Community Without Conformity, Collaboration Without Control

In a conversation almost twenty years ago, someone asked me how I thought the church should function. At the time I was still enjoying how much the Father’s love was reshaping my relationship with him and with others. I remember responding, “The church? Honestly that’s not my priority right now. I’m still exploring what it means to live loved and may not even get back to the church for another ten years.”

Well, it took me a bit longer than that. At the time, I thought everything had to do with the church. I had been in leadership positions in various institutions for twenty years, convinced that if we could just get church right, people would have the relationship with God they wanted. But that didn’t happen, especially because all of my experience with church had to do with conformity-based environments. Someone had a vision or a program and community only rose out commitment to that task. But as I was soon to find out, when you’re no longer on that task the “church” relationships evaporate.

That’s not to say I didn’t have numerous fruitful and endearing relationships within this groups, but they were still influenced by our need to believe the same things. That’s what’s wrong with conformity-based environments, people try to fit in often by trying to say and do the right things, rather than being open, honest, and real about their spiritual lives. And a conformity-based environment has to be controlled by some kind of leadership structure that has unquestioned authority. What has amazed me is how many of those relationships reconnected years later and with the corporate structure was no longer between us how freely and quickly the friendships deepened in our passion for Jesus.

For the last fifteen years, I’ve been able to taste of community with other believers all over the world who, when they are deeply related to God as Father can share community without conformity and collaboration without control. Of course, that only works where Jesus stays at the center of each heart and where people are not going to bully others to get what they need. That sometimes happens when weaker brothers and sister seek to exploit the community or collaboration for their own agenda. So maybe true community can seem transient at times, particularly with the failures of people, but I’ve also known community friendships that have transcended decades and their is nothing richer and more engaging than that.

So now I find myself contemplating community again. How can we share vibrant, growing friendships and share the life of Jesus together without someone having to impose their plan, vision, or program? And I’m excited at how subversive love-based relationships can be in revealing Jesus to the world. We cannot create real community by human effort, but we can cultivate the environment around us in which real relationships can connect and grow as we follow Jesus. We can watch him knit friendships together in larger networks freely and joyfully and watch what kind of amazing collaborations can unfold from that. It’s what he’s about in the world, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10) His church is not expressed in the man-made institutions that have co-opted the terminology, but in the lives of those who have been drawn into relationship with him, and the growing conversation and unity of heart and spirit that comes from walking alongside others who are also growing in that relationship.

Can you imagine a growing network of people who simply love and care about others enough to walk together without demand and expectation? There’s nothing more incredible than warm friendships sharing a relationship with God and for the next season I’m want to explore that more, especially with seasoned saints around the world who are tired of man-made illusions of community and want to have a conversation about how we cooperate with what God is doing to break down the dividing walls of that shatter relationships, and learn to truly live in love. The current podcast at The God Journey, A Greater Gathering, unpacks this desire to help people participate in that greater gathering Jesus is calling out of the world, beyond the limitations and abuses of our religious institutions into authentic connections and real friendships.

If you only listen to one podcast this year, this is the one you will want to hear. There is a greater gathering going on in the world that transcends whether or not your part of a regular congregations, that’s not based in your attendance at a meeting or your faithful cooperation to someone’s program. Rather, it is based on the deep and engaging friendships of those whose lives are being transformed by Jesus, so they don’t have to live protectively and defensively in the world, but generously and sacrificially because they are at rest in Father’s care for them. The conformity and control won’t be the issue, but growing relationship with him. I want to have that conversation with all kinds of people around the world and see what Father has been seeding in the hearts of those who’ve been learning to live in his love for decades, that may help us see how he is gathering his flock together.

I don’t know of a person whose passionate for God who doesn’t yearn for real and fruitful community. Jesus put the desire for connection in the human heart that only he can fulfill and then we can see it reflected in friendship with others as well. It may have often been disappointed by those who only wanted to use it for their own gain, or those who tried to pressure us to serve their agenda. We’ve confused our church institutions, for the reality of the church itself. But I’ve seen the firstfruits of that real community all over the world and I want to be part of a growing conversation that explores how we can engage these kinds of friendships and help others do so as well. This next week a local group of people are going to begin that conversation here, and I hope the podcast spurs on a wider conversation that will help others see the church Jesus is building and engage it with him, without the need to control people, or prod them toward a conformity that subverts the transforming power of Jesus in the human heart.

It’s not ours to do, but it may be ours to see him more clearly what he is already doing.

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16 Comments
  1. bo salisbury January 20, 2013 at 11:31 am

    this blog greatly refreshes my heart! just to know that there are countless believers who are discovering the Father’s love in a fresh way that fuels a passion to connect with others in true community. love the title! that pretty sums up what “church” should look like. loving it!

