“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”
We all have heard this familiar song.
Ironically, and let me know if I am off base here, we only hear this song sung in churches. Today, as a collective body seeking to experience Christ together, the “church” is having an identity crisis.
How do we experience God as a community within and outside of church? Maybe the question we first should ask is, how does God experience God’s self?
Theologically, if we are looking to try and understand God through relationship, we need not look any further than the Trinity, a shared space between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A term that best describes the relationship of the Trinity for me is perichoresis. Simply put, perichoresis describes how the three divine persons move and live in sharing a mutual relationship with one another. Each person in this divine dance takes turns giving equal space and care to one another. Their dance is eternally empowered by love. God is not just described as lovely or being like love, God is love (1 John 4:8). From this love, God extends to each of us space to join the divine dance with others as we live a life that mirrors the self-giving space of the Trinity. To make room we need to be open—to offer a willingness to have vulnerability with God, ourselves, and others. This is how we find our true self. God our creator embeds in each of us a divine image that calls out to be shared with each other.
A willingness to be vulnerable and to allow others to access the true self is a critical element in Christian community. In an environment where popular Christian culture often emphasizes the “personal relationship” between Christ and an individual, it is important to step back and consider the nature and importance of Christian community. Without undervaluing the importance of personal justification and individual sanctification, the concept of entering into relationship with others in a Christian context may flow from as fundamental an idea as the nature of God. Christians, with very few exceptions, embrace the doctrine of the Trinity, an understanding of God as three Persons of one substance – a God whose very nature is community. It can be argued that the very rationale for the creation of humanity was to become part of that community – to join into the circle of love that exists among the Persons of the Trinity.*
I use to live in the new monastic community called the Bonhoeffer House, which is part of the Epworth Project where we sought to befriend individuals in our local community through hosting weekly community meals. Elaine Heath, who co-founded the Bonhoeffer House, came to one of our weekly meals a few years ago and was chatting with one of our neighbors, David, who happened to be homeless. Elaine asked him, “David, what is it that you like about coming to the weekly meals here?” David told her, “You know, I could go out and find five different places to get food around Dallas, but they all lack something that this place has. Here in this house, I can come and be apart of a family, a true community by getting to share great in conversations with others.”
Our identity and shared experiences of God are not isolated to being found just within a building. Rather, we find God’s presence within one another, as God so evidently intended it to be, that we might find ourselves by finding a common experience of love.
Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:
How has God been made known to you through the sacred power of relationships?
What steps could you take to create room, to be open, and vulnerable with God, yourself, and others as you seek experiencing God in community?
*Larry Duggins, Simple Harmony: Thoughts on Holistic Christian Life (South Lake, TX: Columkille Press, 2012).