Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Church (part 11) – Postscript

I just thought it worthwhile to note the following:

I’ve come up with these models, thoughts and ideas based on listening to a lot of material, reading a lot of stuff, conversations with many people, observations on and my own experiences in various church congregations and settings, studying scripture and praying.

I might have some of it wrong.

I might have it all wrong.

It may be that the church you are part of fits into one or a number of the categories perfectly or that it seems to transcend a number of categories. It might be that your church community has picked up bits of various different parts of the models and seems to work well.

I don’t want to be critical, I don’t want to be perceived to be critical or disparaging about anybody, any community, any church group, that’s not the point of any of this.

My aim is to inspire and to spark debate and discussion.

My wish is that you will challenge me, correct me if you think I am in error, offer a different or better way or idea.

My desire is for this to be an ongoing dialogue, a journey that we can discover together.

I value your ideas, input and comments because that improves me, rounds my ideas, gives me a better overall picture and perspective.

Please share with me your experiences and ideas so we can wrestle with making our church communities more appealing to people that have rejected church because of the ways it has been done badly and more faithful to God and His word.

Lets make much of God together, and praise him in all his fullness as he lives in our church communities, as he dwells in the ‘body of Christ’.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
(John 14:23)

Church (part 10) – Epilogue

I’m wrapping up here! Everything I couldn’t fit into the other posts because they were either too long or it didn’t fit quite right.

We are planning to use a song that we’ve not had at the fellowship weekend before, a song by Christy Nockels called Hosanna.
I think it really encapsulates all we’re trying to achieve, all the motivation behind it, Tim’s points, and a lot of what I’ve been writing about in this series.

As you listen to the song on the video above, have a look again at Tim’s points

The general approach being to show how Jesus used a community outreach approach to preaching bringing out the following principles:

  1. Committed to growth
  2. Touch and teach
  3. God in control
  4. Need for labourers using their God given skill
  5. Single clear message – ‘The Good News of the Kingdom of God’
  6. Cast your net on the other side – do things differently
  7. Diverse approach for diverse market
  8. Long term plan – 3 1/2 years for Jesus

The parts of the song that stand out most for me are verse 2 and the bridge.

“I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith – with selfless faith
I see a new revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees – we’re on our knees

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity.”

For me it encapsulates the vision I hold of this life being important because of what God has done for us and continues to do with us and how that stimulates our joy which triggers a worshipful, active and gospel-displaying response in the way we live.

It’s a vision of ‘resurrection living’ as I’ve shared before from Rob Bell:

“Resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place

everybody believes something
everybody believes somebody
Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
and saved by God”

(Rob Bell)

That’s the way I view the underlying drive as to why we are even thinking about ‘outreach’.

The weekend verse is 1 John 1v2

“The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”

I think that ties into this song really well

“I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith”

That speaks to me of a relational approach, founded on intimacy with God “We’re on our knees”.

I think this bit of the Song also picks up on points 2 and 4 in Tim’s outline.

Point 2 I think can be a 2 way point – ‘touch and teach’ is also, at least in my mind possible to look at in a ‘I have been touched by this and so I will teach’ kind of way as per the song bridge:

“Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause”

The last line again, Tim’s point 4

And then

“As I walk from earth into eternity.”

I don’t think Tim is specifically referring to God’s long-term plan in point 8, but it also fits with that angle. Our walk with God is a current reality, not a future possibility.  It’s an ongoing, present-tense journey, which also kind of picks up on Tim’s point 1.

The song as a whole for me proclaims Tim’s Point 5 – Single clear message – ‘The Good News of the Kingdom of God’.

In Revelation 21 the Apostle John hears the words declared from heaven ‘behold, I am making all things new’.
His vision seems to be of future events, yet the voice speaks in the present tense – and is set in the context of prophetic imagery drawn from the past, from the proclamations of Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Past, present and future merge in a dramatic declaration of the purposes of God.
Not only does John’s vision give us insight into what God has done and is doing in the world, it also models how we are to answer the question ‘what is God doing right now’?
In any given time and setting, John implies, the events we see unfolding before us can be ‘read’ against two horizons – the horizon of all that God has done and spoken in the past, and the horizon of all He has promised for the future.
The purposes of God are like an underground river, flowing invisibly beneath the events of history.
Rooted in the world’s in-God beginnings and moving towards its promised in-God end, these purposes are always consistent with God’s character.
The best way to fully understand the present is to have God’s perspective on the past and future. From the ‘it was very good’ of Genesis 1 to the ‘all things new’ of Revelation 21, visible history is a reflection of God’s unseen plans, and can only truly be interpreted by their light.
(Gerard Kelly)

To really finish this series off, Rob Bell has some interesting thoughts in his book ‘Velvet Elvis‘ which I agree with and thoroughly recommend as a great and challenging read!

“I believe being generous is a better way to live.
I believe forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live.
I believe having compassion is a better way to live.
I believe pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live.
I believe listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to to live.
I believe being honest with people is a better way to live.”

I would go on to say personally, that I believe affirming truth where there is truth, is a better way to live.

All of the above are ways to live in love, ways to respond to God and to the incredible love and grace he has for us.
And that is how I understand church, the purpose and mission of the church:

Church is a movement of people, intent on existing to bless the world by acting like Christ to the world.
It is a body of believers that live selflessly, for others, displaying to others the love that has been shown to us.

