It seems in recent posts we have been pondering the issue of what it means to live the Jesus-life (with Him and in the world incarnationally) as the priority over getting caught up with the form that church takes.
This reminds me of a recent quote by Frank Viola in theooze.com:
Before we can truly understand anything meaningful about the church, we must first be captured by a consuming revelation of the Person for whom it exists. Therefore, we must always begin with the Lord Jesus. We must always start with Him.
If we start out with the church, instead of with the One for whom it lives, we will end up with something quite distorted. As one writer put it:
"The church is so important! Yet her significance fades away compared to the glory of our Christ Himself. We face grave dangers when we ‘major' on the church and especially on its ‘structure.' We should major on the Lord and minor on the church . . . at most . . . If Christ is not exalted, we are building on sand, using wood, hay, and stubble as materials. All will be burned up. Whenever Christians, throughout the age, have built on a foundation other than Christ, the storms have come and living churches have fallen into spiritual death."
Thus, I ask the question, what is really the goal here?
It sometimes seems that the assumption is that the goal is to plant churches. We may word it in different ways: start new communities, reproduce organic churches, plant house churches, etc, etc. In fact, I acknowledge that many, in the "house church movement" that I more-or-less-relate to, assume that this is the goal. In fact, from my missiological "training," planting churches is pretty much the end-all: "a community of believers within reach of every person in every ethnic group."
But is this really "the goal?"
I, personally, would love to see a community of believers, who are gathering together and expressing kingdom life, within reach of every person on the earth. I think God would love to see that. But does that make it "the goal?" What we focus on ("the goal") often takes on a distorted sense of importance. Thus, Viola's point: "If we start out with the church [as the goal]... we will end up with something quite distorted.
Is it even proper to think in terms of "a goal?"
I would like to suggest that Jesus did have "goals" in mind, but that they are very different than what we tend to consider.
He clearly had the goal (or at least the intention) to proclaim the reality of Kingdom life (the presence, reign, and life of God is now available) to many, many people within his assigned mission field (Israel). Furthermore, he had the goal (intention) to touch people's lives: healing, freeing, blessing, etc.
I think the reason we look past these "people-oriented" goals is that they are not functionally measurable--thus they do not really fit into our western method of intentional living. We want to see a functional end-point and then we can strategize the steps to get there. Thus we like to start by envisiong a functional-type goal such as the formation of a church community, or the planting of churches.
Despite Jesus' desire (most likely) to see communities of believers supporting and loving one another, I think he was focused on something more basic as His priority: bringing life to people. I suspect we know that this is the goal, but we (I) tend to default into a way of thinking that says: "the best way to bring life to people is to plant effective, simple communities that will thrive and thus support people's spiritual life." But, the moment I have done this, I may have turned my eyes off the real goal: loving, healing, freeing people.
Do I think communities are important? Absolutely! Jesus assumed that believers would support and love one another in community life. I just sense (as I talk and listen to many, many people) that we so quickly move our eyes away from loving people into the more functional world that we are comfortable with: set functional goals, make plans, and move toward the objectives that have been set. Without realizing it, our own goal-oriented agendas become the focus while the objects of God's love and purposes (people) become secondary to our own functional plans and goals.
Can loving God, hearing Him, and loving the people assigned to me really be a sufficient goal? I think it must be. I think it's difficult. For me, it's a challenge. But I believe if I can remain free of my need-to-be-in-control-of-a-goal-oriented-process, I will be freer to be involved in the work of loving people that I am called to. I believe the end result of this is that we will see the kingdom's message and power spread to every ethnic group. He will do it while I learn to stay focused on my part.