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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Joiners or Individualists?

If you ever want to get a group of historians of the United States talking, ask them if they believe folks in the USA are "joiners" or "individualists?" The battle will ensue...Here's the thing, there's no doubt we've had some great individuals who have made significant imprints upon our society...(think Martin Luther King, Jr. or Thomas Jefferson), but inevitably, it seems, institutions are the result of their work, and the rest of us just "join in." (Think of those who went West AFTER the gold was found in 1849.) You're not going to win arguing one side or the other, but at Prairie Table there is probably no more important idea being debated than that one...joiners or individuals?...
Most mission congregations in the ELCA (that's our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) are designed for joiners, not individuals. Here's my favorite anecdote so far that proves this point: when we were getting set-up with the ELCA, the people in Chicago (where our denomination has headquarters) had to call up our Bishop here in Bismarck to ask what kind of name was Prairie Table, and why didn't it have "church" in the title? Whoever that person was who called was clearly a "joiner." "Church" is a joiner-word. That is, "church" is something you join...hence, "churches" have members...So, if you're a joiner, and you want to have religious experience, you search for a "church" to join...Prairie Table does not have "church" in its name (for precisely this reason), and hence, "joiners" may be confused because they are not sure what to join...I always love it when someone says to me, "I can't join your congregation, as I already am in one"...which is not true. You cannot join our congregation because there is nothing to join...not because you're already in a congregation (and who decided you could only be in one at a time anyhow? Where's that rule in the Bible?)...Prairie Table is for the religious and spiritual individualist who seeks community not institution...
After six months of gathering, you can tell the joiners who come to visit, and sort of wonder what is going on...where's the liturgy? Where's the roster? Where's the building? Those are all fine, and Prairie Table is not opposed to any of them on principle, but we are about community, and the individuals who comprise it...We believe it's individuals who are called by God who form of the ways to understand our Jewish brothers and sisters is to understand that they are called as a "people," but in Christ Jesus people are called as "brothers and sisters." (This, to my mind, is why Christianity is much more multi-racial than Judaism. Theologically, Golgatha inverts Sinai--- for my theological friends.)
This does not mean, by the way, that all the people who are part of Prairie Table are individualists, we probably have some joiners, and they are learning how to live and see God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit from a different angle, perhaps. We might not be very good individualists either, for that matter, we might be more comfotable as joiners...but I still hold that there are plenty of institutions to join here in Bismarck, and almost anywhere in the world these days,...but where can you find a community of God where your call is valued more than the tradition of the institution without the institution feeling threatened? In Bismarck alone, if you want to worship on a Sunday morning there are over 100 places to join...But if you want support to live out your call, to be free in your humanity to live out the divine desire? Not so many places...of course, that's how any good individualist wants it...but sometimes it's nice to have a friend.


Anonymous said...

If God calls us to be the body of Christ- we are not individualist, doing our own thing for our own purpose and joy- but "joined" together to live out a call as one. I believe their is more love working together rather than as separate. As individuals aren't we at odds with the bible passages that point out that we don't function well without each other part of the body? So, what's the big deal about being a joiner? Only those weak in faith are worried about losing themselves for the sake of God's call.
I'm a joiner and a partner in my work on this earth. Not worried about the labels others put on me about being a joiner in the family of faith that I enjoy being around to live out my call as a child of God.

Scott Frederickson said...

Dear Friend,
I would agree that even as an "individualist" one does not do one's "own thing," rather, one does God' will as an individual. There is nothing wrong with either joiners or individualists, and each can lose one's self for the sake of God...however, most Christian congregations are built for the joiners, not the individualists, and why should the joiners have all the fun?
By all means we should join in the fun, regardless of our predilections, and it is probably a little more difficult for those whom God inclines to a "road less traveled," but there is no doubt it is more fun when we do it all together.