It is openly embracing, fully engaging, equally contributory, committed to community, centred on Jesus and a shared journey to explore the message of the bible and remain open to the movement of God’s spirit among us.

Different congregations will look different as they work out their communal path together but God loves diversity as much as he loves people.

I pray that all our churches will be places that grow both in number and in faith and shine like beacons of love in the neighbourhoods they exist, both physically as meeting places and for each individual member.

God’s way is infinitely attractive, it is irresistibly beautiful, I pray our churches will be the same.

Church (part 9) – Outreach – A natural response

‘Outreach’ or ‘Preaching’ can mean many things to many people, from the ‘manic street preacher’ that you might see on a Saturday on Market Street M1, to a discussion with a friend over a coffee, from a ‘public address’ to meeting a private need.

Preaching or outreach is not ever, never, never is it about telling someone / some people “This is what I believe and you should believe it too”.  
It should always be a case of “I can hear music, it makes me want to dance, can I share this music with you, maybe you will hear it and want to join in the dance.  Maybe your dance will look different to mine and that’s ok, but I really want to dance with you and learn with you and learn from you and hope that you also will learn from me and together we can discover more about the source of the music.”

Preaching or outreach isn’t always going to be easy, in fact it’s rarely going to be easy to ‘preach’, be it in our churches or individually.  The encouragement we are aiming to give people at the fellowship weekend 2011 is hopefully going to ignite some passion, but it’s likely that it will fade over time, and that’s completely normal.  

Preaching cannot always be an easy, joyful, reflex response to the love God has shown us, and in the same way that there are times when we have to choose to praise, there will be times we will have to choose to preach and it won’t feel like the natural thing to do or what we particularly want to do at the time.  

Hopefully there will be more times when it’s a natural response to God rather than a conscious choice, but we can’t ignore that at times it will be hard.  

Last year, we ran the Bethel Festival and are planning to run it again this year.

After the Bethel Festival last year, someone commented to Kate (my wife) that they went away over-faced – thinking “I’ll never be able to do anything that big with the person-power we don’t have at our church”. They were paralysed by the bigness of it and were disheartened that their church wouldn’t be able to match up to something like that.
When people go home from the weekend, it is entrirely possible that they might feel they don’t have the manpower, impetus, momentum or possibly even desire to do big things like that and there will probably be some times when it’s a plain old slog and you meet a large amount of resistance from within the church as well as possibly from without.

Lets be honest, if it wasn’t for all the people at the fellowship weekend last year, The Bethel wouldn’t have been able to run the festival at all! On any normal day, week, month, that’s way bigger than anything we’d ever even conceive of doing as a church.

None of our ‘outreach’ at The Bethel is motivated by “doing something big to be seen” In fact, no ‘outreach’ should be about focussing on doing ‘big’ or ‘great’ things.  Everything is about building relationships, bringing God into the small things, showing the love of God in the way we act & interact. If God is living in us, that should be evident and his love will be spilling out.

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.
It is not how much you do, but how much Love you put into the doing that matters”
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

The practical application of that is probably going to look pretty different, depending on the people in the congregation, the surrounding community, how much the church is a commuter church as opposed to a community church and how much it is a consumer church as opposed to a contributory church, how much the church has managed to engage and embrace as opposed to exclude and entertain.

However, doing ‘small things with great love’ must be the motivator and aim. Without love, it’s all meaningless.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Shane Claiborne (founder of “the simple way“) has a notice above the inside of their door. It reads:

“Small things with great love or don’t answer the door.”

The foundation understanding for the statement is that ‘if you aren’t prepared to see the face of Christ in the person that is knocking on your door and therefore be prepared to act like Christ would towards them, then you are better off giving yourself a break and letting someone else open the door.’

The most important {commandment},” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
(Mark 12:28-34)

Love God
Love People
Small things with great Love

Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

What is the background to our outreach?
Hopefully, the kind of church that we are inviting people into is:  Strong at the centre, Open at the edges.  Diverse and yet still united, unity is not the same as uniformity. A Church that is contributory, embracing, engaging and community focussed, community rooted.

‘Preaching’ and ‘Outreach’ is more about how we live than what we say. It’s about ‘living the Resurrection’.

“resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place”
(Rob Bell)

God is preparing a banquet, everybody is invited. How can we not want to spread that invitation to everybody we meet? An ‘all-nighter’ party, well, more of an ‘all-eternity-er’ of joy, peace, fulfilment and intimacy with the creator who is so deeply in love with His creation that He showed us Himself through His Son, and underlined it by allowing people like us to kill him, so that he could win a great victory over our flawed and hopeless selfishness.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:57)

And when it feels hard or you think you can’t do it or you think it’s too big or too much, remember to take one small step at a time, that small things with great love is the way to go, and take some comfort from One of my favourite poems from one of my favourite poets: “I see a new city” by Gerard Kelly.

Here’s the last verse

“And though I wait
And though I long
And though the sacred city may seem slow,
Still I will hope,
Still I will pray,
Still I will, today,
Rise up and build.”

