The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

We are currently on a "break," for no particular reason, and many little reasons - mostly pertaining to life circumstances. If anyone is interested in calling a meeting, feel free to post on the blog, join the google group (see link below) and send an email, or contact either Nancy (nancykj10@yahoo.com) or Jesse (schroeder.jesse@gmail.com) for more information.

To receive cohort emails, join our Google group.


Beyond Sunday "Church"

Christians commonly define and describe their faith by the church they attend. Answer to questions like, "What denomination are you?" "Where do you go to church?" "What is your pastor like?" are the ways we typically describe our faith. Even in our cohort, we describe ourselves by our meetings on Sundays, and we often talk about where we went to church that week. But I am increasingly getting the sense that the Sunday gathering of Christians should be the least defining element of my religion.

A favorite verse of evangelicals is Romans 12:1 - "Therefore offer your bodies as living sacrifices....this is your spiritual act of worship." We are admonished again and again to "live a life of worship." I've usually understood that phrase to mean that I should not sin against God, and thus everything I did (meaning my life of not sinning) would be worship to God. But I've started wondering what a life - a Monday through Saturday life - of worshiping God would look like. More than that, what would a community of Monday through Saturday worshipers look like?

What would be the implications for our cohort specifically if we focused on living on entire lives together as worship to God? If our little community continues to grow and we are more and more intentional about our lives together, we may feel tempted to develop some form of "service." But what if instead of focusing our energies on one hour together with other Christians, we reflected our passion for Jesus and his life in the other 167 hours of the week in practical, purposed and Jesus-like ways?

I don't know how well I'm presenting this, but for me, this is a huge (HUGE) change in my way of thinking about what it means to be a Christian, and even more what it means to be called to "full time ministry." What are your thoughts?


NancyJ said...

Will I worship God even when He is silent?

Will I worship God who allows me to cry out in pain and does not always offer me immediate comfort?

Will I worship God who wraps Himself in mystery wanting me to love Him when I cannot fully understand Him?

How much freedom will I give God as I offer my body a living sacrifice?

I am like Jacob. I wrestle with my God.
I cry “Enough” when the pain is too great.
I beg for mercy and demand to be heard.
“I am your child. I need you.” I say.

And He listens and He knows me. I am truly His.

I bow before God on my knees and say You are Holy. You are sovereign. In my imaginings, I humble myself and wash the feet of the one I love.

And then I allow God to say to me, You are my daughter, my beloved, my creation, the one I gave all for. I humble myself and wash the feet of the one I love.

This is the way that I worship.

Jesse said...

Hey Nancy - Thanks for jumping in and kick-starting this conversation! I love your writing....

Your questions make me think about how Christians like to facilitate and create a worship experience on Sunday mornings - an experience that is more often contrived and not genuine. The music is pretty, the words are comforting, the pastor is smiling, and there is joy and healing. It is very unlike the real life that you describe, Nancy. And because it is so unlike real life, I think it is trivialized and often somewhat worthless. Your description of bowing down before God and worshiping him after a night of wrestling with difficult questions and frustrations is a worship that has value, that is real, that is life-changing. It is more than "ritual" (in the hollow sense of the word) - it is a sacrifice. I think your description gets closer to the meaning of Rom. 12:1.

So let's bring our worship out of Sunday morning - let's be brave enough to praise God in the midst of the every day. In the middle of the laughter and the crap that will always be there. Instead of trying to create an atmosphere that we feel like is "supposed" to be there for worship, let's be more real with ourselves and with God.

Michael Frost has a great chapter where he attacks the typical worship "love" songs - and he concludes the chapter with a passionate plea:

"My relationship with God through Jesus has at times left me disillusioned, disappointed, and confused...Our love has been built on countless failures, but it's a love that continues to grow deeper, like an ocean, a dark fathomless sea with regular flashes of hope and joy and even triumph. Can I sing about that, please? Can I sing about the mystery of God's grace in the face of anger and pain? Can I worship God for being faithful through the hardship of exile and separation? Where are the worship songwriters who can fashion a new voice for the exiles who cannot sing the romantic nonsense we hear sung in too many churches today?"

