Sharing the journey with Aaron Snow pt 2 (And What is Church?)

bkessing ben
AARON: Paul, as much as we’ve shared together I have never asked you to define “church” for me. We do share a lot in common, but in the midst I would love to hear how you define this. We live around the globe from one another, and you have a very different background than I do. How do you feel it is that we ended up at some of the same conclusions with such drastically different history? (Your Anglican ties, and my quasi Baptist turned anti-denominational “Jesus follower”)

PAUL: Through the years my understanding of church has got broader and more pragmatic. By my reading the NT words used for church – whether as a noun or a verb – simply mean “gathering” or the “group that gathers”. The Apostle Paul gives special instructions for when we gather – things that edify. And God provides things to edify the church – the five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4, the gifts and ministries of Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, a home to meet in, an elder to oversee and teach, deacons and other workers to help.

In the 80s I encountered some amazing church communities in the interior of Amazonia which received ministry from clergy/priests no more than two or three times a year. Yet their life of faith was rich and multi-layered. This really altered my view of what is a) essential and what is b) a gift to edify. Basically I hold to a filleted version of my ordaining denomination’s position statement (It’s from the 1662 Church of England Prayer Book): “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful [people]” ie a church is a body of believers.

I have belonged to some churches that were ministry units, all pulling together towards one particular focus or mission. By contrast the second church I ever attended was a traditional Baptist church. Their mission and ministry were lived out in response to their shared encounter with God and his word on Sunday – each one scattered through the week to the place of their vocation. Both models of church have their place but in this over-scheduled season of my life it is that second view that I resonate with.

As to different backgrounds, well…you do know the first Baptists and Methodists were Anglicans! Those labelled as extremists and “radical reformers” in ages past often contended for things that most mainstream Christian believers today would now take absolutely for granted. And of course there was a time when we were all part of the Orthodox/Catholic Church!! In the end we have to concede that we all share the same heritage. We’re all connected. Certainly I feel that all these strands in my DNA!!

river baptism


AARON: To return your first question to me – from your own journey why do you think it is that some Gen Y’s seem to be coming to some of these conclusions 20 years earlier than you say you did? I ask because I know we share many of the same things I talked about before.

PAUL: Well, though there are very real cultural shifts we need to engage with from Gen Xs to Gen Ys and from the Baby Boomers etc. I reckon that we’re more connected than that. I actually believe that GenYs will take perspectives on a whole range of things precisely because of the experience and reflections of generations that have gone before them. We all look and learn. For that reason I believe we Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are all a bit more Gen Y and a bit more millennial than we were ten-fifteen years ago!

I reckon this is all part of how the Holy Spirit leads the church forward too. For me my journey has radicalised me. Like you, I am rooted in some fundamentals and increasingly stretched in my outlook and practice. Maybe another layer of connection you and I share is that the seasoned, older guys who mentored you are guys who, just like myself, have been radicalised by their journeys.

AARON: Paul, there are a lot of theories out there about “what to do with kids” in a house/organic church setting. You and I are in similar places in life with the ages of our kiddos. I’ve heard a lot of “ideas” for engaging kids (Ages 1.5 – 4.5) in a church gathering, and have recently experienced some after much searching. What does this look like for you and your family? Specifically, how do you ENGAGE your children in a gathering vs. “manage around them”?

Snows climbing
PAUL: Ha, ha, this is the question I hoped you would answer for me, Aaron!! In the immortal words of Bono; “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” From a visitor’s perspective Ruth and I have visited some churches and been greeted with “Oh, you have an energetic two year old! Please sit in this side room with neither sight nor sound of the service. When we’ve finished our worship we will talk to you at the welcome desk.”

I have been impressed by some larger churches at the pentecostal end of the spectrum which run parallel age streams through the morning meeting. I like that each age gets to do church in a meaningful way, but regret that it separates families and segregates generations. Another growing pattern is “Come and bear with us as we help the kids do church in a way that engages them.” I like that but see the need for a supplementary program to edify the grown-ups. For a time-poor family that might add up to a lot of time.

Perhaps the best compromise is one where we’re all in together as much as possible for worship, fellowship and ministry times, and separate the ages out just for the teaching track. In my most recent plant that was the model we leaned to.

The commonest lament I hear among my urban and suburban neighbours is of churches grieving over having entirely lost contact with the current generation of young families and perplexing over why. Early on a Sunday morning, after six days at work, five beginning with the rush and panic of the school run, when the alarm goes off at 6.30 or 7am to get families to church for 9.30am or 10am I think I can guess at one reason why.

I hope that doesn’t sound critical because I loved each of the churches where I experienced each of those various scenarios. Right now in 2014 what I’m most hungry for is a vibrant sense of Christian community for my kids. That’s what we have yet to find.