Friday, July 1, 2016

Against Congregation As Echo Chamber

This article recently made the social media rounds. The writer reinforces not demonizing folk, listening to people, and that the "other side" isn't stupid, but has experience and reason for their position. The "Controversial Opinion" game is especially useful to explore only asking questions as a way of dialogue on "hot topic" issues.

Earlier in my career, and occasionally today, I experience churches with a variety of people in the congregation who wouldn't be lockstep in their thoughts, but highly relational and effective in both church and community due to their ability to work together.

Today it seems more and more of our congregations reflect rather narrow perspectives with some sensibility that "we are all alike." Church often looks like our political affiliations, our social organizations, and our network of friends. Dig into the above article and consider the role false-consensus bias plays in your congregation and your communication of the gospel. This can also play to a "Holy War" mentality when combined with the way a group interprets faith and "the other." In our day when folk self select their media/ news, with tendencies to only partake in communicators who already state what the listener believes, it is important for churches to be aware of the dynamics as well as the challenges and possibilities. Yet, our community and world is rather diverse (and maybe even our faith or denomination if we get beyond our particular congregation).

What is the opposite of an echo chamber?

An echo chamber is a description of a closed system with limited views and voices which reinforce each other. There is little to no room for true dialogue, for variety of opinion, or for the tension of unresolved issues or what might be in a state of becoming.

If your church, or group, is an echo chamber you probably need to figure out how to get beyond that.

In my experience, church - think holistically of the living, dynamic Body of Christ in worship, discipleship, prayer, action, etc.- ought to be an ongoing relationship and dialogue with God, with one another, and with our neighbors. I'm not sure what the antonym of "echo chamber" might be, but I think of this with imagery like visiting with someone in great conversation on a front porch or in a coffee shop. It's more like the free flow of activity and conversation on a playground, at a festival, or in a concert. It gathers folk of the variety of political parties, the variety of experiences and expectations, the diversity of the community. It would look more like that odd bunch that Jesus gathered together long ago. Such a church would be a practical glimpse and everyday reminder of what heaven looks like.

In many respects a stronger theological and practical expression of church also seeks a congregation that is an oddball collection of sinners and saints. And the truth is this is both a corporate and individual reality! None of us have it all figured out, none of us have attained perfection, and none of us should be confused for God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit. Instead, we continue to practice loving God and loving our neighbors as we do ourselves, yet we are prone to sin, failure, idolatry, and seeking our own kingdom rather than the Kingdom of God. Imagine Jesus and his early entourage; the variety of people and personalities and expectations are a key part of the story which we too often overlook. We are much stronger together, and better able to be the Church God desires, if we allow this sort of tension to remain yet with a discontent that doesn't demonize the "other" and instead pushes us to continue following Jesus in the larger community. This variety of people following Jesus better allows us to communicate with and reach more of our neighbors.

The greater adventure is outside the walls of the echo chamber and in the streets of community where we follow the way that Jesus has shown us into abundant life!

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