Finding Community

 

It is quite easy to found a community. There are always plenty of courageous people who want to be heroes, are ready to sleep on the floor, to work hard hours each day, to live in dilapidated houses. It’s not hard to camp – anyone can rough it for a time. The problem comes in living with brothers and sisters whom we have not chosen but who have been given to us, and in working ever more truthfully towards the goal. A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thankfulness as it sets.

Source:  Jean Vanier  Community and Growth

Finding Community

It is quite easy to found a community. There are always plenty of courageous people who want to be heroes, are ready to sleep on the floor, to work hard hours each day, to live in dilapidated houses. It’s not hard to camp – anyone can rough it for a time. The problem comes in living with brothers and sisters whom we have not chosen but who have been given to us, and in working ever more truthfully towards the goal. A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thankfulness as it sets.

Source: Jean Vanier,  Community and Growth

Transitioning to a Family-Oriented Church Model

One of the books I am currently reading is When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community by Joseph H. Hellerman.  This is one of those books that holds the potential of being life transforming, so I will be posting a book review in the near future.  I’m sharing an excerpt from a section titled, ” Transitioning to a Family-Orient Church Model.”  Many are reflecting on what community is and what it might mean in our contemporary context.  These words are worth some consideration and thought.

Much has been written in recent years about creating community in the local church.  The good news is that we do not need to create community.  Indeed, we could not do so even if we wanted to.  God has already created His community by saving us into His eternal family.  We already are, for better or worse, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our problem is that we do not often enjoy the kind of community that we sense we should as people who are family in God’s eyes.  To reframe the issue in theological terms, our relational reality falls far short of our positional reality, where the horizontal aspect of the Christian life is concerned.  Indeed, given the present state of some of our churches, recapturing Jesus’ vision for authentic Christian community may seem like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

I find it immensely encouraging to remember that this is God’s project, not ours, and to remind myself that the Holy Spirit truly longs to knit us together in community as God intends it.  God is more than ready to come alongside those who are willing to do the hard work of living life as the new covenant family of God.  More often than not,  we simply need to figure out how to get out of God’s way in order to let Him do His community-creating work in our lives.

Salvation for Me and Me Alone

Soong-Chan Rah writes:

The expression of excessive individualism in local church life is rooted in the excessive individualism of Western evangelical theology. Evangelicalism’s idolatry of  the individual has crippled the church’s ability to view sin and salvation outside of the narrow parameters of a personal faith. Evangelical theology becomes exclusively an individual-driven theology instead of a community-driven theology. In an individual driven theology, individual sin takes center stage. Continue reading

Great Words – Great God

One of the good (nice) things about having cancer and enduring chemotherapy is all the kind words that come your way.  Usually words like; “how are you doing today,” “we are praying for you and Linda,” How can we help you?” and many more that are expressions of people’s love and concern.  After six months I still not used to all the attention, but is kind-of-nice.  

It is not just limited to words, but also actions.  Today one of Sue and her son Jake from Short Bus community came over. Jake mowed the lawn and she made sure dinner was taken care of tonight.  Some good friends from our Epic community are making sure our alkaline levels in our drinking water are where they need to be, so their providing us with drinking water.  Linda and I  really appreciate of these special gifts.  We are learning in a fresh and new way how blessed we are even on this difficult path of cancer.

The reason I started this post was share a card I received from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law in Denver.  I’ve seen these words before describing God’s work in our life., but today they have a more significant meaning and place in my heart.  Here they are:

When you are the neediest, He is the most sufficient

When you are completely helpless, He is the most helpful.

When your feel totally dependent, He is absolutely dependable.

When you are the weakest, He is the most able.

When you are most alone, He is intimately present.

When you feel you are the least, He is the greatest.

When you feel the most useless, He is preparing you.

When it is the darkest, He is the only light you need.

When you feel the least secure, He is your Rock and Fortress.

I find these words to more true each day.  I know its hyperbole, but its the truth in this case –  at least for me.

