Category: models


How often have you sought the Lord’s will with others?
While many of us have ways we seek God’s guidance in our personal lives, we have little experience doing this with others. I believe this is partially because most of us have grown up in churches where the emphasis is on our personal/individual relationship with Jesus. What is God saying to me? I am not really part of an US that needs to hear from God for US. I find this to be a huge lost opportunity to be the people of God as described in the Bible.
This is particularly unfortunate in cultural contexts with a strong sense of community (like South Africa where I live). Here, the paradigm by which people live – consciously or not – is that I am born into a people. Therefore, when Christianity is understood to be a personal relationship only, it is actually a foreign/western/northern/white concept. How tragic that we are not allowing the communal nature of Christianity to build on our existing understanding of life in a supernatural way. We all long to be part of something/someone – how can we possibly miss the opportunity to share this part of the Good News?
Another reason we struggle to seek God together is that many have never been part of church where the concept of the priesthood of all believers is taken seriously enough to enable (require?) active participation using one’s gifts and discernment as part of the larger congregation. I am not suggesting that we must all take part in every decision or discussion per se. And I recognize that we can all use our gifts and play our unique parts in the body. But what I am saying is that we sometimes use “we all play different roles” as an excuse for either un-Biblical passivity on the one hand or un-Christlike control on the other. IF we believe God speaks through us collectively, how are we actually attempting to hear and discern together?
Finally, in many cases we tragically separate worship/connecting with God from decision-making. When it comes time for business, we put the Bibles away. Now of course we pray to start and may even pull in some Bible verses. But too often we aren’t really even attempting to seek the mind of Christ together. We don’t expect to agree. We fight for our way. We talk to people outside the meeting to get them on our side. We don’t trust God to speak or one another to hear. And until we at least give it a go, we never will.

The grand finale in a short series of questions on what God is stirring related to our faith life with others. You will find the first question of this series here, and the second one here. Please read/think/respond to these before giving your thoughts on today’s questions.

Reminder of the one rule –  you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

Question 3:

If there is something/anything of faith life with others you are longing for (your response to Question 1), something different from all of your other friendships (your response to Question 2), why haven’t you found this with an already existing congregation/community in your city? Assuming there are good groupings of people following Jesus together around town, what are you still looking for?

Note: I am not looking for anyone’s complaints about a particular church. In fact, I believe there are lots of gatherings to allow for many different expressions of our following God together. This question is really intended for those who, for whatever reason, have NOT found what they are looking for.

Another note: I am truly asking those who aren’t simply looking for somewhere with bigger music or comfortable and accommodating versions of the Gospel. I am asking those who have a DEEP desire for God and being part of a people who are centering their lives around Jesus and is honestly SEARCHING.

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

This is question two of a three-question series seeking input on what you are wanting with others also journeying with God. Thanks to everyone who responded to the first post on this blob, on facebook, or via email. You will find the first/previous question of this series here, pretty much necessary to answer before taking on today’s question.

Reminder of the one rule –  you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

Question 2:

How does what you are longing for (your response to Question 1) differ from all of your other friendships that also include faith? In other words, what do you need from a specific grouping of people that is different from what you are encountering from all the people you know – Christian or otherwise? Do you need something more or different?

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

Doing a short three-question series seeking your input. It comes from conversations from our own fledgling little On the Way group and while I need their responses, I am hoping that others who read this blog will also have their say. I am going to post three related questions and would love your thoughts on each 🙂

There is one assumption – that as we journey with God, it is helpful to be connected to others who are also journeying with God.

There is one rule – you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

 

Question 1:

Right now, what are you longing for/wanting/needing from others in a shared faith journey?

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

 

Mike Breen of 3DM posted this and I am wondering what you think – either from your experience or hopes? I mostly agree with Mike (as always) but I’ve added a few specific comments below…

We’ve been doing Missional Communities for years and years, and in that time, we’ve always tried to boil it down to the most essential ingredients to help pass it on to others.

