Can O’ Worms (Exiles #1)

I’ve in the midst of reading Michael Frost’s Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, which I highly recommend. I’m only half-way through, and it’s encouraged, challenged, frustrated, and caused me to repeatedly set it aside so I could muse over the implications and dream about the possibilities. Books that accomplish this are gems.

Frost introduces the concept of communitas early in the book, which he describes as a community with a goal beyond its own existence. In order words, it’s not community for community’s sake, but rather community gathered around a shared missional vision.

Frost couples this with liminality – a radical middle season where faith, uncertainty, and experimentation are embraced and explored. It functions something like a spiritual version of chaos theory:

“Complex systems tend to locate themselves at a place we call ‘the edge of chaos.’ We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy.

“It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and the new are constantly at war … Finding the balance point must be delicate – if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction.

“Too much change is as destructive as too little. Only at the edge of chaos can complex systems flourish.”

~ Michael Crighton, The Lost World

Where Frost’s comments open a can o’ worms in my mind – making me think long and hard – is the intersection between communitas and liminality.

Here’s the rub, or the “splinter in your mind, driving you mad,” as Morpheus says in The Matrix: A lot of people are currently detoxing from church, and have a visceral reaction to a typical churchs insistence on one-size-fits-all vision statements. They’re wary of a leadership approach that says, in essence, “Get with the program or find a new church.”

A popular phrase many church-exiters have adopted is the cryptic, “We had to stop going to church to learn how to be the church.” 

They can usually be found congregating in house/simple churches. And then along comes Michael Frost, suggesting that community that exists only for its own sake (just “being”) is self-centered and narcissistic.

Communitas is a deep community, but its based on a common goal or vision. The can o’ worms is the edge of chaos between genuine community that doesn’t revolve around “performance,” and yet is still intentional about the advancing Kingdom.

See what I mean? This book is making me ponder. What do yall think? Is communitas just another version of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss?”

Or is it possible that a season of just “being” the church is one leg in the journey, not the destination?

I think I’ll serve this can o’ worms with a side of fries and some salsa picante. Got me some more readin’ and ponderin’ this evening!

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