Rethinking Church: Movements

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Let’s start today’s post by putting together some of the thoughts in the last few posts.

  • Let’s be small and nimble, rather than large and fixed. Part of that is to not own buildings. Let’s meet in homes, hired facilities, in a tent, at the park – just anywhere except a building owned by the church that needs to be maintained and paid for by the church. Let’s free up our resources for good works, not maintaining our edifices.
  • We are the body of Christ and bodies are made to move. We are a church on a mission from God. We are heralds of Christ and ambassadors for his kingdom, even as we carry the treasure in jars of clay.
  • Let’s model ourselves more on 12 step groups than on the Christendom model that’s been handed down to us. We are a kingdom of priests who all have the ability to mutually edify each other through our stories of God’s work in our lives. We have all been rescued from death to life. We have all been filled with the Holy Spirit. We all have gifts that build up the body of Christ. We all have a story to share with the world. Let’s meet together, share the message together and build each other up as if our lives depend on it.
silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

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Of course, as soon as these kind of ideas are proposed all sorts of questions come up. What about the powerful impact of big numbers worshipping together? What about youth group and children’s ministry? What about staff and leadership structures? What about denominations, finances, resources, seekers and so on? Interestingly, as I read Paul’s letters I never saw him worry much about that stuff. He was more interested in the character of the church and her leaders than in particular structures. The better question may be, what about when bigger is better?

This is where the power of the wider movement comes in. All churches, no matter the size, need to be part of a wider movement. No church is an island. They need to be networked in to like-minded, similarly structured, wholehearted churches like theirs so that they can help each other. Unfortunately, denominations often start as movements but end up as reinforcing steel for large and fixed churches. We need to start again with movements that are local and utterly fixated on Christ and his mission. They are needed to turn bodies into armies. While a larger movement can help with essential matters like administration, finance and legal advice, their most important role in a network of small and nimble churches is to fuel the passion.

At the moment I’m not leading a small and nimble church, but if I was, I would be looking to my movement for three main things:

  1. Prayer support and encouragement. I would want to know that there were some overseers praying boldly and passionately for me and my church regularly. I would also want regular coffee catch ups to help keep me focused on the main goal: the mission and message of God’s kingdom.
  2. Theological and Spiritual stimulation. Too many churches and leaders stand still because they settle on certain ways of thinking and doing that worked for them in the past. Leaders need to be unsettled on a regular basis because churches do too! While the anchor of faith needs to be strong, working through new ideas in partnership with God stretches the muscles and keeps the body moving.
  3. Bringing the churches and leaders together. Sometimes bigger is better. Bringing many small churches together for worship, stimulating messages and stories will always be good. Leaders also need good conferences and retreats and congregants need to be encouraged into these as well. They just need to be more focused on helping our bodies of Christ to  move.

Movements like this are starting to emerge and clear away the denominational fog. They in turn need to protect themselves from becoming static and slow. It looks like there’s another post needed!

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Rethinking Church: Get Radical

Hi everyone. Rob here again.

In the last blog I introduced the idea of 12 step recovery groups being a potential model for a new way of doing church. They travel light, stay committed to their message and every member matters, no matter what stage of recovery they’re at. Two other factors speak to me: radical honesty and radical dependence.

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Imagine a 12 step meeting. People are sitting there who have had their lives ravaged by the disease of alcoholism. Many are divorced, some are broke, some nearly died and all are still tempted by the bottle. As the invitation goes out to share their stories, one by one everyone simply says, “I’m fine.” It never happens but that scene is repeated in churches week after week. We are constantly assaulted by the world, the flesh and the devil. We have been rescued in dramatic fashion as the God of the Universe took on our humanity, died our death and gave us new life through the power of the Spirit. The temptation to return to an independent life screams at us daily, and yet we constantly tell others that we’re fine. NO WE ARE NOT!!!! We are in radical need of God’s grace every minute of every day because we are lambs in a world of wolves. We are not fine. We are trying to live out a love story in the midst of a war and we need help!

I have come to the conviction that smaller fellowships are needed because they don’t work without radical honesty. In a large church it’s easier to hide. In a small group, less so. In a small group committed to pursuing the life and mission of God; almost impossible. The thing about honesty is that it brings us out of hiding. Remember that after Adam and Eve first sinned they tried to hide from God because they were naked. Not only were they trying to keep their sin from God, but they were now trying to cover up what God had called ‘very good.’ Honesty isn’t just about exposing our sins and our flaws. It’s about revealing our God-given and God-ordained glory. Exposing the flawed exterior gets us to the brand new, beautiful heart that lies underneath.

It’s that heart that the world desperately needs to shine. We need church gatherings that can help us leave behind the stuff that gets in the way, as well as focus us on the mission at hand. But honesty isn’t comfortable and we’ve grown very accustomed to comfortable. A concept that has done the rounds in churches is ‘belonging before believing.’ It grew out of the best of intentions. Everyone should feel welcome when they come to a church. Hospitality matters. However, when it comes to church, belonging and believing can’t be separated. Church is the body of Christ. To be a part of the body means to have a connection to the head and it means to honour the head. Belonging comes from believing. Just as identifying as an addict is essential to belonging to a 12 step group, identifying with Christ is essential to belonging to the church. Anyone should be able to attend and feel welcome, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that belonging to a church outside of commitment to following Jesus is contradictory. And, for most of us, that commitment deepens through suffering, not comfort.

The body of Christ is utterly and radically dependent on the head, that is Christ, for life. Let’s be radically honest about our need for radical dependence. Let’s be in touch with the eternal longing of our hearts and the self-centredness and independent attitudes that get in the way of that longing being fulfilled. 12 step meetings don’t need comfortable chairs and good coffee in order to meet and grow together. I am a fan of both comfortable chairs and good coffee and loving hospitality, but I’m desperate for Jesus and I don’t want or need more distractions. How about you?

Grace and peace.

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Rethinking Church: The Meeting Serves the Message

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Last week I started a discussion on the future of church, particularly in the Western World. The church is the body of Christ whose purpose is to reflect the head; Jesus Christ. I asked the question: “What gets in the way?” I proposed that churches need to move away from being large and fixed and become small and nimble. In particular, I proposed that churches need to move away from being property owners and that ministry needs to be put back into the hands of every believer.

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Today let’s look at what the Apostle Paul says about the church in Ephesians 4:11-16.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Maturity, unity, the fullness of Christ, built up in love, steadfast. I wonder if these are the words and thoughts that you think of when you look at and experience church? When Paul thinks about church growth, he’s not thinking about numbers. Maturity into Christlikeness is the goal and maturity comes from a life of dying and rising with Christ. We all need churches that help us die to sin and come alive to God. We need churches that help us come to the end of ourselves so that there’s nothing left but Christ. Church is not meant to be comfortable. It is meant to be love in action.

In that sense church is meant to be more like a 12 step recovery group than a crowd for a concert. 12 steppers go to meetings because their life depends on it. Is that why we go to church? After all, Christ is our life. As we come together do we come with a sense that without Christ we are done for? Do we come longing for him, hungry and thirsty for him, profoundly aware of our need for him? 12 steppers go to a meeting to hear the message of recovery from people in various stages of recovery. Some are well, some are struggling and some have just realised their need for the message. Often it is messy, but the message remains the same. It is a spiritual programme; die to yourself and give yourself over to a Higher Power. The meeting is designed to deliver the message. The participants are invited to share. They are both the receivers and the givers of the message. Meetings are led but that too is shared around. Churches have a lot to learn from those who have truly hit bottom.

Now, I’m not saying that church has to resemble a 12 step meeting. What I am saying is that their emphasis on the message of recovery at the expense of all else is the lesson. They don’t own buildings. Meetings aren’t run by professionals. There are no slick marketing campaigns. The message is carried by those who needed it for themselves. They don’t advertise their meeting; they promote the message. Jesus Christ is our message. Being moved from death to life is our message. Eternal hope, forgiveness, restoration, freedom, joy, peace, the love of a Father, the life of the Spirit, Christ in us and grace beyond measure is our message. Let’s pass it on and may the way we meet together be consistent with the message we carry.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rethinking Church

Greetings everyone. Rob here.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about over this time is the future of church. I sometimes think we forget that the church is the embodiment of the Gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ. It is a means to an end. The body of Christ is designed to point to the head – that is, Christ. If you see the church, the idea is that you see Jesus. Of course, the results are mixed, but I sense an urgency for the reflection of Christ to become far stronger. Yes, in us as individuals, but also as bodies of Christ seeking to align themselves with the Head.

red chapel on grassy field with trees

Photo by Tabitha Mort on Pexels.com

A big question is always, “What gets in the way?” What gets in the way of churches reflecting the love, hope and joy of Jesus to each other and to the world? I think part of the answer to that is structural. Another part is sinful and another part is theological. Today, let’s take a peek at structure, knowing that there are no definitive answers, only invitations by the Spirit.

