Gathering matters more than you think

March 7, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 05
Shelby Boese |
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

I am a huge advocate for the local church.


It is the gathering of people around the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus that frees our imaginations and forms our hearts to be a different kind of nation on the earth.


Yet, it seems we often are pulled into the sexy idolatry of the power-over ways of the politics of the world instead of living into a different politics.


In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, philosopher James K.A. Smith notes, “We don’t just ‘naturally’ desire particular configurations of the kingdom; we are formed or trained to be aimed at particular configurations of the good life.”


Walter Brueggemann tells of the totalizing narratives of empire we are immersed in and seduced by. Smith reminds us, “There are no private practices; thus our hearts are constantly being formed by others, and most often through the cultural institutions that we create.” Culture is an activity.


“So what?” you ask. Our churches, when understood as places that cultivate a counter-formation to the world around us, should be of paramount importance. The gathering of the local church in worship and groups is not a side quest (as the kids say these days) to justice or holiness but central to being counter-formed.


A renewal of imagination is one of the powers of worship. It’s a space for the play of the Holy Spirit in community and might be one of the most important things to continually, repetitively and intentionally invite people into.


The weekly pattern of worshipping on the day of the resurrection (the eighth day of creation) is needed now more than ever, given the de-formation of secular liturgies all around and ever present through social media and de-forming, groupthink-reinforcing algorithms.


Secular liturgies are calling and forming us to centre our identity first on ideologies like consumerism, economics, sexuality or family of origin, to name just a few. But none of these identities can carry the full freight of the Jesus-centred chosen family and gifted identity as a beloved child of God.


Smith writes, “Doctrines, beliefs and a Christian worldview emerge from the nexus of Christian worship practices; worship is the matrix of Christian faith, not its ‘expression’ or ‘illustration.’ Just as [Charles] Taylor emphasized that ‘humans operated with a social imaginary well before they ever got into the business of theorizing about themselves,’ so too did Christians worship before they got around to abstract theologizing or formulating a Christian worldview.”


The church’s intentional worship is vital if we are to be the people we say we are.


We need worship teaching and then practicing in many of our Mennonite churches. We unpack the different elements of classical Christian worship. (Yes, we can also use our secondary debate filters regarding patriarchy or God-talk or particular use of scripture, etc., but we are foolish to not also embrace the formational pieces of our ancestors. Our minds and emotions are not much different from theirs).


Perhaps Canadian Mennonite can add a spiritual formation and worship section to highlight these kinds of conversations and practices.


Worship renewal, and teaching the elements of worship gatherings as embodied counter-formation to the powers in and around us, is something every church most likely needs to lean into every few years.


It will lead to us actually being a counter-community in the world as we name Jesus as Lord.


I recommend Desiring the Kingdom or On the Road with Saint Augustine for some thinking that agrees with and challenges our Anabaptist movement— from a very eirenic (conciliatory) Reformed professor, no less.


Just some lighthearted thoughts from the West.  


Shelby Boese is executive minister of Mennonite Church B.C. He can be reached at

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

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