The Look of My Church [Part 2]

Man, it’s been hard to find the time and right space to actually unpack what church should look like. I wanted it to be simple (or easy)–and I know a few of the steps are just that–but more and more I’m realizing that there is so much complexity and art involved in making even the smallest choices.

In part one, I suggested that something broad or systemic was at stake–more than just a particular “church” meeting or gathered occasion. And to be sure, I have a few ideas about how this change could/should eventually take shape. But before I go “answering all the questions” (as if that were possible, right?), first let me invite you, the reader, into some of the confusion and messiness.

So, without further ado, check out this letter I wrote to a fairly new acquaintance who pastors a neo-monastic community in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Hi Mark,

Hopefully, my name will ring a bell. Back in June, my wife (who is from Peru, like Carmen), my sister, my niece, and I came by for a Weds. meal at Missio Dei while we were visiting the Twin Cities. We had a great time hanging out with the Missio Dei gang (and eating some great food to boot). Anyway, I’ve been thinking through a few ideas related to new monasticism and I’m wondering if you would be able to offer me some of your experience. I understand you are super busy, so respond if and/or when you can.

My mains concerns have to do with the small community I lead. We are young (in age) and mostly all Christian (evangelical). This small community (about 6 years old) is technically a Vineyard “small group” or “care group” or something like that, though more than half of the members either do not attend church or do not attend church at the Vineyard (where I have attended, btw, for the last 12 years).

After visiting Missio Dei, I was encouraged about the actual possibility of experimenting with new monasticism within my small community (since we have done a lot of the same practices “new monastics” might do, but without the name or conversation). For the summer, we tried to adjust some of our weekly rhythms and to add a few new ones in light of my new enthusiasm. It went all right, though there were some rough spots along the way as might be expected. But, throughout the whole thing, the one thing that stood out was that I want something more than either my church (on the one hand) or my small “missional” community (on the other hand) are willing to experiment with. At church, everyone is ok with worship and singing and prayer and bible study etc., while in my small group, the feeling is more mixed about typical “churchy” things. Also, in my small community, there is a tendency for us to accommodate ourselves too easily to a reductionistic understanding of mission–into something like a social gathering for the disenfranchised. It rarely (in a consistent fashion) seems probable to move beyond that. So, I’m left with the urge (need?) to live communally as the embodied alternative I think we’re supposed to be and yet, so far, that has meant either leading people in a small community who would rather forget the bible and the church or nagging hopelessly the Sunday morning congregation at the Vineyard to support/enter into community when they have very little intention to do so. I’m starting to think it would be best if I went back to square one: stop attending “church,” find two or three other people to explore or experiment with and see how it goes.

There are some complications with that, however:

1. My wife and I are having a baby. He/she will be born in Dec! But that makes me even more motivated to put into practice a different way of living, and to do so in community (i.e., new monasticism).

2. My wife is not as interested in all of this as I am. Perhaps for good reason. I can get overly enthusiastic at times.

3. I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing. Leading my small community could be compared to a crippled man teaching blind people how to dance.

4. I’m super busy (although mostly with stuff related to intentional community).

5. Warts and all, I love both my communities…and what will happen to them if I leave?

6. Is it possible to transition from “community” as we know it into something more intentional? What are the roadblocks likely to be? How can I start from where I’m at? etc.

Anyway, that pretty much sums up what’s puzzling me. If you could email (or call) to talk about some of this stuff, I would so appreciate it.

On a similar (but less urgent) note, did you and your wife have a baby shower for your son? What about a registry? I have been somewhat resistant to the idea of a registry (even though I know we need some basic baby things) because it seems to be a tricky way for the culture to get people to want more and buy more. Do you know of any “anti-consumerist” strategies for celebrating a new baby and providing basic needs?

Thanks for reading about my struggles with community. Sorry it got a bit long. Hope all is well with your family and Missio Dei.


Jason Winton

I make some pretty broad generalizations in that letter about both the small community I lead and the large Sunday morning gathering we belong to. I do this for the sake of brevity and to make a point that will come across clearly to an outsider. Those who belong to both communities should not be held accountable for my questions, descriptions, or far-fetched ideas. Guilt-by-association isn’t good judgment, after all.

And, lastly, though I enjoy a good controversy (I mean conversation!), love is the primary motivation I would like to see take shape. So, please take this as an invitation to participate with our beloved community as we try to find our way.

Did my letter stir something up for you? Clog your imagination? How would you respond?