Churches start out as reforming movements, but end up becoming institutions. They own buildings and property; run committees and have boards; run internally focused activities and programmes; employ staff and manage volunteers and run outreach programmes of various kinds. Good things happen. People pray and worship; they study the Word and seek to live good lives; some people hear the gospel and turn their lives around. But too often churches become more focused on being a good church than reflecting Christ to the world. Churches generally don’t mean to do this, but it’s the nature of institutions to exist for their own benefit. Here’s the thing. Bodies are meant to move. We need to turn Church into a movement again.

It’s hard to move if you’re tied down. One of the things that ties churches down is being property owners. This is where a large part of people’s tithing goes. Buildings require maintenance. Council rates, power bills, mortgages and more suck church finances into its vortex. It also takes up the time of church members. There is always a building committee, working bees and fundraising for the new carpet or new roof. The building often dictates the size of the church. Energy is spent trying to fill and use the building and then. when 80% of its capacity is filled on a Sunday, the church stops growing.

The discussion on buildings is a way to say that our churches try to be large and fixed in place. I suggest churches need to become small and nimble. We need to free up our time and resources for the wider activity of the kingdom of God, and not just church activity that isn’t always kingdom of God activity. Large, fixed churches tend towards the professionalisation of ministry. Ministry, the action of God in the world,  needs to return to the individual believer in the context of a small, supportive and empowering movement. Leaders are still needed but the priesthood of all believers needs to be embraced once again.

This can work easily for new church plants but it’s harder for existing churches. However, most churches have a small group ministry. What if those small groups were empowered to act as churches in their own right? If they worship together, hear the Word together, take communion together, aren’t they a church? They can exist as a church within a church, creating movement by embracing mission. There is only a point to this if those small churches embrace a life of mission – actively and intentionally seeking God’s will in the world and doing it.

More next week.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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Exposing Our Motives

Hi everyone. Rob here.

What an incredibly difficult time this is to be a leader! From Presidents and Prime Ministers to pastors and parents, the ability to lead is being tested. Unpopular decisions have had to be made, moral dilemmas have had to be worked through and short-term harm has had to be chosen in the hope that there’s a greater good at the end of it. Some leaders have responded with empathy, clarity. boldness and strength. Others have been weak (sometimes disguised by bluster), indecisive (sometimes disguised by people pleasing, contradictory decisions and denial), vague and a disturbing lack of compassion. And that’s just the parents! Leadership is an obvious example of character on the inside impacting life on the outside. As Jesus approached the cross in Passion Week he ruthlessly exposed the lack of character in Jerusalem’s leaders. It cost him his life and it serves as a profound warning and invitation when it comes to handling power.

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Jesus led by serving and by forsaking his power:

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

Leaders who are willing to lose power for the sake of others are leaders made in the image of Christ. In contrast, leaders who cling to power for their own sake and the sake of powerful interests are, you could say, “anti-Christs.” We see this in Luke 20:45-47.

Then, with the crowds listening, he turned to his disciples and said, “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.”

Leaders can look good, sound good and, at times, act good, but if their motive is self-serving and self-glorifying then Jesus opposes them. Earlier in the chapter Jesus is challenged by the religious leaders to explain by what authority he had to act as he did. Jesus challenged them in return to explain the origins of John’s baptism – heavenly or human? Because of fear of the people they couldn’t say it was merely human. Out of fear of being exposed for unbelief they couldn’t say it was from heaven. They revealed themselves as having no true authority of their own when they said, “We don’t know.” So Jesus didn’t tell them where his authority came from either. False leaders can’t and won’t recognise divine authority, let alone humble themselves before it.

Some leaders are better than others. This current crisis has exposed that for those with eyes to see. It’s interesting that those who love power the most seem to have the thinnest skin. We see that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were also intolerant of criticism or critique. Jesus’ constant exposure of their self-serving motives cost him his life in the end. While politicians and other public figures are easy targets (especially these days it seems) it is much more challenging to apply these tests to ourselves. How do we feel when we’re criticised, especially when it seems unfair? Whose interests are we serving when we make decisions each day? Do we really want God’s will to be done in our lives or do we prefer ours? When Jesus applies these questions to me, I feel exposed too. What I do with that feeling of exposure is a true test of faith. If I really believe that God is love and God acts for my good, then I will let him teach me through the exposure. It’s fair to say that my record on this is mixed. How about you?

