Tag Archive: church planting


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?

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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

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?