of blackholes and sling shots

September 5, 2008 | 5 Comments

Many of my conversations with other church planters of late have centered around worship services/gatherings. I am usually the one raising the topic as I have been curious to learn from the experiences of others as we shape our strategy for Austin Mustard Seed.

One thing has been significant in these conversations. I’ve talked to several planters who think they started doing their public gatherings too soon, sometimes much too soon. It seems that the weight and the expectation that comes with a worship gathering overpowers the intimacy that existed prior to it. While I have talked to others who don’t feel that way, I have yet to talk to someone who thought that they waited too long before they launched public gatherings.

Some go so far as to not have worship services at all. I don’t fit in that camp, because I think there is something to be said for the collective coming together to celebrate the work of God in a community. I think is it important for all of us to recognize that we are a part of something bigger than we are — bigger than we are able to control or manage.

The question for me has been shifting in emphasis from when to what. In our efforts to do the best possible gathering, it can become a black hole. The gravity of what is required draws resources and energy, and attention is easily diverted from both relationship and mission. The church loses focus on itself as a community, and church becomes something we go to.

Knowing that this gravity exists, I have been wondering how it might be possible to put it to use. When spacecraft are to be propelled great distances, they often use the gravitational pull of the sun or a planet to gain momentum. As they whip around the large object like a sling shot, they are hurtled off in a new direction with greater speed. What might it look like to have worship services function as missional gatherings of this nature? What could it mean to use the large gathering not to draw in all of our resources, but to refocus and hurtle the body back out to be the sent people of God?

I’m sure that few would disagree with my thinking on this. So how does our language or our gatherings need to change? How do we need to restructure of our gatherings to create an outward momentum rather than an inward pull?

  • Love the discussion John. As you may know, I haven’t attended church in the traditional sense in quite some time. Some may see this as a tragedy, but I simply see it as the culmination of many events and spiritual transformations that are my journey. We (a bunch of us, Bamfords, Mulherns, etc.) help ‘facilitate’ a meeting that has been very beautiful thus far. We have our challenges, but overall it has been revitalizing my views of God, and my overall ‘church’ experience.

    So, I don’t disagree with your dreaming. I love dreaming. I especially like the way you’re trying to change the whole thought process. But I view this figurative black hole like the literal black hole. The point at which this gravitational phenomena takes hold, there is no turning back. Light cannot even escape it’s grasp. The reason it occurs in the church-world is that the focus becomes about the event, the gathering, the whats, the hows, the how do we afford, the logistics. It takes so much time and effort to put on the shin-dig (that’s the technical term), that the focus MUST be on that thing, opening, event, service, ‘going public’. And here’s why I think…

    We must ask a different question: what exactly is corporate worship? Is the only actual change (to public gatherings) literally the size and scope of the meeting place? Is the change occurring because of size requirements, or because one wants to start a ‘real’ church? If it’s the latter, then I think the group needs to reevaluate and be honest about what the word ‘church’ really means to them. And then ask if corporate worship can happen in a home.

  • great distinction, i’d add the metaphor of the beating heart. we gather so that we can disperse… so that we can gather… so that we can disperse… etc. each movement flows out of the prior one. is the slingshot too focused outwardly? is the black hole too focused inwardly? probably yes and yes. how does this look in praxis? …yeah. blessings on things down there john, you are a creative man!

  • Jacob and Phil (er, el),
    Thanks for both your thoughts…even in a few paragraphs, both of you have given me some context to further shape these ideas.

  • No, thank you for the discussion to start! I’m nothing if not bewildered on the trajectory that our church culture has taken even in the past few years. On one hand, scary, and on another, kind of exciting.

    If you get a chance, drop us a note every once and again!


    I’d love to keep in touch on this subject…

  • John, I recently read “Ancient-Future Worship” by Robert E. Webber, and I found it fascinating. I recommend it when considering what worship in a gathering should consist of.