What is a Faith Community?

Written by beyondwords : December 5, 2007

About two and a half years ago, something happened at my church that cracked wide open the foundations I thought my faith community was built upon. Since then, there’s been forgiveness and reconciliation, but the assumptions that led to the incident haven’t changed. I still perceive a big disconnect between the propositions claimed about being a community in Christ and the actual embodiment of mission and praxis.

When the foundations cracked, I began to challenge those assumptions–to think critically about them. To readers of the Jesus Manifesto, I probably don’t need to delineate them–they’re the usual suspects in evangelical Christianity. Trouble is, I didn’t expect to be going through a spiritual formation crisis at this stage of life.

The crisis was devastatingly painful. There was intense grief and anger, although never a diminishment of God’s love and presence.

After doing some research, I discovered James Fowler’s stages of faith and LeRon Shults’ three stages of Spiritual Transformation. Although these resources didn’t ease my pain, they provided some assurance that my experience is a recognized phenomenon.

Although Fowler’s work offers some structural and developmental markers I find useful, his ultimate paradigm is far too modern and Hegelian to describe my relationship with the Trinitarian Godhead.

I’ve benefitted more from Shults’ work. Rich Vincent wrote a summary about Shults’ model, and this sentence sets up the quandry in which I find mysef:

“In this way, transforming spirituality is not only about personal transformation, but the transformed person as an agent of transformation in his or her environment.”

What does it mean to be an agent of transformation in my environment? Even though for the most part, I’ve moved past the pain, every Sunday, when I attend service, the chasm between my belief and experience and my faith group’s paradigm seems to grow wider. Although I’m physically present, I’m inceasingly unable to find the commonality in which to enter worship with my congregation. The disconnect for me comes from my faith community’s belief that “freedom in Christ” makes any good work suspicious of “works righteousness,” contrasted by a parodoxical ethical and doctrinal legalism.

My question for the readers here: how can I move forward faithfully as God calls me into a deeper relationship with Godself and a wider vision of mission and praxis, when there is no sense of shared vision with anyone in my faith group?

How can I be gracious and loving, loyal to my husband and family and yet faithful to God’s call?

I must work out this spiritual transformation in the context of community and family. I look forward to hearing from others who’ve gone through it.

Grace and peace.

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4 Responses to “What is a Faith Community?”

  1. jacob on December 5th, 2007 1:10 pm

    I feel for you.

    Can you identify some specific points of separation (doxis and praxis) that put you and the community at odds? How do your vision and their vision differ in practical terms?

    Once identified, consider concrete steps that you personally can implement in your everyday life as a means of working on those points? These can be and most likely are minor and mundane changes that, when applied over time, I think, can help generate new relations? Being an agent of transformation involves the practical work of engaging the community that you feel separated from.

    The Holy Bible serves as the “stuff,” the “imaginative resources,” that enable you to cultivate and sustain a vision of community. The problem of community and marginality in the context of the church is theosocial, I think, in that it centers on relations between self, neighbor and God. And all relationships take work and time and love and crying and loving some more and on and on and on.

  2. Adam on December 5th, 2007 2:09 pm

    At first glad this may seem unrelated, I hope it isn’t too far off topic.

    These are similar feelings I have had in my own faith community. In fact, it came to the point that I do not really attend sunday meetings anymore - but I do consider myself very much part of the community still throughout the week (i’m in an informal kind of house church community).

    Anyways, a book that helped me greatly was Alan Jamieson’s “A Churchless Faith.” This book really challenges one’s ideas of what a faith community is, can be, and is becoming in today’s world. Jamieson uses Fowler quite a bit and uses his stages as a framework for developing his own framework related to church leavers - or those who have “a churchless faith.” Anyways, you should check out this book - it is well worth the read.

  3. Beyond Words on December 5th, 2007 2:15 pm

    Thanks, Jacob and Adam.

    Adam, I’ve been talking to my husband about foregoing Sunday meetings and participating in small group instead. Maybe we could read Jamieson’s book and it would help him understand where I’m coming from.

  4. Adam on December 5th, 2007 4:54 pm

    you should definitely read it. it helped my wife and i a lot. i’ve recommended it to many other people too and it seems to be helpful to others.

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