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!
Some of you may be wondering, “So what exactly is New Wine Collective anyway?” In short, we’re a non-profit organization building an online platform that empowers people to co-create their own spiritual community wherever they are. Of course there’s much more to it, but that’s it in a nutshell! These journal entries attempt to articulate some of the underlying spirituality and rationale for our alternative approach to church.
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! You don’t need someone’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. I know that sounds obvious but try slowing down and considering the full implications of that statement.
In my experience with churches, I find 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 and helpful. 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)
The fact is– any religion that has lost its center in love can be 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 a lot of it in American Christianity today.
It’s taken me a while 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 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? Why reinvent the wheel?” There’s a saying that goes, every system is perfectly designed to yield the results that it gets. It doesn’t matter how much we want or value something. Unless we change the actual design of the systems and structures we have in place, there’s no reason to expect a different outcome.
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.
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 make us busier. We need an alternative system– a love and practice based model for spiritual community that empowers us to cultivate spiritual friendships, frees us to discover purpose and meaning, and also just makes sense for life in a fast changing world!
All this is why we’re going back to basics and trying to redesign the 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 buildings, or institutions, or even a system of beliefs. Church is a relational community 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?