It may seem like we are having to choose against the odds to live a life that reaches out, and we might feel like nothing we are doing is making any difference and it might be that we don’t ever see the harvest from the seeds we sow, but because of God’s great love for us, we continue to work with Him, let him work through us to build His new city.

Church (part 8) – Inclusion Overview

Lets put the models of church Inclusion together.


I think they speak for themselves, clearly, the direction of the red arrow is the direction I believe all churches would do well to take. I’ve explored the models in detail in the last two posts, and I think it ties in very closely with ‘what is church for?‘ I don’t think it is worth going over it all again.

But What does inclusion and engagement look like in reality, in concrete terms, ‘where the rubber hits the road’?

Here’s what I understand the ultimate vision of a contributory, engaging, embracing, community church congregation looks like.

God is planning a banquet, a big party and he has invited everybody.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:1-13

I love Robert Capon’s commentary on this passage.

“Watch therefore,” Jesus says at the end of the parable, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
When all is said and done — when we have scared ourselves silly with the now-or never urgency of faith and the once-and-always finality of judgement — we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh.

Because what we are watching for is a party.

And that party is not just down the street making up its mind when to come to us.
It is already hiding in our basement, banging on our steam pipes, and laughing its way up our cellar stairs.
The unknown day and hour of its finally bursting into the kitchen and roistering its way through the whole house is not dreadful; it is all put of the divine lark of grace.

God is not our mother-in-law, coming to see whether her wedding-present china has been chipped.

He is a funny Old Uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other.

We do indeed need to watch for him; but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.

(Robert Capon – Kingdom, grace, judgment: paradox, outrage, and vindication in the parables of Jesus)

I believe there is room in God’s grace for a lot of us, I believe many surprising people will be there in God’s great big party in the same way that I believe I will be there. Should we not focus on inviting more people to listen to the music and hope they want to dance with us, regardless that their dance may be a little semantically or interpretationally different to ours?

The trouble is as humans we like to prosthelytise – we are uncomfortable if anyone holds a view that is different to our own. And that’s difficult when we encounter grace. I imagine God’s grace is bigger than mine which is always going to make me uncomfortable if someone doesn’t agree with me, yet I have to believe that God can find a pace for the genuine seeking heart in his ocean of grace.

If I fail to personally put God’s grace into practice, that limits the envelope of my embrace, it chokes the eagerness of my engagement, it stifles the character of my contribution and it can divide the core of our community.

God invites us all into the dynamic unfolding of His drama in which He is working to bring the world back into a reconciled relationship with himself. It’s the story of God and God’s people at work in the world, restoring, redeeming, refreshing, renewing, not a list of static propositions or set of ideas to assent to. The immediate message and outworking of the gospel is bound to shift and change as God’s spirit moves in this world.

If we claim the message {or indeed medium} is unchanging, we risk boasting of a kind of omniscience in which we presume we know the totality of God’s plan and inexaustible mysteries. In that kind of setup, the spirit becomes no more of a ‘dashboard ornament’ – if we presume we have discovered the one, simple and unchanging message for all times and all places.
Our posture should be humility and discovery.
(Shane Hipps – The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture) {the brackets are mine}

Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean doggedly holding on to some fixed and permanent idea of right doctrine until our knuckles turn white and our fingers drop off.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean casting out people that don’t look like us.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean forcing conformity and uniformity and restricting ideas, questioning or debate.
Remaining faithful to scripture does not mean seeing the rest of ‘the world’ as a Godless, sinful, depraved place and ‘the church’ as a place of solace to escape to.

We should be trying to develop a communal sense of patience to discover the gospel, God’s current plans and works, the courage to name them and the humility to hold them in open hands to allow it to be touched by God’s voice in scripture and the breath of God’s spirit moving among us.
(Shane Hipps – The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture)

The more we are inclusive, the more we look like Jesus. Remember, it was Jesus who told off the religious leaders, the ‘church people’, the people ‘in-the-know’ time and time again and never scolded a ‘sinner’ seeking him, forgiveness or help.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.
(Matthew 21:31)

I don’t feel I can end this post on inclusion without sharing this anonymous quote. It’s beautiful and compelling, it’s thought-provoking and from what I can read, study and understand, I think it’s completely true.

It drives down at one of the core practices and reasons that we congregate to form churches at all, the centrepoint and turning point of God’s story: The sacrifice of Christ remembered in The Breaking of Bread / Communion / The Lord’s Supper / The Sacraments / Divine Liturgy / The Eucharist

This is the table, not of the church, but of Jesus Christ.
It is made ready for those who love him
and who want to love him more.
So come, you who have much faith
and you who have little,
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a long time,
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because it is we who invite you:
Come because it is Christ who invites you to meet him here.

Church (part 7) – Exclusive or Embracing

God has a party planned. He has invited everyone. Who are we inviting?

How does the church as a whole and members as individual representatives of Christ and his body in this world interact with the people that come in through the door?

The Exclusive Church
Only shows warmth to people that are like the existing members, people that don’t fit the mold feel intrusive.
The church congregation is like a clique and works as a private club, not the open arms of Jesus.
Little time or space is made to cater for the needs of the needy, charitable giving may be present but it is always anonymous,not personal or intimate.
The exclusive church tends to look after it’s own but not others so much.
The tendency of the exclusive church is to put up barriers to people coming in or joining, even though they might publicise their activities. Everything must be done on their terms, and there is little leeway given for different points of view or opinion, if you don’t ‘fit in’ you are likely to be shunned or ignored.
You have to look right, act right and say the right things before you can be considered suitable for acceptance or membership.

