Friday, June 28, 2013

HOW MY EYES WERE OPENED!

Michael's transforming story



This informative letter is written by a friend and colleague who has long been involved in extensive church leadership roles as well as facilitating the training of hundreds of people for overseas ministry. At present Michael and his wife Freda oversee three house churches involving overseas students many of whom live in these houses here in NZ. These students regularly gather for informal fellowship, lively discussion and relevant Biblical instruction. Here is Michael's interesting story.

"Hi Jack,

"I thought this might interest others who may be wavering between continuing with the “traditional” church and getting involved with a simple church...and this is more a personal reflection, rather than a criticism of the church. 
 
"For more than seven years I was involved in pastoral ministry in a denominational church in a city in NZ. Although it was a suburban church, it was considered reasonably large with some 350+ regular worshippers each week, a Sunday school of 60 or 70 and a youth ministry of more than 100. During the 1960’s and 70’s the church had gone through a time of renewal and was actively involved with the charismatic movement. In many ways it was a “service” church, helping folk from other local churches in the area with healing, renewal and prayer. Then they were sent back to their own church to continue the process. There were five regular services held each week, two midweek of a charismatic nature and three on Sundays. During the week at one stage there were almost 20 bible study groups. So all in all, a thriving church with many good things happening.
 
"On one occasion I was approached by one of the elders and asked if I would like to bring my family out to their place on a Thursday evening to have a meal together, and perhaps to pray for me if there were any particular needs. On arriving another family was also there and we ended up having a wonderful evening together, eating, laughing, sharing and praying. The next week another family joined us and before too long there were several more. Nothing was planned or organised. Everyone brought food along for the shared meal. The children played together for a while after dinner and were then put down in sleeping bags in the bedrooms or hallways at various times during the evening. At some stage someone would lean over the back of a couch and pull out a guitar and there would be spontaneous singing, worshipping the Lord with old and new, songs. Scripture verses were read out and people shared from these how the Lord had spoken to them during the week. Needs were first of all prayed for, and on many occasions were able to be met from the folk who were there in the group. If anyone had a need for practical help, everyone gathered around to assist. Over several weekends for example, we all came together to help extend the lounge of the family’s house where we were meeting. By this stage some of the neighbours were asking what was going on on a Thursday night, and were duly invited to come along where before too long they found the Lord. After a while some of those in the group started their own gatherings in their homes, inviting in neighbours and friends, many of whom had never ever attended a Sunday church service.
 
"After this had continued for several years I became aware of a change that had occurred within myself. On a Sunday morning I found I was standing in the pulpit “performing” when it came to conducting a service. And I was starting to feel a sense of “Oh, no, it’s Sunday again” especially when it came to preparing and delivering the required sermon. I felt that there was an expectation to "spoon feed" each Sunday those who had come along and yet it often seemed that it wasn’t making a great deal of difference when it came to applying biblical truths and principles. I recall on one occasion at the end of a service noticing people walking along the footpath outside and the question that immediately came into my mind was “How relevant was what has just occurred here in the service over the last 90 minutes to those outside the church?” I realised then that while it was nice and meaningful for those inside the building, in all probability it wasn’t very relevant to those "outside" who had no knowledge of Jesus.
 
"But Thursday evening was a different story altogether. I found I was hanging out all week for the Thursday night fellowship and couldn’t wait to get there. The spiritual life was vibrant, there was no preparation needed (apart from everyone spending time with the Lord during the week) and the Holy Spirit knew what was required each time we met. Everyone could be involved in some way, bringing a psalm, a hymn a spiritual song, or sharing something that the Lord had done in their lives or spoken to them about. The Word was fresh because it was shared by those in the group who had discovered it for themselves and had applied it to their own lives. It had the effect on others to want to wait on the Lord even more and grow in their knowledge of Him. Those who didn’t know the Lord who were invited to come along were drawn to Jesus by the genuine love that was expressed in the relationships with each other and the spontaneous worship of Him.
 
"It wasn’t until years later that I realised that in fact the Thursday evening fellowship was really “church” in the New Testament sense of the word, more so than the Sunday, structured program."
 
Thanks Michael, it's good to hear from someone who is actually "doing the stuff". Thank you to for the news of the people under your care who have returned to their own nations as messengers equipped with the Good News. Messengers who have learned to plant and encourage the ministry of simple, organic churches.
 
Your feedback welcome
 
Many blessings
Jack  
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

NETWORKING - MY ANSWER TO A CONCERNED READER


In my previous SC Letter I reproduced an article on the subject "NETWORKING - HELPFUL OF HARMFUL?" That Letter contained words like 'accountability', 'isolation', 'pooling resources', 'teaching', etc. I subsequently received a letter in response to this article. the writer being genuinely concerned that the article was all about man-made plans, manipulation and control. In case you have these same concerns, I want to let you know where I'm coming from. Today's Simple Church Letter is my reply to this concerned reader.

Dear George (not a real name)
Many thanks for your email regarding "Networking". I appreciate your caring attitude that comes through in the email and I take seriously your concerns.
I had hoped that my comments at the beginning of the email would make it plain that I too want nothing man-made. That was the reason for mentioning the man-made effort of tying two dog's tail together. That would be ludicrous and I feel the same about man-made efforts to create something that is not "born of God", (Matt. 15:13)..

In the previous Letter on this subject I mentioned our mini networking during a weekend. This was simply to facilitate a get together so that people from various groups could hear our visitor who is recognised as a 'father' (by some as an apostle) to small groups in four countries. We met, listened, enjoyed fellowship and that was that. We may do something similar one day, but only if we sense it is what our Father is showing us to do. Any further contact we may have with others will be for edification, encouragement and inspiration. We certainly won't be setting up any official accountability schemes. But, as our relationship with each other deepens some of us may chose to relate to fathers and mothers in the faith and in that sense have a family-like relationship with them. At the close of our weekend, we agreed to make no further plans to repeat what we had just enjoyed, but to leave plans for any further gatherings or whatever, in God's hands. In our local Cafe Church we don't talk about accountability but it is interesting that one of our brothers, who came from a church that stressed this, says he has never felt more accountable simply because he knows he is loved. Isn't that good!

