Thursday, 21 May 2015

Church and the need for diversity

“Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else.” Albert Einstein

"The man who thinks he knows something does yet not know as he ought to know." 1 Cor 8:2

Research in the fields of psychology and sociology point out: people connect through similarities and dislike differences. Organizations such as churches are and teams, like leadership teams are, always tend to become more homogeneous over time, because we just don’t like ‘other things’. They disturb us. But as comforting homogeneity is homogeneity is the enemy of creativity and necessary innovation. Homogeneity is an enemy to the stranger as he challenges the established group thinking, the ‘majority rules’ atmosphere and puts light to individual and congregational blind spots.
“When you think yours is the only true path you forever chain yourself to judging others and narrow the vision of God. The road to righteousness and arrogance is a parallel road that can intersect each other several times throughout a person's life. It’s often hard to recognize one road from another. What makes them different is the road to righteousness is paved with the love of humanity. The road to arrogance is paved with the love of self.” Shannon L. Alder
That’s the reason why leadership is necessary and needs to foster diversity and protect minority voices. Leadership in the church can't be satisfied with the status quo. Leadership in the church is more than personal leadership but deals with real, difficult issues, tensions, resistance and has to strike the right balance between ‘connection’ in sameness and ‘provoking distress’ in differences. Both is needed.
“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.” Gene Roddenberry

Bonds through common experiences

We all see the world differently, and we all notice different things—and yet we are being profoundly bound to others by shared experiences. Shared experiences often lead to forming strong bonds with people who share their very specific experiences and keep even slightly different others at bay.

Emerson and Smith write, "People are comfortable with different worship styles, want to be with familiar people, and have different expectations about congregations. For this reason, if congregations end up being . . . homogenous, it is acceptable, if not preferable."

But since we spend most of our time with people who are demographically, attitudinally, and who have similar experiences, our new experiences continues to be with people who look, think, act, and experience the world like us already. This not only strengthens the existing bond but also creates barriers for outsiders.
“Keep your language. Love its sounds, its modulation, its rhythm. But try to march together with men of different languages, remote from your own, who wish like you for a more just and human world.” Helder Camara
As a result, our overall experience of live and truth is further restricted and we fall deeper into homogeneity to the point of segregation, the church becomes about us.
"However, the numerous Christians who gravitate toward churches that are filled with people who look, talk, worship, think and experience life like them are unaware of the dark side of division. In fact, most people don't see homogeneity as a problem as long as it's not motivated by explicit prejudice." Christena Cleveland
I think this to be a common blind spot in the life of many churches as this kind of thinking overlooks the bidirectional relationship between separation (homogeneity) and prejudice. Division between groups leads to prejudice and prejudice leads to division between groups. Further humans naturally create group thinking and categories that makes us, us, and them, them. Our church becomes about us.

Yet there is the question; "Is the church about meeting my need or is the church about helping me to grow, helping me to move to where I need to be?

One of my favourite theologians Miroslov Wolf challenges our natural tendency, a tendency we are too easily content with by pointing out, "When God sets out to embrace the enemy, the result is the cross. . . . Having been embraced by God, we must make space for others in ourselves and invite them in -- even our enemies."

In short, Christ's work on the cross does not eradicates our natural inclination for deprecatory distinctions between cultures, denominations, between us and them. Rather, we are being together a new household of love and ongoing reconciliation. The commands "Love your neighbour as yourself" and "love your enemy" challenges our natural distinctions such as culture, race, gender, theology, and appearance. Distinction that gave us identity and comfort. But we have now a new identity in and through Christ. Our common experience of being forgiven, being made part of the new family through the coming of the Holy Spirit must be the new bond maker. Jesus while in the midst of enormous pain, thought of the need and pain of others. forming new forms of bonds, "'Dear woman, here is your son.' and to the new son he said, "'Here is your mother.And yet, if we are truly honest with each other, we apply these commands to love almost exclusively to those who are first family, who are near, familiar and like us --- people with whom it is natural and easy to be neighbours and at peace with.

It is true, much has been accomplished since Martin Luther King stated an obvious fact, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning,” and yet much is getting lost as sameness rules more and more. Not just sameness in culture, colour and clothing but in thinking. And there are reasons for that. For both emotional and cognitive reasons, the process of forming and maintaining groups with people who are similar to us is logical, powerful, requires less work and is all too natural.

Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interaction, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems. Still further, familiarity is the most powerful predictor to friendship. The more we interact with the person, the more familiar we become with them. The more familiar we become, the less guarded we are, the more we tend to trust them, the more we like them. "One research study revealed that people rate individuals they hazily recall seeing somewhere but don't fully recognize as more honest, intelligent, and physically attractive than individuals who are completely unfamiliar" (CC, emphasis mine).

Certainly, from an emotional point of view it makes sense to spend time with those who are familiar to us and similar to us, but did Jesus?

It is a cycle, we are drawn to people who are just like us -- and they are commonly the only ones around us long enough to influence us. Our homogeneity within our circle, is like a cage. On one hand it provides comfort and prevents dissension. On the other side, however, it hinders us to become familiar with culturally different people and to open up to new experiences and challenges. Hence if people come to our church, we expect them to become like us fast.

This can even lead to an artificial theological homogeneity which makes the process of spiritual growth and therefore of discipleship seam to be almost undesirable from the perspective of comfort and harmony. Something the author of the book of Hebrew lamented and laments today.

The role of leadership

And here is indeed the dilemma, the conundrum for the local church and particularly its local leadership: reaching out is hard, inviting strangers is unnatural and it is much easier to work with like-minded people. After all, if people who seem familiar are more likeable and people who are completely unfamiliar are less likeable, and we are going to befriend the people who are familiar more readily. And so within leadership, how open are we to new people, new needs, new experiences, new thoughts, and new friends? The people who seem familiar are the ones that are around us -- our neighbours, classmates, colleagues, the people in our church we are comfortable with. Therefore leadership need to challenge the natural inclination to hang out with like-minded people, precisely Jesus did not do it either.

“If contemporary Christians took seriously the possibility that those outside the boundaries of the church might hold the promise of renewal, if we ceased regarding ourselves as the source of salvation and the secular world as a potential threat, and if we emulated Jesus' example in accepting the faith and the courage of those who live beyond conventional standards of purity, well, I can hardly imagine how things would look.” Greg Cary
Unfortunately, many are either utterly unaware of these natural blind spots and biases, or they simply justify it as natural. Consequently, the people around us, in our churches, happens to be a lot like us, and the stranger, the sinner who could challenge us are beyond us.

Harmony can only be found in diversity  
"I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better." Plutrach

One of my favoured music is from Haydn, Creation. Different instruments, notes, voices and different parts, but my experience was that of harmony, a beautiful blend of differences. Through the diversity and then unity of their arrangement, great beauty came forth. Stunning beauty not through uniformity but through arranged, ordered diversity.

The church is not dissimilar to an orchestrate. God takes very different people, with very different experiences, skills, backgrounds and lives and gives them one new common experience ... forgiveness to which the Holy Spirit testifies. He made something new, a new beautiful arrangement of our lives. But only as we die to our old, to ourselves, we live, love and serve Him and the world he has sent us to.

God's very own nature, Three-in-One, in perfect harmony to one another points to the true and intended nature of our humanness, being made in His image. Humans, male and female are created in His image as persons-in-relationship, forever confronted with differences among them and towards God, yet called to harmony. Diversity is at the core of a relational creation that reflects God nature. Differences expressed in mutual love not only honour God, not only reflect God's image in us, but is witnessing to the very nature of love and therefore of God.

But instead learning to appreciate eternal diversity, humans sought after sameness with God, sought after homogeneity in the wrong way. We wanted to do away with natural differences, instead worshiping the sameness of self. But the robust diversity in kind and gender in creation is natural, it calls for dying to self in an ongoing and profound way.

Therefore, in the sameness of our experience of forgiveness as witnessed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we connect, whereas in the differences of our personalities, cultures, theologies, traditions, thinking and likes we grow!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Christs' Twitt Pitch to people

Come, follow me, and I will make you instruments through which I will change the world --  
I will make you fishers of men.

Jesus had a clarity of purpose, he came to change the world by saving it. His pitch, if you want is about invited ordinary people who basically lived like most people today from day to day to have suddenly an answer to their nagging question -- "Is this life with all its struggle all there is?" Suddenly, they became part of something bigger than they had dreamed off, and all they had to do was following.

We are living in a society that increasingly lets go of a somewhat cohesive Christian world view, and so imagine; You've just bumped into a former classmate at the airport, perhaps a former colleague or neighbour. After exchanging some pleasantries, he asks you what your life looks like these days. You open your mouth, and then pause. Where on earth do you start?

A little tip, how we perceive ourselves is of some but little consequences, how others perceive us is far more important.

