Wednesday, July 31, 2013

LEADERSHIP OF AND INPUT INTO YOUR SIMPLE/HOUSE CHURCH

....by elders, apostles and prophets.

 

Let's start with a note from a reader of our Simple Church Letters. "At last night's meeting someone who has recently come in to the group was making noises that we must appoint elders, apostles, prophets etc, and I began to feel uneasy..."  My reply - anyone pushing any 'barrow' should make one feel uneasy. One of the reasons Simple Churches are often referred to as "Organic Churches" is that things happen without forced human pressure. Collins dictionary on 'organic', (1))"...change or development gradual and natural rather than sudden or forced (2) made up of many different parts which (all) contribute to the way in which the whole society or structure works." Aren't those two meanings descriptive and appropriate for a local church!

In other words, let the elders naturally emerge. Their maturity and wisdom will be recognised before there is any public recognition. If this isn't the case, they don't (yet) qualify. There's absolutely no need to rush public recognition. Nor is there need for titles and prominence. If you attended our church you probably wouldn't know who the elders are. But in a crisis or conflict, you would!

Apostles and Prophets. This is a huge subject and cannot be covered in one letter. The best I can do in this letter is give you some headlines....

  1. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament will reveal that apostles, sometimes with prophets, planted churches and had continued input into certain churches. See, Acts and especially Paul's Epistles.
  2. Apostles and prophets minister out of their relationship with a local church.
  3. This relationship comes from either planting the church or a decision by the church to partner with the apostle and/or prophet and seriously consider their counsel and direction.  
  4. Not everyone will recognise the apostle's ministry. 1 Cor. 9:2.  
  5. The apostle or prophet doesn't take ownership of the local church. He/she provides input from what they believe is the Word of God for a particular church. The relationship will continue if the church and the apostle or prophet agree for this to happen.
  6. Input from apostle/prophet will lay a strong foundation on which the church can build, Eph. 2:20.
  7. God raises up apostles and prophets in a local church and sends them out as church planters as in Acts 13:1-3; 14:14.
  8. Literal meaning of the term 'apostle' is: "a sent one". I see more evidence of apostleship in someone 'on the move,' or, 'on a mission' than a person directing from his office and computer.

So, what's next for a church that has no relationship with an apostle or prophet, or has no recognised elders? For both apostles and elders, first pray, asking God to reveal a person or persons with whom he would have you build an ongoing relationship. People of sound character; obvious gifting; a fruitful reputation and known 'fathers in the faith. Titus 1:5-9; 1 Cor. 4:14-16.  

Your feedback is appreciated!

Jack

 
 

 

 


 

NO, YOU DON'T HAVE TO APOLOGISE

....for meeting the way you do.

 
Well, maybe you do! It’s been said that it is good for the soul. But you absolutely don't have to apologise for meeting in an unstructured simple/organic church setting. So, I'm writing this letter for those of you who meet this uncomplicated way and have been subjected to negative remarks such as the following. I also add a few possible answers.

 Your simple church isn't growing? Meaning - if your group is not growing (numerically of course) it can't be 'of God'.

Response: How many traditional churches today are not growing? If numerical growth is a sign of God's blessing there are lots of un-blessed churches in the world. But simple churches are growing/multiplying around the world. According to respected USA researcher George Barna, some 20 million Christians in America are part of 'mini-movements', meeting in homes and work places. A recent World Outreach magazine reports that in SE Asia, in only seven months more than 800 believers were baptised and over 80 house churches planted.

Who is your covering?

Response: Where in the Bible are we told to have a (male?) 'covering'? If it's about protection, isn't God's presence and power adequate to protect us? (Romans 8:31). If it's about accountability, most simple churches have a leadership team to whom we can choose - not be told - to have some sort of accountability relationship.

What about, "Let us not give up meeting together..." Heb. 10:25? Meaning - if you aren't in a traditional church every Sunday you are disobeying this command.

Response: Even a cursory look at verses 24 and 26 (the context telling us why we meet) will show that these instructions rarely happen in a traditional church and regularly happen in a gathering where all are free to participate.

If we don't have to apologise for our church structure, are there things about Simple Church we can be (humbly) proud? Here's a sample. Simple church is...

 Biblical. In following the example of the early church where the believers normally and regularly met in homes.

Graced with the presence of Jesus. Matt. 18:20

Participatory. "When you meet, one will...another will...another will...one will...another will..." 1 Cor. 14:26

Cost effective. No expensive buildings to buy and maintain and no salaries to pay. In our church a small basket is put on the coffee table and the money that's put in goes to support missions, assist the poor and contribute to other kingdom activities. This is typical of simple churches.

Led by a team . I recently searched the New Testament history book (Acts of the Apostles) looking to find a sole-charge pastor. He wasn't to be found. But I did find lots of "elders"!

