Neil Cole offers a brief, biting reflection on how service in the local church is killing her. This is one of the reasons I appreciate his writing and ministry:
We ask for volunteers all the time. We offer spiritual-gift assessments to see where people fit best in our program, but we never really offer very challenging experiences for people. Handing out bulletins, directing traffic wearing a bright orange vest, chaperoning a youth function, or changing a diaper in the nursery may be helpful for the church program, but none of it is a task worth giving your life to. Many who struggle to do these things have a nagging unspoken question: “Did Jesus come so I can do this?”
We must transition from seeing church as a once-a-week worship event to an ongoing spiritual family on mission together. Then people will see church as something worth giving your life for. Honestly, people need one another more then they need another inspiring message. You would be surprised what people will do for Jesus, or for a brother or sister, that they will not do for a vision statement and a capital giving campaign.
How are you connecting the church to the church? Are your inspiring messages creating a church that lives in community and mission? Are you pseudomissional or gospel missional?
Austin City Life has been planted with the conviction that in order for our community to “be the church to the church and the church to the world” we must live in the tension of mission and community. As a very new church plant, we have felt this tension from the beginning. At times I could feel the need for more connectivity, prayer, and sharing. Other times I could sense the decline in missional passion and practice. Instead of creating two meetings, one for community and one for mission, I shared the tension I felt with the group but told them that I thought the best thing to do was to live in the tension of imperfect community and mission, not to resolve it. As a result, core team meetings eventually became a hybrid of community and mission (though there were several months of organic community before official core team meetings). Some nights we would connect relationally other nights we wouldn’t. Some nights we strategized mission for two hours with very little interpersonal connection. However, both forms of core team meetings afforded us the opportunity to develop and experience missional ecclesiology, to understand and experience what God has called us to as a church: Jesus-centered, missional community.
Now that our church has moved beyond core team meetings and into structured, organic growth we have launched our City Groups: local, urban missional communities that share life and truth and redemptively engage people and culture. City groups are geographically-based, inter-generational communities of Christians and non-Christians that gather together weekly to share food, discussion, and mission. Each CG develops a Social Strategic Partnership (SSP) with an area organization, i.e. Capitol Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House, in order to bring the whole gospel to the whole city.
City Groups face the same tension of community and mission as our core team did. It is up to the me and the City Group leaders to learn how to shepherd others through this tension. One way we deal with it is thru our current CG material. I have written an eight week study called The Story of Scripture and Our Place in It, which is intended to acquaint those old and new to the faith with the basic plotline of the Bible: Creation/Fall/Redemption/New Creation. The material is largely discussion-driven, tapping into the felt needs such as sense of brokenness (Fall), longings for justice (New Creation) and so on in order to show that God in the Word offers us a world and life that fulfills and surpasses what we all long for. So, the material is both missional and communal in theme. It’s like we are constantly reinforcing the mission-community tension. Some groups are more missional than others and others more communal than others, but we don’t expect perfection; we expect tension. However, this tension can be peaceful; if embraced from the position of our acceptance and salvation in the gospel of Christ. So, we keep coming back to Jesus…for forgiveness, direction, community, grace. It’s an imperfect model that is in desperate need of a perfect Savior.
Deb Hirsch, wife of missiologist Alan Hirsch, recently gave a talk on Seven Obstacles to Engaging in Mission at an Organic Church conference.
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…