this article published as the feature in the New York Times magazine was a fascinating examination of a church. without going into too much detail about the article, (please read it if you are at all inclined) a very large church in Arizona is closely examined within the context of the "exurbs" - new housing developments that might be described as dislocated suburbs on steroids.
i wanted to bring it up here simply to restate something a bloke named Hoekendijk started writing about back in the fifties. Hoekendijk argued that if the kingdom of god is to be our principle aim, we are sorely mistaken to focus all of our hopes/energy/passion exclusively on the church. he summarized his argument by saying that, "Church-centric missionary thinking is bound to go astray, because it revolves around an illegitimate center" (The church inside out, 1964, p.38). (there's more) he goes on to suggest that understanding God’s mission of love and justic in the world will require a broader vision - a vision that has been called the missio dei. (i am well aware the there are some major problems with Hoekendijk's ideas.....but for now i am grateful for the shift in ecclesial thinking his work inspired, including his having a huge influence on a bloke called Leslie Newbegin).
just as we are miserable creatures when when we put ourselves at the center of the universe, so too is the church mired in it's own troubles when we make it the centerpiece of what we suppose God is doing. in australia we have billabongs - literally meaning "dead creek". they are ponds where the water sits still because a creek or stream has dried up and stopped flowing through. The water becomes rancid and stinky.
now, back to the NYT magazine article. here we have a church that is a massive success in gathering people, serving the 'members', and offering relationships/advice/information. and yet...and yet, it is increasingly the "center" and i wonder if this success will turn sour as it becomes a Christian ghetto. i have a friend who suggests that Christians in the United States are generally "of the world, but not in it." the punch line of the article (in my reading) was a quote from a very satisfied member who was talking about his new (Christian) friends and his old (non-Christian) friends - "we've had to commit ourselves to friends who could help us grow spiritually." (cf. Luke 7:34)
i hope we as the people of God can commit ourselves to the world in the ways of Jesus. this will mean occupying the margins - "the edge of chaos" - where our whole lives can be trans-formed in missionary service. this is a de-centered religion, a faith(fulness) for the spaces in between. the church is not big enough to contain the dreams of God.