For those of you who enjoyed Divine Nobodies, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Jim Palmer’s latest has just been released: Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity. I read this quite a few months ago when it was still in manuscript form. I’ll have to say, I liked his first one a whole lot better, but this one has some wonderful moments in it as well.
Here’s what I wrote about about it: “Wide Open Spaces is an unabashed invitation to sail out of the shallows of stagnant, repetitive Sunday-only religion and plunge into the adventure of a life lived alongside Jesus in the wild, open currents of every day life. As Jim attests, the rewards far outweigh the risks!”
My favorite chapter is called, “Here is the Church, and Here is the Steeple.” I think this one chapter is worth the cost of the whole book. Here are some excerpts to whet your appetite.
(About his days as a pastor) I came dangerously close to implying that organizational involvement was the very essence of Christianity. A Christian faithfully attended services, programs, events, and classes, tithed, filled a needed position or served on a committee in the church, and pulled his or her weight in contributing to a steady stream of visitors.
Looking back, I sometimes wonder if we really were a ‘community.’ Seems like what we were facilitating was mostly meeting-based relationships. People would attend services, classes, programs, and groups, but outside the scheduled meeting time, there wasn’t much interaction between these people and the rest of the week until the next meeting rolled around. When the class or group came to an end, for all practical purposes so did the ‘relationships.’
. . . The last few years I’ve discovered that it’s not necessary to have buildings and classrooms, staff and programs, or even incorporate as a 501c3 organization and have a name in order to be the church. You can if you want to, but you don’t have to. Regardless of how you do it, what constitutes church is relationships—with God, people and the world. For me, ‘church’ is taking place in some form or fashion every where, all the time, with everybody. It involves an endless number of interactions and encounters that largely go unnoticed by the rest of the world. But it’s through those very unassuming daily happenings that God is transforming others and me.
When I say our experience of church is ‘everywhere, all the time, with everybody,” what I mean is that we experience the significant components typically associated with church life—such as worship, discipleship, fellowship, mission, service, . . . and giving—through an infinite number of combinations of places, times and people.
. . . I guess to some people this idea of church, ‘all the time, everywhere, with everybody’ may seem a bit chaotic, disorderly or flying by the seat of your pants. Admittedly there’s been a time or two I’ve considered trying to help things along a bit, but I’ve seen God is capable of working matters out just fine on his own.
. . . Church buildings are not essential to the true nature of the church. Christianity has no holy places, only holy people. Christians did not begin to build church buildings until about AD 200. I’m not saying church buildings are wrong. There are all kinds of practical advantages to having a place where people can gather for any given number of purposes. However, Jesus sayd ‘go,’ or disperse to where people are; but at times our church buildings can reverse it to say ‘come’ to where we are. During the first 150 years the Christian church had not even heard of church buildings. In those days the church was a mobile, flexible, relational, humble, inclusive reality that spread like wildfire.
May she be so again!