Planting a church is in some ways like launching a new marriage: We set new patterns in life. Personal patterns for the marriage; community patterns for the church. When my wife and I got married 16 years ago we’d already been dating for five years prior. We had a winding dating relationship that was stretched by time zones, career u-turns and simple immaturity (mostly mine), but we continued to hold onto each other despite these challenges. Naively I thought our sheer romantic willpower would be enough to cultivate a vibrant marriage. I was an idealist that needed to experience the school of hard knocks. The first year was filled with beautiful memories but the assaulting arrows of demanding jobs, fluctuating finances, existential crisis (mostly mine), complicated outside friendships, the intensity of school and learning to grow up was an onslaught to our bondedness. Our emotional love for each other was still strong but a significant shift needed to take place if we were going to build an abundant life for the future. We needed new patterns.
All of life is built upon patterns. In the natural world bees form their honeycombs methodically, robins put together their nests piece by piece and planets loop around the sun in a strict cycle. All of these are wild expressions in nature, yet none of them is spontaneous and random. They are exuberant but they are organized around a pattern. These prescribed patterns form the platform for robust displays of brilliant beauty. Patterns on the surface can seem constricting, stiffly organic expression. Funny thing, organic farming is hip but organic farming is anything but haphazard. Ask any organic farmer how intentional, premeditated and rhythmic their toiling is in order to produce a bountiful, colorful, natural crop.
Patterning is part of the biblical narrative. The Genesis 1 account reflects creation patterns; instructions given to Moses for building a tabernacle reflect patterning—“See that you make this according to the pattern shown to you on the mountain” (Exodus 25); and the Apostle Paul urged people to model their lives on the pattern of other Jesus-followers—“Take note of others and live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Phil 3). My own marriage lacked healthy patterns that would produce fruitful character in our oneness. We lived by anti-patterns. I love mystery but we both learned our relationship needed to move out of the abstract and into some particular patterns we could commit to and apply together. We fashioned daily, weekly, monthly and yearly patterns. The goal was not to reach some level of self-congratulation but rather partnership toward growing something beautiful in our midst. Some of those early practices were as simple as a daily cup of coffee to download the happenings of the day, or going over finances weekly so no one bore the stress alone, or having a full date day monthly to indulge in each other. Some of our patterns have changed over the years but we’ve committed to them, rallied around them and trusted they would shape our life together in the typhoon nature of the world.
This post is not about my marriage, but it is about patterns and the church. I share my waking-up to patterns because what I felt in my early years of marriage, I feel deeply about the church now. The church needs to re-evaluate its patterns of togetherness in the places they dwell. Lesslie Newbigin has said, “We are shaped by what we attend to.” We must refresh what will conform us into a love-filled, grounded people, for the good of the world and the glory of God. I’m a minimalist, believing that the power is in the essentials not the luxuries. From that perspective I ask “what are those essential patterns we must cultivate that foster a vibrant life together in the world?” I find the question “how can we be a relevant church” distracting from what will nourish ecclesia for the future. What is really relevant is when the church is the church, not when it’s an impressive production. We need a full recovery of simplified, sacred, shared-patterns that mold a new but old way of being Kingdom-Come in the neighborhoods we inhabit. We are human so our joy, energy and emotional maturity toward living as the church ebbs and flows, which makes it paramount to covenant to foundational patterns. I use 7 C’s to explain the patterns I attempt to live into with others.
- Commitment (A Pattern of Fidelity) – We need a foundation of mutual commitment to each other. If you’re gathering a cluster of people to live as the People of God, do not be afraid to ask for a long term commitment to a neighborhood together. We’re not in a promise-keeping culture so commitment sounds alien and potentially cultic. Covenanted-community is a core sacrament of the church. This is not an issue of control but of mutual love for one another. Love is not sentimentality, it is fidelity. Love is a rugged commitment to be with and for someone. Many live their lives with a strong dose of individualistic-ADHD, transitioning to the next shiny, exciting opportunity that benefits them. We cannot be fueled by inspiration as inspiration comes and goes; we are fueled by covenant-love, patterned after God’s relentless faithfulness to us. Discover rootedness, converse about it, come together, fashion some vows together, don’t take them lightly and press into a long faithfulness.
- Communion (A Pattern of Remembering) – The Lord’s Table (Eucharist) is our banner reminder of who we are to God, who we are to each other and who we are in the world. We rally around this living feast because of how forgetful we are. We need to tell each other with symbol and sacrament that we are loved, we belong to God and we are sent on a cruciform mission. This Table marks us, humbles us and fills our souls back up. This becomes a blazing signpost for our existence as the People of God submitting to the reign of King Jesus.
- Common-Table (A Pattern of Welcoming) – From the Lord’s Table flows a secondary table into our lives; a common table. This common table is a coming together to feast, to share our food, linger and laugh, share our highs and lows, and make space for strangers in our life. Kids play among us, tears flow when it’s been a hard day and warm hugs are offered liberally. This pattern shapes our social muscles together, one that is generous, hospitable and constant. The schedule of our lives will resist this table-pattern but we must practice a counter-resistance.
- Confession (A Pattern of Truth-Telling) – Galatians 6:4 says, “Let everyone examine together the work they’ve accomplished, for then you can delight in the work of your hands without pride. Do not compare yourselves with each other; rather seek God’s help in making the inner secrets of your hearts plain.” This verse inspired the Jesuit practice of The Examen of Consciousness founded five hundred years ago. It was an Examine practiced in community to explore motivations, hopes, failures and sneaky sins. Examine is essential for maturing together. This pattern of examine is our place to confess who we are. We need safe spaces that encourage discourse and disclosure. What does it mean to be confessional about who we are? We must learn to tell the truth. Truth-telling is first about speaking the truth about ourselves before pointing the speck out in someone else’s eye. Yet we must seek understanding when we observe relating that is untruthful, perpetuating the nursing of wounds, angry inner tirades, passive aggressive postures and festering sins. Confessing who we are in safety is a cord that holds us together in a viral culture of dishonest relating
- Conflict (A Pattern of Dialoguing) – We will offend one another, we will hurt each other, because we are human and flawed. What will we do when we intentionally or unintentionally jab each other? Will we bail? Will we revert to gossip, detached attitudes, ruminating in paranoid interpretations, hiding behind words in emails and collecting weapons to unleash on each other? When we sense our rights have been stepped on, or our voice has gone unheard, or our input has not been valued: We must vow to new patterns of conflict. We must name these new patterns, hold each other to them and invite each other to refresh our application when they are not practiced.
- Complexity (A Pattern of Diversity) – Community does not obliterate our individuality. We must make space for our uniqueness, our hobbies, our distinct cultures, our political leanings, our varying education levels. We must not force conformity, graciously learning how to make room for each other beyond affinities. This means listening to each other’s differences, celebrating each other’s milestones, partaking in each other’s cultures and genuinely listening and learning from each other’s opposite experiences.
- Crisis (A Pattern of Supporting) – Crisis precipitates a change in our lives and we must be there for each other when this occurs. A loss of job, a significant failure, a death, a marital fight, a loss of faith, are all matters for community to press into urgently and appropriately. We must take crisis seriously and feel the full burden to carry our brothers and sisters when it arises. No superhero person can do this, this is covenant-commitment to each other.
These are the patterns that I’ve been attempting to live into over the years. They have become my foundation for being the church as the expression of the Kingdom of God. All of these Patterns stirred together create a crock-pot for God’s Spirit to brew and create a new Kingdom flavor of body-life. What patterns would you add to the list?
This article originally appeared here.