Tag: spirit-led ecclesiology

Organic Church?: Models and Methods of Planting

There are a variety of models for church planting that have proven effective. Church Planting Village lists five main models:

  • Program-driven
  • Purpose-driven
  • Relationship-based
  • Seeker-sensitive
  • Ministry-based.

Ed Stetzer includes all but the Program-driven model, but notes that only 19% of planters (among Baptists) actually identify themselves with a model. My guess is that this low percentage is a product of post-modern scorn of models, as well as ignorance regarding models. Whether you like it or not, your church plant methodology will put you in the orbit of some kind of model.

Relationship-driven Models

Relationship-driven models are on the rise and include House, Cell, and Missional Community churches. Because of their relational emphasis, these churches are typically drawn to the more Organic method of church planting. Early in our core team phase, Austin City Life was thinking organically but still held onto “the Launch” as a part of our methodology. Most Organic churches jettison “the launch” in favor of a people-focused ecclesiology. We did just that, but the reason was more Spirit-led than “organic”. I’ll take a stab an explaining what I see as the difference between Organic and Spirit-led church.

Organic Church

As I see it, there are two main types of Organic Churches:

  1. Unintentional Organic: clueless organic church planting because you like stuff that is different. A kind of “wherever it grows” attitude.
  2. Intentionally Organic: informed organic church planting that builds structural lattice for the plant of church to grow on. Relies on gospel soil, relational stalk, and thoughtful structure.

Although we certainly appreciate #2 more than #1, we have sought to cultivate a Spirit-led organic church, which fosters slightly different growth. I’m not saying that the Spirit is absent from the approaches above, so bear with me. The Spirit-led church places its emphasis on relationship/community underneath its reliance on the Holy Spirit to grow and mature a missional church. Spirit first, community second, not community first, Spirit as an holy nod.

Spirit-led Church

The more I learn about being a Spirit-led community, the more I realize I have to learn about what it means to follow the Spirit, not just the organic growth of spiritual disciples. Craig Van Gelder defines the church as: a people of God who are created by the Spirit to live as a missionary community.” For Van Gelder and for us, Spirit-led is more than a nod; it animates decision-making, structure, organization, community, and mission. Van Gelder lays out his theoretical ecclesiology in Essence of the Church and a functional ecclesiology in The Ministry of the Missional Church.

One of the strengths of being a Spirit-led church is the emphasis on church as our identity, not our responsibility; its nature over its function. We need to plant and grow churches based, not on function (organic or otherwise), but on natureSpirit-led missionary communities. On this Van Gelder writes: “Failing to understand the nature of the church can lead to a number of problems. Defining the church functionally—in terms of what it does—can shift our perspective away from understanding the church as a unique community of God’s people.”

Our models and methods should be determined from our ecclesiology, not form our ecclesiology. This is why I make a distinction between theoretical and functional ecclesiology. Others would call the latter a Philosophy of Ministry. Whatever you call it, you models and methods should be primarily governed by the Holy Spirit and a biblical understanding of the nature of the church. In my next post, I’ll try to unpack and illustrate this from our own experiences.

Partners Class – I

Taught our first Partners Class last night. Here is an overview and an outline of the class. Before jumping into things I shared three reasons why we are having a Partners Class. Then, inbetween coffee and brownies in the Schwedland’s living room, we all went around and shared something that has shaped our story and how we got connected with Austin City Life. That was the best part.

Why A Partners Class?

1. Why Partners not Members? Some churches do members classes; we have a Partners Class. There are some really good members classes out there, but there are also a lot of jacked up ideas of what it means to be a member of a church, especially for de-churched or unchurched people. So, we decided to go with “Partners class” to clearly communicate that the church is a partnership of Spirit-led disciples who follow Jesus. The church isn’t a country club bound by exclusive membership; it’s a missional community bound together by the gospel. Everyone is invited to be a partner. It’s about responsible partnership, not exclusive relationships.

2. Three Reasons for a Partners Class

o Cultivate Community: lets us get to know one another more intimately, ask questions. It also allows us to shepherd you more effectively, so you aren’t just some random person in a seat (1 Tim 5:9; 2 Cor 2:6-7).

o Clarify the Gospel: allows us to communicate clearly the gospel of Christ and what we consider essential and non-essential doctrines of the church.

o Communicate Mission: fosters sense of mission through ACL vision and explore how you can fit into that mission.

3. What to expect: In addition to Gospel, Community, & Mission, we will:

o Share the History and Vision of Austin City Life.

o Upon completion of the class we will not issue certificates. We will ask that your City Group Leader indicate your participation in the life and mission of your community. Your participation is evidence that you are, indeed, a partner in our mission.

Regrounding Ecclesiology in the Spirit

With all the pop ecclesiology floating around, I’ve begun to dig a little deeper for more biblically grounded, historically informed, theologically reflective ecclesiology. It seems like there is a new book every day that is going reform church, make it more successful, relevant, early churchish. It is remarkable how few of these books exegete biblical texts, dialogue honestly with church history, and reflect theologically. How many of them ask the really hard and helpful questions like:

  • When did the Church start and how should that affect the way we are the church?
  • How should the East/West division of the Church affect our understanding and practice of Christian unity and mission?
  • How should the Old Testament shape our practice of church?
  • What can we learn from the medieval Church besides pope-bashing?
  • What is God trying to teach the Church with the shift of the center of Global Christianity from the West to the East, from the North to the South?

The Church didn’t start with Jesus, though he did speak of the Church. It didn’t even start with the twelve disciples, though they were an integral part. The church started with the Holy Spirit, yeah Pentecost, the most understated event in the non-charismatic Evangelical world. One look at the Evangelical Church and you would think that the Church started with Jesus. To be sure, he is the Head of the Body that is the Church, but he did not bring about the new creation; that was and is the work of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is the starting place of the Church, what would it look like for churches to be planted, not by books, manuals, bootcamps, or methods but by the leading of the Holy Spirit? What if churches decided not to “launch” because they were listening to the Spirit? What if they refused to build because they were listening to the Spirit? What if they paid no pastors? What if they built schools instead of Christian Life Centers? What if they became so united that cities were renewed and disputes were resolved? What if we planted churches by actively relying on the Holy Spirit?

There are many helpful answers to the five questions above, but interestingly, one answer they all share is the Holy Spirit. The Church started and should continue with the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons for the East/West division of the church was over the filoque clause in which the Western Church subordinated the Holy Spirit. The direct result was division not unity. A biblical theology of the church reveals that the Spirit worked in creation and the people of God throughout the Old Testament to bear witness to the coming messiah and his kingdom, of which the church is a part. Most churches today ignore or moralize the OT. The medieval church demostrated that identifying the Church with land eviscerated it of its life, marginalized the Spirit, and promoted greed and politicization of the gospel. The Western church has become known for territorialism, greed, and politics. The leading denominations of the majority Church of the non-Western world are charismatic, Spirit-led churches. If we are to reground our ecclesiology in Bible, History and Theology, it would serve us well to begin with the Holy Spirit.