Appreciated by non-church Harry and Mary. In the nine years I have been involved with Simple Church I have occasionally been asked by non-church folk, "Where is your church?" My answer is to explain where we meet and what we do. I have always received a positive response to my explanation. This response is a powerful confirmation to me that we are doing something right. Simple Church is obviously attractive to these folk and can also be an open door for people who have been 'turned off' church.

A word of caution. Please do not interpret this SC Letter as saying that simple churches are 100% right and traditional churches are 100% wrong. No SC is perfect - especially ones containing people!! We are all on our individual and collective journeys, seeking to 'know Christ and make him known'. Let not my Yorkshire-born Mother's saying be owned by any of us, "All the world's wrong but me and thee and I'm not sure about thee." Or a Pharisee, Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, who said, (according to William Barclay), "If there are only two righteous men in the world, I and my son are these two; if there is only one, I am he!"

Lord it's hard to be humble.

You're comments are appreciated

 Jack

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 29, 2013

WHEN WE EMBRACE (BIBLICAL) CHANGE, THE CHURCH PROSPERS

....that is, if we are willing!



I'm sure you would agree that in almost every area of life, one-size-fits-all just isn't true and doesn't work. In fact to push this as fact is a complete no-brainer. The truth for Christians is, "You hear it (the wind) rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from of where it's headed next. That's the way it is....with the wind of God, the Spirit of God." (John 3:8, The Message). When it comes to creative, new (ancient) ways of doing church, the 'Wind' is certainly blowing around the world and the message is, CHANGE!

 But change can be a painful process, especially when it comes to doing church differently. Some wag said that you get more reaction - and misunderstanding - from challenging church structures that you would if you challenged the doctrine of the Trinity. But change is not an option, it's a necessity unless we're content with the status quo. "What's the status quo?" asked the school teacher. A young student's answer, "It's Latin for the mess we's in." And, if we look critically at the state and diminishing size of the Western Church 'we's in a mess'!

Here's some reasons why we must be open to, and take steps toward change.

1) Because the traditional way of doing church is so anti Kiwi (Western?) culture. This includes things like:

  •  Singing new and strange songs. (How many Kiwis sing - especially men - during a normal week?) Once upon a time men would sing as they work, but today on the job it's the radio that provides the music.
  • Passively sitting in rows listening to one person, usually a male, preach; shout; use a strange lanuage and an ancient book.
  • Being treated like school children, expected to remain quiet spectators of the action that is taking place at the front of the meeting.


A change in my thinking was when I began to ask myself what my neighbour's reaction would be if I invited him to church, or, I invited him to, 'come over for a BBQ' (cook-up). At the barby he/she would be relaxed, feel at home and although wouldn't hear a sermon, would have the opportunity to see one if other Jesus followers were present.

 2) Because our Church Growth Seminars haven't delivered what they promised, but Bible and church history have proven principles that do.

 Alan Hirsch in his 'missional church' book, "The Forgotten Ways," states, "In AD 100 there were as few as 25,000 Christians. In AD 310 there were up to 20,000,000. He then makes the following observations regarding the early church.

  • They were an illegal religion throughout this period.
  • They didn't have any church buildings as we know them
  • They didn't have the scriptures as we know them
  • They didn't have an institution or professional form of leadership
  • They didn't have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, commentaries, etc.
  • They actually made it hard to join the church. (pages 18, 19).

3) Because 'big' doesn't necessarily mean better. Brian Houston says, "It's not size that is important, it's influence!" ("Rabbits multiply much quicker than elephants.") Woolfgang Simson. "There are very few whales in the ocean compared to the millions of minows." David Gibbons).

An Anglican vicar recently told me of a survey that showed 85% of ministers in the survey wanted to have a church like Hillsong (Australian mega church), while only 5% of their congregations wanted the same. Another survey quoted by Hirsch and Frost indicated that only approximately 12% of non-church people were impressed with today's contemporary mega church. Selah!

While attending a church growth seminar I listened to a speaker describing the complicated systems of hierarchical church leadership. He then threw in this throw-away comment. "Of course you can have half a dozen people and Jesus." That remark stung me. Is Jesus that boring, I asked myself, that we have to have a crowd of two or three thousand when Jesus himself was happy with two or three. Matt. 18:20? 

In these Simple Church letters I'm not knocking large churches I'm simply arguing for creativity, breaking out of confining boxes;, asking the hard questions; taking calculated risks; asking the Holy Spirit for his view point on our traditional church activities. J. Oswald Sanders said it this way, "A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than that of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdome of God were never advanced by men and women of caution."
 
Your thoughts?
 
Jack
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

MORE ON "IMPRINTING ON CHRIST"

...and my positive experience.

