Category: Church


So, our little group has begun gathering to explore following Jesus together 🙂 As we talk about what we want to do when we are together (generally a meal plus something else), I’ve been thinking about this life of togetherness that is not defined exclusively when we are together.

I suppose most of us agree that there is an amount of our spiritual life that is lived out daily. It includes our personal times with God, loving neighbours, etc. And we know that there are the aspects of our journey that we live out with others. in other words, those things we do or are about when we gather with others (sing, talk, pray, communion, etc.). The overly-simplisticway of viewing it is something like this: together, we do ABC, and alone (when we are not together), I do XYZ. But there’s something missing in this equation. It’s the “even when we are not present with one another, there is still a togetheIt’s the “even when we are not present with one another, there is still a togetherness that is expressed through ???”

This is where people do things like:

  • read a daily devotion/lectionary – the same one others are reading all over the world – so there is a commonality though we are apart
  • fixed hour prayers so we are all praying at the same time, even if not in the same place
  • all committing to do the same certain activity during the week on our own, thereby sharing in a collective (though not combined) experience
  • share prayer requests so wherever you are, you can carry one another’s burdens
  • get together in smaller groupings for Bible reading, prayer, service, etc. In other words, we are together, but in smaller sets

This is the part of a shared journey that I am quite passionate about. I think this is partially because it breaks the false distinction between personal and corporate spirituality. Also, it says that we can share in faith life even when we are not gathered all together. It definitely takes an extra measure of commitment. It also requires a different level of submission because I am allowing us to govern part of my own “personal” time. Sure, when we are gathered we generally have some sort of plan, often with someone giving guidance. But usually then I get to choose all that I do (or don’t do) in the time between. This is saying, “I will give some of my time between for us.”

I don’t know what those of us beginning to follow Jesus together here in Cape Town will do with this part of our collective journey. But I would love to hear what others who are exploring missional communities think and do.

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My friend Tom Smith posted the following, and I found it so helpful (yet succinct – Tom how do you do that?) I am re-posting here…

When the church question misleads us

This morning I am thinking about the Church worldwide and particularly in South Africa. During the last decade I have spent many hours thinking, praying, talking and working in terms of the church. I believe the church is crucial. That she is the bride of Jesus. That the church is owned by Jesus. Any talk of “my church”, especially out of the mouth of pastors and leaders is drivel. We don’t own the church.

Because the church is owned by Jesus it is paramount that we don’t make an idol out of the church. The church is not the hope of the world. Jesus is the hope of the world. Alan Hirsch is fond of noting that your Christology will lead to your Missiology which will lead to your Ecclesiology. Jesus, mission and then church. When we move church to the front we are in the murky waters of idolatry.

It is surprising that Jesus didn’t talk about church all that much. In one of His most pronounced statements on the church he reminds us that He will build his church. One can’t build the church with any great idea,plan or management. The church is built by Someone else. When we follow that Someone our collective rhythms of love, life and obedience becomes the church. Jesus makes it happen.

When we try to build it ourselves we will find ourselves tangled in a terrible mess. I know. I have been there many times. I believe more than ever that the most important question is not, “what is church?” but “who is Jesus?”. When communities grapple with the question of Jesus’s identity and live into the answers and the questions something beautiful happens. The people become lovers. They love Jesus, one another and the people around them. Jesus leads us into a rhythm of love that becomes the mission that results in a church.

When we start with the church we don’t lock into the Energy that creates the necessary movement to change the world. The church then becomes a superstructure of our own Egos.

I don’t like it when that happens. But Jesus excites me. He intoxicates me, even scares me a bit. I am haunted by the echo of His invitation, “Follow me!” That is the invitation. What does it mean to follow Jesus here in South Africa or wherever you are? I think this is a question worthy of exploration.

originally posted here

Met a great couple the other night who are also wanting to explore what church can be. They are feeling pretty discouraged, especially in trying to find people who are willing to do more thank talk ideas. Why is it that so many people have time for a conversation about being church differently, but can’t make the time to live it out? A few suggestions:

  • We just want to complain, not actually do something different
  • We are lazy – they want different but aren’t willing to put in the work to help make it so
  • We don’t know what to do – we know things aren’t all they can be but we have no picture of possibilities
  • We feel crazy – can I think this? Do other people think this?
  • We just can’t break out of the system as it is to do what’s on our heart

What other reasons can you think of? Maybe you’ve been there, or there yourself…

One hurdle that seems difficult for many to jump over is the notion that the church is the place of religious life, distinct from the rest of life. This manifests itself in church being the “place we go to be with God.” Another more subtle, but perhaps more powerfully misconception, is that when we ALL gather in Jesus’ name, that time  is more holy than when some of us gather in Jesus’ name. So, a Bible study, small group, worship time, prayer gathering, or serving opportunity are NICE, but it’s REALLY church when ALL of us get together once a week? Why do so many people think this? Do you?

