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When participating on the Q panel for American Ecclesiology last week, I was asked what positive and negative trends I perceive in the church. The panel was rather large and responses had to be concise. Here’s an elaboration on what I said:
Positive Church Trends:
Something very positive about current American Ecclesiology is the Post-Christendom cooperation I see everywhere. Given the decline of the church in America, the shift of the center of Global Christiantiy to Africa and Asia, the urgency of mission is upon us. Churches are reaching across denominational, theological barriers in order to engage in mission. That’s great.
Post-Christendom Cooperation – since the walls of Christian culture and ecclesiastical power (humpty-dumpty) are falling, all the kings horses and all the kings men are helping put humpty together again…but differently. It is because humpty-dumpty has fallen that we are coming together to rally in our belief that Jesus really is Lord. But the kingdom cooperation I see is not simply remedial, a product of broken walls. It is missional. In an increasingly post-Christian environment, the urgency of mission has gripped many Christians and they want to share and experience the life-renewing power of the gospel of Jesus. The urgency of mission is creating collaborative partnerships that did not exist before, but the urgency is present because Christendom has failed. The fallout is post-Christendom cooperation. We see the task as so urgent that our secondary theological and methodological differences have become, well secondary, instead of primary clearing the way for cooperation in the great task of mission.
Negative Church Trends:
Conversely, one great danger I see in American Ecclesiology is partnership, unity in mission, not in the gospel. As we respond to the great social and spiritual needs in the U.S., we are rallying under the banner of mission, not the gospel. We aren’t freshly articulating the gospel but freshly articulating methods and mission. The great danger is that we displace the gospel from the center of mission and lose its meaning and centrality altogether. Then the church history pendulum will swing from one end to the other.
Abdicating the Gospel of Mission - putting the Humpty-Dumpty of the American Church back together again is a delicate process. On the one hand, I am very glad that Humpty shattered, that the defective pieces have been exposed like: technology driven church, consumeristic church, i-church, health and wealth church, come as you are and stay as you are church, Sunday event church, impotent missionless church. All those pieces contributed to the fall, but we are scrambling to reassemble Humpty too quickly. We are rallying around mission instead of the gospel. If we continue, we will build a new Church based on missional methods, social justice, international justice, not based on teh Gospel of Jesus Christ who defeated sin, death, and evil at the cross in order to make all things new. Our sin, our death, our evil for his righteousness, his life, his glory. We are in danger of abdicating teh Gospel in the name of mission. Just read the CT interview with Rob Bell. Not much Jesus, not much gospel, but lots of justice.
Here are five characteristics or “rules of order” for a missional community taken from Frost’s Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture.
- Bless. We will bless at least one other member of our community every day.
- Eat. We will east with other members of our community at least three times a week.
- Listen. We will commit ourselves weekly to listening to the promptings of God in our lives.
- Learn. We will read from the Gospels each week and remain diligent in learning more about Jesus.
- Sent. We will see our daily life as an expression of our sent-ness by God into this world.
Here are the Four Practices we developed for our church, which are grounded in Four Gospel Principles. These principles and practices shape all our City Groups (what we call missional communities).
SHARE life and truth through stories and Scripture
PRAY for one another and the city
ENGAGE people and culture of your community with the gospel
LOVE one another by eating and exercising hospitality
Deb Hirsch, wife of missiologist Alan Hirsch, recently gave a talk on Seven Obstacles to Engaging in Mission at an Organic Church conference.
I recently met up with some other Acts 29 guys.to discuss the new A29 regional events intended to help equip church planters of all stripes. The spirit behind these events is remarkably kingdom-centered, with established churches aiming to listen to planters (to resource them), and planters eagerly learning from seasoned leaders and planters. A particluar strength of the upcoming regional events are the practical workshops, which cover things like establishing financial systems, spiritual formation, and courage in planting.
Friend and fellow planter, Jacob Vanhorn, provides more info on the regionals here.
My earlier critique of Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, was incomplete and imbalanced. Though there is too much self-coined jargon to wade through, making it a frustrating read, after the first half of the book there are some real gems. So while my earlier praise and critique stand, Hirsch is due more praise, especially from a church planter’s perspective.
The chapter on “Organic Systems” is very helpful. He nicely sets traditional churches in contrast to organic churches:
Planting a new church, or remissionalizing an existing one, in this approach isn’t primarily about buildings, worship services, size of congregations, and pastoral care, but rather about gearing the whole community around natural discipling friendships, worship as lifestyle, and mission in the context of everyday life. (p. 185)
Hirsch then proceeds to lay a theological foundation for why Organic, which is primarily rooted in allusions to the biblical doctrine of creation, especially as it pertains to the church. Noting organic metaphors such as living temples, vines, bodies, seeds, trees, etc. he argues that this imagery is not haphazard but latent with are intrinsically related to the essence of the church (180). Next, he rightly tethers this creation imagery to the triune Creator noting that “an organic image of church and mission is theologically richer by far than any mechanistic and institutional conceptions of church we might devise” (181).
After laying this foundation for Organic church, Hirsch develops insights based on his research and reflection on the nature and function of organic systems. I will briefly list them here: 1) Innate intelligence: trust the organic nature of the church 2) Life is interconnected: follow this impulse in community 3) Information brings change: free and guided information flow is vital to growth. 4) Adaptive change: constantly adapt and react to your environment.
In turn, he advocates building relational networks that have “viruslike growth.” More to come…
My church planting coach, Mark Moore, recently recommended the following books (w/disclaimer that he doesnt agree with everything in them). I’ve read a couple and now have more to read! I’ve linked a couple to personal blog reflections/reviews.
The Shaping of Things to Come (Frost, Hirsch)
The Forgotten Ways (Hirsch)
Radical Renewal (Snyder)
Houses that Change the World (Simson)
Organic Church (Cole)