Postures That Bring Us Closer to our Neighborhood, the City, and the World

March 11, 2024

Pos·ture /ˈpäsCHər/ (Oxford Dictionary)

    1. A particular way of dealing with or considering something; an approach or attitude.
    2. The position in which someone holds their body.

As I’ve gotten older, now 61, I’m feeling the lack of attention to my body’s posture during my younger years. With the onset of neck and shoulder pain, I’ve learned from doctors, chiropractors, and therapists that these issues didn’t start recently. But rather, they were put into motion some decades ago as I failed to pay attention to my body posture, letting my shoulders slump forward or sitting too relaxed and laid back on couches. I am now paying for it while also trying to reverse my pain in a fast manner, something my doctor says might or might not work. 

This perhaps presents itself as an illustration of an issue with the greater church today, specifically in America. Pains are being felt today that didn’t happen overnight, they were brought on by decades and decades of poor posture. The stories of the decline in the institutional, brick-and-mortar church complex likely hold some water and don’t need to be proven here. My guess is that you’ve read the polls and articles or are possibly feeling these realities yourself. 

What might surprise you, though, is my belief that these posture problems facing the prevailing church have the potential of affecting the burgeoning “microchurch” movement as well. As the brick-and-mortar methodology is feeling the pain of years of misalignment to God’s mission, there is, on the other hand, a new interest in the term “microchurch.” 

More and more, we see webinars, podcasts, and articles presenting “How to start a microchurch,” and the mega-church pastors are listening with interest. As membership in churches has, for the first time, dipped below 50 percent of the population, as denominations are imploding, and as the deconstruction movement is asking harder questions of faith, pastors of prevailing models of church are asking about this new movement called microchurch.

And so, I’d offer that a possible risk today is that “microchurch” could become the next new program or growth vehicle, launched as a new methodology, but with the same posture problems. This critical caution comes from numerous lunches, Zoom meetings, presentations, and conversations with pastors and leaders from numerous contexts, including a few mega-churches with more than 5000 members inquiring, “How do we start ‘doing’ microchurches?”

With that, I offer this thesis statement to explore for the next few paragraphs: Models of church do not accomplish or fail at God’s mission. Our postures, or posture problems, toward participation in what God is doing cause that. 

Flash… Bang

Anyone like me who enjoys watching police and SWAT dramas is familiar with a flash-bang (or Stun) grenade. These are thrown into a room to incapacitate the room, but not destroy it. They accomplish their mission by emitting a blinding light of more than seven mega-candelas accompanied by 170db of noise. A bright light and a loud noise. However, what a flash bang fails to do is leave any impact. Often, you don’t even know it was there. The room is left unchanged and intact… no crater, no story of presence. In the short term, it was climatic. But long-term, the effects are invisible to the surroundings.

This could perhaps be a metaphorical representation of the recent church growth movement. Move into an area of town and do your best to emit a bright light and a loud noise, attracting people to the event that is happening. Know that I make this critique as one who participated as a worship leader in creating bright light and loud noise for 25 years. Granted, there is often huge excitement around the Sunday gathering event, attracting people to the church building and inviting them to continue to attend. However, what these methodologies have shown us over time is that they unintentionally disciple people toward consumerism. 

Churches, even unintentionally, create revolving doors of people searching for the best worship, the best teaching, the best children’s programming, and sadly, basing their faith journey on the Sunday morning event and building. It is now showing pain after years of this posture.

This leads us to posture #1:

Incarnation.

John writes (in The Message version), “The Word took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). He didn’t move in to start an event or to start a better synagogue. He moved in and lived life with those around him. 

That phrase “took on flesh” is a very important doctrinal cornerstone for us as Christians. It is the root of our belief that God became flesh in the life of Jesus. God’s desire to be with us, to experience life with us, to eat with us, and, yes, to suffer with us, led to him sending the Son to dwell among us and live with us. I would suggest that this incarnational posture was what he was teaching his disciples when he told them, “As the Father sent me, so I also send you” (John 20:21). 

We are sent in this same incarnational posture that the Father sent his Son. We don’t arrive with a flash and a bang, but we move into the neighborhood, live with it, experience it, share joy with it, and, yes, suffer with it. We take on the flesh of the culture and people who are present and become one of them, not mimicking Jesus but living incarnationally. 

Dr. Len Sweet suggests a nuance that is more than a small shift, “We don’t impersonate Jesus, we personate him.” Add to that C.S. Lewis’ thought that we should all aspire to become “little christs,” meaning that we live like Jesus would live if he were there in the context we find ourselves in.

For the microchurch, it cannot be planted like an event of some kind. We’re not repackaging/rebranding the church into something smaller that meets in a home or a coffee shop. It must plant incarnationally, move into the neighborhood, live with people, get to know them, and share in the joys and pains of life. One might determine from this statement that it will take a long time to make an impact and be known in a way where life is shared and the gospel communicated. Yes, that absolutely is the case! This is the counter-cultural methodology of incarnational church planting. In a world of immediate gratification, the Jesus way is often slower. And so, the question to the one who wants to start a microchurch could be, “Are you called to start a church/movement, or are you called to do life with a people/geography.”

It’s worth noting John 20:21, which leads to posture #2:

Sentness.

This word “sent” is interesting. It’s where we get our word mission within the church. Jesus told his disciples that they were sent in the same way the Father sent him. His statement was not a plan of attracting people to an event, but a commission to go and live as missionaries in the same way he did. 

In church systems today, we rarely disciple people to live as everyday missionaries. That’s something “other people” do, special people, called to go overseas. In local contexts, mission has often been reduced to outreach events designed to attract people to “come join us at church.” 