  2. bo salisbury January 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    this blog greatly refreshes my heart! just to know that there are countless believers who are discovering the Father’s love in a fresh way that fuels a passion to connect with others in true community. love the title! that pretty sums up what “church” should look like. loving it!

  3. Michele January 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I love this. My husband and I were never in the ministry. We were a part of a large congregation for 20 years. We became so discouraged with the conformity based institution, that 9 years ago we decided to leave. It was a painful time for us. We felt so misunderstood by people we loved dearly. Despite the pain, we felt God leading us away from that. The scary part was that we didn’t know where he was leading us to. At first it felt weird not going to a meeting every Sunday. We began to church shop. That lead us to many discouraging Sundays. Some dear friends of ours, who left the institution the same time we did, began coming over on Sundays and sharing a meal with us. We would often share things we were discovering on our journey as we were trying to separate religion from a relationship with Father. We would share books and online sermons and scriptures that spoke to us. We felt as though we were getting to know Jesus for the first time. It was exhilarating! Eventually we ran into others who left the group we had been a part of and they shared how lost they felt. We would encourage them with what we were discovering about Father and true fellowship. We never set out to build anything. Often we would get together on Sundays because that day just seemed the best time for everyone. There was no agenda when we would gather except what someone might suggest that we discuss when we get together next. Sometimes we’d share a meal together and sometimes we’d discuss a topic someone has had on their heart. We still do that to this day. Sometimes we meet every week and sometimes maybe once a month. At the end of our time together we usually say, do you guys want to get together next week? If it’s good for the majority, we meet. Sometimes it’s not good for the majority, but a couple will get together and hang out or watch a game or whatever. At times the gathering grows, at other times it shrinks to just my husband and I; then a new group emerges. Our dear friends moved to Florida when the recession hit. Others graduated from college or got married and moved away. Then others seemed to come our way. There has only been a few months in the last 8-9 years where there was no one meeting in our home. My husband and I also enjoyed that time. This is not something we are trying to build. The church is led by Him. One time my husband and I were invited to meet with a few people who just wanted to to get together and discuss Jesus on Wednesday nights. So we went to that a few times and then the guy who started it left, but the people kept wanting to meet and talk about Jesus. We decided to read through the book of John together and discuss it. There was no leader. Eventually the couple whose home we met in had decided to downsize to a smaller place and so the group began gathering at our house. We decided that Sunday worked better for everyone, so we moved the day we would gather. It’s been amazing to watch God work in our lives. It’s so freeing not having to try to create something or keep something going. We just figure there is a season for everything and we follow Jesus through whatever door he opens.

  4. Michele January 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    I love this. My husband and I were never in the ministry. We were a part of a large congregation for 20 years. We became so discouraged with the conformity based institution, that 9 years ago we decided to leave. It was a painful time for us. We felt so misunderstood by people we loved dearly. Despite the pain, we felt God leading us away from that. The scary part was that we didn’t know where he was leading us to. At first it felt weird not going to a meeting every Sunday. We began to church shop. That lead us to many discouraging Sundays. Some dear friends of ours, who left the institution the same time we did, began coming over on Sundays and sharing a meal with us. We would often share things we were discovering on our journey as we were trying to separate religion from a relationship with Father. We would share books and online sermons and scriptures that spoke to us. We felt as though we were getting to know Jesus for the first time. It was exhilarating! Eventually we ran into others who left the group we had been a part of and they shared how lost they felt. We would encourage them with what we were discovering about Father and true fellowship. We never set out to build anything. Often we would get together on Sundays because that day just seemed the best time for everyone. There was no agenda when we would gather except what someone might suggest that we discuss when we get together next. Sometimes we’d share a meal together and sometimes we’d discuss a topic someone has had on their heart. We still do that to this day. Sometimes we meet every week and sometimes maybe once a month. At the end of our time together we usually say, do you guys want to get together next week? If it’s good for the majority, we meet. Sometimes it’s not good for the majority, but a couple will get together and hang out or watch a game or whatever. At times the gathering grows, at other times it shrinks to just my husband and I; then a new group emerges. Our dear friends moved to Florida when the recession hit. Others graduated from college or got married and moved away. Then others seemed to come our way. There has only been a few months in the last 8-9 years where there was no one meeting in our home. My husband and I also enjoyed that time. This is not something we are trying to build. The church is led by Him. One time my husband and I were invited to meet with a few people who just wanted to to get together and discuss Jesus on Wednesday nights. So we went to that a few times and then the guy who started it left, but the people kept wanting to meet and talk about Jesus. We decided to read through the book of John together and discuss it. There was no leader. Eventually the couple whose home we met in had decided to downsize to a smaller place and so the group began gathering at our house. We decided that Sunday worked better for everyone, so we moved the day we would gather. It’s been amazing to watch God work in our lives. It’s so freeing not having to try to create something or keep something going. We just figure there is a season for everything and we follow Jesus through whatever door he opens.

  5. Don Newgent January 20, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    <> <> unquote
    That’s a bit condescending to those who find great joy in serving in or attending a large church. I’m blessed to have found a church well led, hungry to hear from God, and reach the lost, and I’m surely not alone. Yes there are limitations, and inevitably “abuses”, but you infer these are not “authentic connections and real friendships”.
    A Christian can walk for a while outside of the leadership of an ordained pastor/minister, but I see this as a form of rebellion. It takes discipline and patience to work with others just as flawed as we are. Isolating yourself from the “Church” may bring you closer to God, but that doesn’t seem scriptural to me. Seems like you need to forgive those in church who have hurt you, and allow them and yourself to grow from the experience instead of fleeing.
    I guess 10% of the test is met if you are truly being fed NY this new walk. The other 90% of the test is are you serving others and leading them to God? That’s as close as you could humanly get to being more Christ-like.

  6. Don Newgent January 21, 2013 at 12:11 am

    <> <> unquote
    That’s a bit condescending to those who find great joy in serving in or attending a large church. I’m blessed to have found a church well led, hungry to hear from God, and reach the lost, and I’m surely not alone. Yes there are limitations, and inevitably “abuses”, but you infer these are not “authentic connections and real friendships”.
    A Christian can walk for a while outside of the leadership of an ordained pastor/minister, but I see this as a form of rebellion. It takes discipline and patience to work with others just as flawed as we are. Isolating yourself from the “Church” may bring you closer to God, but that doesn’t seem scriptural to me. Seems like you need to forgive those in church who have hurt you, and allow them and yourself to grow from the experience instead of fleeing.
    I guess 10% of the test is met if you are truly being fed NY this new walk. The other 90% of the test is are you serving others and leading them to God? That’s as close as you could humanly get to being more Christ-like.

  7. maria glaser January 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I’m so glad, that i’ve got to know this page and also got to know wayne a little bit! it helps me a lot, when i’m reading or listening to his sermons. even i don’t understand it all…
    me and my husband are not in church for almost 18 month, i think. and it is not easy for us! but i really don’t wanna go to this type of church anymore! it seems like, you are just counting when you’re working in the church and give your tithe and come every sunday. but when you really need help, you are so alone… i’m not saying, that everbody in the church is like that – but we’ve been to three different churches and it really looks like that everywhere it’s almost the same. in these 18 months now, nobody called us from the last church we went to. or visited us. or helped us moving. and in the last homegroup, they helped us, but they wanted to start a new church. and i told them that i don’t wanna build a new church – i wanna live christianity! i don’t know how, but i try.
    i really feel led by God, that we’ve got out from church. it is not easy at all! in church you are so included and always doing something – and now it is so different. my husband said, the we don’t meet with any people anymore… ja, and somehow it is true. it is sad, that we are not interested anymore for the people we worked with and where we thought we are friends and we will help each other… but on the other hand i feel getting free – even i don’t know always what to do with this freedom and time.
    we have big problems financial. my husband is working on free donations in a christian kids and youth work here in dresden. it is a really good work, but you have to get supported by somebody. and that’s really hard at the moment, because our live is so changing at this time and we do not believe in this kind of church system anymore but we are still in that system somehow. for us thats a really hard thing! maybe somebody here has an encouraging word for us!

  8. maria glaser January 21, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    I’m so glad, that i’ve got to know this page and also got to know wayne a little bit! it helps me a lot, when i’m reading or listening to his sermons. even i don’t understand it all…
    me and my husband are not in church for almost 18 month, i think. and it is not easy for us! but i really don’t wanna go to this type of church anymore! it seems like, you are just counting when you’re working in the church and give your tithe and come every sunday. but when you really need help, you are so alone… i’m not saying, that everbody in the church is like that – but we’ve been to three different churches and it really looks like that everywhere it’s almost the same. in these 18 months now, nobody called us from the last church we went to. or visited us. or helped us moving. and in the last homegroup, they helped us, but they wanted to start a new church. and i told them that i don’t wanna build a new church – i wanna live christianity! i don’t know how, but i try.
    i really feel led by God, that we’ve got out from church. it is not easy at all! in church you are so included and always doing something – and now it is so different. my husband said, the we don’t meet with any people anymore… ja, and somehow it is true. it is sad, that we are not interested anymore for the people we worked with and where we thought we are friends and we will help each other… but on the other hand i feel getting free – even i don’t know always what to do with this freedom and time.
    we have big problems financial. my husband is working on free donations in a christian kids and youth work here in dresden. it is a really good work, but you have to get supported by somebody. and that’s really hard at the moment, because our live is so changing at this time and we do not believe in this kind of church system anymore but we are still in that system somehow. for us thats a really hard thing! maybe somebody here has an encouraging word for us!