I love receiving feedback from my Simple Church Letters even if the feedback challenges what I have written. A long time friend and esteemed colleague sent me back a quote from my last letter, with a question and a comment. Here they are:

Hi Jack

(My quote, from Neil Cole).“When a person comes to faith in Christ, most churches tell them to just sit back and receive. They're spoon fed by the church. And what happens? They imprint on the church or the pastor. They expect the church to do everything. And we wonder why there are so many passive Christians.

My friend's question,“Has this been your experience Jack? Answer: See below.

My friend's answer, “It sure isn't mine.” My answer: “That’s great!”

In reply to my friend’s question, I told him my story as a brand new Christian. He suggested that my testimony would have more impact than Cole's generalizations. I agree that a positive example is more impacting than a negative one. But I still agree with Cole that most new believers are spoon fed and not pushed in at the deep end and challenged to become personally involved in actively reaching lost and hurting people. But I took my corresponding colleague’s comments on board and here’s what happened to me back in the years 1954-56. (Wow, that’s a long time ago – but my experience saved me from being too cloned, or imprinting too deeply on a church or pastor. And it laid a foundation for my 50 plus years of seeking to see people brought to an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ.) I need to add here that I deeply appreciate and gratefully value all of the good things that both pastors and church have imparted into my life, as well as the opportunities I have been given to serve our Lord.

Back to my friend’s question, “Has this been your experience?” My conversion was a sudden plunge into pretty radical witnessing. A Salvation Army missionary couple got a hold of me and took me into Wellington pubs where we gave out tracts and witnessed to anyone who would listen. Not many did! We did the same on the inner city streets on weekends late into the night . One notable late night character I befriended was known as the “Meths King.” The reason for his nick name was his love of drinking methylated spirits. I bought him a meal one night and afterwards another Wellington drunk attacked him with a knife. The knife fell to the ground and I kicked it into the gutter and we made our escape. 

Mr Meths King sometimes came with me to church but his motive was to ask for money. He had no job and needed money for food – so he said! I soon learned that any money was spent on his favourite drink. When his request was refused he would loudly grind his teeth in demonic anger.

Another surprise I received was the response when walking with Mr Meths King into church. I wondered why we were being stared at by the questioning looks from the church members. I naively thought that this was the normal thing to do – after all we talked and sang a lot about ‘rescuing the perishing, caring for the dying…’ Didn’t this include my perishing, dying friend?


My Salvation Army mentors also got me involved in a correspondence course. This course challenged me with the present condition and future destiny of lost people. It challenged me too to memorise stacks of salvation Bible verses. I was also thrust into Sunday School teaching, preaching in the open-air street meetings and talking to kids at a Sunday afternoon at a local beach mission.

These experiences threw me somewhat desperately onto the Lord. I realise now that what we were doing was using our energies to extend the Kingdom of God. Sadly I was later influenced by the church growth “experts” to use most of my energies to extend the church. But that’s another story. I’m now older and hopefully wiser! Winking smile
 
Your thoughts?
 
Jack

HELPING FRED TO DISCOVER TRUE LIFE

....life that is only found in Jesus


 
Fred (not his real name) attended a house church but just didn't 'get it'. He showed absolutely no response to stories of answered prayer, Bible DVDs, prayers or Bible studies. Over recent months I have been sensing that for me, my focus must become missional and Fred is in my sights. No, I'm not thinking of getting him to an evangelistic meeting so he can put up his hand and pray the sinner's prayer. Nor am I looking for an opportunity to 'ambush' him in order to exert guilt-pressure so that I can push him into making a 'decision for Christ' or, 'asking Jesus to come into his heart'. I have little faith in this un-Biblical carry-on that can do more harm than good. John Wesley knew what true conversion involved. Writing about the gifted founder of Methodism, Wyn Fountain says, "...John Wesley did not preach to the thousands expecting immediate decisions. Instead he preached to get their attention. Once he had it, he enlisted people into small groups which he organised all over the country where they were instructed properly as to what the gospel was all about. Only when they had a sound understanding were they asked to make their decision."

 So, what am I supposed to do to bring light to Fred's life? Any suggestions? (Yes, I mean it!)

 What I am doing is the following....

  • Praying specifically for Fred knowing that only God can switch on the light.
  • Getting the help of others. The last thing I want is for Fred to be my convert. Two or three friends have been having a Sunday breakfast with Fred at the local pub. (He doesn't know it's church!)
  • Sharing with him testimony-type books.
  • Being committed to a no-strings-attached friendship - whether or not Fred becomes a follower of Jesus.
  • Being a genuine listener and an encourager in response to Fred's painful stories.
Many prophets/leaders in the world of simple/organic churches have warned this movement of the paralyzing and deadly disease of 'koinonitus'. Among the symptoms we need to be look out for are...enjoying fellowship with our special group with little or no thought for the lost people all around us. But how do we know if we are already infected? Simply checking the amount of time we think about and pray for the lost people we regularly relate to. And, how about our neighbours? Are we doing anything to 'connect' with them. Baking? Painting? Baby-sitting? Coffee-ing? Hospitality-ing? It's not only children who spell love t.i.m.e. And, money? What do your cheque book/bank card statements tell you about the amount of money you invest in reaching lost people?