Simple Organic Leadership Synthesis

As the Spirit shapes the Simple Church, the primary task of leadership is not so much to lead as it is to “build a foundation—a place for the walls to rest.” Leadership in the organic paradigm facilitates the Spirit’s work of formation, and therefore it is crucial that it pattern itself after the style and function of the Holy Spirit.

Given the crucial nature of leadership and its potential for kingdom impact, either negative or positive, it is important that it be a leadership that empowers rather than exploits. The fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4:1-16 is the relevant leadership model for Simple Organic Church forms. This includes apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, which Alan Hirsch and Micheal Frost have termed an APEPT team (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher) and recently changed APEST team (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher). Ideally, this is team ministry where missing from this model are strategic planning and organizational charts common with more hierarchical forms.  

The framework for Simple Church leadership starts from a place different than that of traditional church paradigms.

Leadership Paradigm Starting Points

The lens through which one views the essential nature of the Church, is either institutional or organic, leading to divergent ecclesiological conceptions, specifically in regard to leadership. This divergence occurs at the outset by perceiving leadership emerging from two different starting points.  The below chart illustrates these distinct starting points and some of the results of each paradigm.

 Organic/Simple Church   Conventional/Institutional Church

 Starting point: The body of Christ.

 Starting point: Leadership
offices in the church. The true church is found where (a) the Word of God is
rightly proclaimed; (b) the sacraments are rightly administered.

Bottom up: The church’s ministry is
shaped by the gifts and callings distributed by the Holy Spirit to the whole
body of Christ.

 Top-down: The ministry is the province of the ordained offices of the church.

 All ministry is lay ministry lead.

Lay ministry supplements and is
secondary to ordained ministry.               

Conclusion: One people/one ministry.

Conclusion: Two people (clergy/laity)   [1]


Howard Snyder defines ‘hierarchical’ at its essential level as “a vertical structure of at least thee levels. Primary authority resides at the top, and each descending level is under the authority of the higher levels. Position in the hierarchy corresponds to rank within the whole.” [2]  From an organic perspective, the people of God are one people and, therefore, one ministry level.

In the organic or ecological realm is not hierarchical, because the principle of self-organization dominates leadership structures, not a vertical graduation, but one that evolves from a horizontal level. “An organic view of ministry begins with the people of God as the place where ministry resides, and it conceives of leadership from within the body.”  The image is not that of a vertical line, but a circle, not a pyramid, but a network or a living organism, which is entirely descriptive of an APEST team.

In contrast, an institutional view of leadership places ministry within the confines of an ordained clergy and attempts to add on the role of lay ministry. APEST leadership is understood to be non-hierarchical in structure, or using another term, in an “heirarchical” [3] arrangement. This term is taken from Paul’s words to the Romans, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”    If we are co-heirs with Christ, would it not be appropriate to assume that we are also heirs with other members of the Church?

Jesus alone is head of his Church. With Jesus as the head of his church, the modern clergy/laity distinctions are understood to be unnecessary. Jesus teaches against hierarchy at the last supper. He uses the last hours of his earthly ministry to teach something opposite—servant leadership:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-4)

From Luke’s perspective, Jesus speaks to the issue of titles and servant leadership as the main feature for all who desire to lead.

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. (Luke 22:25-26)

Jesus contradicted all other models of influence and self-importance. “The one who makes the towel his or her badge is not the one who maneuvers for a place in the power structures of life.” [4]

Jesus’ intention was to impart a particular leadership model to his Church which could be implemented only through service. The leadership issue for Christ’s Church is one of servanthood, which is not mirrored in secular society. In God’s kingdom, the call is for an entirely new model, not merely a new definition.