George, I truly see the benefit of Spirit directed, spontaneous, non-directive networking. I see networking as getting to know some of our family members we haven't met before. Learning from them, sharing with them, being inspired by them. I want nothing to do with mechanical plans that come from the mind of man. Maybe I failed in the last Letter by not stressing this strongly enough, and I trust what I am saying now makes this clear to you. I also know that there is a thin line between doing what we want to do and what God wants us to do. Since Averil and I have walked away from organised religion we have endeavoured (imperfectly) to wait for God's peace before moving ahead or facilitating anything. At our home "simple church" we have sought to do the same.

Interestingly, I was reading today the networking between Paul, Barnabas, James, Peter and John in Galatians 2:6-10. It was a confirming of each other and releasing each of them to do what God had called them to do.

Regarding "isolation", I believe there is a difference between self-imposed isolation and the Moses-like isolation we experience when God puts us through a wilderness. The self imposed isolation where our pride stops us from relating to and recognising other believers and their gifts is harmful. I presume, George, this is what you had in mind when you used the isolation word.

My final thought is that words mean different things to different people. When we've had a bad experience with a word - as you have had with 'accountability', it obviously triggers a different reaction than it would  in somebody who has had a healthy experience of sharing their struggles with a valued, mature, caring person. Your letter has reminded me that we can't over communicate!

Once again George I want to say thanks for writing. Please never hesitate to write and if you wish - to comment on this Letter.

Every blessing

Jack

Monday, June 24, 2013

NETWORKING HELPFUL OF HARMFUL?

....and why link house churches into networks?


Today's Simple Church Letter deals with the knotty subject of simple/house church networking. Some time ago we had Craig Kirkby (Australia) with us for a weekend and in our three get-togethers we enjoyed and benefited greatly from mini, unofficial networking. Yes, it was mini as it was a 'first' for us in Waikanae. We have also participated in a live-in weekend with some 26 simple church NZ leaders where we shared, brain -stormed, prayed and experienced meaningful fellowship; getting to know each other and creating informal links. What we didn't want was anything man-made. (Tying two dogs tails together is hardly a recipe for unity!) But we all agreed it was a positive experience and once tasted, we are open for more of the same.

Rad Zdero writes, "Networking" is a buzz word These days!

"Some people in house churches react negatively to it. But, if today's house church movement is to move forward into God's purposes, this topic must be addressed!

"Most house churches correctly believe the New Testament teaches that each house church is legitimate, independent, and self-governing under Christ (Matt 18:20; Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Philem 1:2).

"But, many house churches wrongly conclude they don't need to be linked with other house churches or apostolic leaders. This is a BIG mistake! Let's discuss the strategic and scriptural reasons for clustering house churches together into networks.

"What is a Network?

"A network is a group of people or things linked together through mutual interactions.

"The real-world is made up of many decentralized and self-organized networks connected by a few 'hubs.'

"Social circles usually comprise about 150 close friends and thousands of acquaintances tied together through a few key people.

"How many house churches are linked together?

"In a 2009 unpublished survey by Dr. Steve Lyzenga, only 35% of house churches in the USA were part of a network. The other 59% were not, while 6% did not even know if they had such a connection. About 68% said their group needed help to get connected with other house churches to finish the Great Commission, 18% were neutral on the issue, and 14% did not feel they needed such assistance. Sadly, it seems the majority of American house churches (and probably also those in other western nations) are isolated and lack a bigger vision. No wonder many groups are shrinking and shutting down!

"What are the strategic reasons?

"First, isolation kills. Solitary house churches often become ingrown, discouraged, and irrelevant after a few years. They implode because of lack of direction, training, and resources.

"Second, teamwork pays off. Linked house churches have a better chance of growing because they can pool their people and resources. They can accomplish far more together.

"Third, healthy beliefs and behaviour are maintained. House churches can keep each other accountable and encouraged.

"Fourth, church history speaks loud and clear. By the end of the 18th century, the Methodist movement saw revival fire spread as they linked their 10,000 home groups (called 'classes' and 'bands') into citywide networks (called 'societies') and regional networks (called 'circuits').

"Fifth, the modern church planting explosions in China and India, each fast approaching 1 million house churches in the year 2010, link their groups by mobilizing prayer, people, and resources to effectively reach their nations for Jesus Christ.

"What are the Scriptural examples of Networks?

"The early believers connected house churches into geography-based networks.

"In the city of Jerusalem, thousands of believers met in hundreds of small house groups that partnered together as one cohesive body (Acts 2:41-47).

"In the city of Ephesus, house churches were united through a team of leaders (Acts 20:17). Paul also trained them "publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20).

"In the region of Asia Minor, the believers of seven neighboring citywide churches were linked into a regional network through John's apostolic team of traveling workers (2 Jn 1:12; 3 Jn 1:3-10, 13; Rev 2 & 3).

"The early believers used practical means to weave house churches together. Apostles traveled to encourage, train, connect, evangelize, and deal with problems (Luke 10:1-11;Rom 1:10; 1 Cor 9:5; Acts 8:14-17, 10:23-24, 15:1-5,22,36, 18:24- 27; 2 Jn 1:12; 3 Jn 1:14).

"Apostles wrote letters to address crises and teach general Christian truths (Luke 1:1-4; John 20:30-31; Acts 15:23-30; 2 Jn 1:12; 3 Jn 1:13; Col 4:16; 2 Thes 2:2,15; 2 Thes 3:14)

"Local leaders (called 'elders') and traveling leaders (called 'apostles') met together, sometimes privately, for training, encouragement, and making decisions (Acts 15:1-6; 20:17; Gal 2:9-10)

"Large gatherings brought together believers from multiple house churches for training and teaching, but also to reach non-believers through evangelistic and healing events (Acts 2:1,41-47; 3:11-12; 5:12; 6:2-4; 8:5-8; 15:4,12,22; 19:9-11; 20:20).

"May today's house church movement recapture a more strategic and Scriptural view of networks to reach the world for Jesus Christ!"

Thanks Rad. This article came from the 2010 summer issue of "The Starfish Files"


I welcome your feedback


Jack


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

WHAT DO I DO WITH "RELIGIOUS" HURTS?

To live above with the saints we love, that will be glory!

To live below with the saints we know, well,

that's a different story!!!