The Embracing Church
Welcoming to all people from all walks of life regardless how messy that ends up becoming. The Church congregation makes space for the
rejected and outcast from society. Being bold enough to reach out and love people of every shape, size, colour, etc. People are taken ‘as-is’
not expected to change to ‘fit the mold’ before they can be accepted / integrated.
The underlying understanding is that God is judge, not man and that ‘right behaviour’ may not be something that a person can begin with but that it will follow eventually as a response to God’s love shown through his church.
The overriding experience of the person encountering this kind of community is that they are being invited into a family where the door is always open.

What kind of church community is yours?

I know it is very difficult when I meet or have conversations with people who’s views aren’t exactly aligned to my own. I know that it is hard when I think something I do or say is right or something someone else does or says is wrong, but that shouldn’t make me reject them. It shouldn’t make me put barriers in the way of relationship with them or with God.

In the church congregation setting, it makes sense in a pastoral way to have a general agreement on the fundamental things that we believe. If someone comes in believing something that is clearly going to clash with the majority of people, it is not going to encourage harmony or unity for them to remain within that group. That doesn’t mean they should be rejected or treated badly, they should be loved and accepted and together either work out a way to get along or help them to find a group of believers where they can find their spiritual home, unity and accord.

On more minor things, I think we should just show a bit more humility and grace (me especially). God accepted and continues to accept people ‘just as they are’:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9

God is doing the purification, from the heart outwards, not us from forced conforming behaviour inwards.

The church as the body of Christ needs to be embracing and open-armed, not cliquey and exclusive.

Rather beautifully, the fellowship weekend theme has captured the essence that it’s about love coming to town, genuine love (in the 1 Corinthians 13 sense) displayed in our relationships.  Lives lived displaying this love are lives that are beautiful, lives that can touch other people, lives that are healing and restorative, refreshing and redeeming which is what God is trying to do through is in his good world as we journey together towards a new heavens and a new earth.

The love we reflect from God, the love that God pours into us and then out from us towards others is the love that creates an embracing church community.

One of the things I really love about The Bethel is that most members share Sunday lunch together most weeks at the building. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know each other, developing deep ties and friendships, learning to serve each other in preparing food and clearing up afterwards. There are a number of members that we now have that were attracted to this family way of loving and living first of all and their faith grew from that. Faith grew from seeing people love other people, be honest and open and share themselves, their time, food etc.

Embracing people is what God is all about.
Everybody knows the verse:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

If that isn’t the most inclusive, embracing invitation then I don’t know what is.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(2 Peter3:9)

God holds the doors open to everybody and the verse above tells us that he is going to wait a whole lot longer propping those doors open than anybody else ever would.

The final picture of the embracing God that I believe we need to emulate in our collective journey and existence as a church is from Isaiah 40:11

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

God carries us close to his heart.

God’s arms are broad and strong, they reach far and wide and his hands softly beckon to us to climb into his embrace.

My prayer is that as the body of Christ, as the people that make up the movement and action that is the church, will replicate the open arms of God and willingness to stretch out to and embrace every broken and imperfect sinner, all the rest of those wicked and fallen people that are actually no different to you and me.

The only difference is that we are yet to wrap our communal arms around them to tell them just how loved and forgiven they are.

Church (part 6) – Entertainment or Engagement

In the context of the last post, remembering ‘church’ is the people, what happens at a service? What happens at the communal gathering, the corporate worshipping?

Does the church service entertain people or engage people?

Do the other activities of the church entertain the attendees or fully engage them?

You guessed it, time for another model! There is some overlap between the consumer / contributor model, but this focus is more on how the church congregation interacts with each other and non members and how leadership interacts with the rest of the church members or visitors.

The Entertaining Church
The main focus of the activities of the church or services becomes ‘putting on a show’ for people, resulting in the attendees turning up to be entertained without anything being asked or expected from them. People don’t feel engaged or part of something, they come purely to
take from and not give to the experience. The structure of the services and activities run by the church panders to the consumerist expectations, demands and lifestyle of the people that attend. Emphasis is on ‘looking right’ or ‘looking good’, on having the latest technology or most recent, most popular songs. The focus is not so much on Jesus as a living, active presence in our lives but on a sanitised, domesticated Christ that is cool or fashionable, grabs a coffee from the foyer on the way in and subtly confirms our underlying desire for everything to be about ‘me’, that life is about talent or appearance and not about character.

The entertainment church model can be very attractive in some respects, often there are multiple things going on at the same time so that if you tune out of one thing, you can go and do something else. Who wouldn’t want a starbucks / costa (replace with coffee house of your choosing) on-site? It seems to be often the kind of approach that you may see in a ‘megachurch’ or a church that has a ‘celebrity’ pastor.
In a way, any church with a paid ministry, with the same person at the front giving the sermon message most weeks encourages less engagement because it is there on a plate for you to take or leave as you wish.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really encourage people to participate deeply in either their own spiritual journey or the shared mission of the body of Christ.