Greg Lyons said...

"But I am increasingly getting the sense that the Sunday gathering of Christians should be the least defining element of my religion."

I couldn't agree more Jesse. Monday-Saturday lives of worship is really what's at the heart of the matter. And maybe the reason for the Day of Rest is to empower and enhance the other six days of active worship. Somehow it's all gotten turned around.

Nancy, your last two stanzas are my favorite. They reminded me of some of Doug Pagitt's thoughts on one of the Nick and Josh Podcasts in which he comments on the damage that has come in only viewing God as omni- this and omni- that (compliments of Augustine gone wild) thus emphasizing His otherness and forgetting that he washes our feet as well. Thanks for giving us these words, Nancy.

Jesse said...

"And maybe the reason for the Day of Rest is to empower and enhance the other six days of active worship. Somehow it's all gotten turned around."

I like it...thanks Greg -

Anonymous said...

I never thought about the fact that people defined their faith by where they attended a church service each Sunday. Yet, I must confess that ever since I would consider myself a Christian I have always felt a bit like an outsider or Christian leper if you will because I can not bring myself to "join" a church. I always fear what will happen to me or what someone will think of me when they find out I do not "belong" anywhere. I also am saddened that I know they feel like my faith is somehow less valid than their own.

Isn't the point of corporate gathering supposed to draw us closer to God or to each other in worship of God? Where did this go wrong along the way? I personally have so many issues with corporate worship that I haven't been able to take myself to a "church" in years (except for the 2-3 times/year on special occasions, but even then I resent it all the way and only do it out of respect for family tradition). I have found more of God outside of traditional church walls than I ever did inside them. I feel like I just do not get the point of corporate worship and I really wish I did.

Jesse-can you elaborate on how this is changing what you think full time ministry is?

When did ministry become caring only for others and not a mutual respondent/beneficial relationship? I have personally always resented when someone says "my ministry" because it hardly belongs to one person or even a group of people. It is God's work and I just don't care for the way that we take ownership of it, as if we really did anything that God would not have done otherwise through another willing and obedient person. But I digress...

Ministry and worship should be a giving and receiving task, an experience both on our knees before God and with each other on earth. We underestimate how much we need to receive because we usually only believe we have the most to give and require nothing else. We should strive to allow ourselves to be defined daily by giving as well as receiving and not just on Sunday. I think it is this symbiotic relationship that Jesus calls us to carry out in His community.

-Jenn Ayers

Jesse said...

Wow Jenn - such good thoughts! I'm so glad you jumped in on the blog!! Here are a few things you made me think of...

First off, I resonate with your feeling of not belonging at any church. I'm not sure what that is, but I think a big part of it is that I always want to get more involved than is comfortable in traditional church. Most pastors encourage me to join the "cafe ministry" or the "parking team" and I would rather pray for people and speak God's truth into their lives! That leads well into your thoughts on ministry - such a poignant comment that we try to take possession of "our" ministry when really it is God doing the work! And he doesn't actually need us, although we like to think he does. This says so much about how we typically "do" church as Christians - we set up ministry opportunities, scheduled times to connect with people. And then as we go through the rest of our life we miss the many "ministry opportunities" that are right before us. How sad....

Your last paragraph is so beautiful, and I resonate with it fully Jenn - right on!

In response to your question, how this is changing my understanding of full time ministry, I would first echo everything you said, and then expound that for me full time ministry has to be synonymous with my life. What I do, where I live, who I talk to and spend time with, what I spend my money on, what I create and destroy, how I laugh, eat and sing - this is all my life with God and with other people. And as you said Jenn, this give and take relationship, living in God's Spirit all the time, sharing God's love with everyone around me, this is ministry and this should be life!