In a microchurch, however, this should be a primary posture we teach people. Of course, I’m not suggesting we teach people to hand out tracts or preach on street corners, but rather, we teach our small communities to live out the gospel, display the Kingdom of God in practical ways, within the places they live, work, and play. The goal is not to invite people to our house church, it’s to teach our people to live as incarnational missionaries. 

Dan White, Jr. recently posted on social media, “If you have a table, you can remake the world.” Most people I know have a table, but they have little knowledge about how that becomes an environment of the gospel.

Missiologist Mike Frost is always quick to remind us that the gospel is not just a plan of salvation. Announcing the Kingdom of God and his King, Jesus, takes on a more complex and wider practice when we look at the life of Jesus. Not only did he teach of the Kingdom that has come, but he displayed what that Kingdom looks like. He healed, he fed, he showed concern for the margins, and he ate food with those who were despised by the religious. These life activities gave credibility to his message of a kingdom that has come. 

Frost will present this announcing of the Kingdom as a spectrum, where you might visualize the display of the Kingdom on one end (acts of justice, care for the margins) and telling of the Kingdom verbally (including salvation) is on the other end. Holistic followers of Jesus should operate within this spectrum of both display and proclamation. One should not live without the other. And so, our daily lives as missionaries aren’t either/or, but living on a continuum of always proclaiming the Kingdom, both in deed and word. 

We don’t want to just do acts of Jesus and be “good people” without the “why” we do it, but likewise, we don’t want to live on the end of verbally proclaiming good news with no action behind it. When all we do is talk about it, we risk having no credibility, something the church suffers from today.

For the microchurch, I would suggest that missional questions and plans need to be given as much importance as when and how we gather. 

People First

We all have a theology, an orthodoxy, a framework of how we see God and his Kingdom. Some of us view the faith experience as more charismatic, some more liturgical. These differing views and the huge spectrum of sub-views are what have led us to tens of thousands of denominations and varying doctrinal beliefs. Unfortunately, though, this has also divided us into camps at times, and where our core theological agreements may be the same, our “second-tier” interpretations separate us. This can become extremely problematic when living into a neighborhood or city with varied views of faith and culture. My personal observation is that our belief system can ironically become a hurdle to people who might be willing to explore Jesus and a journey toward accepting him as Lord. 

Author and missional thought leader Deb Hirsch reminds us that we often first view people based on their behaviors or cultural identity. Someone whose marriage falls apart is labeled “divorced,” while the person coming out of prison is an “ex-con,” and the person who is gay is “LGBTQ.” Likewise, today most people are labeled by their political leanings, Republican or Democrat, progressive or conservative. This is often what we see as the PRIMARY truth and identity of who they are.

What Deb suggests, though, is that we shift our view of others to what is actually the primary truth about them. It’s worth noting that the primary truth about them is also the primary truth about us. This primary truth about all of us is that we are made in the image of God (imago Dei). Our behavioral identities, mistakes, and choices (representations of The Fall) are the secondary truth about us. 

As Deb will often then say, “Because Genesis 1 comes before Genesis 3.”

Our view of people should strive to be a Genesis 1 view first, bringing us to posture #3:

Being a microchurch that operates as a centered set.

You may be familiar with bounded and centered set theory. If not, let me quickly explain. A bounded set is an organizational or cultural structure that is defined by rules, beliefs, or in our case, doctrines. I’m not suggesting that we don’t have these definitions, but when we use those in an outward-facing way, defining membership and belonging in a community by our doctrines, we present a hurdle that must be overcome in order to belong. This is counter to what we see in the life of Jesus. Rather, for Jesus, total love and acceptance precede any statements of, “…go and sin no more.” 

In a church community context, can we allow people to belong before they believe or behave differently? It could be illustrated this way:

 

Teaching your faith community to live in a centered set posture will be very difficult and will take hard conversations, prayer, and wrestling. Living as a centered set church community will result in uncomfortable lifestyles to be invited into your midst. Your community will start looking different and it may feel very messy. If you want a clean, easy-to-define church community, who’s in and who’s out, then lead with doctrinal statements and a membership process. However, if you want to look more like the dusty roads that Jesus walked, the tables of sinners and tax collectors Jesus ate with, a well that he sat at with a divorcee, and your neighborhoods, then I would suggest a centered set is more a mirror of the Kingdom that Jesus lived with others.

Living with a New Posture

Today, I try to remember to sit up straight, keep my shoulders back, and not slump over. I’m finally learning corrective postures to ease the pain. In the church, we need to start correcting postures as well. This article has taken a brief look at three postures in a list that could be much longer and expanded. My hope is that as we join God in his mission to disciple others, create micro-communities of faith, and announce the King and his Kingdom, we do not let our structures overtake our identity as sent people. 

The microchurch momentum we feel today is a step in the right direction of asking contextual questions about being active in God’s mission in the places we live, work, and play. However, we must be ever vigilant not to let our posture get lazy, reverting to the muscle memory of just gathering for the sake of ourselves. If we do, we may be feeling pain in the future, looking back on the posture problems we practiced today.

Rowland Smith

Rowland Smith

Rowland Smith and his wife Kitty live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They have four adult children and one grandchild. He is the National Director for Forge America Mission Training Network, pastor of missional culture at Pulpit Rock Church, and director of The Pando Collective, a micro-expression kingdom network. He is also an adjunct faculty at Denver Seminary and Fuller Seminary teaching leadership and missiology. Rowland has authored Life Out Loud: Joining Jesus Outside the Walls of the Church and was the creator and general editor of Red Skies: 10 Essential Conversations Exploring Our Future as The Church. He can be reached at info@rowlandsmith.net.
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