Then, as you try to organize your thoughts, the flight is called for the first time, and he is on his way. If you'd been better prepared, you're sure that he'd have seen a different you from what he knew.
We catch them and God cleans them.
This is one situation where it helps to have an "elevator pitch." This is a short, pre-prepared speech sentence that encapsulates what your life is all about clearly and succinctly. It is so compelling that it ignites action, produces questions and wonders.

A vision statement of a church is suppose to be equally brief, and persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in what your church does, its core purpose. It is the sole of presenting and summarizing the purpose of Christ and hence of the church to the one who is listening for but a brief moment. Every church, and every person in the church should have a purpose and everything the church embarks on should emanate from that core purpose. It is the foundation platform, a sharp articulation what the church was born to change. Every ministry the church produces should be measured against this benchmark, because otherwise good ministry endeavors can make the core purpose get lost at least to the intended audience.

By always referring back to the core purpose the church will not stray away from its vision to change the world. It is like a lighthouse when we being tempted by good ideas but that do not bring us closer to the purpose.

A good pitch should last no longer than very short 10 seconds or so. A vision equally should be clear and succinct and should paint a quick distilled picture of the core message of the church. The vision should be interesting, memorable, and succinct. They also need to explain what makes you – or your organization, product, or idea – unique and worth pursuing.

A little tip, your focus must be intentionally someone who has no or only very little understanding of your church, take great pain to have a proper content in the vision statement. 

If you cannot short form the message and purpose of the church, hence your self-understanding your ministry lacks clarity.It also helps us to be preoccupied with the core rather than the peripherals; are you fishing or are you preoccupied with the lure, the net, the boat, location, time, clothing, ambiance or feelings?

Creating a Twitt Pitch

It can take some time to get your 144 character pitch right. For one it will help you to better understand your own belief about your core purpose, and who the audience is you seek to reach! You'll likely go through several versions of your vision statement before finding one that is compelling, and that sounds natural in conversation.
Follow some steps to create a great pitch, but bear in mind that you'll need to vary your approach depending on who your audience, other than yourself, is suppose to be.

1. Identify Your Core Goal

Start by thinking about the main objective of your pitch. Apple for example is not in the compute business but according to their vision in the empowerment business. Niki is not in the sneaker or fitness business but in the personal goals business, Molsen is not in the beer business but is in the party business. A company can not articulate a elevator pitch/vision statement unless if fully understand in what business it is in, but neither can a church. Just as particular products do not lead to customer loyalty for businesses, a company core purpose does, and the same is true for the church.

I go even so far as to suggest that most splits within the body of the family of God was the result of a lack of focus and clarity of the core purpose of the church.

Hence it is vitally important, especially during a conflict, to have a vision, purpose, or goal greater than the individual. For one, it should be clear that any unresolved inter-personal conflict is in conflict with the core purpose and value of the church.  

2. Explain What You Are About

Start your pitch by describing what your organization does. Focus on the problems that you solve and how you help people. And if time is given than add information that shows the value in what you do.

Ask yourself this question as you start: what do you want your audience to remember most about?

Keep in mind that your pitch should excite you first; after all, if you don't get excited about what you're saying, neither will the old class mate at the airport. Your pitch should bring a smile to your face and quicken your heartbeat. People may not remember everything that you say, but they will likely remember your enthusiasm and one vivid sentence.

If you or your church cannot articulate the purpose of life in a vivid single sentence you are properly underachieving because you are not focused.

Tip 1:  You may want to keep small take-away items with you, which you can give to people after you've delivered your pitch. For example, these could be a welcome brochures that talk about your uniqueness and how the persons need is being met.

Tip 2:  Remember to tailor your pitch for different audiences, if appropriate.

Tip 3:  The pitch is addressed to an audience other than yourself!


Thursday, 30 April 2015

Church and the vision

We need to look beyond where we as individual and subsequently as church are to where we could and perhaps should be. Although the evaluation of established vision, values and practices within the church and her programs is important as it keeps everyone in tune with the overall direction of the church family; but neither are nearly as important as being in sync with what God desires to do with the particular local church.

Therefore, the life of leadership is a life of discerning God's will and harnessing differences for the sake of the congregation, while a continuous learning and growing together happens. Leadership is a commitment to walk together through a fog of different information, emotions, personalities and preferences for the sake of the goal that has been set out for the church. Leadership is not about developing a new vision for the church but rather the determination of what and how programs are designed, how ministry is organized, what communicators teach, identifying the "target audience" and how it is reached, and how daily decisions are made. Leadership is also a process of mentoring, teaching and challenging one another to do what they been called to do together and to do it well. It must become obvious to the congregants that the leaders see the good of the church family as more important than their own.

