Almost five years ago a group of us gathered around the question, ‘what is church?’ It’s one of those questions that can keep you occupied for many years. It also has the potential of derailing individuals and communities. I know from personal experience. Together we realized that church became our idol. We asked the wrong question. We were challenged to ask different questions, not to leave the church question behind, but to put it in perspective – for the church question is not the primary question!
The most important questions has to do with life, it has been asked for millennia and will continue to be asked. This question can be found in an exchange between Jesus and a man who asked him what the most important command was. What are we supposed to do here on earth? Jesus’ answer is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Mark we read that Jesus answered:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”” (Mark 12:29-31, ESV)
For Jesus this was the greatest command or question to ask. The answer was also the most amazing adventure to live in. When Jesus answered the man, he congratulated Jesus on his fantastic answer. Yet he did nothing. He got stuck in knowledge. He wanted to study more. [The kingdom is not just talking in coffee shops!]
Jesus said to him that “You are not far from the kingdom”. The only thing left doing was the only thing worth doing! To live into Jesus’ answer is to busy oneself with the kingdom.
We realized that church happens when we live into loving God and loving people. This is the primary quest. If we focus on this question then church becomes accidental – or to use a Jesus phrase, then Jesus will “build his church”; for we are never commanded by Jesus to build it! Church becomes the byproduct of communities seeking the kingdom. If you aim for the kingdom, then the church will be built. If you focus on only the church, then the church becomes an idol and the kingdom of God is mostly ignored.
Loving God and others sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It’s so simple that we don’t deem it worthy of doing. So we hire consultants to help us develop vision and mission statements. Activities I’m not against. But for Christians I find that it becomes another way of evading the actual walking, following, emulating, sacrificing and cross bearing of the one we’re calling Lord, Savior, King and Teacher.
These days we’re asking different questions. We’re asking: What does it mean to love God in South Africa? What does it mean to love our neighbor in South Africa?
These questions challenge us daily and in answering them we’ve created a stuttering communal rhythm [our rule of life]. It’s not complete or comprehensive, but it’s an embodied engagement with what we believe is the most important pursuit of all – to love God and love others.
In the previous paragraph I referred to our rule of life. A rule of life is a rhythm of actions or habits that a group of people follow together. The rule and its implications are as unique as the individuals partaking in it. Yet it develops a movement or a vibe in the same direction. We direct and orient our lives towards God. It’s our aim to seek Him and to place Him in the centre of our beings. To love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but what does it mean?
For us it means a life based on six invitations. Our love for God in our whole lives flows out into engagement with the invitations to plug in daily, eat meals with other people, discover our piece of the puzzle and gift others with it, placing ourselves in other people’s shoes, be committed to downward mobility and servanthood and seeing our working lives as an essential expression of our discipleship. The rule of life is represented by the following diagram: