Category: imagining


Read this blog post today and am reposting for your thoughts. Is this what church should be like – should this be normal? If it sounds good to you (so many memories come to mind of my own amazing church experiences when I read this), would love your thoughts on what it would take (and what are the barriers):

What a Normal Church Looks Like

This is a story about a city. There is only one church in this city. In this particular town, there are anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people who are all part of the same church. Any Christian in this city is part of this one church. There is no believer in this city who belongs to a different church. This is an entire network of Christian people.

The fellowship they have with one another is completely overlapping. Every person does not know or fellowship with every other person, there are too many people for that to happen. But everyone knows and fellowships with someone, who knows and fellowships with someone else. The entire church meets and gathers in homes, in parks, in various restaurants for lunches and coffee, and often you can find them at the nearby lake for weekend camping. This vast network of people are gathering together and sharing life together in many different ways.

Seven days a week, during any evening, you can visit a number of homes in this town and find Christians gathered together. Because there are so many active participants, there are meetings and gatherings every single night. And anyone is welcomed to go to any one of them. These people are worshipping Jesus in these meetings. They are sharing, praying, teaching, operating in their gifts, and intensely supporting one another’s personal lives.

Besides the daily gatherings, about once a month, the entire church gathers together outside at the city park for a giant picnic. This scene is incredible. There are people scattered everywhere throughout the city park. The park is completely full of people. There are, what looks to be, 2 acres of table cloths and blankets spread all over the ground. Everyone brings their own food. After a while, everyone begins to move into groups of 10 to 20 people to visit and pray for one another. This all day meeting in the city park starts around 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. By 6 p.m. that evening, it is still going strong.

At 6 p.m., around dusk at the park, there are still 10 or 12 Christians gathered around and talking while on the tail gate of a pick-up truck. There are also 8 or 9 ladies sitting in lawn chairs together nearby. There are still children running and playing. For the last couple of hours, there has been a children’s game of ball over at one end of the park with about 15 adults standing around visiting while the kids play.When this monthly, city wide church meeting in the park is over, everyone goes back to their homes to resume their weekly activities of work, family time, and church life all during the week.

There is nothing to identify this vast network of Christians, other than the relationships they have. There is no name for this massive group. There is no sign posted anywhere. There is no building. There is no leader. But many people lead.

Most of the people who want to travel to this city to visit and participate in the church activities, usually know at least one of the Christian families who live there. But even if you didn’t know any of them, it is really pretty easy to find them all.You decide to take a road trip just to see what it’s all about. As you drive into town, you realize you don’t know where to go in order to find these Christians. Where do they meet? What time do they meet? They don’t have a yellow page ad. What will you do? It’s Friday evening when you drive into town.

You stop at a local gas station and ask the clerk, “Excuse me, do you know where I would find any of the church in this town?” The lady behind the cash register replies, “Oh yea, I think a lot of them have been getting together down at the lake on Friday evenings. You could probably find them there.”

Just the fact that the gas station clerk knows where “the Christians usually are” is a testimony. These people are visible, they gather in large numbers, and they are clearly identified by the whole town.

You drive out to the lake. You see a bon fire down by the water. You get out of your car and discover about 20 people singing to the Lord under the stars. You join in singing. A brother stands up by the fire and shares a brief testimony with the group. A sister shares a prophecy. Others chime in and share brief encouragements and teachings. They begin to pray for one another. It is a glorious occasion. You’ve never seen anything like it. They are so free, so real, so spontaneous, and so encouraging.

As the time naturally gravitates to visiting with one another, several of them introduce themselves to you. They find out that you are new to the town and that you drove out in order to plug in and meet the other people in the church. They make you aware of several other gatherings that are going on the next day. Some of them ask you to join them for an unplanned, late night supper in one of their homes. You spend the late evening sharing and talking with your new friends.

The next morning is Saturday morning. You’ve been made aware of a variety of get-togethers you can choose to attend. There are about 8 people going to play a round of golf. There are a few gathering for breakfast at a local restaurant. There is a prayer meeting available in someone’s home. Some of the families are going back to the lake to hang out and do some boat riding and water skiing. You don’t really want to miss anything, but you have to choose. “Ok, I’ll go to the breakfast. Then, I’ll catch the last part of the prayer meeting.”

After the prayer meeting that morning, you grab some lunch with a couple of brothers and then take a nap. You are made aware of a small gathering of Christians who are planning to meet in a home later that night to worship the Lord. You attend the worship time. Afterwards, you catch up with a group who decide to do some late night street witnessing.Just about everyone you meet invites you into their home to stay for as long as you want. They feed you. They pray for you. They are sincerely interested in you, interested in your family, and interested in your life with Jesus.

You realize this all could go on for days. You are well aware that if you were to live in this town, there would be no way anyone could attend every gathering.

In the last couple of days, you’ve gotten to know a couple of the other Christians pretty well. You ask them a question saying, “What are your backgrounds?” You communicate to them how you are aware that this entire city has joined together as one church, but you would really like to know what denomination they all come from.

They reply, “Brother, in our attempt to take the New Testament seriously, we’ve purposed in our hearts to repent from divisions and denominations. There is only one church in this city, just like in the New Testament. We don’t fellowship just with those who believe exactly like we do on every issue. Many of us have different convictions and beliefs on many things found in scripture, but our personal doctrines are always open-ended and kept open for discussion. We are devoted to one another. We are devoted to Christ. However, we are not devoted to our own personal beliefs and opinions that are not central to faith in Christ.”

“But who is really in charge of this whole thing?” you ask. They reply, “Jesus is in charge. You would be amazed at how well He runs the church, if people will just let Him. The church belongs to Him. He designed it, He grows it, and He keeps it – if we do it the way He laid out for us in the New Testament. Here in this city, when men started taking their hands off the church, all the gifts began coming forth. People who would never open their homes before, started opening their homes! People who would never speak before, started speaking! People’s walls started coming down. People started to get honest with one another. People started functioning! It’s amazing how it all came together. I have to warn you though, you can’t be afraid. You have to learn to trust the Lord. If you get afraid and say that “it won’t work”, or from fear you revert to the old traditions of men to organize it, it will kill what the Lord wants to do. You have to let go of your personal feelings of needing to “know for sure” that you’ll have leadership in place. You have to let go of “knowing for sure” what your group identity is or “who you all are” as a group. Our identity is simply that we are Christians in the city we live in. You have to let go of concerns about where you are going to tithe to. There are plenty of needs to give your money to, such as the poor, evangelism in our city, and to foreign missions. Trust the Lord my friend, and trust the New Testament example. God gave it to us for a reason.”

You realize that the example of the church in this particular city should be true for every city in the world. No walls, no one aligning themselves with a certain affiliation, but everyone belonging to the same group. And although the Lord leads each individual to be closely knit with just a few, everyone feels they are a part of one large family in this town, and they practice it.

But how did they get to this place? How did it happen? How did they ever accomplish such an amazing feat?

It started with a few brave souls. Before they all came together as one church, those who were on staff at one particular church in the town contacted the other pastors and leaders at all the other churches in the town. Through much effort, the leadership from every denomination finally got together and had one big meeting in that town. The pastor responsible for putting the meeting together stood up and said:

“Gentlemen, we at First Methodist have called this meeting in order to share a revelation we have had. From our honest assessment of the New Testament, we find no scriptural basis to support our role of leadership at First Methodist. As men in charge of the flock, we do not deny that we do have gifts. Namely, we have gifts of leadership, teaching and shepherding. But these gifts are to be employed as any other member of the congregation should employ their gifts. We should not recognize a separation of clergy and laity or staff and non-staff.

Elders in the New Testament were given to a city, not a group within the city. Those who were appointed as elders in the early church were already elders according to the lives they lived, the spiritual qualities they possessed as men, and the spiritual authority they had that comes from God. Not because of any formal training or institutional authority. Just because a leader or pastor has a personal identity as such, does not make it so. Just because a man believes himself to be a leader, does not make him a leader. These gifts are spiritual and are from God alone.

Those of us who do have gifts of leadership, gifts of teaching, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, or apostolic functions, should use those gifts as though we were just one of the flock and in the context of just being a regular brother.

 
Furthermore, it has been revealed to us through the scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the management functions and administration of the church at First Methodist concerning things such as budgeting issues, buildings, the programs, marketing, and the business office functions are all in place and are a result of the traditions of men and of our Western culture. We’ve discovered that these things actually hinder and stifle the natural and organic functions of the people. Because we have assumed so many roles as staff members, the congregation depends on us in ways they should not. Not only has this hindered them from fully expressing themselves in their gifts and functions, but it has hindered the general edification of the church. Therefore since the church is to in essence, run itself, there is no need for our staff positions. We are taking our hands off the church in order to let it grow.