 Thanks for your feedback. I DO look forward to it.  

Craig Kirkby's informative teaching on simple church, kingdom-shaped gatherings are still available. Three DVDs. Order from TVM Studios. tvm@slingshot.co.nz Tel. 06)3680663.

 Jack

 

 

 

PICTURES OF THE EARLY CHURCH

...some challenging questions, and what we need to change.

 

I'm sure you know that we don't have any detailed 'pictures of the early church'. But an open minded search of the New Testament clearly describes a church a world away from present day church life and practice. My heart is to see in today's church: true and genuine fellowship, Biblical disciples, mutual encouragement and a missional passion. Also to see God's people released from restrictive concepts that lock them into what Reinhard Bonnke calls "submarine Christians" - who only surface on Sunday, and sadly believe that's all that is required.

While I don't discount what God is doing in large or contemporary churches, I've come to the firm conviction that God's plan for his Church is primarily a multitude of small, open, spreading and autonomous ekklesiai (churches)

I've enlisted help from Dr Mark Strom's book, "Reframing Paul - Conversations of Grace & Community." His detailed research into Paul's culture, teaching and the life of the early church is extensive, thorough and invaluable to anyone who wants to know how this young church functioned. So, I make no apology for quoting him.
 
Let's look at a very small part of what Strom's research has unearthed. He asks:

"Why did the ekklesia gather? Most evangelicals, and indeed Christians of nearly all persuasions, traditionally answer that churches meet for worship. Paul's consistent answer was "to build each other up."...They prayed, read Scripture, encouraged, sang, taught and prophesied to one another as the Spirit enabled them. Paul never defined ekklesia in terms of a vertical relationship of worship. The meeting was for one another. The gathering was a conversation - a rich, diverse, extended conversation..." 

 The Meal. "The meal at the heart of the gathering clearly expressed the centrality of relationships in the ekklesia and the corresponding rejection of religious and social prestige...the Christians adopted the standard Jewish practice of commencing their meal by sharing bread and ending it by drinking wine. They would also pray at both the beginning and the end of the meal...no outsider familiar with Jewish custom would have noticed anything unusual. The proceedings also fell somewhat within the expectations of a non-Jewish outsider..." My questions: Shouldn't we bend-over-backwards to make sure our gatherings are culturally relevant to our non-church friends and neighbours? What can we do to make them so?

Strom continues; (Paul) "expected Greeks and Jews, citizens and non-citizens, slaves, owners and freedmen to dine together without regard for positions of honour. A man of means might take a lowly place at the meal, perhaps even serve his slave or children...(and) no priest presided."

What of today? "The description of Paul's communities bears little resemblance to what most of have known as church. The conventions of preaching and church services effectively gag our conversations. There is not a meal. Spontaneity is avoided, absent or slotted into five-or-ten-minute "greeting" or "sharing" segments, small conversational digressions from the main performance led from the front. We endorse the need for "sharing" but locate it away from "real church." In a sad irony of Paul's meals, we speak of coming to church to be "fed." In our case the "meal" is usually a course of words prepared by one chef rather than the smorgasbord of rich conversation."

Thank you Mark Strom.

Your thoughts....

 Jack
 

Monday, July 15, 2013

MORE ON THE KINGDOM OF GOD

....and how it will radically effect our lives and ministries!

 

A church planter I read about is starting autonomous simple churches. The planter says, "This is not a plan to grow (our) traditional church, it's all about the kingdom because the church is not an end in itself." He continues, "The task of the church is to equip our members for kingdom living in the world." Another person says, "We are now, not church-centric but kingdom-centric."

What's the difference? Church-centric, or sometimes called, 'pulpit-centred' churches are mostly about what goes on within the walls of the building - especially on Sunday morning! To be kingdom-centric is much more about what happens outside of the church walls - answering the prayer Jesus taught us to pray....."Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven..."

Jesus also emphasises that the church is not an end in itself. In fact he makes it clear in Matt. 16:18, 19 where he says, "I will build my church...and I will give you the keys of the kingdom." Peter used these keys to open the kingdom to the Jews, Acts 2, and to the Gentiles, Acts 10. I've likened the purpose of the church to our schooling system. A school is not an end in itself. The end is to equip our children for adult life, especially their chosen careers. It would be hardly normal to stay at school for 20 + years and never get immersed in the real world, and never discover ones' calling in life. I have heard of a person who spent 26 years in various schools and was too nervous to face the real world. I've also known people somewhat similar in a church rut! Rut = a grave with no ends! Sign on a snow covered, neglected road in the Klondike: "CHOOSE YOUR RUT CAREFULLY - YOU'LL BE IN IT FOR A LONG TIME!"
 
