If I had to sum up Tom Sine’s book, Mustard Seed verses McWorld in three words, I’d say it was about community, transformation and celebration. He spends several chapters outlining the problem that McWorld – global capitalism – is bringing. Notably, as it is all about the bottom line, profits are placed above people and communities and all of us are invited to join in by continually buying and consuming more. We have, he claims, been sold the lie that we can continue to expect a better standard of living than our parents generations by owning more. But this is putting undue strain on our lives and our wallets, resulting in less time for family and less money for God’s work. It used to take a single salary for a family to have a decent standard of living, including home ownership. Now even with two full time salaries many cannot afford to buy a house, pay for childcare and have a reasonable standard of living. Some of Sine’s predictions (made ten years ago) have come true in the recent global recession including the rising level of debt. Isn’t it interesting that with economic pressures, governmental advice is for us all to go out and keep spending in order to keep the economy moving.
Sine also contends that the church has been seduced into presenting the American Dream as the goal of living, rather than the New Creation, again at the expense of community. The solution, he claims, is for Christians to move away from the mega-church consumer spirituality model radically live out the gospel in the form of whole-live discipleship affecting not just free time but family, community, money, living arrangements and everything.
He gives a number of examples from around the world where Christians of varying denominations have come up with many creative ideas to live out the gospel. Almost all of them are small-scale and focused on community. Some involve new living arrangements where groups and families cohabit or live in interdependent communities for the benefit of them all (less money and greater social interaction) and for the wider community themselves.There are examples of community agriculture or gardening groups. He is big on communities living out life together as a way of making it more affordable and sees this as one form of gospel living. Other examples are simply of creative ministries that involve the community as it is in the place is it such as ministering to the night community in red-light zones, or simply more creative and interactive worship experiences that attract the unchurched.
One of my criticisms of some of Sine’s examples is that I can’t see how they are missional. How does a community of Christians living together in an alternative way bring others to the faith? Perhaps just in their witness in their alternative way of life or perhaps in the money and time that is saved being put to other uses, or perhaps I’ve missed something. But I wonder if they might just be seen as – excuse my stereotyping – the slightly odd group of hippie Christians who live in the big house on the street. The development I work on is made up entirely of single family dwellings, from the one bedroom coach-house apartment to large five-bed detached houses. I can’t see this changing, so I’m not sure that an ‘alternative’ Christian community of this type is suitable. It would certainly be different, but would it be a witness?
There are, however, lots of principles in Sine’s book that can be applied into this situation. He is right in saying that community will be the central to the church of the future, as the communities handed down to us gradually disintegrate due to globalisation and more transient lifestyles. I find that people here are crying out for authentic community but are in many ways unsure how to find it. This is where the three words of transformation, community and celebration come in. We know (and I have posted earlier) that God’s work will culminate in the creation of a renewed physical creation where all the world comes together in one community around him. This kingdom is in the future. The world of disciples in the present (when the kingdom is here but not fulfilled) is to demonstrate God’s coming reality and to live out lives which point towards this new creation. So any ministry can witness to the transforming love of God in an individuals life, but not confined to the individual. The transformation can occur on a local community level too. With this knowledge, a ministry (or fresh expression) should aim to demonstrate some aspect of God’s transformation, should point towards God’s heavenly community by developing deep relationships (in whatever setting the ministry is in) and should celebrate this. Sine says that parties are good! This, if done with gospel values and gospel priorities will naturally witness to Christ. Can this be done in an area of single family dwellings? Sure. But it may just be that some creativity in bringing the community together to form an authentic community might be required.