On Earth as it is in Heaven: for the common good, for you!
What Business is the Common Ground Church in, and what should it be?
Peter Drucker, management thinker and influencer, asked essential questions of organizations like, “What business are you in, and what should it be?”
Business = the CGC’s reason to exist and how we engage this purpose in our context.
Simply stated, we believe that our business is the enjoyment of God’s presence, and with God, to heal the Earth. There are many other human agencies in existence to heal the Earth. What distinguishes Common Ground Church from other human communities motivated by this sense of vocation?
The CGC vision is God-sourced, e.g., theologically informed, rooted, attuned, and imagined. Therefore, whatever business we are in, it’s defined by God’s mission on Earth as it is in heaven. The inspiration for our vocational identity as a faith community draws from the rich tradition found in the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, especially the Gospels (good news) – in dialogue with the expansive wisdom of the sciences, the arts and other God-given fields of inquiry including contemplation.
Having “church” as part of our name makes the next statement interesting. However, a God-sourced vision leads us to conclude that local churches are not in the church business. The church is not the protagonist of its own story. We are in the abundant life business through Christ (John 10:10) for the interconnected life, including human beings, on earth as it is in heaven. Meaning, the local church is a creation for the Creation.
Capital “C” Creation here for us refers to all interconnected life including ever evolving human beings! From people and plants to planets and pulsars, energy and ecosystems, atoms to super-novas, cells and continents, souls to societies: our motivation is to heal the earth. (Check out this article, A Beloved Earth Community: Christian Mission in an Ecological Age.)
Why? First, Jesus’ program was NOT:
- to make a self-interested religious sect nor dot the landscape with sanctioned, sentimentalized spaces within its particular religious brand,
- to establish human empires legitimated by any one socially-constructed cultural myth nor religious system,
- to shelter good, spiritually-qualifying people from the rest of the interconnected life on Earth nor provide the lure of an escape route to some metaphysically, other-worldly paradise in the future,
- to numb the pain and discomfort of our personal pain and feelings of discomfort around others’ suffering,
- to occupy an apolitical la-la land that promotes nostalgia over justice.
So, what was God up to in Jesus? God so loved the interconnected life of the earth, of which humans belong and exist, that God became one of us in Christ Jesus. Jesus is material evidence that “God so loved” the whole creation that groans for redemption (Romans 8:19-23). God so loves you! This is God’s business. It is personal, and concerns healing the whole of Creation.
Vocationally, what concerns God, concerns us. Therefore, the CGC exists to heal the Earth…”for God so loved the world.” In other words, the local church is a creation for the Creation by God’s design, not the vortex around which the rest of Creation swirls nor edifices where Jesus is somehow most truly present. Church is theologically reimagined, reoriented human community in the manner and values of Jesus, but from the stuff of earth no less, to serve God’s healing of the whole Creation (interconnected, earthy life). The Holy Spirit is organically present reimagining, reorienting and reinventing human community at all moments of the day so that its life is not bent on power over others but with others for the hope of healing all of life.
The goal of church is not converting the rest of humanity to one brand of church-ianity or even Christianity amongst all the possibilities in any one local community. Rather, the measure or end of the church is to love God and love neighbor as self in the manner and values of Jesus. Even what is referred to as the great commission (“go, make disciples,” Matthew 28:18-20) means to equip people motivated to live this life of love. This is not the same as convincing people Jesus or our version of Jesus is superior. Our mission is not attracting people to attend our “public” worship service to eventually join our local church in order to attract more people to attend, join and repeat the cycle (how exhausting!). Whether consciously or not, the temptation has been to make church the spiritual center of people’s lives rather than life in Christ with others in people’s ordinary, everyday life.
Why does the church automatically imagine and orient itself as center of God’s plans? Why do congregations perpetuate that the “true church” exists under certain circumstances in a centralized location rather than anywhere “two or three” are gathered in Jesus’ name?
These are questions we’ve wrestled with as a local congregation over the years. The answers do not come from church people asking the Church, even though we’re habituated to tap the Church to fix the church’s frustrations. In our experience, we consistently come to the end of such effort of looking for the next fix. It is at this familiar point of grace, we pray that we get back to the main thing, or thing itself:
ChurchHoly Spirit, how might we free ourselves us from our ecclesial self-preoccupation and self-important protagonist syndrome, and de-center our institutionalized ego, pieties and spiritual practices?heal our trust and recenter us in Christ’s transformative love and passion for all of life. Amen. (Psalm 62 works, too: “For you alone, O God, our souls wait in silence….”)
The main thing of any church and its agenda is practicing love for the good of our neighbor, not success nor survival of an ecclesial institution – just love of our neighbor where they are in their context.
Good works and vocation (love) exist for the earth and one’s neighbor, not for eternity and God. (Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 10)
God’s business is our concern and call: How do we do this?
We are making the case that a life worth living means to value as Christ valued life on earth as it is in heaven. Cultivating a life like this entails a lifelong process of personal formation and transformative partnership for good. (Check this out: The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr sums this up well if you’re curious.)
There’s more to say about this life worth living. Like, grace liberates us daily for a life like this. God made us for this life together for the common good. Or, from the CGC’s historical brand,
God does not need our good works, Luther said, but our neighbor does. (Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 10)
In this grace-induced relationship with God and one another, we have the freedom to crowdsource how we go about doing the God-sourced vision of church for the common good with others, with you. You are integral to this work. Together, we are integral to this work and life because, in the end, we are the neighbors called to love one another as ourselves. The center of this life together is Christ in our neighbor, in you and me, in our in-group and out-group neighbor. The interpenetrating reality of the Spirit, who potentiates and motivates neighborly love in ourselves and our neighbor, makes this kind of contextualized centered life possible.
So let’s begin to imagine a love that liberates us from any cultural ideology or religion that promotes egoistic, tribal self-preoccupation, blame-shifting and polarizing enmity. What if local Christian communities were about practicing this kind of liberating love? What would be more pressing than that on the agenda of a typical church board meeting?
One of the most exciting aspects of this stage of the Common Ground Church journey is the hope of living a life of value in our actual ordinary, daily lives in the context of the whole Creation. That’s why we understand ourselves as a multi-campus church distributed where we live, work and play, but most importantly, where two or more gather in Jesus’ name. (And, hey, here’s the rub for some when it comes to talking this way: it won’t always makes sense to folks with baked-in preconceptions of “church,” which is clearly not a physical building according to Jesus in the Gospels. Which dare we say, should matter since Jesus kinda started the whole thing. Right? Need more convincing? Go further back in the tradition and consider God’s opinion on temple building in 2 Samuel 7.)
Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:7)
What then is the CGC promoting? We are developing a contextualized platform for simple but powerful daily practices that attune us to a sense of the holy and concern for neighbor and ourselves. We understand this as a soul work/good work platform with more to come about it as we journey together with the Spirit. (God’s not finished with us yet!)
You can get deep into more about our background journey up to 2018-19 here. The proposal used to plant this new congregation is available 2020 proposal and action plan for Common Ground Church-3.