The opposite end of the spectrum is the engaging church

The Engaging Church
People who attend church activities or services are encouraged to participate and get involved. This continues into other aspects of church life, the emphasis on people becoming stakeholders within the church community and learn to journey together, giving as well as receiving.
Focus is on being ‘the body of Christ’, with Christ is the head of the church, living, active and involved by his spirit in the individual lives of the congregation and in the congregation as a whole.
Services are less about ‘putting on a show’ and more about engaging each other in a compelling and participatory way inspiring and equipping each other to be open to the movement of the spirit of God in our midst.

Churches that follow the engaging model tend to be smaller because to fully engage people becomes harder the more people there are. Churches within lay communities without paid ministry find it easier to follow this model, each person becomes an investment of other people’s time and emotion, there is a much more pervasive and diverse sense of shared vision, shared direction, shared journey. There is much less sense of one or two people having the authority or control and each person’s input is valued much more equally. The whole becomes more than the sum of its parts and if any person leaves the congregation, it is much more keenly felt.
This model builds strong emotional bonds and interpersonal relationships where non-members feel like they are being invited into a family rather than a ‘place of worship’.
Fully engaging churches will help people see that church is what you do, not where you go, that everybody matters, that everybody’s opinion and input is of value.

Which is why I would value your comments and interaction here. I’m sure I’m missing something or that you can add something to the conversation! I really appreciate what Tobit said on Part 3 – Consumer or Contributor, it added depth and dimension and inspired some of today’s post.

I imagine you will be there ahead of me in seeing I am suggesting that all church communities should be moving in the direction of engagement and away from entertainment. Entertaining people will last until something more exciting or compelling comes along to distract them, whereas engaging people will give them a sense of worth, a voice, knowledge they are valued and loved, welcomed and wanted.

I don’t believe the attitude of ‘just waiting around, being a good church attender, giving a bit of money charitably, until Jesus can come back and fix it all at once’ is a valid approach to Christianity.  The clue for me is in the name “Christ-ianity” – looking like Christ, which takes us back to – seeing and being (If you missed it last time: to See Christ in others so that we will then Be Christ to others.)

Engaging with people in an involved, connected, genuinely loving and Christ-like way is the responsibility of each individual member of the church – the ‘body of Christ’ and the responsibility of the community of believers as a whole.

“The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”
1 John 1:2

If we are proclaiming ‘the eternal life’ people need to see that within us (individually and collectively) and coming from us, spilling out from within us.  That ‘eternal life’ which has ‘appeared to us’ – the risen Christ who we have encountered, needs to be reflected from us in all our interactions, thoughts, words, actions etc.

It’s all about being Christ-like.  

If it doesn’t look like Jesus, we are missing the point.  

If our church is not as compelling and engaging as Jesus was, we are missing the point, if we are not drawing people out of themselves and into relationship and interaction with God and us on the journey, we are missing the point.  

If we aren’t locally, community focussed, making a positive difference to our community(ies), local schools, hospitals, youth centres etc. or providing some of those services ourselves as a church, then are we really acting out this eternal life, are we really practising resurrection living?  

Church (part 5) – What is Church For?

Firstly it is worth noting that in the New Testament, the word ‘church’ (the Greek ‘ekklēsia‘) always relates to a group of people, not a building or an institution. So when we ask “what is ‘Church’ for?”, we are asking a very different question when referring to the meaning of the word as opposed to ‘The Church’ as an institution or a particular building.

Secondly, the ‘Church’ is also referred to as the ‘body of Christ’ because of verses like 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

and 1 Corinthians 12:27

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Christ was God’s medium for revealing himself to the world in human form, in a language we would understand. Christ showed us what God is like. God’s being and his message were perfectly united in Christ.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
(John 1:14)

The life Christ lived and the words he spoke revealed not just the word of God but the very being of God.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3)

If God’s chosen medium was Christ, and the church is the body of Christ then the church is God’s chosen medium for God’s ongoing revelation to the world; the church exists to embody and proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom.
The message of the gospel is profoundly shaped by the way the church lives in the world and by the way each individual church member lives within their world context.

The “People of God” – God’s chosen people was expanded from just being Israel to include all believers. And while this ‘chosen people’ is ‘set apart’ from the world (called to be distinctive), it exists for the explicit purpose of blessing the world as a light to the nations, just as the Israelites were supposed to be.

You, personally and we, collectively as the ‘body of Christ’ in it’s wider context are the best vehicle that God has for advancing his Kingdom today. Conversely, you could be the best medium for shattering everything God is trying to do. If people don’t see Christ living in and through you, yet you claim to be a follower of him, your life shouts louder than your claims and it speaks in direct opposition to the message God has for the world.

Nearly everywhere in the New Testament where Paul writes ‘You’, the word in the Greek is in its plural form. But, partly because of the individualistic bias of the print age or ‘modern age’ and the lack of a plural ‘you’ in modern English, we interpret most of these things individually, personally.

Remember though, Paul was writing to churches, not individuals.
For example, lets quickly have a look at 1 Corinthians 6:19-20,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Every time Paul writes ‘you’ he speaks plurally, but when he writes ‘body, it is singular. He speaks to a corporate group about their single body. He is concerned about a community’s health and purity (whilst clearly, the individual purity also matters).

