XTY 3: The New Village Church

In chapter 3, Butler-Bass talks about her discovery of the church she now calls home (as of the writing of this book).  She talks about how Trinity Episcopal in Santa Barbara, a classical mainline congregation, stopped being just another liberal charitable organization–a United Way or the Rotary Club, for instance–that did good things for the community, assuming that its members already were spiritual and knew how to grow spiritually.  Trinity recognized that people were looking for a place that, yes, engaged their community and world to make them better places; but also taught, modeled and joined together in practices where they could pursue and grow in Christian spirituality.  And Trinity came alive and began growing again.  So Diana started investigating other growing mainline congregations across the country to see what was similar and what was different in their congregational experiences.

In this chapter, the author hits on a number of concepts that I believe offer fertile ground for further discussion.

  1. Spiritual AND Religious rather than Spiritual BUT NOT Religious.  Despite conventional wisdom that Americans are fleeing religion for individualized spirituality, the congregations that Butler-Bass visits along with polling and research done by Newsweek and many others suggest that Americans want a both/and experience.  People are finding fresh expressions of ancient tradition to awaken individual and communal spirituality
  2. Practice, Not Purity, as the Goal of Congregational Life.  Rather than enforcing a narrow range of belief and behavior, these congregations are welcoming of people from a wide variety of belief and lifestyle without judgment.  The congregation is united by its practices of worship, study, prayer, fellowship and service rather than by doctrinal conformity.
  3. Pursuing Wisdom Instead of Certainty.  Or to state it another way: Believing that the Questions are more important than the Answers.  There was a deep sense among the congregations Diana visited that wisdom happens in the wrestling with the issues of life and that wrestling happening in ongoing dialogue in community.  Having all the answers brings an end to growing in wisdom.  Wisdom can grow when you know you don’t have all the answers.
  4. Shared Pilgrimage instead of Settled Spirituality.  Butler-Bass shares three diagrams about the dynamic movement that happens as Tradition, Practice and Wisdom interact with each other in community.  The congregation understands that it is on a journey in faith together and that their personal development and corporate growth depends on the continued devotion to and innovation with these principles of communal faith.  This work invites the individual nomad or wanderer to join with others in intentional pilgrimage with other pilgrims.


  • How would you answer this question:  Am I religious, spiritual, both or neither?
  • Do you have a negative or positive reaction to the word tradition?
  • What do you think a congregation would look like that emphasizes practice over purity?
  • Do you think faith is more about questions or answers?

2 thoughts on “XTY 3: The New Village Church

  1. Reading Chapter 3 makes me wonder how disciples of Christ handled the issues they faced after converting many people from various traditional background to follow Christ.
    I am sure they must have faced the same challenges current christian community is facing now.
    Was Christianity organized in early times to tackle these issues?
    Did initial organization of Christianity brought people more closer to Christ and God?
    Or will the new concepts that the author refers to will bring people to understand more about God?
    All these questions have come to my mind after reading Chapter 3.

  2. I think you make a great comparison to what it must have been like for the disciples to transition their faith (Judaism) into one that incorporated the backgrounds and experiences of people from all sorts of religious traditions. This new version of Judaism tried to incorporated the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus, into the Jewish faith. It was an attempt to move Judaism in a new direction. And it was difficult–look at how much flak the apostles, especially Paul, took for suggesting that certain things from Judaism were no longer relevant to this new expression of their ancient faith. It was messy. And it ultimately resulted in a split. The Judaism that incorporated Jesus became its own faith separate from historic Judaism.

    I think we are at a similar messy experience now. In fact, there are Christian and other religious sociologists and historians–Phyllis Tickle is one–who suggest that approximately every 500 years a faith tradition goes through a rummage sale. This is where it gets rid of a lot of stuff that it no longer needs and gets down to what it really wants to hold onto. Then it moves forward with room to grow into the world in which it exists. It happened around 500 BC when the Jews left exile in Babylon and moved back to Jerusalem; at the birth of Christ–a huge rummage sale; at AD 500 at the fall of the Roman Empire; at AD 1000 with the great schism where the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches split; at AD 1500 and the Great Reformation when Protestants broke from the Roman Catholic Church and the RCC when through its own reformation; and now, around 2000, the next rummage sale. Each of these times were chaotic. I think change only happens when the status quo is too painful to remain in anymore. So that we’re struggling with how to move forward in our faith as Adventists/Christians/Theists is no different than what our ancestors went through.

    Going off of what I’ve read from Phyllis, these new eras start in chaos, then move to a period of organized effectiveness, followed by a period where the structures and institutions become more important than the purpose for what they were formed, and, ultimately followed by another upheaval when the faith undergoes a major recalibration that defines the faith for the next 500 years. So, if this pattern holds, in our lifetime we could see a great flourishing of Christian, and perhaps, even Adventist faith, in a new and fresh iteration as those of us who are in this messy period right now start figuring out what matters and what doesn’t and unite around shared mission, purpose and community.

    Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, is an easy, and very interesting, read. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks.

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