“Mine” is a word I did not have to teach my toddler. Without prompting, my daughter could squeal out “mine” with full throttle emotion and volume. “Please” and “thank you” had to be taught, but “no” and “mine” seemed to be internally programmed. And sharing? There were countless days that I had to pry those sticky little fingers to release the toy that she could not bring herself to surrender.
This same daughter is now a teenager. Now she is beginning to see the value in sharing. We’re the same size? Awesome, if we share with each other, we double our wardrobe. Share a ride? Fantastic, saves us gas money and we get to have a conversation on the way there. Share dinner? Great, because I can’t possibly eatall of it on my own.
I’ve noticed that sharing is also becoming more a part of 21st century life in the face of our environmental challenges, an increasing world population and an increasingly interconnected global reality. Carsharing, ridesharing, bikesharing, common green space, community gardens, tool collectives, vacation house swapping, open source, social media—these are rapidly becoming normative in many communities.
“Sharing is a big deal these days. Sharing is a growth industry, a new field of study and of practice; it presents a realm of career opportunities, a new way of life, and a concept around which we are restructuring our world. Sharing is the answer to some of today’s biggest questions: How will we meet the needs of the world’s enormous population? How do we reduce our impact on the planet and cope with the destruction already inflicted? How can we each be healthy, enjoy life, and create thriving communities?” Janelle Orsi, “Four Degrees of Sharing”
So what would it look like for sharing to become normative in the church?
It was once expected that new churches would build sacred spaces as gathering places for worship and education. And in many ways, this has served these faith communities well. Yet, over time, some church members have come to think of these spaces as “mine.” The thought of making changes to the facility, sharing with fledgling new worshiping communities or even letting go of buildings for the sake of a more vital ministry instigates a clamor that can be just as loud and just as emotional as my child who did not want to give up what she considered hers.
But what if changes to the spaces could give lead to more impactful ministry?
What if the building has become a fortress keeping others out, and it is time to rethink how we intersect with people?
What if an underutilized building became an opportunity to develop partnerships with other peoples and entities that share our desire to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?
What if sharing space with a new worshiping community could launch a whole new community of disciples to impact the neighborhood and the world?
I remember being taught in seminary how important it was to maintain the appropriate pastoral distance, to be hesitant to reveal personal stories in the preaching event and to not be friends with parishioners. We have developed cultures in our churches in which people sit side-by-side in pews week after week and never really connect in any meaningful way beyond the liturgy of the passing of the peace: “The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.” Interaction complete.
Yet we are in the midst of a radical shift in which social media has taken sharing mainstream. We share photos, videos, recipes, invitations, thoughts, ideas. (In all honesty, OVERsharing is becoming a rampant reality, but I digress… that’s another blog post.) This is not a flash in the pan, this is a huge cultural shift. And we can’t ignore it.
But what if we became intentional about how we care for and disciple one another?
What if we began to understand that we are called to build relationships with those outside the church in our spheres of influence (family, neighbor, interest groups)?
What if we got more honest with one another about our victories and our failures, our hopes and our fears? In other words, what if we really engaged in sharing Christ’s peace with one another amidst the joys and struggles of life?
What if we stopped expecting perfection from one another, and started seeking authentic relationship and healthy conflict resolution with one another?
It is interesting to me that we are at a time in history in which sharing and contributing to the common good are considered integral to the good life. And as I reflect on it, this is how the early church found their joy in community and their courage to face persecution. It’s also how the message of the gospel took root in villages and spread like wildfire.
Shannon Kiser is the director of the East Coast Presbyterian Center of New Church Innovation based out of northern Virginia. She is field staff for the Office of Church Growth, and parish associate at Riverside Presbyterian Church, a church planting church in Sterling, VA. She is involved in the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement, and works with presbyteries, existing churches, and potential planters to fan the flames of new, creative ministries. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband and two daughters.