 
 
This letter is written for everybody who has ever been hurt in a church situation. If you haven't, believe me you will! These hurts happen in traditional, charismatic, house and every type of church. But I'm writing especially to those of you who have embraced some style of Simple Church. Among the results of your new understanding of being and doing church will include open discussion. With their new freedom, somebody may say or do something that is unwise or hurtful. This then may result in you being hurt, offended, disappointed, disillusioned or whatever. And, if we allow it, these religious hurts can cause us to become deeply offended. Jesus said that "offences will come..." (Luke 17:1). They're part of the territory! The Greek word "offence" is skandalon and that's where we get our English word scandal or scandalized.
 
A skandalon was a camouflaged trap that ancient hunters placed in the forest to trap unwary animals. Beware of Satan's trap -- he wants you to be scandalized, to hold a grudge that can grow into a root of bitterness that will, among other things, destroy the intimacy of your walk with God. This is true for individuals as well as church groups. In the Genesis 4 we have Cain as a prime example of this. He became angry, a murderer, a wanderer, he ignored God's warning, lost his inheritance, and the presence of God and suffered from paranoia. Also Michal, King David's wife, the prodigal son's elder brother, both suffered a tragic lost intimacy. Others in Scripture, church history and today whose lives are sad portrayals of offended people.

What should be our response to the person(s) or system that caused us pain?

Don't judge these people. If you have been dealt harshly because of the new light you have received, remember that you were probably once blind to what you now see. My wife Averil and I were, for most of our lives, critical of the House Church movement. The Holy Spirit has had to remind me of my past judgmental attitude when I have been tempted to judge others.

Don't nurse your hurt. Holding unforgiveness and pain in your heart will infect you with spiritual poison. Many years ago I knew of two pastors who were both offended with the "Cain syndrome". One of these men possessed a notebook (or did the notebook possessed him!) and in it he had written every instance of being hurt by his colleague. He vowed never to forgive until he had an apology for each of these hurts that had offended him. God's word to him, "Burn the book!" Thankfully he did and was healed and set free. You may be carrying a "notebook" in your head. You can't burn it, but you need the Holy Spirit to excise it from your mind. Your heartfelt repentance and complete forgiveness will enable this miracle to take place.

Forget the past and focus on the future. We cannot embrace the future when we are clinging to the past. The rock climber lost his grip and was clinging to a small tree hundreds of feet above the ground. When calling for help he was relieved to hear a voice telling him there was somebody above him at the top of the hill. "Who's there?" he screamed. "It's Jesus" was the reply. "Will you help me?" the climber called." "Of course" replied Jesus, "but first you must let go of the tree." Silence! Then from the climber, "Is anyone else up there?"

Bury those hurts and concrete over the grave. In order to foil grave-robbers, there is a culture where the grave diggers pour concrete on the grave directly after the burial. We need to do the same! And do a thorough job because the temptation to dig up those pains, abuses, misunderstandings and offences will probably return.

Talking about burial and resurrection, let's seriously follow some relevant advice from God's Word as translated by Eugene Peterson.....

"So don't you see that we don't owe that old do-it-yourself life (religion) one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like "What's next Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us--an unbelievable inheritance...!" Romans 8:12-17b. The Message.  WOW!!!

I look forward to your feedback.
Jack
 


 

 

 

THE YEAST OF THE KINGDOM

and its power to transform

 
I was attending a seminar where the speakers were instructing the attendees on how to build a bigger, brighter, more attractive, contemporary church. I knew and respected the speakers and was diligently taking notes as I had done in the countless church growth seminars I had attended over the past 40 plus years.

While focusing on what was being taught, I was surprised by the following picture that grabbed my attention. I "saw" this huge machine that straddled the whole width of a road. It was impressive! Wheels were furiously spinning, belt driven pulleys were whizzing around, steam was belching from this strange looking object. It was a graphic picture of hyper activity. Then I noticed that people, including me, were being drawn as if magnetised by a power we could not resist, into this huge hive of activity. The machine was demanding our time, our wisdom, our energy and our money, all of which was needed to keep it running. And while watching this strange vision, I knew it was a picture of the frenetic activity of many modern churches.

I then "heard" two questions. The first, “How many times in the Gospels did Jesus use the word 'church'?” I knew the answer was, twice. The second question, “How many times did Jesus use the word 'kingdom?'" I didn't know the answer (but have since found out that it's something like 100 times). Also that the phrase, "kingdom of God / kingdom of heaven" is a common theme of the Gospels and could be described as the foundation of Jesus' teaching and mission. Then the words of Jesus came to my mind, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast used by a woman making bread. Even though she uses a large amount of flour, the yeast permeated every part of the dough,” (Matt. 13:33).

I knew from this unexpected vision that God wasn't telling us to abandon his church, but that our expression of it had to undergo dramatic change. We were being called to convert from man-power to yeast-power and to embrace a vision of kingdom life. Let me tell you what I mean by this and list some of the changes that have taken place in my life and in the life and ministry of Waikanae Cafe Church.

For all of my pastoral life I have been encouraged by church growth teachers to have a vision for the growth of my local church. This vision, I was told, is a necessary building block that I as a pastor will need if I am to successfully build my local church. Since receiving the steam-belching-machine-vision, I have come to the conviction that it is Jesus, not me, who is the Builder of his not my, church. The second change had to do with us at Cafe Church and our new vision, as well as our new style of evangelism. We now "see" that in Waikanae we are to be as yeast, possessing a pervading influence that will affect the whole of our region and every organisation where we have some input (knowing that a small amount of yeast can affect a large amount of flour). At the moment this includes two schools, some aspects of the business world, a counseling ministry, two prisons, a child-care centre plus other places where we live and work. Our vision is now free from the secular vs. sacred dichotomy. We see everything as sacred and every employer or employee being an anointed kingdom of God minister in the place of their labour (and their places of leisure), sowing seeds of kingdom principles into their sphere of influence.

We, have also been freed from the pressure that says our influence has to result in the growth of our local church. We see just one Church in Waikanae meeting in different venues. Earlier this year I introduced five young teenagers to a local church youth leader so that they could join this church's youth group. Last year a Waikanae church took a brave step by leaving their history and tradition filled sanctuary and took their main Sunday service to a large public hall. We resonated with the step they were taking and decided to forgo our planned service and identify with our brothers and sisters by joining them for their inaugural meeting at the local Memorial Hall. 

