Thursday, November 29, 2012

How we got started

Welcome to the first edition of Simple Church Letters. I (Jack) have been in full time Christian pastoral ministry for a good many years – fifty something if my so-called retirement years are counted. Nearly three of these years were spent serving in Indonesia, plus regular visits to minister in Asian churches over recent years. And to use the over-used words, ‘paradigm shift’, I’ve sure had one of those!

The reasons for these letters are:
  • The growing number of conversations I have had with people wanting to know about different models of church.
  • The many people I meet who are disillusioned with the one model of church that we currently have in NZ (and are exporting overseas) ;-(
  • A conviction that I must share with interested people, the truths that we at Waikanae Cafe Church, are learning.
  • A conviction that simple/organic/participatory/autonomous/easily reproducible churches are part of God’s answer and desire to reach our lost, disillusioned and cynical generation for Christ.
  • My belief that every local church should enjoy the freedom to be a unique expression of Jesus to the world.
Prior to 2004 we were a regular Apostolic/Pentecostal church meeting in a school hall. We had the normal Sunday service of praise and worship, communion, offering, preaching and prayer. Before and after church we had a team setting out and putting back the chairs, sound system etc. There were also a number of programs we ran during the week all of which kept us pretty busy.

The church leadership team of our four elders, came to the conclusion that we were all feeling tired of trying to keep programs running when there were so few people to do the work. We also felt we did not really know one another and that looking at the back of somebody's head for 80 odd minutes wasn't exactly close fellowship. In view of this, we decided to look for a coffee shop, or somewhere neutral where we could meet and take time out to get to know one another and relax enough to enjoy our journey.

One of our leaders walked into the Waikanae Chartered Club one day and asked if there was somewhere in their building that we could hire for Sunday gatherings. The bar manager told Peter that they didn't open until 2.00 pm, but that she was willing to open the building for us at 9.00 am, that we could use the restaurant and we could have it for free! It didn't take long for Peter to say "YES"! (Over $1,000,000 had just been spent on renovating the building).

Let me list some of the insights we discovered that were help for us to manage the change.

1) It was important to have informal fellowship before we started our discussion, singing, prayer, teaching or whatever we planned to do. So, as each person arrived we would go to the bar and order a coffee or whatever we wanted to drink. Then we would sit at the restaurant tables and talk.

2) At first, our informal fellowship would last around 10 minutes. Then it began to grow, sometimes 20 minutes, 30 minutes or more as we became more intimately involved with one another, sometimes praying together one-on-one as we shared from our hearts. We eventually came to the conclusion that this was a vital part of our gathering. That 'church' started the moment the first two people arrived.

3) We now began to see that the fellowship; the relationships we had with one another, had been so superficial. We simply didn't have the time to get to know each other. Greeting with a handshake on arrival and a few words over a cuppa at the conclusion of church made real koinonia fellowship an impossibility. And nor was it possible to fulfil the more than 50 New Testament "one another" commands. e.g. love, pray for, encourage, etc, etc one another.

4) We also realised that our congregation was like spectators watching the singers, prayers, preacher doing their thing. This is so foreign to the New Testament description of the church as a many-membered "body". And it was nowhere near the instructions of Paul in 1 Cor. 14:26. In fact this verse is one of the few verses that gives us in detail what we should do when we meet together. A true New Testament meeting involves everybody. We were all challenged to come together, not to watch like spectators at a football stadium, but to be participators in the 'game'. Thankfully even the quiet people in our church began to respond and it was amazing the revelation and insights that they shared. It has been gratifying to to see a natural development in leadership that is emerging.

5) Another thing we learned was that our old planning of services was largely trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, as we pray, listen and respond we are discovering in a surprising (to us) manner the way the Holy Spirit directs our gatherings as each member of the body shares their individual and unique contribution. These contributions can be teaching, prophecy, song, testimony, prayer, praise, words of knowledge or other manifestations. I was once asked, “What if no one has anything to share?” My reply, “We’d drink more coffee.” But it’s never happened!

6) With people's contributions we hear with much greater clarity what God is saying. One example of this was a discussion we had on Christian behaviour in the work place. We listened to the views of some of our members who are employers, teachers, a baker, a storeman, counsellors and people from other work situations. People who spend 40 hours a week at the coal face. This is a far more effective way of learning than listening to one person's lecture (read, sermon). But we haven't rejected preaching, knowing that this is one of God's ways of communicating the Gospel, to non believers.

This small segment of our recent "Waikanae Cafe Church" history is by no means complete. We certainly haven't arrived - we journey on. Nor do we think we have a pattern for other churches. God isn't into cloning! He's into 'organic' growth for every unique group of his special people. But with people asking about our journey I am responding by writing these letters.

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