So, what does this passage call our churches and our community to become? If we are reading through a corporate lens, we begin to see scriptures’ images as community rather than personal and we can develop a more complete understanding of the true essence of the church and have some clarity on God’s chosen medium.

The scriptural vision of the church is one in which individuals exist for the sake of the community and the community exists for Gods mission in the world. God chose the church, in all its various and disparate, flawed and beautiful ways not individual Christians as the medium for his ongoing mission.
(Shane Hipps)

We are the medium of God’s message, individually, but more importantly, corporately. How this looks in reality will vary from congregation to congregation but the experience within our churches should be one of a foretaste of Gods kingdom as we hold faithfully to God’s agenda and try to live his message.

We are the medium and the message.

So what is ‘church’ for?

The tradition of a group of Jesus followers gathering together to become a ‘Church’ follows along the logic that you can’t show God’s love on your own.
Therefore, the collection of disciples and the activities they engage in exist to excite you, to propel you, to inspire you, to motivate you, equip you, brief you, train you, pray for you, support you, laugh with you, cry with you, learn from you, teach you, learn with you, journey with you as you get involved in individual acts of worship in your whole life as an individual follower of Jesus.

‘The Church’ is for the members, for the local community, for your own local community and for anyone who may meet part of it. Church is what you do, as a group of Jesus’ disciples, not a building or an institution. Church is not confined to a building or event, it continues throughout your life, ‘church’ should be something you are, something you do.

‘The Church’ exists for the explicit purpose of blessing the world, by embodying and proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom – a world redeemed and restored, a world refreshed and renewed.
God coming to live with humans in an endless perfect, flawless harmony.
God and humans in intentional, passionate, everlasting intimacy.

Church (part 4) – Community Involvement Overview

The previous two posts have dissected both the diffferent aspects of commuter, community, consumer and contributor and opinion!

Today I am having a broad overview of the church-community relationship how that brings together the two previous posts in looking at the models all together.

It should be a lot shorter.

So, to begin with, lets look at the whole picture of church community involvement.

Models of Church Community Involvement

I would argue that all churches – i.e. all congregations of believers should be moving in the direction of the red / pink arrow.

Community church life is about exploring and journeying together with the aim being a deeper relationship with God.

I understand this in very simple terms, in my life and in the corporate life of the church as it acts through it’s many members, it breaks down to seeing and being.

Seeing the face of Christ in every other face we look at, in all the people that we meet and talk to. (That includes hearing the voice of Christ over the phone or reading the words of Christ in a text / email)

Being the hands of Christ to the people that we meet and interact with / talk to. (For hands read feet, shoulder, back, knees, anything; basically being Christ to others.)

If we dedicate our lives to the principles of Seeing Christ and Being Christ, we are not going to be going too far wrong.

I believe the Kingdom of God is not about big things its about small things – Jesus uses the example of the mustard seed. Something small, but once it grows, it’s pervasive and spreads relentlessly, and concrete and tarmac can’t stop it!

I think Rob Bell has some fantastic words that round off this concept, It’s a vision of ‘resurrection living’:

“Resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place

everybody believes something
everybody believes somebody
Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
and saved by God”

(Rob Bell)

And Lastly, a concrete take-home – the summary of the commandmentss as Jesus says in Mark 12:28-34:

Love God
Love People

“The most important {commandment},” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

So, in community, in contribution, my encouragement on top of what has already been said is this.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. (Colossians 3:23)

Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

Church (part 3) – Consumer or Contributor

Therefore, my dear friends as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
(Philippians 2:12-14

Is your church Consumer or Contributor?

Let me dig into exactly what I mean.

Consumer Church:
In a Consumer church, members attend to be ‘entertained’ or to consume what is provided by the church leaders. Often very few are people giving spiritual guidance or input, members rely on being ‘spoon-fed’ as opposed to taking part in self-directed bible study and sharing with other members. It is difficult to find people within the church to volunteer to take part in activities, provide manpower for things or run things, either regularly run projects or special-interest one-off events.

This model highlights the danger of bringing every-day ‘consumerism’ into the church setting.  

My point, when looking at a consumerist model of church is that we should be encouraging interaction and partnering in our spiritual journeys, encouraging people to feed for themselves, not just turn up as a number and be spoon-fed.

Contributor Church:
In a contributory church, the spiritual direction and ‘feeding’ is seen as a corporate responsibility, most members spend time reading and studying so they can share with other members and many more people are involved in providing the spiritual content and guidance.
Church members encourage and are encouraged to take active roles in their own spiritual journey, individually and corporately as a whole ‘body’.

There is, as Dave Churchill pointed out to me in an email, definitely a time to consume God, to consume His word, to be filled by feeding on Him, a time to sit back and receive directly from God, something which I think is really important in our spiritual journeys especially when the temptation is to constantly be doing, working, getting involved ‘for God’.

