Several years ago (before knowing that we would, one day, end up in Italy), I attended a conference put on by the American Waldensian Society in Rome related to “Essere Chiesa Insieme” (Being Church Together). I wrote about it here.
In August, I became the pastor of an “Essere Chiesa Insieme” church. Indeed, that church helped begin the movement.
Last week I attended a training event in Braunfels, Germany for leaders of “international congregations.” It was an eye-opening, instructive, and life-giving week, and I returned from it with an even stronger conviction in the concept of Being Church Together.
All of my close friends know that I live in Palermo, Italy. Most of them know that I’m pastoring three different congregations, in three different communities, at three different places on their journey toward increasing faithfulness. Many, however, have asked about this Being Church Together thing. What is it? What does it mean? How does it work?
I’m still learning, of course (and hope to never stop), but I’d like to describe it a bit for those of you who wonder what I’m talking about when I say “Essere Chiesa Insieme” or “Being Church Together.”
The concept is based on two very simple beliefs:
- We are united in and through Christ, and
- Unity based in anything other than Christ is a cheap imitation of the real thing.
The difficulty with these two beliefs (despite being profoundly biblical) is that, it is dramatically easier to live out unity based language, culture, background, or tradition that it is to live out that which we have in Christ across differences of language, culture, background, and tradition.
In other words: it is even more difficult to live out the unity we have in Christ without unity in those other areas. (Put bluntly: it is immensely complicated to worship together, study the Bible together, seek justice together, and reach out to the world together when we don’t speak the same language, assume the same cosmology, enjoy a common history, or work from within similar cultural priorities.)
Being Church Together is the commitment to do the hard work of living out our unity in Christ.
It’s that simple. (Theoretically)
Of course theoretical simplicity is often less than helpful in practice.
“Unity in Christ” is one thing.
Not worshiping as you “always have,” engaging a new worship vocabulary (musically, liturgically, etc.), accepting diverse (secondary) doctrines, risking the death of your own “sacred cows,” embracing people who smell, look, act, speak, eat, and dress differently, and confronting racial, cultural, denominational, and linguistic biases (and prejudices, and privileges) is something very different. It may be “fun” and “inspiring” for a few days or a weeks at a retreat or conference, but to do it or months, years, or even decades is an exhausting journey of never-ending transformation (by everyone involved).
It is easier to be a monoethnic, monolingual, monocultural congregation. Indeed, the more times you can mention “mono-” in your congregational identity, the easier “being church” becomes.
But “being church” without “being together” is a pretty good indication that a congregation has (sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally) based their unity on something other than Christ.
So, what is Being Church Together (as I understand it)?
It is the commitment to “be church” and “be together” faithfully with those around you – it is a fundamental commitment to respecting “inter-” and “multi-” rather than (en)forcing a false (though often simpler) “mono-.”
Which raises the question: How does it work?
Well, that’s where things start getting interesting.
To do it faithfully, it has to be done differently in every context.
Faithfully “Being Church Together” means valuing each individual in the body, and that – by very definition – means doing things differently in each community.
My recent thoughts (as I’ve been thinking about this in my communities) have revolved these 7 questions:
- Are we really (honestly!) committed to being together with “them” (whomever “they” are)?
- Which values, of each person and group, do we have to respect?
- What strengths do each person and group bring to the table?
(Note: sometimes we have to respect things that, in our opinion, are not “strengths.”)
- What assumptions and preferences, of each person and group, can be and/or need to be challenged?
- What weaknesses do we have to take into consideration?
(Note: “weakness” in this sense is not an indication of “goodness” or “badness.”)
- What needs to be changed in order for us to “be church” and “be together” more and more effectively?
- How are these things changing as we look at the different generations in our community?
I’m certainly a work-in-progress here. As always, I’d love your thoughts?