Neil Cole, in his trailblazing book, "Organic Church - Growing Faith Where Life Happens", states, "If you want to win the world to Christ, you are going to have to sit in the smoking section." We have ceased to do stuff to attract people to our gatherings. Somebody else said about the attractional aspect of church growth, "If you bring a rabbit out of the hat this Sunday, you'd better be able to bring a hat out of the rabbit next Sunday. We're now off that merry-go-round, believing the principle recorded in Acts 2:47b, "...the Lord (not the program, the music or the preaching) added to the church those who were being saved." We now believe that the key to successful evangelism is relationships. Relationships built by sitting in folks homes or places where they hang out -  coffee shop, pub, sports club etc - sometimes it's like the smoking section - and building genuine friendships that contain no hidden barb of expectations of them becoming a Christian or attending church.

Apart from getting together on Sunday mornings, some of us meet in two different homes during the week with a small group of people who are exploring Christianity at different levels. You could hardly call these gatherings "churchy" but we can testify to seeing the Spirit of God at work as lives are opening up to him. One of this group, on her own initiative, has started a weekly meeting with some people of her ethnicity, teaching them how to understand the Bible. Is this a small example of "organic church - growing faith where life happens?"

Our Sunday morning gatherings aren't very churchy either (how un-kiwi can our church culture get???). For us, handling the change that's happened in our church and personal lives, has been a groping-along-an-unknown-pathway of uncertainty. Difficult yet gratifying. And the story of how we are handling this new (for us) "walk" is found in many of the other articles on the blog: simplechurchletters.com

Feel free to pass this on. And thanks for lots of positive feedback. Much appreciated.

 Jack

A KINGDOM WITHOUT BORDERS

...and it's all about the King!

 
"Kingdom Without Borders" is the title of a book filled with amazing stories of ventures for God from around the world. God at work in the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Western worlds; in China, Africa, Myanmar, India, South America and other countries. What captured my attention in these inspiring stories is the dedication of these brave pioneers and the way the Holy Spirit took hold of ordinary believers. They were were possessed by a passion to see the "gospel of the kingdom" advance, (Matt. 24:14) and to see the King released to reign in their lives and in their worlds.

The most important part of the kingdom message and activity is the KING! Having a Kingdom vision must be all about Jesus. We must seek his direction; his glory; his commendation. As ambassadors for Christ, we walk with him, listen to his voice, follow his directions and desire above all else that his will be done; his kingdom come on (our) earth - sphere of influence - as it is in heaven
 
I have heard and forgotten countless visions seen by Christians. But a vision I heard described around 50 years ago has never left me. It was recounted by evangelist Tommy Hicks and after all these years I am excited to see it coming to pass around the world today. WOW!! From memory, here is what Hicks recounted.....

"I saw the continent of Africa surrounded by gigantic red waves that were threatening to engulf the African nations. It was frightening; whatever could stop these approaching tsunamis? Then I saw a huge man stand in the centre of the continent, stretch out his hands to the east and the west and miraculously the waves subsided. (My interpretation: the Man was Jesus. Now comes the more exciting part). The 'Man' then dissolved into thousands of people. These people spread through the countries of Africa, performing signs and wonders, emptying hospitals of the sick, preaching the Good News and transforming whole nations." Yes, the Man was Jesus but we could also say, the Man was the body of Christ and the multitudes that dissolved from Him were the ordinary members of His body. Now, empowered through their relationship with Jesus, they could go and do His kingdom work.
 
Has the vision come to pass? No, not fully. But reading of what is happening in parts of Africa, proves that its fulfillment has certainly begun.
 
Was the vision given just for Africa? Seeing what is happening in China, India, South America and other parts of the world proves the answer is a resounding "NO!" A vast world harvest is being gathered by Christ-followers who have dared to step out of the boxes that have restricted and suffocated their gifts and ministries.
Who are these members of Christ's body? Theologians, Western missionaries, trained professional ministers? No, these miracle-working people are part of the army of ordinary people who have realised that they, as members of Christ have been gifted by the Holy Spirit to do God's will. 1 Cor. 12.

Is this vision of Hicks Biblical? Jesus said, "These (miraculous) signs will follow those who believe..." Mk 16:17; John 14:12. Peter and John were described as, "...ordinary men who had no special training...who had been with Jesus..." Acts 4:13. In Eph. 4:11 & 12 we read that the five ministries listed in vs. 11 are given to "equip God's people for the work of ministry..." In other words, every child of God is a minister, an empowered ambassador of the King of kings, sent, as Jesus was sent into the world to do the Father's will. John. 20:21.
 
In the light of the above, there are questions we must ask ourselves, like...."Is there anything that is hindering me from doing what God is calling me to do? Have I allowed restrictive teaching or religious traditions to hold me back? Is my concept of ministry wrongly focused on professionals and trained experts? What are the suffocating boxes I need to break out of - and when?
 
This new (ancient) kingdom perspective has called us to see that ....
  • All Christian service is sacred even though it doesn't directly bless or grow our church
  • All Christians are our fellow-priests in this kingdom and have been called and anointed to serve King Jesus. 1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6
  •  All Christian work and workers are to be valued no matter what label they serve under. Even the falsely-called, much maligned para-church kingdom of God servants. 
  •  
  • Every believer is Christ's ambassador with a valid ministry of reconciliation. 2 Cor. 5:20
  •  
  • Kingdom 'yeast' may be a small, silent ingredient, but it has a powerful, far-reaching effect. Matt. 13:33.
 
Your feedback is appreciated and welcome.

You're welcome too to 'forward' this 'Simple Church' Letter.

Jack


CHOSEN OR FROZEN

 

A modern parable


With much enthusiasm I joined this non-church volunteer organisation. Its goals and ideals attracted me and the sense of freedom to contribute with ones own ideas appealed. I believed I could add value to this group. There was somewhat of a lack of equipment and organisation, but a freedom as we all happily made our sacrifices for the greater good of the cause we had embraced. 