I sometimes feel that we as a community can forget what it means to receive freely from God, to receive his spirit poured into our life and circumstance. We all too often get caught up in contributing we fail to recognise that we need to consume, on some level, feed on God, who fuels us to respond through contribution to others.
(David Churchill)

I think even in feeding on & consuming God, there is an active element – searching out that food, reaching out to God, because nobody else can do it for us.  Definitely we need to feed on and be fuelled by God but not in a passive, “I just turn up at church, do nothing and home some spiritualness rubs off on me from what goes on and the people I see.”

A sister at our church once said that she thought when she moved to Manchester and married her husband, that everything would be ok because she had married a spiritual guy and had moved to Old Trafford where lots of other spiritual people were.  In not too long a time, she realised she had been coasting and not working at all at her own spirituality or trying to feed herself and that she had been mistaken in thinking that she didn’t need to, as she felt like she had gone backwards in her relationship with God.

There are different stages, and for some people, just taking the step of choosing to attend church or spend some time with a mentor or some other spiritual person / people is really important, and that is the first stage in being active in your own spiritual journey.

There needs to be a balance in being a conduit for God to feed others and being fed ourselves, by God through others and more directly, if we get that out of balance, then we’ll miss some valuable parts of both.

We can easily get mixed up between being fully reliant on God and being reliant on other people to present God to us.

Do we actually love God, do we actually love the bible or are we just switched on to it by the way it is presented to us by other inspirational people, be that from within or outside our community.  And when we aren’t getting it via someone else unwrapping it for us, are we left cold and leave it on the shelf?

Generally, churches in our community are pretty good at being ‘contributor’ based as opposed to being ‘consumer’ based, the absence of a paid ministry or paid leadership drives the whole congregation to become more active in collectively working out spiritual direction, dealing with spiritual dilemmas and learning and journeying together towards deeper relationship with God.

I would argue that a contributory church is a more biblical model for church. The passage I put to begin this post: Philippians 2:12–13 consistently uses the plural. Paul addresses “dear friends” or “beloved”, (plural). He entreats them that as “you [plural] have always obeyed” in the past, so now “you [plural] work out your [reflexive plural] salvation.” Paul reminds them that God is the one working “in/among you [plural].”

“There is the strong indication that the exhortation is not to individual but to corporate action, to cooperative effort in the common life together as community.”
(Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140)

Unfortunately my observation of a number of local churches and indeed in conversations with very active members of those local churches, they are not so good at being ‘contributor’ churches, people tend to go to ‘consume’ and don’t get involved as much in the corporate, shared spiritual direction. Again I imagine a lot of this is due to the structure of a paid ministry and leadership which can foster a ‘they will do it for us, Isn’t that what they are paid for?’ attitude from the congregation.

This difference comes to a fore with one example: visiting / caring for the elderly and ill. A church with a paid ministry will be mostly reliant on the ministers caring for these pastoral issues. The structure at our church however, necessitates the action of members volunteering to take an active role in these pastoral matters.

To close out, I think it is worth revisiting the Phillippians verses: Hawthorne and Martin show that Philippians 2:13 should be translated as “among you” (corporately) rather than “within you” (individually).

“there is ‘among them,’ rather than ‘within them,’ an energizing force that is no less than God himself. (Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 140)

To engage together, communally in being active in our contribution to the church is a more robust biblical model of being part of the body of Christ. Sitting non-engaged, hoping something will perfuse somehow and build your relationship with God is not something that I see in the bible. Just like you ‘use it or loose it’ in your own body, if you stop being active in your relationship with God, you start to slide away from him.

Therefore, my dear friends… …continue to {collectively} work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works among you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
(Philippians 2:12-14

Church (part 2) – Commuter or Community

“There are common, shared, foundational human experiences that underpin all cultures and unite rather than divide us. There is a central human story. Childbirth and ambition; love and jealousy; sickness, fear and death all belong to this core story. They may find expression in many different forms, but their presence is universal: they are the basis of what it means to be human.”
(Gerard Kelly)

What is your church like? Perhaps more poignantly, what are you like in respect to your church?

How much is your church a commuter church or a community church?

Let me explain what I mean, based not only on my own church experience, but also on discussions I’ve had with my local community members. Perhaps it would also be relevant to let you know (if you don’t already) that we live within 30 seconds walk the local community school where our children attend and about 40 seconds walk from The Bethel – our church in Old Trafford and have done for the last almost 10 years.

Commuter Church:
Someone who commutes to church is anyone who does not live within walking distance of their church.

In a predominantly commuter church, the majority of members are generally not people that live in the local community of the church but tend to drive to the church from somewhere else. They may know some of the local people but not usually at any depth. Members are perceived as ‘outsiders’ by the community which can feel like the church is an unwelcome, unwelcoming building.

Most churches in the community which I am part of are much more likely (due to the structure and way the community is set up) to be ‘commuter’ churches as opposed to be community churches. Regardless of how committed and how many things they turn up to do, the impression from within the local community can be that of “it’s all very well you saying that you care about our community, but you clearly don’t care enough to live in our community”. Whether this is a reasonable accusation or not, whatever the myriad of good reasons people have to live where they live and drive to church, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to change the way local community people perceive the people who commute in to church.

Community Church:
Someone who lives within walking distance (I guess that depends how far you are prepared or able to walk!) of the church lives within the community of the church.

