It’s a Church…Honest!

I thought I’d transcribe and share a recent conversation with an elder saint:

Her: So are you starting an actual church in Ajax?

Me: Yes!

Her: Where are you based, do you have a building?

Me: No, we..

Her [Interrupting]: So are you preaching on the streets?

Me: No, we’re starting with the mobile app for commuters that I mentioned, that will…

Her [Interrupting Again]: Oh, so you have church in a big truck, then?

Me: No.  We’ve developed a way for people to get help with life, and learn about  Jesus, on their phones while they commute.

Her: Oh, I see.  So will you be starting a church, then?

Me: Yes, as people learn about Jesus we will help them form groups, and…

Her [Interrupting yet again]: Yes, but will you be bringing them here for church?

Me: No, they’ll become their own church over time.

Her: So will you ever be starting a traditional church?

Me: No.  [Shaking and Weeping Silently]

This reminded me of the hilarious “It’s a Book“…you can see why in this short trailer for the book:

Draw whatever conclusions about communication, assumptions, etc. that you like.  I’ll be in my truck.


Photo Some rights reserved by lonelysandwich

Priorities – Part 2 of 2

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on the language of priorities and its implications for discipleship…

We would do well to remember the importance of keeping priorities in order for church planting. It’s so easy to focus on church attendance. What kind of service should we have, where, when, and for who? How will people learn about Jesus when they come to church events and services? But this is a spoke.

Worse, if we expect services and events to be the first point of contact for the average family or individual, we underestimate the importance of priorities.  Those who attend church don’t do it by accident, or for lack of other options.  They do it because it takes priority over cutting the grass, sleeping in, and so on.

The problem is this: if Sunday morning is the church’s only, or even primary way of communicating the gospel to a hurting world, we are in trouble. Those who hear it will be the minority in our culture who already prioritize Christian worship, or who happen to have been invited to reorder their priorities for a day.

What we need to do is help people encounter the all-transforming power of the gospel – that reprioritizes everything in our lives.  Yes, Sunday morning routines, but also our activities, time, money, careers, sexuality, family, and more.

We are made to be transformed by the gospel, not to transform in order to hear it in the first place!

Priorities – Part 1 of 2

I have been thinking about discipleship and the language of priorities. Ajax is a bedroom community, with a vast majority of working adults commuting. Many commute and work long hours, and long for more time at home and at play. Many say they want to reprioritize their time or money, or some part of life, but feel stuck. What can change? A new job, a home closer to work, an earlier commute to avoid traffic? Each has consequences for all the other priorities.

This is like trying to reorganize the spokes on a wonky bicycle wheel – align one and others are simply thrown out of alignment as a result. The hub is a better place to start – make sure it is in order, and then align the spokes from it.

Unfortunately our tendency in life is to worry about the spokes, and forget to pay attention to the hub. When life is out of balance, we start wondering which spoke needs to be longer, shorter, straightened or whatever. If we do, we miss the point that a relationship with God, was always meant to be at the center of life, and when that hub is missing, there is no hope that the spokes will ever work out.

Followers of Jesus are people who are paying attention to the hub, and have invited God to take his rightful place at the center of a life once again, and to allow him to reprioritize, reshape and transform the rest of life.

More tomorrow on the implications for church planting…

Exponential – Michael Frost

At Exponential 2011, Michael Frost was by far the highlight for me, and this year was no different!  Coming from Australia, Frost’s context has some obvious parallels to post-Christendom Canada.  It’s entertaining to listen as Frost describes the missional context I know and love, and to watch the shocked faces of his American audience.  He speaks to them, and us, prophetically.

I heard Frost at a special event hosted at the House of Blues by the Newthing network, but he spoke again at the conference’s last main session.  Both were, to be honest, a cathartic experience, as he simply told the stories of Jesus.  He is a gripping, engaging storyteller.

At the evening Newthing event, he spoke about how Christianity in America has really been reduced to clichés – “Jesus died for your sins.”  The statement is true, but meaningless or tuned out by those who’ve heard the same line over and over again, and there is a wealth of material in scripture that we should use.  He encouraged us to retell the stories of Jesus – and so he told the story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at a well in a way that inspired and challenged.