Slowly and imperceptibly things began to change. More equipment (trappings?) was added, more control was imposed, restrictions were slowly fencing us in. The fires of enthusiasm were being quenched by these wet blanket additions. The sense of freedom we had enjoyed was dying. Disenchanted folk began to leave.

I remember approaching the leaders with what I considered an insight that could be the basis of a profitable discussion. Not so! "You can't buck the party line," I was told in a dictatorial manner. It seemed that the commendable purpose of the organisation was lost behind a fog of inflexible rules. And other unrelated programmes were being added, demanding our time and talents.

I "hung in there" hoping for better things. But an unhealthy resentment was simmering inside of me. A conflict between staying faithful ("we need you") and resigning was disturbing me. I still believed in the name the organisation boasted, but not the fossilised function. To quote my friend Rex Meehan, "I wasn't melting the iceberg, it was freezing me!" What should I do? 

The two web sites that I recommend today are both Australian-based, compiled by two very special friends and colleagues. These sites are chock full of helpful resources many of which are 'required reading' for devoted Christ-followers. www.oikos.org.au (follow the links to the OIKOS Blog) and www.yourkingdomcomeyes.com
You are free to forward this letter.

Jack Guerin
Waikanae, NZ

 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

WILL YOU DREAM WITH ME?

...of a restored, radiant, revived, radical, relational, reaching out church


I've just started reading a challenging book, "The Gathering" by Ray Barnett. The opening chapters have provoked me to think this. "If I were to divest myself of all knowledge of traditional church life, go back to the New Testament and design a church-community, based on the words and example of both Jesus and the NT Church, just what would it look like?" In this SC Letter I'm asking you to do the same. And I must admit I haven't come up with a blueprint that's one-size-fits-all. Nor do I expect to! But I hope you'll join me in my search, and come to your own (radical) conclusions.

I like the phrase, church-community (CC) to describe our dream church. To me there's no such thing as a church that is devoid of community.

So, let's start with some unavoidable questions.
  • What sort of CC would produce genuine disciples? Remember genuine disciples are what the church is meant to be producing, Matt. 28:19. How did Jesus, Paul and others do this?
  •  
  • What would our CC be like - if it were a place where desperately hurting people, the misfits, drug addicts, rejects of society, folk with mental health issues, the disillusioned wealthy, would be listened to, welcomed, helped and healed? 
  •  
  • Remembering Jesus' and the early churches' examples, what would we do with money and other resources that came into our hands? Answers to this question will show us where our heart is!  What about eating together? It seems as though Jesus was regularly going to a meal, eating meal, or coming from a meal! In Luke's gospel there are something like 11 references to Jesus eating with all sorts of people. And later, a meal during the important post-resurrection period, Acts 1:3 Also, Acts 2:46 and the "love feasts", 2 Pet. 2:13; Jude 12. Lots of meat-ings!
  •  
  • We must remember that the CC is a "body" where every member is equal, gifted and free to   function, 1 Cor. 14:26; a "family" where love, unity and intimacy is to be nurtured; a "kingdom of priests" where all have equal access to God and a UNIQUE MINISTRY.
Is there an ideal size for a church gathering and if so what would it be?

Our sick and dying world desperately needs a new breed of communities that dare to live out God's original plan for his church. Unless we dream, our churches will continue to be an "irrelevant island in a sea of despair." Will you dream with me?

Profitable dreams!

Jack

 

WHAT'S ALL THIS SHAKING ABOUT?


....and there's more to follow! 


New Zealand has had three powerful shakings in the last few months. The Christchurch building-destroying earthquake, the blight that has severely whacked our billion dollar kiwi fruit industry and the tragic deaths of 29 men at Pike River coal mine.

Now, it's not my purpose to analyze these 'shakings'. But reading the book, "The Church in the House" brought me face to face with a powerful prophecy the author, Eric Chambers comments on. The prophecy was given by J.D. Eynon, a senior pastor in the NZ Apostolic Church in 1952. Chambers quotes, "It (the prophecy) describes in great detail the events that have taken place over the last 35 years...all that has happened in the Charismatic/Pentecostal expression, all the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit in the use of gifts, but in each paragraph there is the word 'shaking'. God is going to shake the church it says, until it is totally unrecognisable." Chambers comments, "The church as it was then and the church as it is now (1987) is almost unrecognisable." Now, 23 years later (2010) the church, through yet more shaking, is even more unrecognisable with the world-wide proliferation of simple/organic house churches and the release of the people of God to function in their God-given ministries. It's taken a lot of shaking to get rid of 1700 years of restrictive religion, and there's no doubt more shakings are on the way.  

Hebrews 12:26-28 predicts a great 'shaking' and concludes with a reference to believers, "receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken or destroyed..." I heard an insightful Christian describing what he believes God is doing now as, "removing the scaffolding from the church." I'll leave it to you to decide what the scaffolding is; things that are of no value to us or our simple churches, when we receive this "kingdom that cannot be destroyed." Those to whom the Kingdom of God is their number one priority (Matt. 6:10, & 33) have had a revelation, or to put it into today's language have had a massive paradigm shift. They see themselves, and all believers as kings and priests, 1 Peter 2:9. Kings with authority, priests with ministries and gifts that function with this kingdom authority. Authority to "bind" and "loose", ("prohibit" and "allow", NLT), authority in united prayer, Matt. 18:19 and authority to drive out demons, and lay hands on sick people and see them healed as promised by Jesus to "those who believe", see Mark 16:17-18; Also, John 14:12-14.

So, don't quake-proof your life. If it's the hand of God that is doing the shaking, let him destroy what you need to be shaken free from so that, "...only eternal things (NLT), things that cannot be shaken (NIV) will be left." You can't get a better outcome than that!

Your feedback welcome

Jack
 

 

THE POWER OF AUTHENTIC, COMMITTED COMMUNITY LIFE


Here’s a vital message from “SimpleChurch Journal” that has repercussions for everybody who genuinely wants to discover New Testament life, growth, security, love and power. I trust you won’t easily dismiss Roger’s pertinent question at the end!

 Jack
 


SimpleChurch Journal - The Power of Authentic, Committed Community Life

 

Someone recently commented to my wife, regarding our core community gang, “It’s obvious that you guys really take care of each other.”