I lead the best when I’m centred and soaked in Christ. When I’m anchored in God’s love for me then I act much more selflessly. When I bring my fragile ego to the cross of Jesus and die to myself there, then I can lead by truly serving and truly loving. I pray for our leaders right now that they will leave their egos at the door, see the suffering around them and lead with compassion and care. May it be so.

Grace and peace.

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Let The Good Seed Grow

Hi everyone. Rob here.

As we seek to interpret the times we’re living in, I find that it’s hard to go past Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30. A farmer plants good seed in his field but an enemy comes at night and plants weeds among the wheat. They both grow together. The farmer decides to wait until the time of harvest before uprooting the weeds, separating them from the wheat and burning them. He doesn’t do it before because he’s concerned the wheat will be uprooted at the same time. Only when it’s mature can the wheat be separated safely from the weeds. The parable is a metaphor. Jesus has sown the good seed of the kingdom of God. The devil and his agents plant weeds representing evil, but there will be a time of reckoning when they both reach their zenith. Matthew 13:40-43 says this:

Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

sunset field of grain

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Good and evil are growing in our world at the same time. The Kingdom of God is expanding and maturing but the weeds of evil are trying to choke it, hold it back and take as many down with them as they can.

For most of us, the future hope of ‘shining like the sun in God’s kingdom’ doesn’t seem as real and urgent as the weeds that are trying to choke the life out of us. Let’s face it, if we receive 10 compliments and 1 insult, we dwell on the insult. If the future for our income looks uncertain, but there’s enough for today we worry about the future. Too often we choose fear over faith; timidity instead of courage; anger instead of thankfulness; cynicism over joy and the forces of hatred and resentment over love. The weeds are obvious but the kingdom is growing and it’s the kingdom that will last.

Why is it so hard to focus on the ever-expanding Kingdom of God? In the same chapter Jesus describes the kingdom as being like yeast or mustard seeds. It’s unseen but it’s working it’s way through the dough; it’s slowly taking over the garden. The work of the kingdom isn’t obvious. We need the eyes of our hearts opened so that we can see. Jesus saw the kingdom in the hated people called the Samaritans. He saw it in dishonoured people like poor widows and Galilean fishermen. He saw it in women in a male dominated world and in children in an adult-dominated world. He sees it in you and he sees it in me.

There are wheat and weeds in the world and there are wheat and weeds in every person, including you and I. We tend to give power to the weeds but the real power belongs to the wheat. Gods kingdom is forever and it is planted in you. In a pandemic world the weeds feel powerful, but they’re not. Fear, despair and grief are temporary. Faith, hope and love are permanent. We need to align ourselves with them every day, especially in times like these. The kingdom invites us. Let’s say yes.

Grace and peace.

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All In

Hi everyone. Rob here.

It’s a beautiful Autumn day here in Hamilton, NZ. The leaves in my neighbourhood are changing colour quite dramatically. A few are out mowing their lawn. There are people walking the dog and playing with their kids. It’s a typical weekend scene. Except it’s not the weekend. It’s Wednesday. Schools are shut, roads are quiet and even 4 weeks into this it still feels surreal. Our strict lockdown eases a little next week but anything resembling normality is a long way off. As we all face an uncertain future there can only be one positive response and that is faith.

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It is the invitation for every generation as every generation faces a moment when it becomes clear that they are not in control of their destiny. With many of our gods in a temporary coma now is the time to see clearly that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is the Lord of history, the Master of the universe and the loving home that our hearts are longing for. In our age of consumption we have had and are having a fresh revelation of our own fragility and that our worlds of comfort and ease are just a house of cards.

That may sound a little dramatic but if Scripture tells us anything it’s that our God is more than happy to expose our faithlessness so that we can put it to death and come alive to faith. Faith asks the question, who or what are we trusting in, hoping in and turning to in order to satisfy our longings? God presents this question to us even as he pours out his love and compassion for the hurting, the grieving and the sick. He gives us Jesus, the Word become flesh, so that we can always know that our humanity is safe in his hands and that God says yes to us even as he suffers for our sake.

It’s time for the followers of Jesus to put aside half-hearted faith and embrace the adventure of being all in. It’s time for those who seek God to realise that he has said yes through Jesus. As Luke 11:9-10 says,

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Let’s seek God while our old gods are sleeping. Let’s put to death our divided loyalties and embrace wholehearted faith in an age of uncertainty. Let’s not get lulled by sunny days and gentle strolls. Instead let’s be awake and alert, faithful and prayerful, optimistic and obedient. Christ is in us and with us. He is also coming soon. Let’s keep our lamps lit and focus on him as we never have before. For the sake of the world.

Grace and peace.

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