Graham Cray on church

Tuesday, 10 July, 2012

Graham Cray asks, what is church? What is vital, what are the essentials of church, what is church for, community, worship and mission and the challenge of church?

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Transcript

Graham Cray: If you are serious about the planting of fresh expressions of church, you can't avoid the question, 'well what then is church?'. And the Church has been seeking to answer that question for 2,000 years and has come up with a whole variety of key things. But what I think's vital for today is this. First of all, church is a community. It's a community to which you belong through belonging to Jesus. It's not primarily an event that you attend, whether for worship or friendship or learning, and it's certainly not an experience that you consume as long as you find the experience enjoyable. It's a whole-life community. It's a community which is sometimes gathered - we come together, we worship, we pray, we encourage one another, we relax together and so on - but it's just as much a community when it's scattered, when we're living our personal lives of discipleship and faithfulness to Jesus, in our families, our workplace, our leisure, our places of education, wherever we may be. And in fact a primary purpose of church gathered is to actually equip us for church scattered. So the first thing we need to note, it's a community in which we belong to one another, in which we encourage one another, because we belong to Jesus. And through which we're strengthened to live our lives faithfully for him.

The next essential thing about church is that church is called to worship. It's God-centred and God-focussed. The greatest fulfilment of any human being is to be in a living relationship with God and worshipping God, so worship is not a task, it's a gift, it's a privilege. Churches are pointed towards God in one aspect of their life, not just when they're gathered, but in the personal prayer and worship and devotion of their members, when they're on their own. And it's sustained by Scripture, if you've got church and worship you'll have the Bible, and it is entered through baptism, that's the service that Jesus gave us to mark becoming part of the community, and it's sustained and strengthened through holy communion. Fresh expressions don't necessarily start with holy communion, often they begin with gatherings of people who are on their way to or on their way back to Jesus. But a mature fresh expression of church, a mature church of any sort, will have a culturally-appropriate practice of taking bread and wine the way that Jesus commanded. But that's only one of two directions. The church is towards Jesus in prayer and then, with Jesus, out to the world in mission. Churches exist for the community where God has located them or to which he's sent them. If you're involved in a fresh expression for a group of people untouched by the church in another way, God's sent you [to] them to be the community that is the best news they've got - to point to his kingdom, to touch them with the life and love and vitality and power of his kingdom and to show them a taste of what his kingdom is actually like. Pointing to Christ in worship, travelling with Christ in mission to the world.

If church is a community, it's about us, it's not about me. If church is for worship, it's about him, it's not about me. And if church is for mission, for the community, for the locality - the network - to which God has sent it and where he's located it, it's about them, it's not about me. Perhaps the greatest challenge to Western people is that it's not for my consumer satisfaction, it's not about my flourishing - quite apart from other people. In fact, if we take seriously that church is for us, for him and for them, what we actually find is the way we flourish is when we live like that and we find in losing ourselves, we find ourselves. In giving ourselves to others we grow in who we really are. In giving ourselves to mission we become more like Christ.

The biggest challenge to Western Christians, because our society is very individualistic and our society is very consumer 'my satisfaction' focussed, the biggest challenge is that the way I flourish is to give myself to others in community, to give myself to Christ in worship and to give myself to the place and the people to whom God has sent me in mission. Because it's about us, because it's about him, because it's about them, I flourish. Any other way, I shrink.

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