The Curse of Monasticism Reborn


No sooner do I get done writing a far-between post noting how my posts have been far-between while I work on finishing up my novel, and offering up a link elsewhere to ponder just to prove the point, God grabs ahold of me and makes me write this.

I wonder if we are creating a new monasticism.

The Reformation drove a stake into the separatist mentality that is the core of monasticism, proving that the Gospel belongs out among the people, out in our communities, villages, towns, and cities. It was a call to leave the ivory towers and get one's hand dirty out in the "real" world. And not only that, it called Christians to be pillars in their communities, villages, towns, and cities, to have a real presence that brought Christ into the marketplace of ideas.

The True Light cannot be hid in us who cherish Him, so the Reformers told us to get out from under our bushels and shine. They taught that Christianity was not to be a religion of disconnection, but a relationship with Christ who gathers us in a Body and dwells amid that Body—a Body centered in our local communities.

This is why I wonder about the current moves going on in the American Church. There is a gung-ho attitude toward small groups, house churches, and select meetings of a few outside the large church assemblies. It is good that we think about those types of groups and consider their impact.

However, in a day and age when fractionalization and withdrawing from community are the norm are we Christians missing the bigger picture by de-emphasizing large assemblies while heaping praise on smaller groups?

My wife and I spent much of this year searching for a new church. More than three years ago, we moved an hour's drive away from our old church while continuing to go there. The outcome of this was that we did not plug into the village we lived in because our church was fifty miles away. Having one foot in the community we lived in and one in our community of faith many miles away meant that neither found a connection to the other. In the end, both were diminished.

Yet it is more than just a distance issue. It may also be a numbers issue. The church that we have landed in near our home has about four hundred people in it. That winds up being four hundred connections into our local village. That's four hundred reinforcements to a presence in town AND four hundred reinforcements to our community of faith.

A small group cannot do that. A house church cannot do that, either. When we wonder why we feel disconnected in our own communities, perhaps this is why. Neglecting our presence in our towns and villages in numbers that reinforce rather than divide is ushering in a new monasticism. We find ourselves cut off from the world at large and also cut off from the Church at large. Dwelling in this limbo, we gut our effectiveness not only to reach new people with the Gospel, but to enjoy relationships with a wide variety of people, relationships that have Kingdom potential ranging from a simple "God bless you!" to the clerk at the local grocery store to a deep discipleship relationship with a new believer at our church.

Synergy is also lost. It is one thing to cast the seed everywhere we go, but how much more effective can we be when we repeatedly cast it right where we live? The compounding of this synergy repeated four hundred times every day by the folks in our new church can also not be overlooked. A new monasticism cripples this kind of synergy, diluting its effectiveness.

One of the first verses I ever felt God illumined in me is this one:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
—Isaiah 55:10

God's word does not return void. In some people it is like rain, soaking into the soil of a barren heart, that rain finally giving nourishment to the seed there. In others, it is like snow, piling up and up until something warms it, causing it to melt and seep into the soil.

When we Christians spread ourselves thin or withdraw into little groups, the storm is lost, and the blizzard is reduced to a mere frost.

There is something to be said for churches between two hundred and a thousand people. A church that size allows us to know the ones with whom we fellowship. It also can take a people of one mind and cause a storm in the towns and villages in which we live. And lastly, it affords us connections into those same towns and villages that allow us to be a vital part of their livelihood rather than just listing them as a place where we get our mail.

People wonder why we feel disconnected from the people who live right next door to us. They ask why our churches seem to be so ineffective, too. Perhaps our monastic mentality is the cause.

God helps us break out of our ivory towers and get out among the people, both those who know the Lord and those who hope one day to know. Let us be a vital presence in our local communities, bringing the Gospel Light into all we do. And let us also be the beneficiaries of the connections we forge immediately around us, to our neighbors, and to the community at large. Always for Your glory and Your Kingdom. Amen.

4 thoughts on “The Curse of Monasticism Reborn

  1. I agree with you on the small groups. I have studied control and cultism within the evangelical church for over 20 years now and I am seeing some real alarm bells in this small group movement as to accountability and leadership (or no leadership in some cases).

    I am a huge fan however, of small groups formed BY and supervised by a regular church, especially geographical groups where people in the same area who go to the same church get to know each other and even reach out to non-Christian neighbors and friends as a group.

    Where I live in So. California, it is quite usual to drive 30 minutes or more away to a church in another town. This makes the geographical small groups within a church absolutely essential as those who don’t live int he church’s city really have little interest in that city.
    I had the fortune to be in Jack Hayford’s church (Church on the Way) for many years. By the end of my sojourn there it was up to 8,000 with people coming as far away as an hour’s drive. The church had the small geographical home groups and each group focused prayer and outreach in their own town. The beautiful thing about these groups was the excellent, but non-controlling supervision so they didn’t get “off.”

  2. Diane,

    Thanks for responding.

    I wonder, though, if we are still doing a disservice to our localities when we go to church outside that locality. There is something to be said for growing where you are planted (and not only in your church, but in your community outside the church. Like I said, when the two thoroughly intesect, something greater is created.)

    My wife and I just started attending a church in our locality last week after quickly deciding it would be our new church home. The church has been without a pastor for a year after their last one died. Just today we learned that the new pastor will be a man who has been local and part of the congregation for more than twenty years. I was amused by this since it reinforces the ideas I wrote about in this topic just a few days ago. I had no idea that choice would be made, but now that I know, it feels very good.

    There are plenty of churches out there that are not cutting it. However, I believe that God maintains enough good churches that most of us can find one within a few miles of our home. We may not be able to enjoy all the perks of the megachurch that’s a half hour away, but I have found that not all those perks may be worth it when we consider what we lose by going outside our locality.

    Just my insights. You can take them for what they are worth.


  3. Your points are well taken. Also, in describing the pastor who had been in the congregation, you have actually hit upon a truth that I had never heard of before until I started to study church organizational structure in the first century.

    It seems that most of the time, after a church had been around a while, the pastor was selected from one of the elders.

    Contrast with many denominations today where a pastor serves a church in Maine lets say, and then accepts a pastorate in Oregon. What does he know about Oregon? LOL. Maybe we should rethink this? And perhaps the church could then pay for this person from their congregation to go to seminary or Bible College thus reducing the burden on the student?

  4. Dan
    house churches come in all flavors…the Dale’s of house2house do house church so that they can get into neightborhoods. they use property already acquired, living rooms. typically, more evangelism happens in new fellowships than establiished ones. and if groups are formed around each new converted family, the kingdom spreads rapidly. house church networks will have network meetings that facilitate larger interactions. its not monastic if it’s meeting in the neighborhood and not in a facility that meets the zoning code for religious area and not housing area. all this enables one to invite their neighbor over their home instead of to a church building which can be a high hurdle for many or a good excuse for others. i think you’ve sold house churches short. i’m a both/and guy. its all good and neither should be discounted for what they don’t do but blessed for what their strengths are.
    God is good

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