We need to carve out time to evaluate and plan
The ministry of the church in an ever-changing culture is far more than addressing issues, causes or programs. As important issues, causes and programs are, they do not possess a purpose on their own, they are simply practical expressions of the nature of the church, they are only the means but not the end. The nature and therefore the purpose of the church needs to provide the lens through which we evaluate current programs and any that may be considered. Self-evaluation that leads to a clearer understanding of the purpose of the church admits changes and allows us to let go of some comfortable and loved yet ineffective approaches to ministry. It also avoids burnout and helps prevent people from becoming entrenched and tunneled visioned.

The danger with an issue, cause and program focused church is that it can just become a way of life where activity replaces spiritual growth.

The fact of the matter is, if a particular involvement in an issue, cause or program isn't taking the individual or the church where we need to go, isn't it then just wasting time? Each ministry within the church should be seen as a step toward the identified goal rather than the goal itself. We can have all the programs in the world and can be addressing every issue and cause under the heavens, but without taking steps that brings us where we need to go we simply are running the treadmill. Further, we may create a spirit of competition in an already competitive world where good ministries compete for volunteers and money available. Where does God want people to be? When we are asking this question, a second, more strategic question follows; "How are we going to help to get them there?" The result is a way of thinking in steps, steps that lead someone to somewhere.

In order to identify what is actually important at every level of the ministry we need to have a clearly worded vision.

 Our whole reason for existing is to raise up people who hear God's voice and are prepared to go out into the wider world to make a difference.

The goal is to bring people into a vital love relationship with Christ. That reason will not change, no matter the changes in the surrounding culture, or changing context. The wording may need to change, the steps to get there might change to reflect better the targeted audience of this statement, but the goal basically stays the same; spiritual awakening and spiritual growth.

But how do we measure progress? 

Our vision statement somehow gives us the answer; by the number of people who grow not intellectually in their faith but who are maturing spiritually in their faith walk.

The next question is, what is the best organizational structure today to accomplish this vision? The very fact that the word today is inserted in the question hints to the fact that the New Testament is not uni-vocal in the description/prescription of the leadership structure of the church, but rather adjusts to the demands of the increasing complexity of the needs regarding the vision that needs to be addressed. True vision shapes everything about a church, organizational structure included. Every tributary within the family structure ought to be feeding into the confluence that is the vision of the local church. Hence, everything that happens emanates from the central vision, and the deriving core values.

How do we measure progress rather than business?

I suggest a certain set of questions around the idea of core values should be asked when we try to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts. Core values need to be communicated and simply are the means or practices of what is really important and what really matters.

For example, do attendees feel comfortable inviting their neighbours? Are attendees recognizing the local church ministry as worthy of their giving? How many are successfully connecting to small groups? Do people understand how to apply biblical truths in their daily lives? How many more people are feeling at home in the church family? Does each attendee have close friendships within the congregation as well as outside? Do guests feel welcomed and loved?

Practicing these and similar questions means that the leadership is intentionally defining what is really important and what really matters, people not programs, progress not process. That helps us to see that an investment of time is going to make a difference. Everyone, from the greeter to the speaker, everyone is a communicator of some if not all the core values of the church. It is through the core values that the vision is pursued. 

People join the church with pictures of what they think church should look like. From the time they walk into the door and begin volunteering, they start trying to conform the ministry and therefore the church to the image of their own picture. The same by the way is true of leadership. It is therefore vital that especially people in leadership, pastors included, die to their particular image/vision of the church and embrace the vision and core values of the local church that came about through much prayer and discernment. 

One of the core values should be benefiting of and participating in the ministry of the church. Hence the importance to take a second step from simply attending to benefiting through participating needs to be communicated. Progress is made when more people get connected or involved.

When everyone clearly understands the goal, it changes how things are done. 

For example, what is the goal of a congregational budget meeting? The acceptance of the financial reports and passing of the proposed budget? No, the goal needs to be greater unity, love and owning of the church vision, a greater appreciation of the volunteers and an increased excitement of what is to come. If the reports are accepted and the budget passes, great, but not at the expense of any of the values. 

One other core value should be to hear God's voice through the message, which means that the greeter at the door needs to be welcoming and an initial little blessing to the people that comes through the door, that means that the worship leader needs to strive farther to create an atmosphere that prepares everyone further to hear the message; the goal of worship is hearts open to the truth. Hence the speaker is positioning the message to set up small group time for the attendees to connect life lived and message heard. The goal therefore is measured by how well during the time the teaching is being discussed. Those preparing refreshments help to provide a more informal "after group time." The goal is to provide an atmosphere where more and more people stay and keep talking, making new connections and building friendships. 
In the end, if people truly benefit and participate in an effective Sunday morning, we have made progress in our vision where the primary goal is not to meet someone's need, but rather to help someone get where they need to go together. 

Sunday morning is perhaps most important ministry, followed by the midweek small group and youth ministry, with the common goal to create an atmosphere where God's Spirit flows freely, where love and trust flow unhindered and everyone is welcome.  

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Eisenberg's uncertainty principle in the life of the church

A real church is not a lose amalgamation of interests groups.

Martin Luther quote 

The whole reason for existing is to raise up people who hear God's voice and are prepared to go out into the wider world to make a difference.
What is the God given purpose of the local church? In modern language; What is the vision of the church? I think that the above statement comes close to the universal purpose of the church and yet is needs to be tailored to the potential audience.

Leadership of the local church is essentially saying; This is how it looks like! Leadership transforms the universal and timeless vision of the church, given by God in John 17 and Matt 28 in local terminology.
Consider the difference in wordings in the different retelling of the life of Jesus or in the letters to the different churches. At a church where the congregants know themselves to be at the razor's edge and where they didn't always feel safe, we hear; "God will take care of you." At another church where the congregants perhaps felt too secure and comfortable the message is; "You need God more than you realize." Elsewhere, we even hear; "Repent." It is not three different Gospels that the different writings promote, just different emphases within the same Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
Some emphases certainly are easier presented and embraced but all are equally important as a whole. 
In some respect the particular emphasis of the preacher is the medium through which the congregants hear the gospel, just like the music or the pastor itself. In churches all over the theological spectrum, congregants frequently conflate their theological convictions with their preferences regarding medium of expression. It is therefor vitally important to preach the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Every person is to have his due. He who preaches solely to saints ; he who preaches solely and only to the sinner; and never to the saint, may miss some important truth of the whole of the gospel. In the local setting of the church we have amalgamation here. We have those who are full of assurance and strong; we have those who are weak and low in faith; we have the young converts; we have some halting between two opinions; we have the moral man; we have the sinner; we have the reprobate; and we those who are at the fringe and we have the outcast. Each needs to hear the word, each needs to be moved from milk to solids, let each have a word. Let each have a portion of meat in due season; not every Sunday perhaps, but in due time.  Each of these will have a preference of emphasis, just like in music, ministry involvement or preacher, just as the preacher will have a particular emphasis within the gospel. But the gospel is not about preferences, comfort zones or like and dislikes but about truth and the need of the world. 

I for one, don't want my comfort zone or alike dictate my future or the future of the church. Our comfort level sometimes needs to be challenged, our assumptions need to be startled, and our privilege questioned.  

“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” was certainly one of the roles of the prophets, Jesus and the church, challenging those in power and championing those in need. This is still necessary, and it becomes vitally important to turn those words toward ourselves the more we are engaged in helping or challenging others. As pastors, leaders, teachers, we are also activist for justice, something we need to not forget: Thou we are foreigners, we are also in this world and therefore are included in the fabric of the very society we are being sent to. We are neither separated from the women and children needing protection, nor are we separated from those who are being marginalized for little or no reason other than racism, agism, and the many other isms in our society. We are not being separated from the workers in sweat shops, families needing to be fed or those who boat across the Meditarian sea in the hope of a better life.

We can take into our arms and hold that which needs comfort. We can take courage and challenge that which should not be allowed to remain comfortable. The whole world lives around of us, and we are part of the whole world. Although, we are in many ways different, we must stop thinking we are separate, or have arrived to the point that we segregate and retreat into our personal comfort zones.  

And so the ongoing proclamation of the gospel in all its aspect and emphases is about change, is about transformation and is about empowerment, to feel the discomfort and comfort of the gospel, to examine our reactions to it and to what we see happening around us in light of it. Then our job is to decide what to do or not to do with it. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What does it mean to be Church?

To ask "what does it mean to be church?" is similar to the question "what binds people together in groups of all sorts?" This binding together would include teams, gangs, clubs, mobs, families and congregations. There is surely no simple answer to it; communities are as different as individuals from one another. But the question is "is the church of the same genre as other communities or is it an entirely different kind of gathering altogether?