The demoniac Jesus healed wanted to join Jesus' disciples. What a great opportunity for him to have 'follow-up' instruction. After all he was a pretty raw sort of dude. So what did Jesus say? "Go home to your friends and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you." So the man started off to visit the Decapolis (ten towns) and began to tell everyone about the great things Jesus had done for him..." He may not have known much but Jesus considered that telling his story was all the equipment he needed for an effective, 10-town, kingdom ministry.

I know of a successful, devoted Christian business person who, on retiring thought he would become more spiritual and become a pastor. He then discovered his kingdom lifestyle was suffocating in this unfamiliar ministry and so went back to his real calling. He says, "Kingdom ministry embraces industry, government, leisure and creativity of every sort, all of life in fact, not just church activity." And, "Jesus didn't come to merely establish institutions called churches, nor a religion call Christianity. He came to declare that, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'."

So what does all this have to do with us living in this modern age? What should we be doing? Here's some short answers - you fill in the gaps:

  • Meet with other kingdom-focused believers to follow the Heb. 10:24, 25 instructions.
  • Consider your position in life, at home or work a kingdom calling - equal to any so-called 'spiritual' or 'full-time' ministry.
  • Expect God to enable you to demonstrate kingdom principles and practices in your sphere of influence.
  • Pray, as Jesus taught us, for God's kingdom to come and his will to be done in your "earth" as it is in heaven.
One writer encourages us to, (Understand) "the pure resolve of being focused on one thing—God’s kingdom—and discovering how this one-track mind-set clarifies our calling in life, invigorates our everyday, and deepens our relationship with God and with others."

Your feedback is appreciated and welcome.

Jack


THE CHURCH IS THE FAMILY OF GOD; THE KINGDOM IS THE FAMILY BUSINESS

 
I received the above succinct sentence from my friend and colleague, Rex Meehan. From another source I obtained the following two significant quotes:

"The biggest game change in our days, is the current shift from Church (religion) to Kingdom. We need to make sure we know who our King is." International speaker & writer, Wolfgang Simson <wolfsimson@compuserve.com>

"We don’t have a “church” focus, but focus on recognising the spheres of influence we have in the workplace etc and being “Kingdom agents” as our King would have us be. So gatherings are about equipping, encouragement and ministering to one another as equals. (It's) encouraging to see others finding similar tracks to walk in. House church leader, Michael Arndt.

Just this week, a provocative (in a good sense) book arrived at my house titled, The Kingdom Focused Leader. In it author Michael Miller encourages business leaders to grasp the Biblical truth that their "business calling" is just as 'spiritual' and important as any missionary or full-time Christian worker. He quotes Mike and Debi Rogers, in their book, The Kingdom Agenda: Experiencing God in Your Workplace. The Rogers state, "...many believe that unless a person is a preacher, a church or denominational worker, or a missionary, then one is not "in the ministry." They continue, ...God assigns a person to a position such as bricklayer, traffic officer, farmer...! We call them "secular" and therefore consider them insignificant to God...(But) the kingdom of God doesn't stop at the doorway of the church building! The sovereign kingdom of God extends to the office, the factory, the classroom, the cafeteria, and the boardroom." (page 50). 

In his very Biblical book, The Gathering, Ray Barnett points out that, "The Gospel of the New Testament is the Gospel of the kingdom...(Matt.24:14)." He continues, "In all of the Gospels, the word "kingdom" appears over 130 times." Then he makes this challenging statement, "the church has hijacked the kingdom!" (page 83). Do you think this is true?

So what are my reasons for including the above quotes? Your thoughts? And here are seven important principles stating why we need to be Kingdom Focused:

  1. We will be freed from the misconception of dividing life and ministry into 'secular' and 'spiritual'.
  2. We will be freed from the devilish doctrine of the so-called "clergy" and "laity" 
  3. We will possess a sense of honour in our workplace calling.
  4. We will at all times seek the guidance and wisdom from our King (JESUS)!
  5. We will experience release from the programmes and pressures of man-made schemes.
  6. We will be released to follow the unique guidance of Jesus to serve without human restriction. 
  7. We will experience a new intimacy with Jesus, when serving under His Kingly authority.

Your feedback is appreciated and welcome.

Jack

 

 

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

SO YOU WANT THE PATTERN FOR YOUR SIMPLE/ORGANIC CHURCH?