We need to think of Church as spirituality for all of life. Yes, it’s us helping one another do it. Yes, we need together. But we also need to think of all the “parts” as church. It’s not just the “once a week when we are together for xyz” that is church. It’s a loving conversation over coffee. It’s helping a neighbor fetch their kids from school. It’s sharing or studying scripture with a friend. It’s all of that. And more. It’s not some religious gathering we “do.” It’s the life with Jesus we share with one another.

Church is Jesus life together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am just about to send an email asking people to pray specifically about the planting of a new church here in Cape Town. Having been involved in beginning some different faith communities and pretty much thinking about this all the time, one of the things I am quite sure of is that prayer is THE essential piece of any and every type of new church. Period.

Want people to experience God’s love in new ways? Pray. Want to grow in being a disciple of Jesus? Pray. Want to see God’s Kingdom come and people be healed? Pray. Pray, listen, do what God says. That is my suggestion for starting a church.

I can’t stand to see another church squeeze every last cent from its members to buy a new piece of land or add yet another mega-meeting hall. I don’t want to see the same old cookie cutter vision/mission/strategy statement anymore. I won’t even read that strategic marketing that is meant to be innovative in drawing someone to church. Not because buildings, visions, or advertisements are bad per se. Rather, THEY ARE TOO OFTEN DONE IN PLACE OF PRAYER.

Prayer allows God to work in the ways God knows best. God, the creator of the universe. The one who loved each and every one of us. That God. I know we all believe Jesus is the head of his Church. But are we letting him run things? Or just using his name for what WE want? Seems to me that the way to keep him in charge is through prayer.

Prayer before you make decisions
Prayer before you gather to worship
Prayer when there is someone in need
Prayer when making plans

Not “bless us as we do what we want.” Rather, prayer that puts our hearts out there and asks God for His. Dangerous prayer that just might mean changing directions or doing difficult things in response. Prayer that requires God to actually be God for it to work. Prayer that asks big. That’s the kind of prayer I want my church to be about.

If your church isn’t praying enough, add some more. One prayer gathering, regardless of size or frequency, is spiritually significant. Putting yourself into God’s hands together will do what nothing else can in making into the church God wants you to be. And if you are starting a church, start with prayer. Let God have His way from the get-go and keep listening all the time. God loves the Church and wants to see us live out our destiny.

If God is birthing a new church here in Cape Town, may it come from prayer. I pray that regardless of where it leads.

 

What role have you seen prayer play (or not) in churches you have been involved with? What is God stirring in your heart around prayer?

Would love to hear from you!

 

 

followers of Jesus = disciples of Jesus = being like Jesus = living the lives we were created to live

Sound good? That’s what we as the Church are meant to be about!
Are we?
(pause to reflect…. if not, why not???)

What do you consider critical to being a disciple of Jesus?

I ask because it’s one of those things we sometimes take for granted, yet it’s an essential question. And really, it’s a question we should be asking God, ourselves, and one another, right?

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).

If you claim to be apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding (pastoral) or a teacher, are you equipping God’s people for works of service so that we may be built up to the fullness of Christ? That is your calling! The point isn’t achieving your own glory. You are meant to be part of the Church, to strengthen the Church. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost make the case in The Shaping of Things to Come that these are more than gifts, they are offices/roles of the church. AND, he maintains that God has placed each of these in all of us so that He can call them forth as needed. Are you open to fulfilling these roles as needed? If not, you are robbing the Church of needed function and robbing yourself of full life.

And church – are you allowing yourself to be grown and strengthened by apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers? If not, you will not become all God desires. Christ himself has designed his Church to function with their help. Notice, by the way, that shepherd is only one role in the equation. Interesting that most churches pay someone to do this, but not to be apostle, prophet, evangelist, or teacher (though many roll shepherd and teacher into one thing). We pay someone to take care of us, but not to challenge us or lead us into new things. Or, what we call pastor is a one-person show that is supposed to somehow fulfill ALL the leadership described above. We need all these leaders to be operating. Is it any wonder we don’t reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God? We are out of balance.

I am not making this up, it’s right there in Ephesians. It is not inappropriate or rebellious to seek balanced and Christ-instructed leadership, especially when we start by asking God how he might want to use US to equip his Church.

 

 

 

 

It seems like I know quite a few people who aren’t satisfied with their church.  I’m not talking about ultra-consumer Christians or people who can’t ever seem to be “fed” enough. I’m talking about people who earnestly want to grow in their discipleship of Jesus and are absolutely willing to give the time and energy to this pursuit – and helping others in this pursuit.

And I know a number of people who are interested in God, Jesus, or even just what might be termed spirituality. And they’ve tried this religion and that place of worship and their hearts aren’t inspired.

In both cases, we have a case of knowing what isn’t working. What frustrates me, however, is the seeming struggle to move toward something new, something amazing. I’m pretty sure God desires and pictures the Church to be something that is life-changing for us and pleasing to God! So, what’s the problem?