What drives communities and forms their understanding of how members should live?
Imagine there is no heaven
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

An iconic ballad from the 70th in which John Lennon imagined a better world, one without the evil of war, injustice, strife, apartheid, inequality, violence and pain as he saw in this world. He and million others yearned for a world that “will be as one” in peace, equality and justice, for a “brotherhood of man,” an end of greed and hunger, for people to share all the world in peace and harmony. A time of rest for all, shalom in full and every divide overcome including selfish and otherworldly religions that promote or sanction violence and degradation of the others be it because of their gender or other
differences, the end of the weapons race and a structure of revenge.

Lennon and millions of others recognized that if this dream is to become a reality in this world, it cannot remain in mere words and ideas. In order to become reality it must leave the lecture halls, and libraries, it must be made reality within a community, a company of people who not only imagine but put into reality, willing to embody and direct their lives by this “imagine,” by this “dream.”
Through his song he invited others to embrace his dream and the company of those who lived it grow. This company of people of which John is but one is a “come-and-join-us” group, who, by their words and lives, offer a radical but attractive alternative to the violent, greedy, and self-centred culture around them.

But with the distance of time we realize that Lennon’s song was but a dream.

The problem is not that we do not dream of better, or that better is not possible, but rather that injustice, selfishness and anger are lodged so deeply in the inner crannies of our hearts and minds. For all our good intention, brokenness and selfishness, emotions we deeply abhor, are as deeply rooted in our hearts as they are in the systems and structures we have surrounded us with.

When Paul wrote. “Do not be conformed to this world, but continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . .” (ISV) he was probably referring to the same system of values, allurements John Lennon dreamed of to overcome. And while there are many similarities between the dream and the Gospel, the gathered company of people was indifferent or ignorant toward God and His plan. And so Paul warns his fellow Christians not to allow the subtle pressures of the world to conform them to their utopia, an echo chamber of paradise without God.

I think that is an ever present problem we face in one form or the other. The allure of being accepted and admired by people who surround us possesses a powerful gravitational pull, the same is true of people we admire. We need to watch ourselves carefully and examine why we change views.
And so the question, “what causes us to conform,” is important to ask. According to Bill Hull; “Life and even some research demonstrate that people conform when there is more gain from conforming than from not conforming. This is no truer than when it comes down to being a follower of Christ. The reward for religious conformity is the acceptance by your faith community. When you gather together, there is edification, comfort, and encouragement.”

However, for many years good-hearted Christians were convinced that true spirituality is keeping a set of rules and to separate themselves from the very people they are called to love and to reach. The entire idea of Jesus coming into the world and living among us, of His kingdom narrative about wheat and weeds existing side by side, his prayer in John 17, all make the point that we must live among those who do not believe. Others therefore, almost in protest separated from what they saw as easy-to-mock caricature of Christianity, fueled by the desire to be relevant moved in the very opposite direction but losing on the way distinctive differences to make a difference.
Here to be relevant meant that someone or something becomes what it needs to be in order to meet a need. That need, particularly being an obvious need may change from culture to culture, situation to situation, person to person. The desire to be relevant is normal and pays off in much off life. An irony, relevance itself is relative. Food is relevant to a hungry person, cloth to a naked one, but what if food and cloth have been distributed? Temporary relevance rides the winds of change and blows from any direction. The only reliable relevance is finding ways of expressing how the other person’s life is relevant to God, loved by God, and that does not change. The only true relevance is found in the Eternal, and then we will find what we are seeking shalom.
The dogma, the very purpose of the church, therefore, is to go into the world, just as Jesus did, to show love to the unlovable, the rejected, the misused, the suffering. In reality, however, our practice has been to separate where sharing life actually would matter. The irony is, that we have separated
ourselves, having our own buildings like schools, camps, churches, even senior homes and our own church friends while being void of “normal” friends, all the while we share the worlds drive for success and for running our own lives.

What I am trying to say is this; We all conform somewhere except in ways that cost us less. We all face the daily reality that non-Christians don’t, it usually has to do with making a living. It comes down to what is the best deal right now. Therefore, let us make sure that our conformity is to the person of Christ, and not to some form of culturalized Christian living. We all are being called to be transformed to Christ, not some form of religious subculture. That transformation will bring with it some form of stigma and sacrifice we tend to avoid, but can’t. The transformation we are called to is different to the conforming to a particular cultural Christianity, which might just be another form of ending up being conformed to the ways and values of the world, gaining in this life more from conforming to godly people than from not conforming. Being conformed into Christ is not about behaviour modification, conformity to Christ is not separation nor is it moralism.

What or better who drives communities and forms their understanding of how members should live?
be the church