Well, here it is.......(up to you to interpret for your situation!)




  • Some churches meet in homes.
  • Other churches meet in pubs, cafes, work places or wherever it suits them.
  • Some churches meet on Sundays.
  • Other churches meet on the day(s) or night(s) that suits them.
  • Other churches don't have any regular time or place to meet.
  • Some churches have a bank account (like a food bank - what comes in, goes out!).
  • Other churches don't have a bank account (collect money as needs arise).
  • Other churches do both (a bank account, and need-focused giving.
  • Some churches have only male leaders.
  • Most churches have female & male leaders.
  • Other churches don't have any identifiable leaders.
  • Some churches have a song leader, most don't.
  • Some churches have a regular meal associated with communion.
  • Some churches cater for children.
  • Some churches have a connection to a denomination, most don't.
  • Some churches are part of a formal or informal network.
  • Some churches are 'missional' and seeing regular conversions, most (sadly) aren't.
  • Some churches are heavily involved with their communities.
  • Some churches (most I expect) have no set programme to follow. See, 1Cor. 14:26.
  • Other churches loosely follow a programme.
  • Some churches are large, others are small, just two or three. (Matt.18:20).
  • Most churches (by far) have no interest in owning or renting a building.
  • Most churches (by far) don't have any paid staff.
  • Most churches believe in the Eph. 4:11 ministries and involve them as helpers in various ways.

So, there you have it! This letter telling you, tongue-in-cheek, that you are free to meet as and when you choose, governed only by the leadership of the Holy
Spirit and the Word of God.
Any other patterns out there? I'd like to add some more!
 
Jack
 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

IS THE MOVE TO SIMPLE/ORGANIC CHURCH A TEMPORARY PHENOMENA?


 

...and if it is, I don't want it!


I recently read an article by a recognised Christian leader who definitely believes it is. His article made me think. At my age I sure don’t want to spend my energies into something that is a temporary fad. Do you? The writer quotes examples from methods that Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody and previous generations used and are no longer valid. I too could give examples of activities that I have seen (and some been involved in) that haven’t lasted. Here’s a sample:
  • The Jesus (Hippie) Revival
  • The Charismatic Move
  • The Toronto Blessing
  • Billy Graham style Evangelistic Meetings
  • Church Growth Seminars
I’m not saying these were all wrong. But we have to admit they’re not current today. So, should we lump simple/organic  churches (SOCs) into the same box? My answer is NO! And here’s some reasons for my take on this issue.
 
  1. They are Biblical. If the New Testament is to be our example of church life, then we need to seriously take notice of this undeniable evidence. Their gatherings were spontaneous, mostly in homes (though the apostles attended Synagogues to witness for Jesus) and participatory, 1 Cor.14:26. Also, Acts 2:46; Rom. 16; Col. 4:15; Phm. 2; 1 Jn. 10 (NLT)
  2. They were/are Effective. Alan Hirsch estimates that by the year 100 AD, the NT Church was 25,000 strong. By 310, this temple-less, altar-less, clergy (as we know it)-less, tithing-less church had 20,000,000 genuine followers. Today we have the example of China’s and India’s phenomenal SOC growth. And there are positive signs in the Western world too. George Barna quotes, “9% of American Christians worship outside of ‘normal’ church buildings and structures.” Reports from Europe detail young people meeting in the same manner.
  3. They were/are Attractive. Obviously people in NT times were attracted to this Good News that was free of the religious trappings of the harsh and legal Scribes and Pharisees. I was once scoffed at by a church elder for my involvement with a SOC. But I have always had a positive response from non-church folk when describing how and where we meet. Brook Warner, www.2ndcitystudios.com, has an insightful article titled, “Cowboys and Aliens: Capturing the Digital Natives.” (See NZ Baptist, Dec. 2012, p. 13). He goes to some length to explain why traditional, pulpit centred church is so "foreign" to our “net generation...their brains are wired for participation, involvement, not for the talking head, ‘sage on the stage’ monologue model, (we need to) look for more dialogue models.” But can we change to reach this generation that will be here long after many of us aren’t!
  4. They were/are easily reproducible. Neil Cole points out that the more simple the structure, the more easy it is to reproduce. Because SOCs don’t need highly trained practitioners, buildings, heaps of money, paid staff, denominational permission and entertaining preachers, reproduction isn’t too complicated. All we need (at the start) is an understanding of and obedience to Jesus’ instructions in Matt. 10:5-15 and Luke 10:1-20, plus a broad kingdom vision.
At my age (80th year) I’m only interested in putting my time and energies into that which will be effective in bringing lost people into the kingdom of God. I know that SOCs are far from perfect, but I believe this new (ancient) phenomena that is being birthed around the world will produce the end-time harvest we all long to see.
 