Walter Brueggemann, in his brilliant book The Prophetic Imagination, suggests that when God wants to do something new, there is a need to both criticize what is and energize to what can be.  Criticism without a picture of possibilities generally ends in frustration and paralysis. I find this to be true for many who know what’s wrong with the Church, but can’t picture something different. On the other hand, simply painting continual pictures of new possibilities is so prone to fads and quick-fixes.  Further, my experience has been that people don’t NEED any new ideas if they don’t think the current thing needs fixing. To really engage alternative ideas for Church, we need to lovingly examine what is lacking and courageously experiment with what God is leading us toward.

I am also convinced that too many people don’t believe they have the ability, responsibility, or authority to want more. I’m not talking about any sort of crazy schemes or clearly man-made efforts. But if God wants people doing this Jesus-following together (and God does – more in other posts), then aren’t we compelled to be as faithful as we can to God’s heart? And if our souls are what we are talking about, don’t we want what’s right and beautiful and life-giving? And don’t we want that for others too?  I do. I want that in existing churches. I want that to re-new churches.  I want that in new churches.

I must paint these pictures of possibility with others. Are you up for a little dreaming?

 

I find it interesting that many church-goers assume that there is some form of Biblical mandate to get together every week. Jesus never said that.  The Bible doesn’t say that.

Gather together – yes.
And do lots of other things for/with one another.
But what’s with the “every Sunday until we die” mentality?

In part, this is due to the idea of Sabbath.  God has told us that we need to rest. We need to take time to refocus on God.  Agreed! Take a day. I even support taking the same day as those you are in intentional Jesus-following relationship with (i.e. local church).

Does God say we need to all get together and sing and hear a sermon on the sabbath? NO!. I suppose that in the good old days, it made sense.  “Hey, we’re all not working this day, let’s get together.” But the world has changed, work has changed, how the week is viewed has changed. We don’t all have Sunday free. And honestly, I think that for some, what has become of Sunday is not much like the Sabbath described in the Bible. Yes, I just said that. If you are going to use the Sabbath justification, I recommend you do a little study of what the Bible says about Sabbath.

Do I think we should get together with people to help one another be like Jesus? Yes.
Do I think things can happen when we are gathered that can’t happen when we are alone? Yes.
Do I think it is helpful to have set days and times to help us actually do this? Yes.

But I think what we do is too often a matter of “that’s what we do” than what works best, or what God is asking of us. I think we need to live out our spirituality together in a way that integrates all of life, and that can’t be done in just one day. It needs to happen EVERY day. I think most would agree. Yet we still cram our “church” into Sunday…

So maybe in order to do this, we have to get the idea of “we must all get together every week on the same day” out of our heads. It’s not Biblical.  It’s not particularly effective for our discipleship. Let’s figure out what is!

what is Church?

If you were to describe what the Church is in a sentence or two(ish), what would you say?

I’m not looking for clever or anecdotal comments but actual best attempts to say what this is we are part of. My only suggestion is that there are likely “being” and “doing” elements to the definition, and you just might want to consider some of what is said in the Bible on the subject. But don’t let me lead you too much…

This question is one I think and talk about quite often. First, because I believe in the collection of God’s people we call Church. Yes, we are often flawed (or worse), but that doesn’t negate the importance.  Second, too many of us who consider ourselves part of the Church don’t actually know or agree on what we are! Makes it pretty difficult to seek improvement if we don’t know what we are aiming for 😉 Finally, we can be so much more, and I think that more is actually what God intends (not just the result of clever or strategic planning). What is this more that exists in God’s heart?

I am glad to share my thoughts on what the Church is, but let me throw it out to you first so I don’t bias you more than I already have. Of course, very good books and courses have been written on this subject, but I think it’s helpful to come up with a simple description, and one we can own for ourselves.

I am glad to talk with people who know they need others in their following of Jesus. The questions then turns to something like, “so what are you looking for in a church.” Fair question. And the part that is really good about this question is the assumption that the Church is meant to be fulfilling and helpful in our discipleship – and we want to ensure we are incorporating that as part of what the church is. Also, it implies that we are indeed willing to be part of something bigger than us.

However, we also need to remind ourselves that the church isn’t just what we think we want or need. It is God’s people, God’s agent of Kingdom, and a bunch of other really helpful metaphors (more on these soon) that God says it is. It isn’t simply a something for us to consume or shape into our own likeness. I don’t know about you, but I would probably craft something really fun and me-looking, and probably would avoid those bits I don’t enjoy. This of course does not mean that we are inconsequential – it is, in fact, made up of us! But our individual personal desires must be help in tension with what God desires and the others who are part. growth, satisfaction, or happiness are not the end goal.

I think it is really important to share a basic understanding of what the Church is and what it is meant to do. Then, we can talk about our individual needs/preferences/gifts in light of that. We can also get creative with HOW it’s done based on the best ways to help people experience God and grow into the likeness of Christ. Otherwise, we create something that is suited for us and perhaps no one else. This would miss the very clear mission of God (and therefore God’s Church) to be outward focused.

I am hoping that as we live into this, we can talk/do our way into what God has in mind. What does God want to create that will be a blessing to many, including us? Seems that if we are praying and God is in it, it could be really amazing. I am looking for a church that helps people (me included!) to become more like Jesus.

What are you looking for in a church?