A Coracle

At his main session, he shared the story of celtic monks by contrasting their cloistered life in a cell, and their being sent out as missionaries in tiny boats called coracles.  There were aspects of their ministry that were both gathered and scattered, inward and outward, discipline and action, sifted and sent.  He noted that this way of life is found through a few scripture passages, but I particularly saw it expressed in 1 Peter and James 1:27.  I thought this image of the cell and coracle was a great framework for thinking about the connection between discipleship and mission.

Exponential – Change Management in Churches with Auxano

I also attended a workshop by Auxano, a church consulting firm who love diagrams!

The workshop was described as:

God has a better future for you and your ministry. But for too long church leaders have cooked with one recipe of success that can be labeled, “more of the same, the same way.” Unfortunately, fewer people are interested in “church as usual.” And now, with ever increasing cultural changes from social media and technology to post-Christian values and the economy, the church must be ready to adapt and innovate. But how do you rethink your basic recipe of ministry? How do begin to discover stunningly new possibilities for your church? In Four Paths to the Future, will provide a foundational perspective to guide every other conversation about church strategy and vision.

They presented a lot of change management ideas.  For example, in the above image, they drew a matrix of desired results, and models used.  In my case, I long to see new disciples made (a new thing) in a new way (a new model).  That means we are creating – not to be confused with infusing a new mission into an existing model, maximizing an existing model and mission, or adapting an existing mission to fit in a new model.

They spoke at length about the danger of measuring results using the same measure as our input – an “input result only” system.  If we put our efforts into increasing attendance, even with success, that will be our result – increased attendance.  But in churchland, that is never meant to be and end to itself!  Our impact is meant to be world-changing, life-changing as people learn to follow Jesus!  That means we need to reconsider input – how do we invest our time, money, people, etc. to support that output, rather than spinning our wheels focusing on secondary matters?  They said the challenge, of course, is that input results are easy to measure, pay the rent, and provide easy validation, even though they are not our goal.

Finally, they suggested that three models exist for change in church today.  More is more is the first, and the best example is Willow Creek’s attempt to be seeker-sensitive in the last few decades.  The theory was that by having the best of everything at a church service, people would move from to “churchspace” from the rest of “lifespace”.

The second says “Less is more” and the best example is Thom Rainer’s book, Simple Church.  The idea here is that if the church can simplify its structures and programs, it can make space for intentional outreach into the community that connects those outside churchspace with those inside.

The third model says “To be is more” and is the emerging missional model.  In this model, the boundaries between churchspace and lifespace are porous, as the gospel is take into every part of life.  This is, of course, the model I favour 🙂

Having studied engineering, and being a system kind of thinker, this material appeals to me – and everyone loves a good diagram!

We were invited to draw a system diagram like the ones above, for our own church.  I know with reconnect, I once drew this one:

The idea was that a relationship with God, through Christ and his action on the cross alone, was at the center – it was the point.  Our church had three ways of interaction with three communities – missional communities for serving needs based around food and nature for those with absolutely no church connection, our Sunday night community for community building, basic discipleship and worship with those having a past church connection looking to try again, and small groups for discipleship of our members who want to go deep.  We could envision the path people might follow toward a vital relationship with God through these different circles.

I’m still working out what I’d draw for Redeemer Church.  What would your church’s diagram look like?  Why?

Introverted Church Planters?

Do you need to be extroverted to plant a church?  It would appear to be so – you might envision a dynamic, charismatic and outgoing personality who single-handedly meets, charms and recruits new people to the church.  Okay, I exaggerate a little.  But I’m an introvert, and some people have asked this very question!  I read about a church plant in Durham region almost 50 years ago where the planter visited 1200 families, and recruited enough to build a church.  Church planting certainly used to be done this way – is it still?

Introverts are often misunderstood.  They are not anti-social, but simply find social interaction takes an input of energy, and needs to be balanced with “recharging” time.  Extroverts, on the other hand, may find social interaction gives them energy, and allows them to recharge from the draining experience of doing solitary, introspective or otherwise focused work.  Those are the definitions I have heard most.

Both types have effective interactions with others, they are simply experiencing the event differently.  An extrovert may have many superficial contacts, but struggle to go deeper in friendship, while an introvert may have few contacts, but is able to focus on the depth of that relationship more easily.