Yours, in-for-the-long-haul...
Jack
 

ADVANCING GOD'S KINGDOM, OR BUILDING MY CHURCH?


....and you can't do both! 


“Our goal is to build a great church!” This is a common statement from church leaders. But should it be our No 1 priority? Bessie Pereira, Founder and former Director of OIKOS Australia says, “Jesus said he would build his church as we advance his kingdom.” Then, Bessie goes on to highlight...
“One of the amazing (tragedies)...that has characterised the modern church is that we have adopted God’s role and expected him to do ours. We have attempted to build his church, hoping that he would advance his kingdom. The result: we build our own little empires and take our eyes off the kingdom mandate.” (Bessie was critiquing Craig Kirkby’s book, “Living at the Edge of Time.” see, www.yourkingdomcomeyes.com Craig also lists in his life-values. (It’s) "the Gospel of the Kingdom ... not the gospel of the church.”

If the above is true, how could we have  got it so wrong? And what can we do about it? Well let’s let the Bible be our guide. We know that Jesus is the One who declares that he will build his church. Also, and in almost the same breath he tells us that he gives his church “the keys of the kingdom” Matt. 16:18, 19. So, how did the early church interpret these promises and principles?
 
In Acts 2 we have an example of the outworking of these important principles. Here Peter is advancing the kingdom with the ‘keys of the kingdom’ thereby opening the kingdom door for "both Jews and converts to Judaism." v.10. Then in the same chapter, we see Jesus building his church. “Those who believed what Peter said were added to the church...each day the Lord added to the church those who were being saved.” v. 41, 47. In Acts 8 Philip uses the ‘keys of the kingdom’ to open the door to the Samaritans and in Acts 10 Peter does the same for the Gentiles. Later Paul, on his missionary journeys opens the door to the wider Gentile nations.
 
But what sort of church is Jesus building? Again quoting Craig Kirkby, my friend, colleague and someone who says he is ‘neck deep’ in this important conversation writes...
 
“Here are a list of values we're wrestling through. By no means a complete list and I trust that my brief statements followed by a contrast are self-explanatory.

  • The Gospel of the Kingdom ... not the gospel of the church.
  • Hebrew thinking ... not Greek mentality.
  • Missional, releasing perspective ... not pastoral, attractional vision.
  • The power of small (and being willing to die) ... not big is better.
  • Reasoning from the whole to the part ... not individualism and sectarianism.
  • Brotherhood of all believers and parental leadership ... not hierarchical structures or autocratic leadership.
  • Team-with-a-leader ... not Leader-with-a-team.
  • Relationship to structure ... not structure to relationship.
  • Developing a long-term passing-the-baton mentality (fruit) ... not a short-term, quick-fix approach (results).
  • Valuing faith, hope and love ... not A,B,C's (Attendance, Buildings, Cash Flow).
I've used the following definition for 'simple church' for a decade now, and find it still useful:

By ‘simple or organic church’ we’re referring to a values-based perspective, where we view the ecclesia as relational, organic, missional and fluid rather than hierarchical, institutional, attractional and rigid; a Kingdom family, not a religious organisation or business enterprise.”
 
The final word from our Lord Jesus. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come...” Matt. 24:14.
And, “...live for Him and make the kingdom of God your first priority.” Matt. 6:33.
 
Yours for the King and his kingdom 
Jack


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

IMPRINTING ON CHRIST

....and the answer to the cloning problem.


Neil Cole – http://www.neil cole.cma.resources/ talks frankly about the cloning problem in an interview with Leadership Magazine. He states, “We want people to imprint on Christ from day one. Imprinting is a term from ornithology, the study of birds. When a baby gosling hatches, it imprints on the first moving object it sees. That object becomes its mother, and the gosling expects to be fed and protected by it.
 
“When a person comes to faith in Christ, most churches tell them to just sit back and receive. They're spoon fed by the church. And what happens? They imprint on the church or the pastor. They expect the church to do everything. And we wonder why there are so many passive Christians.”

Cole should know. He has helped plant thousands of churches in all 50 USA states and in at least 40 nations.

He was then asked, “What is the alternative?”

His answer, “Christ immediately deployed people. Matthew was back with his friends. The Samaritan woman went back to her village. The demoniac was sent back to the Decapolis - 10 towns! When a brand new Christian is thrust into a hostile environment with a mission, they're going to pray like crazy. That makes them imprint on Christ immediately.”

“We use LTGs, "—Life Transformation Groups". It's a gender-specific group of two or three that meets together once a week for about an hour. Every week, every person commits to reading thirty chapters of Scripture.”

Deployment and Scripture. Lets look closer at these two Biblical activities.

