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To boldly go where the Spirit leads us

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Are you feeling disconnected from the institutional church? Think it's too caught up in building projects? The answers some churches provide are too simplistic, or the people in charge just aren't listening to the members?

Bill Kinnon felt that way. A few years ago he posted a much-discussed manifesto about it on his blog. Called The People formerly known as The Congregation, the post described what Kinnon saw as the need for change in the way the church relates to the people in the pew.

Kinnon took inspiration for his blog post from The People Formerly Known as the Audience, another much-discussed manifesto published by Jay Rosen, a blogger and journalism instructor at New York University.

In that post, directed at editors, publishers and news directors in the traditional media, Rosen noted people today want a new relationship with the traditional media. "The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you've all heard about," he announced.

"Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak -- to the world, as it were." Rosen went on to say the people formerly known as the audience were once at the "receiving end of a media system that ran one way." The situation today, he stated, is "not like that at all... . There's a new balance of power between you and us."

Kinnon had a similar message for the church. "We are the (people) who once sat in the uncomfortable pews or plush theatre seating of your preaching venues," he wrote. "We sat passively while you proof-texted your way through 3, 4, 5 or no-point sermons -- attempting to tell us how you and your reading of the Bible had a plan for our lives. Perhaps God does have a plan for us; it just doesn't seem to jive with yours." The people, Kinnon added, have grown "weary from your Edifice Complex pathologies -- building projects more important than the people in your neighbourhood... or in your pews.

"It wasn't God telling you to 'enlarge the place of your tent' -- it was your ego. And, by the way, a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art building is hardly a tent."

When it comes to the music in some churches, "Our ears are still ringing from the volume," he stated. "Jesus is not our boyfriend," he added, "and we will no longer sing your silly love songs that suggest He is. Happy-clappy tunes bear no witness to the reality of the world we live in."

These new kinds of Christians have not stopped loving God, or wanting to meet other believers, he noted. "We just don't assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets. We connect virtually across space and time -- engaged in generative conversations -- teaching and being taught."

He concluded by inviting church leaders to "join us on this great adventure" by boldly going "where the Spirit leads us."

Although Kinnon didn't mention his church affiliation, his post seemed to be directed mainly at evangelical churches. But it prompted affirmation and comment from people in many denominations, including Jamie Arpin-Ricci, who leads the Little Flowers Community, a new congregation in Winnipeg's West End.

"I was initially taken aback by the tone of the piece," he wrote about Kinnon's post. "But after consideration, I felt that it was an important cry of broken honesty."

Kinnon's musings prompted Arpin-Ricci to post a manifesto of his own. Titled The Community Coming to Be Known as Missional, Arpin-Ricci suggested it might be time for a new kind of church united not by buildings and location, but by "relationship and vision." In this new kind of church, he said, "generosity trumps obligation, for all we have is God's" and success is measured by "our obedience to God's calling on us, most evident in our love for Him, for others, for ourselves and for creation."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2010 H13

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