 
Up to this point, we’ve never trusted the Lord in the church to grow the church. We’ve perceived the members as incapable, not trained, and not possessing enough spiritual maturity to adequately be a functioning church. We firmly believe that people are to learn and grow by doing, and if you hinder them from doing and take the responsibility away from them to function, then they will simply not function and never learn. God’s design and intention is for every member to have a platform and an environment to express their gifts, no matter what they may be. We have repented of our arrogance and our control. We have fully realized that we were performing as we had been trained, and we have been acting as in the example which was passed down to us by others in leadership.

Although we have been sincere in our efforts, we were not using the New Testament as our model, but rather men’s traditions and the culture of the day as our standard. God forgive us.As of today, we are resigning. We have most boldly chosen to no longer accept a salary, but we have instead decided to get regular jobs. We will still continue to function in our various gifts, but we will be re-learning how to function properly and without having to “run everything”.
Our meeting formats will also change at First Methodist in order to encourage every member to participate and bring what they have spiritually to every meeting of the church. This is consistent with 1 Corinthians 14. We still may stand up and teach on occasion, but we will encourage the others to teach as well.
Also, from the example in the scriptures, we are taking our sign down in front of the building. Also our name, First Methodist, has been our identity. Our identity is changing to come in line with the New Testament. We therefore will no longer refer to ourselves as First Methodist, but we will be “the church in Cypress Texas,” of which we all are part of the same group. In fact, we’re selling the building we’ve met in because we have no need of it. The building has been an icon and representation in our hearts of establishment, stability and growth. It has also been a perverted method of attracting members. We will be meeting in more natural everyday life settings and in our living rooms.
We realize that for you to follow us in the New Testament example in these things, that many of you will have serious concerns as church leaders. We understand that you will have concerns for your jobs. Perhaps the hardest challenge for you men will be the choice of getting regular jobs. This has been the hardest choice for us. I can honestly attest to you that you will not be able to fully see the true nature of the church, nor will you fully be able to understand the things I am telling you today – unless you are willing to get a regular job. The heart has a way of causing you to not understand the truth as long as your livelihood is on the line.
Another difficult question you may be asking is concerning the whole idea of how we are to meet the needs of our current modern culture with such a radical church model. How will people in our society be able to relate to such a church? How will new people be able to come and participate? Do we not have to have the traditions we have in place in order to meet the needs of our modern society?? My answer to you men is this. Why would God establish his plain example in the scriptures of the church and how it should function, only to change it for every culture? Why would he lay out the structure of the church, which is built on the foundation of the apostles, only for every culture in time to shape it and reform it? Because of this type of thinking, we now see things like homosexuality being endorsed by the church, etc. God even condemned the Israelites for taking on the cultures and practices of the people and nations around them. I tell you men : the Church should be affecting our modern world culture, not our culture affecting the Church.The pattern in the New Testament is God’s design. It’s what works for the church. It is timeless. If we change it or alter it, we pervert it. If we pervert it to better fit our culture or lifestyles, we diminish its power and effectiveness. What God laid out for us in the New Testament is perfect. We cannot have such arrogance to say the Biblical example is no longer relevant or that it should be compromised in some way.
Men, we wonder why the experience of the early Christians is so different from ours. We wonder why when we read our Bibles it seems so different than what we practice and experience today, yet we have chosen to meet, to function, to gather, and to lead in ways that are completely different from the blueprint the New Testament provides us with. Why would it be a mystery to us that the people in Bible times had a different experience than us?

Over time, and through much talking and prayer, others in church leadership in that city listened to the brothers at the former Methodist fellowship. A trend was set in the town. By example, the shepherds led the flock. Truly, a revolution took place in that city. All over town people began to talk about the new freedom they were gaining in Christ, and the whole thing had a snow ball effect. As people started forsaking the dead traditions of men, more people followed suit as well.

Of course, not every church leader or fellowship agreed. But over time, the majority did. Those who practiced denominationalism and division soon became the minority in the city.

Advertisements

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?