In the last year, I believe we’ve most simply honed it down to these 5 essential ingredients of a Missional Community:

    1. Size of an extended family. A missional family is best understood in the range of 20-50 people, as it is small enough to care but large enough to dare. From much experience, I’d say it can be difficult to sustain long-term missional activity for a group smaller than this.
    2. UP/IN/OUT. Intentionally lives out the three dimensions of Jesus’ life. UPward dimension of life with the Father, INward dimension of life with the Body of Christ together, OUTward dimension of fully stepping into a broken world.
    3. Clear mission vision. Who is this Missional Community trying to bring the Kingdom of God to? The most successful MC’s have a very clear answer that could only be true of their group.
    4. Lighweight/Low maintenance. If the Missional Community can’t be led by people with normal 9-5  jobs who aren’t paid to do it, it’s not lightweight and low maintenance enough. It’s got to be simple and reproducible.
    5. Accountable leaders. The person(s) leading the Missional Community need to be accountable to others so there exists a dynamic of low control and high accountability. It’s one thing to say you hold people accountable, it’s another thing to do this well.

If done well, these can lead to the incredible phenomenon of a scattered and gathered church where it is the lay leaders of the church being released to the edges of the missional frontier, seeing extraordinary Kingdom breakthrough.

My thoughts:

I differ with 3DM’s definition of missional community size. For them, it’s one grouping within the church, ideally complimented by a huddle (specific type of small grouping) and  a large congregation – each having up/in/out components. To me, a missional community can be any size and has all the essential elements of church so need not be part of something else. Can be, but doesn’t have to be.

I also believe in Mike’s third point about missional communities being lightweight/low maintenance. That’s what we’re trying with our church. Normal people, with lives outside the church, are meant to be the church and its leaders – the priesthood of all believers. Yes, you recognize individual gifting and roles within the community. This can carry through to various forms of leadership as well. This makes a lot of sense in Mike’s model where missional communities are one part of the equation (can’t pay pastors for each and every group) but I believe it to be true if a missional community is the extent of your church community. No one should have the task or responsibility of all the ministry or all leading of the church. It must be shared (in any number of ways) in order to be reproducable and attractive.

What are your thoughts on Mike’s summary or my comments?

Andrew Jones gives insightful commentary on what is happening in the church globally as well as being an inspiration for me personally as he and his family live faithfully to Jesus.

I recommend you give this post on the direction of the church a read. I find myself agreeing with much and glad he wrote it! I also wonder – as always – about contextualization. The Church in South Africa is not in the same place as elsewhere. But is the “elsewhere” as big as some of us think? In other words, are the trends Andrew refers to fringe, mainstream, or somewhere in between? Are YOU seeing some of these aspects of church coming about? Which ones?

In thinking of his points in our local context,

I am seeing:

10. Many of these [unchurched] believers are finding ways to connect and share life with each other. These connection points and celebration events look like house churches but they are different. Whatever they are, they are part of the postmodern church landscape.

I am most encouraged by:

2. Modernity divided church into CHURCH (the ecclesiastic) and PARACHURCH (the seminaries, missions, youth ministries, etc). What we are seeing now is intentional communities and travelling teams that not only support the church – THEY ARE CHURCH

I am not seeing:

5. The [church] stages are shrinking because believers are no longer under compulsion to perform the gospel. The community of God becomes a better apologetic for God than the stage ever was. . . . The stage also shrinks because multi-media happens in multi- spaces, on multi-walls, in multi-rooms, by multi-people. Entryways, hallways and sidewalks become stages for art and expression.

Andrew, thanks for your insightful (as always article). Everyone else, please go read what Andrew is saying about the future church coming now.

Lots of talk about community in my world – missional community, holistic community, neo-monastic community, intercultural community, church community, intentional community… all sound great. Of course, most talk about all of these without much specificity – they are often buzz words without real definition. So, this is an attempt at clarify what I mean when I talk about Christian community.