On the hand, I do recognize that I have to be intentional about it. If I just say "my life is my ministry," I will be fooling myself to think spending hours online and watching old episodes of "Friends" is celebrating the life of God with anyone. So there is a constant working and reworking to bring God's life and my life together. And really, isn't that what being a follower of Jesus is all about?

Thanks again Jenn so much for your thoughts and comments -

Anonymous said...

One last thought on this: There is a fine line we are forced to walk with the realization the surviving and thriving with life is the ministry and testimony of Christ. We must be careful, that in our eagerness to explore and know Christ like we never have before, claim to define all that walking out a "New" Christian life should look like. As Paul said, what is permissible for me may not be permissible for you. His discussion on this topic goes so much deeper than the typically discussion on whether someone can drink alcohol or not, etc. This life ministry is as unique as we are and I think that we must be extremely careful to allow each other to discover and live our faith individually and intentionally but hold one another to the accountability of spiritual purity and malleability in Christ. The question remains though, How can this be communicated without being morally relative?

I think it interesting that you bring this topic up, Jesse, because this is exactly something I am trying to define for myself right now. I want to be able to say that in all areas of my life I make an effort and succeed at including Christ daily. I am not talking about evangelism. I am talking about living a God honoring life without uddering a word. More than that, I want to point to various things in my life and say that because I am a Christian, I do this or I do this thing this way (not in a legalistic fashion, please do not misunderstand). It is the lifetime exploration of allowing God to use us as vessels 100% of the time. This looks vastly different for me than it does for the next person and so on. We only faily when we stop trying.

In our competitive, human jealousy, we have inadvertently celebrated the "full time" ministry worker over the average worker. I think that we will begin to see characteristics such as valuing one another over consumerism, prioritizing and investing in family/each other, the fruits of the spirit truely embodied, etc. celebrated more regardless of where one spends 40-50 hours of their week earning a living. I think that consumerism will fall away more and more from the "New" Christian. From my perspective, when the average person sacrifices to give resources away and invest in others and strives for genuine spiritual growth, we will and should celebrate this over all else because this is truely the ministry of the holy spirit.

A quote that crossed my path awhile back and has really stretched and inspired me, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

-Jenn Ayers

Jane Johnson said...

I think that one way to live fully as a Christian is to lead a reflective life. This is really just a new way to declare an old idea: that we should be in constant prayer. I think this means more than just throwing out a stream of requests; it involves consistent mental processing of ourselves and the world around us, and including God in it. I learn so much about how God wants me to live by reflecting upon my experiences.

Another idea that might be helpful for those of us trying to live a life of utmost worship and connection to God is that of indirect sin. This relates to the idea of living a reflective life, because this is something deep upon which to reflect. What am I doing that hurts other people in ways that I may see only indirectly or not at all? What organizations and businesses do I support that might end up bringing pain into someone else's life? Did I need to drive or could I have walked? Is there a reason that I left that ligth on? I read today on another cohort's blog that they were going to have a woman come speak to them who advises Christians on how to eat ethically. A question that they advertised that would be addressed really challenged me: are we eating in ways that contribute to food crises and riots in the rest of the world? What a grevious thing it would be to learn that I am in some way responsible for violence somewhere else! Attempting to clean up this kind of sin is difficult because it might involve inconvenience and sacrifice. But if we truly believe that all humans are eternal beings and that Jesus does want us to bring his kingdom to this world, I don't think we have any choice. Making tough decisions that cut into our institutional sins can be a powerful way to live as Christians, because it's about more than just me becoming more holy. It's really about carrying the commands to love all people and to manage the earth to an extraordinary level.

Jen- do you live in the Columbus area? If so, we would love for you to join us sometime. If you live somewhere else, perhaps there is a cohort you might look into, or you could even start one yourself. I know how difficult it can be to follow Jesus in isolation, and also how difficult it is to find a church that truly welcomes spiritual struggles and a state of unknowing.