I’ve been waiting for his concluding remarks and then read the rest of what he’s written in relation to Peter Ward’s book Liquid Church. Anyway, here’s the closing remarks:
“There is a boldness in Ward’s vision that intrigues and fascinates me. I find myself wanting to run with this creative view of the church’s future. Yet, I find he wants to correct the pendulum swing too much. Solid church has had an overemphasis on the Sunday morning gathering. Yet, that does not mean that the idea of the faith community gathering together is wrong, or ineffective or counter to following Jesus.
Our churches need to become less institutionalised and rigid. We need to explore models that don’t just tinker with the same formula but attempt to rethink the whole DNA of what it means to be the ecclesial faith community. Ward’s vision doesn’t offer an entire solution, and it is not perfect in its expression, but it does challenge our processes and ideas of church, in order that we can express our mission in new ways and forms.”
For the rest of it .. I’ve taken the liberty to post it below (no comments from me – I didn’t bold letter the whole thing so it’s easier to read):
Liquid Church – Reservation on the role of gatherings
I have been reading Liquid Church by Pete Ward. Great book – innovative, bold and provocative. Over the next few days, I thought I would share some of my reactions both positive and negative. I would love to hear your thoughts on each one. Here is my first one and it has to do with a reservation I have about the role of the gathering in Ward’s vision.
In his critique of solid church, Ward has, in my opinion, an unhealthy focus on the gathering. He is right in his critique. Solid Church has become obsessed with attracting people to a certain event at a certain time and we have seemed to have lost the sense of movement (fluidity) and cause that dominated the teachings of Jesus and characterised the early Christians. However, I cannot agree that the logical conclusion is to discard the value of the gathering.
At Northern Community, we have emphasised an increasingly fluid church. Our newer and smaller congregations offer more fluid possibilities than our traditional Sunday morning congregation. They can easily change time, place and style from week to week. Sometimes some of our congregations will join together for a special event or decide to shut down for the holiday time. The smaller nature of our emerging church congregations make this possible in a way that is not viable for our larger Sunday morning congregation. Yet, despite this fluidity of time, place and style, and even frequency the gathering time is an integral part of our structures. The time of gathering in whatever form that it might take, is seen to be, and is, an important way to express our spirituality and community.
Nevertheless, I am challenged that my insistence on the value of the gathering may represent my own reliance on a particular paradigm of church. Maybe Ward is right, and I just don’t “get it”. Am I so much influenced by the gathering paradigm that I cannot see any other way?
One aspect that I have found personally challenging and even jarring is whether I place too much pressure and expectation on people to attend our congregations? Have I begun to rate everything that we do at Northern through the eyes of “getting someone to the gathering”? There is no doubt that ministers and leaders feel the pressure of “results”. I suspect, ironically this is felt more in smaller emerging church congregations.
Perhaps attendance could also be considered fluidly. Particularly in Protestant traditions, Church attendance is required to be regular. If you are to be seen to be a loyal, and valuable member of the community you must be coming weekly. Why? Is this something that we need to question – particularly in these modern times of fast pace life, different options and the pressures of work and family. Yet, I still find myself reacting to this concept while thinking that the community of faith misses out on something when people don’t commit to each other on a regular basis.
Liquid Church – Unity
Liquid Church emphasises fluidity and flexibility. It has a vision for multiple connecting points rather than a regular central cell structure. So, how will unity and identity be expressed in liquid church? Ironically, maybe the mega Church with its diverse offering of services can assist in this. Larger Churches cannot express their unity and identity through worshiping in the same place at the same time. And so other ways are sought.
Our own journey at Northern Community has seen a development of multiple congregations. This has meant that we have needed to tackle this issue of unity and identification. Some of the ways we have explored are; shared vision, core values, spiritual disciplines, and events that encourage all congregations to come together. Perhaps Liquid Church could, in practice, utilize the same unifying methods.
Liquid Church – Compartmentalising Church
Solid Church has built distinct compartments for worship, mission and other networks and it is this that I believe is the key issue. If our understanding of conversion is one of a line being crossed at a certain point in time then our church structures will be formed by this understanding. Journeys of faith have been cast as a black/white conversion – you are in or you are out. Solid church has then developed key distinctions between what is a worship event and what is not. The separation between the secular and the sacred have become clear.