First, Jesus. Christian community, by definition, includes Jesus. Now, I think we can be at various places of journey/understanding/relationship with Jesus. May seem obvious, but we would be remiss if there wasn’t overt acknowledgment that this community takes identity from Jesus. NOTE: this can be expressed many ways, yes? Formal, informal, baptist-flavoured, pentecostal-style, whatever. Those are religious forms we put around our understanding of Jesus, and are debatable. But Jesus is a must for Christian community. Can we differ on some of our beliefs, backgrounds, and practice? I think so because we are centred around Jesus, not just our way of following him. Do you agree?

Next, we have a commitment to one another that is based on relationship, not contract. We have agreed with one another to have a shared relationship with one another around Jesus. Therefore, different people can live out their commitment to varying degrees. Perhaps I have less time and energy than you. That’s ok. The point isn’t how much I do, it’s a common relationship with Jesus. We value heat commitment, not hours or money spent. If you want to make a formal commitment, that is fine and I welcome and honour that. Community allows people to be at different places at one time. Think if this in terms of other relationships you have – do you make friends sign a contract? Are they no longer friends if they can’t make it to dinner one week? Hopefully not! There is give and take, grace, love – all those good things.

Third, I think Christian community needs some sense of purpose. Does this mean each and every person must do all the same things? No. Do we all have to carry the same burden for the same cause? I don’t think so. Many “communities” define themselves by one interest. The problem with that is they are therefore closed communities. This seems to be at odds with having Jesus at the centre. Perhaps a common purpose is something as broad as “helping one another follow Jesus” or “Seeking God’s Kingdom.” To me, these seem different than specific causes. Is there a difference between purpose and cause? I DO think that if there is no purpose, you are ultimately a bunch of people hanging around. That’s fine, but again doesn’t fit with the Jesus part, because he as always about God’s mission and has asked his people to do the same.

Also, I think that Christian community must have some amount of “in common.” The obvious (though not easy) things are shared time, money, stuff, interests. I am really glad that so many people experiment with various forms of communal life. I am saddened that our individualistic/materialistic culture wins most often and convinces us to grow up and get our own things. It appears that many of the most vibrant forms of community through the story of God’s people had things in common. Do we have to have everything in common? Not necessarily. I believe different communities can decide together what and how they are going to share – there’s not “one way.” But if that conversation is not being had, then I don’t think it’s community.

Finally, I think true forms of community are ones where we don’t get to pick just our friends to be part. We need people who are different, people we don’t know yet, even people we don’t like?! for our own sake. You can read Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” for really good thoughts on this. In short, Christian community MUST contain variation. It must to be reflective of God’s heart and creation. It must so that we have to learn to love and compromise. We NEED people who are somehow different, even if this means it is not as easy. This one may be the most difficult, but is also the most powerful for everyone involved. How different can we stand to be and still maintain relationship?

You’ may notice I haven’t said anything about what we must DO. I think that is pretty negotiable from community to community. Also, I don’t think we are defined by our practice. Rather, practices are fluid to reflect how we are wanting to share our lives with one another around Jesus. Our new community, for example, is currently meeting every-other-week for  a meal, being together, and prayer. Other things can happen in between, but they aren’t mandatory. That’s it for now. We’re young and getting to know one another. And, most of our people are involved in significant ministry, so we are inviting one another to join in what we are doing rather than creating something new. We are sharing our lives with Jesus with one another. This rhythm will grow and change as we move along, but it works for now. And it seems that God is at work, so we keep listening to God together and will see what’s next.

Christian community can be found in a traditional church. Or it can not. I don’t mean any of this in opposition to any particular church expression. Rather, I would hope that regardless of your church/faith community/missional community/holistic community/intercultural community/intentional community, if you are wanting it to be CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, you find these things to be true.

Are they true of your community? If not, do you want them to be present and how can you help?

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.

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.