to the Kingdom of God? After all, Hudson makes the point, as the subtitle of his book goes, that what we are to be doing as the Church is "releasing whole-life disciples."

Hudson then goes on to draw concentric circles where the church building and gathered church activities around the building, whether they be neighbourhood outreaches near or around the church facility or Sunday worship gatherings, is the centre. The outer ring is what Hudson calls "big issues of our world" engagements; so in the outer ring is the church's involvement in world missions or meaningful acts of justice and mercy through orphan care, serving the underserved in our communities, refugee care, as a few examples. But what about the middle ring? The middle ring is comprised of our daily contexts that involve our neighbourhoods, workplaces, families, networks of influence. The middle ring represents each of our "110." The middle ring represents most of our lives actually and is a place of meaningful mission for each of us.

If we begin to teach that the "110" is a very significant place of ministry, even possibly the primary place of it for our members, then how does this shape how we manage expectations for "gathered church" events? In one of our membership vows at Grace Vancouver, our members make the promise to "support GV in its worship and work to the best of our ability." How do we encourage our members to do that, but also manage expectations so that their "110" is also a significant part of GV's "worship and work"? What if we began by saying that the Lord's Day gathering of worship on Sundays is the one great non-negotiable where we must come together as members of the Body of Christ that is not only global, but also local and found in particular places? But what if we then helped our members work out, in very intentional ways, where their involvement in the "10" might be from that point forward, to equip them more effectively to be faithful stewards of God's Kingdom in all of life, in the "110" as well?

Now, admittedly, the tricky thing in all this is, that we are far more "alone" when we are "scattered" than when we are "gathered." And here we see why Christian believers in certain parts of the world where there is little Gospel influence tend to become insular because they are so hungry for the fellowship of other believers, and so tend to focus much more on coming together than on the difficulty of being out in the world. So the question that I'm asking is, how do we equip one another in the middle ring, i.e. the "110," which makes up the majority of our lives, but how do we do this without leaving the individual members of our church family "alone," without proper support and the strengthening they need from fellow church members throughout each week?

What do you think?


Ben Loos said...

You're forgiven

The Allen Revue said...


These are helpful thoughts. The "middle ring" challenges Nebraskans who tend to compartmentalize church activities and secular activities. A while ago, I became a chess coach at my son's school and felt this to be a significant ministry opp but had a little pushback as in the mind of a few, it didn't seem strategic to my pastoral job. Maybe they were right. Not sure. Still processing with you. I'm sure I could plan big outreach events so that others in the Chrisitan community could point to it and validate that I am doing my job, but that seems to miss the point of what you describe above.