My work constantly shows me what is essential to the spiritual life. As people face their own frailty, the essence of the good news they most need and want to internalize is that they are not alone, that even when humanly alone, God, in whatever language you put "it," is with them and will not let them go. My role as a minister is to remind them of God’s presence in their midst and of the peace and comfort that comes with that presence. I do this by being present myself with them. In being present together, Jesus’ presence is made manifest. “Whenever two or three are gathered…”
Can a church replicate the transformative intimacy of pastoral care? Absolutely.
How? By being going back to a more relational, intimate level, replicating the beloved community-building of the earliest church. I am like many of my and the coming generations that find in traditional God-language an innate distance and disconnect when it is imminence and connection we most need and desire.
What if we took 1 John 4:8’s proclamation that God is Love literally and apply it all pervasively? What if we demythologized anthropomorphic metaphors of God and point to more universal and expansive metaphors, pointing to the God inherent in all? What if we pointed to Jesus as a master-teacher whose life and whose life teaching, even in death, lives and transforms us? What if we focused on the Holy Spirit as the Breath of God that knows no limitations or bifurcations, including religious ones, and thus explains non-Christian examples of “transformativeness”? What if we explicate that in the Trinity we see a working model of e pluribus unum?
So the growing church is theologically creative yet grounded in the operative principle that God is Love.
As for methodology, creating a natural community of relationships is the soil from which spiritual transformation and growth arise.
Everything else arises out of this.
Worship services and community service arise out of this. Sunday services that are relational are natural and intimate, and include meaningful quiet, evocative music, meaningful conversation and deep listening, and contemplative ritual.
Far more than anything else in our multitasking, hyperactive world, people need to learn the art of stopping the rat-race, listening with more than just our ears, and being, without distraction and noise, present with people, leaving other life demands to another time. That’s what the services and the community as a whole would seek to create. The same would apply to community service as well.
Religious education arises out of this. Seminars, discussion groups, and educational opportunities related to theology would be part of the community. This religious education component would be focused on the broad, expansive traditions of Christianity but also look at non-Christian traditions and philosophies as well. Regular Centering Prayer sessions throughout the week would be another component to this approach.
Lastly, thinking about the growing problem of nature-deficit, the perfect church would incorporate regular outings to and even worship in nature.
Anyway, these are my thoughts on how to cultivate and grow the beloved community.