It’s been a while since I have blogged on the topic of community-life due to a greater focus on the missional aspect of 24/7 organic church lifestyle.
But, I do not want to forget that Jesus tied community-life and mission together when he said, “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me (John 17:23)”
Now, let’s be clear.
Developing committed, authentic community life among a core group of follower is, well…
  • Messy.  There is no smooth sailing when it comes to forging relationships.
  • Difficult.  It’s easy to give up and find excuses to just move on.
  • Humbling.  Like any relationships, our pride will be challenged.
  • Frustrating.  Why do people have to be so much like people???
  • Hard work.  Honestly, most people do not want to invest what it takes. You get out of it what you put into it.  Nothing more.  There are no free rides in the experience of community.
But forging deep relationships over a longer period of time has amazing benefits:
1. I have many spiritual friends that have stood with me while going through some of the darkest times of my life including losing a son two years ago.  There is nothing like that kind of care and support when you need it most.  It makes the hard work of building community well worth it!
2. I have grown immeasurably from the challenges of working through issues and conflicts with others in my community, however uncomfortable.
3. I have support for my mission and passions which is practical and real.  I trust that I provide similar support to others in my ‘gang.’
4. I get to experience, in no small measure, what John Eldredge describes:
“You cannot live the Christian life without a small group of intimate allies surrounding you... who know you... and who will stand with you and fight for your heart."

I believe community is one of the most difficult aspects of true Jesus-following.  But I do know what it is to feel the strength of having intimate allies in my life, and it’s worth the effort.
What's been your experience?
 
 



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Saturday, June 15, 2013

WHY WE MEET AS WE DO



....plus a working example


 In previous SC Letters I have listed some of the Biblical reasons why I journeyed from institutional church to simple church. My first point has always been, the example of the New Testament Christians who met in homes. The point I wanted to make wasn't the place they met, but the simplicity of their family type gatherings. Yes, "They...met in homes...and shared their meals with great joy and generosity..." Acts 2:46. But nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to meet in a house. When we started our simple church journey we met for some time in the cafeteria of the Waikanae Chartered Club. So, while simple/organic churches are often referred to as 'house churches', I'm not arguing for the house as the only place Christians should meet. It's not where we meet but Whom we meet! It's simply "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Matt. 18:20. c.f. John 4:21-24.

Another Biblical reason for the simple way of doing church....

The reality of being a family. One of the most beautiful, and the most common metaphor of the Church in Scripture is "we are family." Jesus tells us not to let anyone give us the title of 'teacher', 'father' or 'leader'. Why? Because he said, "...all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters." Matt. 23:8-11. Think of the number of times the word 'brothers', or 'brothers and sisters' as the New Living Translation translates the intended meaning of 'brothers' at appropriate times. Also verses like, Gal. 6:10; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 5:1, 2; 1 Pet. 2:2; 1 Jn. 2:12, 13 to name a few. Then there is the much loved, familial name that Jesus used of God, 'Father', even 'Abba Father'. Doesn't this speak loudly that the church is to be a warm, close knit caring family? No clergy-laity great divide. "All equal and none more equal than others." (Apologies to George Orwell's "Animal Farm"). All free to participate, to tell their story or share their grief. Not a pulpit centred, weekly meeting followed by a quick cuppa, some small talk and a hurried, "God bless you."
 
An example. Every Thursday night we have what we call, "Open Home." This consists of a shared, multi-cultural meal, enjoyed around a long oval table and accompanied by lots of talk and laughter. What noise! Then we tell our stories or watch a small section of one of the Gospels on DVD, or some other creative way of sharing the Good News. We pray and sing. It's all so Kiwi with a few disagreements thrown in. Surprisingly it has attracted folk from Philippines, one each from Samoa, Fiji, Kiribatis and an enquiry from a Cook Islander as well as half a dozen or so NZers. We don't put folk into any spiritual categories, we simply allow the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to sort out where we individually stand before God. In my more than 50 years as a follower of Jesus I have never been involved in a gathering that is so fulfilling and as much like I imagine a New Testament church meeting would look like. Interestingly the beginning of this Thursday get together started by inviting some not-well-known acquaintances to a BBQ. Not rocket science eh!

 Obviously there's other reasons for meeting as we do. But these (above) are important, both for those inside and outside of the Church. And how much easier to bring a non-church friend or neighbour to a BBQ or a pot-luck meal, than to bring them to an unfamiliar (to them) traditional church service.

How about sharing your story? Why do you meet as you do? Your story doesn't have to be long and involved. I'd love to hear from you and possibly include something of your journey (no names) in a future SC Letter.

Jack

 

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

MORE QUESTIONS THAT DEMMAND AN ANSWER


....and why don't we ask them and ensure we get some satisfactory answers!

 
If my body, my car or even my lawnmower has stopped doing what it is meant to be doing, I want some answers! I'm not prepared to put up with obvious signs of ill-health or non-functioning equipment that I've paid good money for.

 In a previous SC Letter I quoted extensively from Mark Strom's illuminating book, "Reframing Paul." Strom not only points out the ill-health and non-biblical practices of today's church, but he gives Biblical answers. In this letter I'm including a small, but very important, New Testament teaching and application.
 
Why did the early Church gather? A part of Mark Strom's answer is...."Paul's consistent answer is, "to build each other up..."  Paul defines the functions of prophecy, they are to, "build up, encourage and comfort." 1 Cor. 14:3. Surely if this means anything it is a picture of building each other up. Also vs.. 4, "...prophecy strengthens the entire church." And vs.. 26 where not only is 'congregational participation' enjoined, but the reason for this variety of ministry and ministers is so that, "...everything that is done must be useful to all and build them up in the Lord."

 Friends, even a cursory reading of 1 Cor. 12, 13 & 14 gives us a clear description of a healthy and functioning body. All the members have something to contribute and from this multi-gifted body even, "...the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary,"  1 Cor. 12:22-26. We mustn't forget also the many, many verses that use the words, "one another." And that most of the commands related to these pungent words can only be done in relationship with others, and in small groups.

 Question?: How much longer can we ignore and reject this clear teaching of Scripture? And is our careless ignoring of this "building-up" ministry one of the reasons the Church is so weak?