In a predominantly community church, members primarily live within the local vicinity of the church and are integral parts of the local community. Their children attend the local school and they know people and are known by people of the community. Members are seen as ‘stakeholders’ in both the church and the community. The church is known as a community resource and as the people, not the building.

The ‘local church’ – i.e. Catholic / Anglican etc. churches tend to fall, again probably mainly to do with the inherant open fellowship with paid ministry structure of the church into the ‘community’ churches model and excel in this type of role. The majority of the congregation live locally and walk to church, which is seen as a community hub. Plenty of activities extra to Sunday services go on in the building, not all of which are necessarily primarily focussed on overt Gospel preaching. The Building can be hired out for events that are not church activities or spiritually related, increasing its use and arguably its usefulness to the local community.

I would argue that all churches should be aiming at being more community focussed. Church is not an exclusive club, it is not a clique or group, church is a movement of God, working by using His spirit, through His people. Church should be Strong at the centre, Open at the edges. Diverse and yet still united, unity is not the same as uniformity. I couldn’t put it better than Gerard Kelly in a recent post of his so I’ve included it here:

The great thing about the people God has made is this: we are all different enough to be interesting, but similar enough to connect. At heart, we are all made of the same stuff. Human experiences unite us, human concerns are common to us. And yet we are each unique. Knowing another person, when knowledge runs deeper than ‘hello’ on the station platform or ‘is this seat taken?’ adds to my total understanding of the world. Discovering the lives of others; hearing their perspectives; exploring my own assumptions through the lens of theirs: all these are enriching, empowering experiences. Which is why diversity is so important to God’s idea of church.
Saint paul, especially, draws attention to the nature of the church as unity-in-diversity. Emphasising classes and categories rather than individuals – male and female; slave and free; Jew and Gentile; Greek and Barbarian – Paul presents the church as an environment in which tribes in tension find the power to co-exist.
In this redeemed community historic enemies become fellow-travellers. But this is a salad bowl, not a melting pot. The tribes are not homogenised into a bland mush, like play-dough colours mixed once to often. Rather, they are woven together into a beautiful picture – the image of God rediscovered in the colours of the human family. In this unity identity is retained: it is the unity of the collage, not the crowd.
And Paul attributes this picture not only to his virtual notion of the universal church, but also to his actual vision of the local church: real people in real places displaying the wonder of unity-in-diversity.
All cultures.
All ages.
All classes.
All types.
Genders and generations together.
Each individual finding identity and thriving in community: this is Paul’s description of the localised ecclesia – a deposit, in each town and city, of God’s new and wondrous family. What changes might your local church need to journey from bland monochrome to glorious colour?
(Gerard Kelly)

It’s easy to say it and easy to agree with it but for me, the proof of the “pudding is in the eating”, how easy is it to live it?

That’s what drives us to live in our (what was once referred to by a church member as a ‘poky little’) house with its ‘poky little’ garden in ‘not-very-salubrious’ Old Trafford (about five years ago “two parts of Old Trafford were in the top 3% most deprived areas in the country.” [Government Index of Multiple Deprivation])

I happen to really love my ‘poky little’ house, I really love the area, I love the people, I love the community, Its my (and Kate’s) desire to see the face of Christ in everyone there and love them as Christ has loved us by being Christ to them. Sure, we could have, if we had wanted to keep more stuff for ourselves, spent our money on a bigger house or a bigger garden, a ‘nicer’ area or a new car every few years, but we feel that the way we love our community is by living with them, living like them, living simply and inexpensively, not having too much stuff just because we can afford it (we can’t anyway), giving plenty away to the various charities we give to is a much more powerful witness to Christ.
The Community round our church is generally not rich (with some exceptions I imagine), there are many, many people in Old Trafford who are quite poor and we felt that it is more God-honouring, more Christ-like to be an integral part of the community, not have flash, expensive, newest, fastest, best, latest things in the same way that many parts of our community might not be able to afford these things.
I imagine there are a few other people who also live here in our fantastic, friendly, culturally diverse, beautiful, honest and mainly joyful community that might be able to afford bigger houses or bigger gardens etc but exercise restraint and I also imagine they are more humble than me and don’t share those facts about themselves publicly!

Who is to say how our lives are going to look as the children grow up and require more space / whatever possibly. But for now, that’s what motivates our way of life which IS our outreach and our preaching.

If you see us living anything like Jesus you are seeing Jesus living through us.

The King who left perfection for poverty is satisfied to stay in our humble house in Lilian Street, and would rather drive our Focus than a Ferrari. The Miracle Man who fed five thousand sponsors children in Kenya. The Friend who forgave Peter’s betrayal has forgiven those who have hurt us. The Servant who washed his friends’ feet is taking out the rubbish and recycling and doing the dishes in our house and cleaning the church and giving away a morning each week to provide a service that probably a fair few of the local community couldn’t normally afford.

There is no good in me but Jesus. And because He is in me I do good.

Don’t think for one moment we have got it all right, but by the grace of God and the power He gives us by living in us, we are partnering with Him and trying to glorify him by what we do and how we do it.

We love where we live, I couldn’t imagine choosing anywhere else, I can’t imagine why anyone thinking of moving and wanting to be part of our (what I think is great) church congregation wouldn’t want to live here, with the rest of the amazing, wonderful people!

Maybe someone needs to let me know!

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