Deployment. This precludes the standard advice: “Keep away from your old sinful friends.” “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” Yes, that’s Bible but it doesn’t mean to cut yourself off from your old friends. They are your harvest field as the woman at the well discovered. Other well-meaning advice: “Come to the Bible study. Join the new Christians’ class. Don’t miss the prayer meeting. Keep Sunday free for church and here’s a list of the up-coming seminars and camps.”  If you want to see a new Christian cloned, that’ll do it!

No! Deployment means to encourage the new believer to keep in touch with his/her mates. To cultivate their friendships in a new way where their circle of friends will see the love and light of Christ. After all, there’s no need to fear the darkness when the true Light (Jesus) is shining. Get them excited about the fact that they are “ambassadors for Christ.” They have his authority, the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit and, “Greater is he that is in them than he that is in the world.”

Scripture. 30 chapters of Scripture every week may bring on some indigestion for a new follower of Jesus. But it's less than five chapters per day. The new believer must learn (by example and challenge) that their spiritual food comes from regular ‘helpings’ of Scripture. As they focus on Jesus – the Gospel of Mark is a good place to start them on – they will be imprinted on him. What about the ‘difficult’ passages they will come across? Simply let them know that it’s like eating fish. Enjoy the meal and don’t focus on the bones.
“Imagine when followers of Jesus get it that we do not live for the norms or expectations of man, but the will and purposes of an amazing God. Imagine when the followers of Jesus are willing to step out of all the expectations of our societies (including our church/religious ones) to allow Jesus alone to guide, shape, direct, mould, and inspire our lives.” Roger Thoman. www.simplechurchjournal.com
“Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must.” Seth Godin
Jack
 

A PERSONAL PARADIGM SHIFT

...and its positive implications

 

Hi John (not his real name)

I've thought lots about what you said when you asked, "What are the scriptural reasons why you chose to meet in homes instead of the institutional church system?

Well, John, here's the headlines of what for me, are some of the Scriptural reasons why I took the step, after many years in the institutional church, to the simple/organic/house church.

The Example of the New Testament (NT) Christians Meeting in Homes.
Here's some N.T. references: Acts 2:46; 5:42; Rom. 16:5, 16:23; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philmn. 2. I could also add the number of times Jesus ministered to needy people in homes. Meeting and eating!

The Effectiveness of the NT Christians.
Before being forbidden to meet in homes by Emperor Constantine, the early church grew from 25,000 in 100 AD to around 20 million in 310 AD. In the comparatively small populations of that day, this is what I call exponential growth! Some of the things the early church didn't have include; special buildings, seeker services, worship bands, pulpits. Gene Edwards says "it was the only temple-less, clergy-less, ritual-less, religion in human history! What a glory to the Carpenter and His faith!" He goes on to say, "rugged...people were the clergy, the living room their temple and Jesus Christ was their vocabulary...the church of Jesus Christ was born in informality. It ought to have stayed that way...our faith was born that way." If we are serious about 'harvest', we can't ignore this amazing example of growth from such humble beginnings. Today, as seen in China and India, simple churches in the West have the potential to repeat this remarkable part of church history...and it's beginning to happen!

The command of 1 Corinthians 14:26
Apart from instructions about communion (the love-feast), spiritual gifts and Christian behaviour, the above verse is the only NT instruction telling us in some detail, what to do when we meet together. And this verse can only be fully obeyed among a small group where every member (not a select few) can function. Observing the results of allowing and encouraging every member to minister, I have been amazed at the God-given wisdom coming from even the most shy and quiet members when they are encouraged to share what they have received from the Holy Spirit.

The Most Effective way to Make Disciples
I'm not sure how effective simple churches are at making disciples, but we can't ignore this last command of Jesus, Matt. 28:18-20. Large churches focus on "decisions", but Jesus said our focus must be on "disciples". And they are not grown by sermons, or in classrooms or Bible studies. But just as Jesus and Paul did, by taking their disciples or "Timothys" with them on their mission journeys. Simple church leaders certainly have the potential to disciple new converts by fathering them and allowing them to 'observe' and 'do'.

The Effectiveness of Team Ministry
After nearly 50 years involved as a sole pastor or, senior pastor (where did we get those non-biblical terms from? certainly not from the Book of Acts) I've discovered the new (ancient) experience of team ministry. I searched the Book of Acts some time ago looking for the equivalent of the modern pastor. What I found were teams of elders. Check it out! Now, instead of carrying the heavy burdens of traditional pastoral ministry, for the last several years I have enjoyed working with a team of talented elders where the burdens are shared and leadership-functions happen according to gifting.

What relief!

Thanks John for causing me to do some helpful thinking on this subject. And these reasons I've listed aren't the only reasons. There's more, but they will have to wait for further SC Letters.

 A helpful web site with stacks of articles and points of view, www.organic church movement - local & global

Jack