 THE MEAL. Ray Barnett, in his Scripture-filled book, "The Gathering," points out that the Greek word for "supper" in 1 Cor. 11:20 means a meal or a banquet. He also states, "No-one can get drunk on a few millilitres of wine, nor satisfy their hunger with a pinch of bread," see vv. 21, 22. Communion was obviously a meal; the "love feast" referred to in Jude 12. Strom points out that in church today there is no meal and our conversations are gagged and spontaneity is avoided. Why???
Again quoting Barnett. "If an unbeliever looked through the window at an...evangelical Lord's Supper...would words like "dinner" and "feast" make any sense to them?...would the word "fellowship" come to mind as they note that none of us talk to each other or even look each other in the eye? Would they observe a miracle of oneness? Or would they see 100 people in a tense, disconnected, private ceremony? Would they observe a tight-knit family, or would they observe a religious ceremony?"

At the beginning of 2011, a group of us decided that we would start with a meal as part of our mid-week fellowship. 10 or so people sit at an oval table; we pray, talk, laugh, testify, share and encourage one another. What noise! This is a vital part of our gathering and is enjoyed and open to everybody to contribute, even the not-yet Christians. Out of this Spirit-led and participatory gathering has come salvation and water baptisms.

 Homework! Check out the Scripture references I have included, plus other references to the early church. e.g. Book of Acts. Do this prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit for answers. Also discuss the above topic with other seeking or dissatisfied believers. If you are serious about your 'walk' and unhappy with what is being done in the name of 'church'. do what you can to bring about change. And think of creative ways of reaching the not-yet Christians in your circle of influence. Start with meeting one or two folk for coffee with some sort of regularity. Chinese proverb: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step."

 You're welcome to 'forward' this SC Letter.
 
Your feedback is also wanted and welcome.

Jack

 

MY CHURCH JOURNEY

....with significant signposts along the way

 
Some of you have been reading Simple Church Letters (SCLs) for a longer period of time than others. Some of you know me well, most of you don’t! The appreciative comments I receive from SCLs readers whom I have never met, causes me to marvel at their faith in accepting – for the most part - what I describe. 
 
So, to you who know little about me, let me give you the headlines of my ‘church journey’. I’ll do this by the years of the events that I will describe.
 
1960. Having completed a three year, part-time theology course at the Hamilton (NZ) Bible Training Centre, I was asked by my National Church Council to become the Presiding Elder (read, “non-paid pastor”) of the New Plymouth Apostolic Church.  Miraculously, as a 26 year-old, (and just a four or five-year-old Christian), I survived and so did the church! While here I learned that God could use even a novice like me.
 
1963. Our church leaders directed me, my wife Averil and our children to a small settlement in the Bay of Plenty named, Waitangi. The church here saw itself a small hub with spokes going out to other centres where predominately Maori churches were established. I was given oversight of four churches and while there we planted another. We also had an outreach to a forest area, sharing the Good News with the workers who lived here. These years were a baptism into Maori culture.
 
1965-1991. After pioneering churches in two NZ cities and pastoring in two smaller towns, we were on our way to Indonesia. We were called by an Indonesian church to teach at a Bible School. We lived and served in this nation for nearly three years, celebrating our 60th birthdays, as well as learning a new language, culture, driving experience and how local churches functioned. Sadly, much of what we saw of the Indonesian church scene was traditional, strongly hierarchical and sadder still, many of the traditional aspects of church life and practice were copied from, or taught by Western churches and preachers. This aspect of church life made me long for a more contextualised Indonesian church.
 
1994-2006. These years were spent visiting churches in Asia as well as between 1995-1997 pastoring a community church on the NZ Waiouru Military Base. Again many experiences (another culture) plus a growing dissatisfaction with the ill health of so many Christian churches. We knew there had to be a better way of doing church, but didn’t know what that was.
 
1998-2004. We moved to Waikanae, where we now live. I knew my official pastoring days were over but agreed to be an elder in the local church I was attending. In the year 2004 our local church began a move in a very different direction. The story of this difficult/exciting journey is recorded early in my blog, “How we got Started.” But this article is about my (and my wife’s) journey from more that 40 years a traditional pastor, to a simple/organic church practitioner.
 
2008-2013. Our local church was now well on the Simple/Organic church path and enjoying the ride. For Averil and me it was a dramatic change from solely shouldering the burden of a local church, to sharing the responsibilities with other gifted elders (as seen in the Book of Acts).
 
2008. The year I started writing SCLs. This began with a desire to help folk I knew who were struggling with their church life; who were not rebels, church-hoppers or backsliders but sincere believers who wanted to enrich their faith and keep alive their fires of devotion to Jesus. The Letters go to more than 170 addresses in eight or nine countries and have had a high degree of acceptance and appreciation. I hear at times that they are also “forwarded” by more people to more places than I know. To God be all the glory.
 
Question: Why have I written this part of our story? Answer: To demonstrate that one is never too old to change – you can teach old dogs new tricks! Also that the particular change I have described is not in any way ‘injurious to your (spiritual) health’. In fact our own spiritual health has blossomed, once we had coped with the inevitable pressures that important change brings.
 
The address of the Simple Church blog is: www.simplechurchletters.com   Finding the address can be difficult as there are other simple church sites! The best place to type in the address is the small, top left space on your Google screen.
 
Jack & Averil Guerin
Waikanae
NEW ZEALAND

Monday, June 10, 2013

THE CHURCH OR THE PUB?

 

....what do you think?


A response to my one of my SC Letters I had a fascinating response from "Harold" (not his real name), a friend and pastor from "way back". He kindly disagreed with just about all that I said, quoting the numbers attending the mega churches in his country. He also described the house churches that he had heard of as, "a lot of turkeys scratching around with their heads down---instead of flying like eagles...reaching for the heights of God." Hmm!
 
He then told me about the church he attends and wrote, "the people rely on my ministry," which he said, "...makes it hard to break away." (revealing comments!)
 
Harold goes on, "I guess apart from the churchy (an interesting word!) communion, our best time of happy laughing fellowship is in the pub----when we go for lunch which can last from 1-3 hrs. People in the pub have come to look forward to this strange happy group, who can be free in fellowship without the usual drink associated for merriment."
 