I would propose personality style is of limited importance to planting a church, particularly in a post-Christendom culture.  If new churches rely on one leader to form relationships through their own giftedness, they will never grow beyond a few dozen people – an extrovert, no matter how charismatic, can only encounter and maintain relationships with so many people, much less form them into a Christian community.  That’s hard for everyone – it pushes both introverts and extroverts to rely not on their personality traits, but to rely on God himself to do something bigger, greater and more impactful.  And in today’s post-Christendom context, it’s crucial, because this is about people becoming followers of Jesus in the first place, not simply gathering existing disciples together.  It takes time, depth of relationship, and life together – something that pushes both introverts and extroverts outside their comfort zones, and into God’s arms.

What a church planter, whether introverted or extroverted, must do is build equip others to be serving needs, forming community and making disciples wherever they are – at home, at work, at school, etc.  The aim is to join and participate in a movement, of followers of Jesus around the world, that grows and multiplies beyond the capacities of any one individual.

What is a Fresh Expression of (Anglican) Church?

When people hear I’m planting an Anglican church, they either imagine the form of Anglicanism most familiar to them being transplanted into a new community, or they imagine something quite opposite, designed to be as unAnglican, or unChristian as possible. It’s all the more complicated when planting with a historic denomination and all its complicated history. One person with little appreciation for Anglicanism asked me this week – are you planting a church, or an Anglican church?

In fact, my aim is to plant a fresh expression of church, for young commuting families in Ajax. Not a copy of an older expression of church, or an anti-church, but a fresh way of living out something quite old – simply being church in a new culture and context.

Are you planting a church?

I was recently given a copy of an Encounters on the Edge booklet that had some great material. It was their 50th booklet in the series, looking back at how fresh expressions of church have developed in the time spanned by the booklet series.

The most valuable material was the section describing what can be legitimately called a fresh expression of church. I have always referred to this definition, myself:

A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.

  • It will come into being through principles of listening, service, contextual mission and making disciples.
  • It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.

Source: Share the Guide

It’s an intentionally charitable definition, which is both a good thing, and a bad thing. It’s good, in that it creates space for creativity within important constraints. It’s not so good, in that I’ve found people freely using “fresh expression” to describe all sorts of things that don’t make sense.

What I found helpful in this new booklet was the list of criteria the Sheffield Centre use to identify what to list in their database of Anglican fresh expressions. They are:

  1. Was something Christian brought to birth that was new and further, rather than an existing group modified?
  2. The starting group tried to engage with non-churchgoers.
  3. Does the resultant community meet at least once a month?
  4. Is there a name that gives an identity?
  5. Is there intention to be Church?
  6. Is it intended to be Anglican, or there is an Anglican partner in an LEP Local Ecumenical Partnership?
  7. There is some form of leadership recognised within, and also without.
  8. At least the majority of members (who are part of the public gathering) see it as their major expression of being church.
  9. There is aspiration for the four classic ‘marks’ or ecclesial relationships: up (holy) in (one) out (apostolic), of (catholicity).
  10. There is intent to become three-self: self-financing, self-governing and reproducing

Source: A Golden Opportunity

I think this resonates because they match my experience of planting reconnect. We intuitively began with, and remained committed to all these principles in one form or another from Day 1, even when they were misunderstood or challenged. I’ve never seen them articulated in one place like this, but this describes exactly what we were going for, so it’s affirming!

Are you planting an Anglican Church?

The author elaborates on each point, so it’s hardly fair to just list them here. I’d encourage you to buy the booklet! But I particularly appreciated a few points on Anglicanism, Under #6.

By Anglican, we mean the bishop thinks it is part of the family, not whether it uses only centrally agreed texts, or has legal territory. We know there are genuine fresh expressions of Church in many denominations. Our work deals only with Anglican examples.

Source: A Golden Opportunity

That’s really helpful! It’s easy to mistake Anglicanism for a liturgical text, form, music, buildings, theological fads, traditions, etc. It fits with my Archbishop’s use of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral when asked “What makes a church Anglican?”. The four points of the quadrilateral are:

  1. The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation;
  2. The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), as the sufficient statement of Christian faith;
  3. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
  4. The historic episcopate, locally adapted.
The fourth point relates to my booklet’s assertion that something is Anglican if it’s recognized by a Bishop as being part of the Anglican family. Nothing about liturgical style, texts, theological fads, etc.  This point about the episcopate seems to be the only point that distinguishes Anglicanism from other denominations – the other three points simply make it a Christian church!
As you can see – there is a lot of space for fresh expressions of church, articulated in these definitions, and soon to be lived out in a new church in Ajax!