by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
In Lakeland’s context, a Redemptive Community is a midsize group – around 20 or 30 people. Redemptive Communities accommodate families, especially families with younger active children.
A Redemptive Community has three features:
“Common Cause” is the most powerful of the three features. Other groups, small groups may gather around information like a book or a teaching. They may gather around relationships and attempt to gain some meaningful friendships to do life together. But a Redemptive Community (RC) begins with a cause. In Lakeland’s case, there are two active Redemptive Communities that fit this definition: Anapra’s Rice and Beans Community and the China Redemptive Community.
Each RC begins with a called passionate pastor or pastor-equivalent leader. They rally the vision and keep the flame burning for the cause. Others join who embrace the cause. A typical meeting of the Redemptive Community includes updates about the cause and strategies to build the cause and do something productive for the cause. Laurie and I help lead the China RC. As a part of our ongoing effort to support Jack and Hannah Liu in China, and their training up of young emerging leaders, the group members take turns and Skype the class on Sunday evenings. So we talk about how the classroom teaching time is going.
“Common Meal” is a theological point. Food is fellowship. So we break bread together and Christ is revealed, just like in Luke 24:13ff where the two disciples of Jesus are joined by the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Over dinner Jesus breaks the bread and reveals his identity to them. While we may ignore this bread-breaking epiphany of Christ, it is still true for those with the eyes to bear witness to it. The Redemptive Communities should acknowledge this truth: food binds us to each other and to Christ.
Redemptive Communities may or may not have deep personal relationships with each other. The size of the group usually keeps it from being all-inclusive intimate. Folks may have private conversations, and personal interaction and learn and care for each other, but it is not necessary. The mid-size group includes more numbers, but doesn’t worry about intimacy. So for those who want a small-group experience or a covenant group experience, or mentoring, the RC is not that. In fact, the RC may feel “thin” or superficial. Kids run around and “tag” mom or dad. It is noisy and disruptive. If you want Bible study then it will be hard to accomplish at an RC.
It is better to have activities rather than information. Create activities for the kids to pronounce the gospel’s presence in the RC’s midst, and the hope of the gospel in the cause’s location, like China or Mexico. Language lessons might be appropriate. Plays and skits work. Kids can create presentations. The Common Meal is the gathered space, the village time and space. And RC’s function more like a village than a Bible study or support group.
“Common Prayer” codifies the cause. Our China group meets for dinner once a month on a Sunday evening. So we use Vespers, or Evensong (Evening Song) prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. We adapted the prayers to include missional prayers. And there is a time for intercession on behalf of the coworkers in China and cause. The children are asked to participate in the prayers. The prayers are liturgical, so they may start out dry. But over time liturgical prayers gain power and sway because they are repeated, which forces reflection and depth – even if they are not emotive and exuberant or heart-felt the way spontaneous prayers feel.
Evensong is nice because candles are lit during the prayers and the kids can participate. Lakeland is not very good at gathered prayer (there, I said it). But we are learning. Evangelicals value spontaneity but sacrifice depth of prayer for feelings. We don’t confess, we don’t give thanks, we don’t pray for the world – usually Evangelicals pray for themselves. They self-appropriate the Spirit. That’s permissible but it is narrow and Existential. We love to love ourselves. Yes, that’s a harsh critique.
Evangelicals need a depth of mission, a self-denying, self-effacing, settled, stable, and secure groundedness. Liturgical prayers are “dry” because they don’t indulge us (the private person.) Gathered liturgical prayers include everyone. Liturgical prayers are about “the we, not the me.” There is nothing more beautiful than when the children join us for the Lord’s Prayer and they know it by heart.How do they know this prayer that Jesus taught? Repetition.
Redemptive Communities are gaining traction at Lakeland. We are figuring them out on our own. I am sure there is a workshop on them, or some big time church is selling their best practice of mid-size group. But I’d rather we own this one ourselves. I don’t want to think, “Oh man, we are not as cool as that church’s midsize group program.” Let us continue to explore and experiment with the Redemptive Community posture, and see where it takes us.