  9. Cody Smith January 22, 2013 at 8:14 am

    It’s all good Wayne; however I would like to add something to the mix. Considering space allowed here let me say that while the traditional church model may be an end point for many, it could also be (perhaps necessarily) a starting point for others, who by their own individual pursuit of God, naturally out grow it. This has been my own progression, so I can only idealize another way. I think that as people are encouraged (however possible) to take personal responsibility for their own discipleship there will be a natural transition to freedom.

  10. Wayne January 22, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Couldn’t agree more, Cody. In many ways it is like grade school. The problem is they are trying to trap people in grade school for the whole of their lives, rather than rejoicing when the graduate into living full and free in Christ. The other concern is what they are being taught if it’s a high-conformity, submit-to-leadership unquestioningly, and guilt and fear driven establishment. I realize many aren’t, but there are many that are…

  11. Cody Smith January 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Clearly the more corrupt the system; the more it wants to perpetuate itself. Often by preying on human weaknesses; laziness, unwillingness to take responsibility and lack of courage. Following Jesus is simple, but it is NOT EASY! Clearly we must pray into this strategically, while carrying the torch of a better way and keep singing songs of freedom, setting captives free.

  12. Cody Smith January 22, 2013 at 11:14 am

    It’s all good Wayne; however I would like to add something to the mix. Considering space allowed here let me say that while the traditional church model may be an end point for many, it could also be (perhaps necessarily) a starting point for others, who by their own individual pursuit of God, naturally out grow it. This has been my own progression, so I can only idealize another way. I think that as people are encouraged (however possible) to take personal responsibility for their own discipleship there will be a natural transition to freedom.

  13. Wayne January 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, Cody. In many ways it is like grade school. The problem is they are trying to trap people in grade school for the whole of their lives, rather than rejoicing when the graduate into living full and free in Christ. The other concern is what they are being taught if it’s a high-conformity, submit-to-leadership unquestioningly, and guilt and fear driven establishment. I realize many aren’t, but there are many that are…

  14. Cody Smith January 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Clearly the more corrupt the system; the more it wants to perpetuate itself. Often by preying on human weaknesses; laziness, unwillingness to take responsibility and lack of courage. Following Jesus is simple, but it is NOT EASY! Clearly we must pray into this strategically, while carrying the torch of a better way and keep singing songs of freedom, setting captives free.

  15. Rolf D Paschen January 23, 2013 at 3:12 am

    We all do have our own biography, in religion and churches too, with good and bad experiences. As each person on this world is absolutely unique (wow!), God doesn’t seem to be a Lord of conformity – but of the unity of many individuals. Since mankind and religion are existing there have been endless quarrels who is right. Perhaps God is smiling or even angry about such silly debates? His Purpose is to reach the world and to redeem all His children – not only some saints who are struggling for the right performance and effective methods. That’s His Way and purpose for us too, I believe. So what about the 95 (less or more) percent of mankind who do have really no idea who God is and what ‘Good Message’ He is giving to all? I like Isaiah 55, 8-9 that we really only know a tiny bit … maybe there will be new forms of “cell churches” in the future to spread all over the world like today many appreciate mega churches? I hope and pray that our gracious and loving God will reveal this to each of us … one day one step in His Will and Time … Praise the Lord!

  16. Rolf D Paschen January 23, 2013 at 6:12 am

    We all do have our own biography, in religion and churches too, with good and bad experiences. As each person on this world is absolutely unique (wow!), God doesn’t seem to be a Lord of conformity – but of the unity of many individuals. Since mankind and religion are existing there have been endless quarrels who is right. Perhaps God is smiling or even angry about such silly debates? His Purpose is to reach the world and to redeem all His children – not only some saints who are struggling for the right performance and effective methods. That’s His Way and purpose for us too, I believe. So what about the 95 (less or more) percent of mankind who do have really no idea who God is and what ‘Good Message’ He is giving to all? I like Isaiah 55, 8-9 that we really only know a tiny bit … maybe there will be new forms of “cell churches” in the future to spread all over the world like today many appreciate mega churches? I hope and pray that our gracious and loving God will reveal this to each of us … one day one step in His Will and Time … Praise the Lord!

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