But, what if we took these glasses off and replaced them with ones that saw conversion as more of journey. These glasses would contain a view in which people are seen as sometimes moving forward, sometimes backward and sometimes sideward. Liquid church allows for a more subtle assessment which does not marginalise those that do not see themselves as either clearly “Christian” or clearly “non-Christian”. It allows people to connect with God and each other in their own way and at their own pace. This has profound consequences for mission. No longer is the goal to “get” people to a Sunday worship event but rather the goal is to make disciples.
Liquid Church – Community vs event mentality
I find it ironic that despite Ward’s assertion that liquid church should not focus on gatherings, it seems to me, that when he moves into describing the practical nature of liquid church there is an emphasis on events. It is true that the events proposed are substantially different to having the worshiping congregation as central. Events such as a labyrinth worship experience or a particular worship experience that people can experience in their own time and in their own space are ones that people can pick and choose depending on their taste and schedules.
Yet, I struggle with the lack of community that I perceive these examples offer. Is the community expressed between people sharing each other’s lives over extended periods of time to be shunned completely? Is there no place for people of faith to sojourn together?
Liquid Church – Plasma Church
I am attracted to the flexibility of Ward’s Liquid Church. His vision is one that is motivated by mission in a post-modern culture. It is not attempting to defend church structures but rather seeks to place people at the centre of the church. We often hear the words that ‘the Church is the people’ and yet our actions and emphasis betray our true ecclesiology.
At Northern we have attempted with our smaller and newer models of congregations to retain a flexibility that is not sustainable in larger gathering or solid church. We are certainly not the fulfilment of what Ward portrays. We are as someone said to me, more like plasma church – a mix of the solid and the liquid. Perhaps I am not as radical as I would like to think of myself because I am very comfortable with the mix and uncomfortable with the concept of letting go of all elements of solid church.
Liquid Church – Who will pay the bills?
Steve Taylor writes: ‘On a practical level, it needs to be asked who will fund Ward’s dream of a liquid church’ . If there is not a committed group gathering frequently, who will become committed enough to fund his dream? Ward likely envisages that his vision will require less funding than solid church. I think this is true, however I begin to wonder about the long term sustainability of the mission and ministry of liquid church.
I can understand that the funding of the individual events will be catered for by a user-pays mentality. I can also understand that if you remove paid clergy, and buildings you obviously remove many of the costs associated with the modern church. But, I was challenged about how this peer-to-peer leadership of individual events can ensure that entirety of a community’s needs are met. Visiting the aged, the sick and the infirm are some of the things that came to mind as functions that require funding. But, this is where Ward’s vision has been able to step outside the traditional paradigm. It is possible that a group of people would form to meet this need. Perhaps my reaction stems from my own need as a leader to ensure that this type of ministry happens.
Liquid Church – selling solid church short
In his desire to critique solid church I believe that Ward focuses on the gathering component of solid church too much. Solid church has always had elements of the fluidity that Ward desires. In fact, there are many gatherings associated with solid church which I and others would continue to see as valuable. Networks of small groups, youth clubs and sporting clubs are common examples of this.
It is a matter of emphasis that is the distinct difference. What solid church fails to do is give the same status to these ventures as the Sunday gathering and this is the real challenge to solid church. What would it mean for larger churches to begin to see some of their groups within the existing structures as “Church”? Larger churches offer a diverse range of seminars and events that fit within Ward’s vision of the commodification of spirituality. In fact, the larger church supermarket mentality has often been criticised for being too consumeristic.
Liquid Church – De-emphasising of a particular emphasis of faith
I like the way Ward’s vision is big enough to encompass the diversity of faith expressions. Solid church has a tendency to emphasise a particular style of worship at the cost of being welcoming and encouraging of the diversity of the ways people connect with God and each other. This one-size fits all mentality needs to be challenged. Many of the ‘newer’ approaches to worship in solid church have not been more than fiddling with the same formula. We take the formula of singing, sitting in rows and a sermon and we tweak. The last twenty or so years have seen such tweaks as modern music, singers urging us on from the front and multimedia presentations in our inputs. But, while it may seem radically different to more traditional approaches to worship, I question if we really have re-thought how church will connect with people. I respect Ward’s attempt to do exactly this.
Liquid Church – Escape from structure and processes
The idea that people can participate in the network of liquid church and be insulated from church politics is very attractive. This is not one size fits all, but an attempt to provide choice and customisation at every level of the church experience. Smaller solid church experiences (emerging church included!) are often quite intimidating for the newcomer. Larger churches have an advantage where people can sit relatively anonymously for a time. Both large and small solid church expressions can learn from this element of liquid church and create events that allow people to connect in briefly at their own pace and in their own style.