The Early Church understood this dynamic. R. Paul Stevens, Associate Professor of Applied Theology at Regent College, states:

The Church in the New Testament has no “lay people” in the usual sense of that word, and is full of “clergy” in the true sense of that word. A biblical theology of the laity must communicate this. The church as a whole is the true ministerium, a community of prophets, priests, and princes/princesses serving God through Jesus in the power of the Spirit seven days a week. All are clergy in the sense of being appointed by God to service and dignified as God’s inheritance. All are laity in the sense of having their identity rooted in the people of God. All give ministry. All receive ministry. That is the constitution of the church. Not surprising, few business people, for example, think of themselves as full-time ministers in the marketplace. Fewer still are encouraged in this by their churches. Hardly anyone gets commissioned to their service in the world. Christians in the first century would have found such a state of affairs anachronistic—a throw-back to the situation before Christ came when only a few in Israel knew the Lord, when only one tribe was named as priests, when only a select few heard the call of God on their lives. Nothing but a Copernican revolution of the mind and heart can change this heretical state of affairs. The New Testament pattern of leadership allows for no institutional distinction between clergy and laity. The people of God comprise all Christians exercising their spiritual gifts in the work of ministry. To be biblical, all Christians are lay people—God’s people—and all are ministers.[4]

It is time we practiced leadership within the body of Christ as Jesus has instructed within the context of an heirarchical APEST team. 

 [1] Greg Ogden, Unfinished Business:Returning Ministry to the People of God, revised edition (Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2003), 76.

[2]Howard Snyder, Decoding the Church, 107. 

[3[ This term “heirarchical” has been coined by Dan Mayhew, who oversees Summit Fellowships, a Simple Church network in Portland, Oregon; italics are mineDel Birkey, The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church (Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1998), 87.

[3] Del Birkey, The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church (Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1998), 87.      

[4] R. Paul Stevens, Associate Professor of Applied Theology, Vocation, Work & Ministry Resource Binder, An Educational Initiatives Publication (Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College, 1996), 11-12.

 

Practical Reason Three for Simple Church

The third reason to embrace this simple church paradigm is that it is simple.  In order for church planting to have maximum impact on the culture, it must be simple. Dawn Ministries International describes why they chose this type of church planting:

Our desire is to identify and nurture God inspired gatherings that multiply. We are focusing our attention on emerging models that express the life of the Body in simpler, more familial settings where Christianity is a way of life and relationships and community are the normal expression of life in Christ. We believe that the most effective way to fulfill this purpose is to embrace the concept of simple church. This is one of the keys to saturation church planting because only that which is simple can multiply rapidly and organically. Simple does not imply a particular structure but builds on the foundation of household and extended family.

Simple Church reproduces at a much faster rate than complex church. So in practical matters of church planting, it is important to keep focused on the concepts of relationship and simplicity.

The simple nature of this paradigm carries over to other important issues.

Organic Church Planting is Simple

Planting Simple Churches is different from other types of church plants. When considering the traditional church plant, one of the first issues is considering the infrastructure needed to begin. This usually follows a plan or process of securing items considered essential, a process that can become stressful and complicated. Contrast this is to the Simple Church plant, which is relatively easy to start. The following items are unnecessary in a Simple Church plant:
• To buy property
• Or a building
• A pulpit
• Pews
• Hymn books
• Piano
• Baptistery
• Sunday school
• Youth pastor
• A denomination
• To be incorporated
• To meet on Sundays
• To have church bulletin
• Or to meet at the same place every week
• A sign with the name of your church on it
• A name

None of the above items is bad or wrong, but neither are they essential. “The more non-essentials we add, the more difficult we make it to start a new church.” One of the benefits of Simple Church plants is the focus on keeping it simple.

Expense and cost distinguish Simple Church planting from more traditional approaches, as it is less expensive. Traditional church planting approaches are more expensive, often ranging from $50,000 to $300,000 per start-up depending on the situation and locale. These costs include renting space to meet, pastor’s salary package, advertising, and other expenses. One reason Simple Church is less expensive to initiate is its use of bi-vocational or tent-making leadership which functions apostolically. There are those special individuals responsible for an entire Simple Church network who could receive full salaries for their role, but generally speaking, most expenses within this paradigm are spent on missional endeavors rather than financial outlay for leadership and staffing.