Reading the above two paragraphs that describe two aspects of Harold's church life, I can't help asking myself a couple of questions. 1) If I had a choice of attending one or other of the two gatherings, where would I rather be? The churchy one where the people rely on Harold's ministry? Or, 2) (And this is the biggie). Which gathering is the most like a New Testament participatory, free and open fellowship meeting? It sounds to me like the first gathering is pulpit-centred, the second people-centred. An unorganised, joyful, relational, participatory gathering sending an unforced and clear witness that Christians aren't afraid of being in a pub, nor are they a miserable bunch of do-gooders. In other words, being church in the market place.
 
Yes, I know there's a need for teaching, prayer, baptisms and lots of other necessary aspects of church life. Is it remotely possible that these could also be done in a pub/club/McDonalds/river or wherever situation?
 
What do you think?
 
Your feedback is appreciated and welcome.
 
Jack

Friday, June 7, 2013

JUST WHAT IS OUR AIM?

...and if we aim at nothing, that's what we'll hit!


 No doubt you have heard of the archer who fired his arrow at the bulls eye, and got his friend to shift the target to where the arrow was heading. This silly story reminds me of the need for us in simple churches to know just what we are aiming at. Why are we doing what we are doing? What do we hope to achieve? Are we doing (to quote the well-known adage) the same things over and over and expecting a different result?

 I was recently asked this discerning question: "Do you think house church is the main goal?  Or is the main goal(s) something else, and house church is a useful tool? If so, what are the main goals?"  I'm sure my questioner wasn't thinking of the-numbers-goal, the-offering-goal, the-church-growth- goals and the other man-made goals that bring bondage and restriction. I hope you understand this too.

 Here's my answer to the first part of the question. Simple/organic/house church is not an end in itself. There's got to be a bigger picture! It is a means to an end and an effective means to a powerful end.

 Here's my expanded answer to the second part of the question, "What are the main goals (of a house church)?"  The list is not in any special order.
 
1) To provide a relational discipling environment

2) To reach disillusioned ex-church members before they fall through the             cracks, and to help them 'detox'.

3) To have a 'place' where non-church folk can be made to feel at home and become open
     to Jesus

4) To release people from being spectators to participators.

5) To promote genuine, koinonia fellowship.

6) To live out in concrete ways the many "one-another" commands of the NT.

7) To release people to fulfill their God-given dreams and to actively support them.

8) To enjoy the simplicity of church without the unnecessary, restrictive, man-made 
    add-ons.

9) This is the biggie....To usher in the kingdom of God. (Matt. 24:14).

My conviction is that we are on earth to establish the Kingdom of God. Some years ago God supernaturally changed my church vision into a kingdom vision. Now I know that the main goal of simple church - and every church - is to see the prayer of Jesus fulfilled, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..."

Did you know that the Kingdom of God is meant to permeate every square inch of our society? This will be done by kingdom-inspired believers in their families, their work and leisure places, businesses, all of the arts, churches, hobbies - everywhere human beings live their lives as Christ's ambassadors. And the best place for these kingdom believers to be relationally equipped is in Holy Spirit directed, simple churches.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this letter. Do you agree that simple churches are a means to an end? Do you agree with my list? Are there other items that should be added to the list? Or deleted?
 
Jack
 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

PERTINENT QUESTIONS WE SHOULD BE ASKING

 

"The Lord started his church the way he wanted it -

and now wants his church the way he started it!"

Yes, this is the quote I included in my last Letter, "When less is More". In this letter I want to challenge you (and me) as to how we can be more proactive in our response to the following questions:
    Since the quote echoes God's purpose and passion, shouldn't our purpose and passion be in line with God's?
    Is it enough to remain passive, apathetic and to stand idly by when the Western Church is light years away from the spirit and power of the Church that he started?

    What can we do, in relation to Christ's Church, to see God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven?
In answer to this last question, "what can we do...," my first suggestion is that instead of ignoring things in our church life that disturb us, we should ask the sort of questions listed below. They have been asked by people I know who have successfully transferred to a more meaningful, Biblical church environment. And, they have not rested until they have received satisfactory answers! These sorts of questions need to be asked whether we are in a traditional church, or a simple/house/organic church. Here's a sample:
 
Why do we insist on monological sermons, the most ineffective, inefficient  form of teaching. Jeremy Thomson says in his book, "Preaching as Dialogue: is the Sermon a Sacred Cow?". "The Greek word often used to describe first-century preaching and teaching is 'dialegomai'. This word means a two-way form of communication." Compare our English word dialogue. What can we do to replace the sermon tradition that is simply spoon-feeding Christians who are too lazy to dig their own wells? And can't we replace boring, irrelevent sermons with lively, helpful and challenging discussion? (More info in Frank Viola's and George Barna's shocking book, "Pagan Christianity?", chapter 4, 'The Sermon', pages 85-104).

       What can we do to pursue the 50+ "one-another" commands of the        New Testament?
   
       Where does church money go and why is it spent the way it is?
       What can we do to make sure our church activities are meaningful and
       Biblical and not sacred-cow-traditions that we are not willing to kill and
       bury?

       How can we make sure that more people participate in our church  
       gatherings? Aren't we ALL meant to be members (not spectators) of the 
       body of Christ? cf Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 14:26?
    What can we do to demolish the clergy/laity deception (doctrine of the Nicolaitans, Rev. 2:6, 15) and its twin brother hierarchical leadership?
    Why don't we actively devote more time to practicing true 'koinonia' (deep, honest, transparent sharing, knowing and being known) fellowship?

I've deliberately focused on questions we need to ask. Obviously not all questions fit all situations. We need to be led by the Holy Spirit to ask the right questions at the right time to the right person(s) and to do so with sensitivity and humility.

I'd love you to add to my list - obviously asking questions isn't the only thing we should be doing. How about sending me your 'take' on some of the many other things we should be doing to facilitate the growth and maturity of Christ's church? Thanks, I do appreciate your feedback.

The two web sites that I recommend today are both Australian-based, compiled by two very special friends and colleagues. These sites are chock full of helpful resources many of which are 'required reading' for devoted Christ-followers. www.oikos.org.au (follow the links to the OIKOS Blog) and Craig Kirkby's www.yourkingdomcomeyes.com

Jack