Rethinking Church Part 2: Love First
Welcome to the second journal entry in our series introducing the why, what, and how of New Wine Collective. Follow and join the conversation!
We’re reimagining church from the ground up, based on a simple foundational premise: Love is what matters most. And if love is what matters most, then anyone can do church! Even a child can lead (Matt 18:1-5). You don’t need someone else's permission. You don’t need a degree, a title, or special qualifications. You don’t need to belong to the right group or even believe the right beliefs. Jesus never seemed to care much about any of these things.
If love is first, then everything else comes second.
Slow down and consider the implications of that statement.
In my experience with churches, I've found that love is often the most difficult thing to keep front and center. We always want to add on and make it about other things, like rules, doctrines, traditions, or emotional experiences; which almost always have the unintended downside of overcomplicating things and creating more barriers for people. None of these things are necessarily bad. In fact, some can be quite valuable! They’re just not the main thing. But the Bible seems to be pretty clear about what is:
- Love is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-40)
- Love is how others will know we’re following Christ (John 13:34-35)
- Love is the most excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31)
- Love is what remains and matters most of all (1 Corinthians 13:13)
- We’re to be rooted and founded in love (Ephesians 3:17)
- God IS love (1 John 4:8 and 4:16)
Any religion that has lost its center in love can become dangerous. It can become competitive, controlling, and easily seduced by power and empire. Religion without love can be used to exclude, condemn, and make ourselves feel superior to others. At our worst, we can be so blinded by our own certainty that we can even justify abuse, violence, and oppression. We’ve seen a lot of this throughout history and tragically, we’re seeing it in American Christianity today.
It has been a long journey but I’ve come to believe that the purpose of all spirituality is simply to make us more loving. It’s what maturity always looks like. If our practice of religion is not making us more tender, accepting, and compassionate towards others and ourselves, then we’re most likely missing the point. And it seems the only way to grow in the way of love is to actually practice doing it, which is very different from just hearing and talking about it. (See “The Wise and Foolish Builders” Matthew 7:24-27)
You might be thinking, “But aren’t most churches all about love?” Yes! Surely, many churches value love very highly. The problem is our current system (what most of us think of as “going to church”) is simply not designed very well for the practice of love. If it were, we would be spending far more time gathered around dinner tables and less time sitting in rows, facing forward, and not talking to each other. As the saying goes, every system is perfectly designed to yield the results that it gets. It doesn’t matter how much we say we want or value something. Unless we change the actual design of the systems and structures we have in place, we have no reason to expect a different outcome.
Love is mostly “learned” in the beautiful and often awkward messiness of life and face-to-face relationships. Merely producing and consuming more services, sermons, and songs are not going to do very much for us other than fortify what we already think and know. In order to learn the way of love, we will need an alternative system–a love and practice-based model for spiritual community that empowers us to cultivate the empathy and compassion that is already encoded in our DNA as God's image-bearers.
If God is love, then what does that make you?
All this is why we’re going back to basics and trying to redesign a system from the ground up, starting with love and relationships at the center. Love first; everything else second. It should be obvious but "church" is not really about programming and production, although that is largely what we’ve made it to be. Nor is it about brands, buildings, or institutions. We believe the essence of "church" is relational and organic. A spiritual community is one that practices love for God, love for one another, and love for neighbors. It’s a simple thing. Anyone can do it!
I believe that, together, we can help shape a more loving and hopeful future for our world. It will just require some imagination and a willingness to ask some deeper questions.
What might church look like if we were to put the practice of love and mutual relationships at the center?