Thursday, March 29, 2007

The DNA of The Church

This week, Neil Cole from Church Multiplication Associates in California, has been visiting Austin to speak at Rez Week on UT campus. On Tuesday lunchtime he met with various pastors in the city and then last night he met with group of house/simple church people at the home of Tony & Felicity Dale. I was at both of these gatherings and wanted to share some of what was communicated, along with some of my initial thoughts upon its significance or relevance for what we are doing at BridgePoint. I know some would have attended if possible, but were unable to do so - hopefully this will give you a sense of his message. For any who were also there, or those just reading this, please feel free to add your own comments for the rest of us.

Some of you will already be familiar with what I share because you have read 'Organic Church' or have been involved in a Life Transformation Partnership/Group.

"Freely you have received, freely give", this is the charge given to the Church, and Neil illustrated this using the trailer for the movie "Pay it Forward" (good book/movie). I found myself thinking about Mother Theresa's words, 'simple acts of kindness, done with great love, will change the world'. Reproduction of life begins with the micro (cell multiplication) not the macro (large churches) - do we have a strategy or vision that expects multiplication of the life of God within us?

Church Multiplication is NOT:-

1) Planting without multi-generational reproduction (as in 2 Tim 2:2)

2) Assimilating disaffected believers from other churches

3) Central organisation that starts new churches

Church multiplication MUST BE:-

1) Self-perpetuating

2) Self-propagating

This is why the Simple Church model is key to a Church Multiplication Movement.

Required DNA for Multiplication

ivine truth : Nurturing relationships : Apostolic mission
A church is evaluated by the quality of its disciple, God has placed the necessary spiritual DNA into every believer. The role of the 5-fold ministries (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher) is to equip the saints (all believers) as well as do the ministry themselves (they are also saints).
(As an aside, please check out an insightful article on apostolic ministry by clicking here)

Neil contrasted the notion of 'Community' with that of 'Communitas' ... what makes us communitas is that we are on mission together, under pressure, an environment in which something get forged, a kind of kinship (not unlike the image of a 'Band of Brothers' in a warfare situation). Without mission there is no communitas (Philipp. 1:27-28)

We all need to maintain a healthy DNA in our lives - personally and as community;
1) hearing the word of God consistently
2) being a part of accountable, intimate relationships
3) prayer for and engagement with people currently outside of Christ

Neil identified different size groupings that were all necessary, that provided different spans of relationships and for which we needed appropriate 'systems';

2-3 LTPs
12-15 Simple Church
70-75 Regional Leadership Equipping
102-150 Network of Churches

The same DNA needs to be present and active at each of these levels

Jesus never tells us in the Scriptures to go and plant churches (though that is often the strategy). Rather he tells us to go and make disciples, that is our starting point. Disciples can become leaders who can facilitate churches and can become movements. To try to start a church often means we are scratching around for leaders, because we are not discipling people.

We need to see every believer empowered and released (image of being knighted in the movie Kingdom of Heaven). Leaders are often the bottlenecks - need to stop enabling this kind of dysfunctional dependency/relationship. Once a particular person is needed at any of the above groupings, then it becomes very difficult to multiply and reproduce. What is ultimately needed is Jesus, expressed through people who trust in him. This is practised by Jesus in the gospels - see Luke 10 and Matthew 10.

For this to become a reality, we need a 'healthy' theology of DEATH;

Die daily : Empower others : Accept risk as normative : Theology in pratice : Hold on to Christ, all else with open hands

rather than a theology that is SAFE;

Self preservation : Avoidance of the world/risk = wisdom : Financial security driven : Education = maturity

So, what do we make of all this?

Firstly, do not get preoccupied with particular form or structure. Neil did talk a little about how they are working this out, to give examples. The more important thing is to grasp the principles being presented and to ask, 'are these important for us?' What is the Lord saying to us and what do we need to take away from this and explore together? Here's what impacted me and stirred my heart;

1) Every believer is called by God to play a part in the "Missio Dei", God's mission in the world. Yet the general trend today in the church is that few truly are. The fruit of this is that in every county in the USA, we are losing ground in terms of the proportion of people being followers of Jesus Christ. So, how can we buck the trend, be obedient to the Lord, and become a worker in God's harvest field?

2) Am I devoting myself to making disciples, by investing in some key relationships and sharing my life in Christ in such a way that they grow in their life of faith and experience a deeper relationship with the Lord? This of course, calls for an authentic relationship with Christ myself. I can only 'multiply' what I already have though by God's grace, my desire is to lead people to a greater dependence upon Christ so that they go beyond my level of maturity.

3) I was especially impacted by the distinction between community and communitas. What truly binds us together and builds something among is, is a commitment to work together in mission, to be prepared to be stretched by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of fellow believers.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

City Transformation

On Monday of this week I was among a small group of people who had lunch with George Otis, Jr. He has been instrumental in documenting through the 'Transformation Videos', incidences of extraordinary spiritual transformation of diverse communities around the world. You can read more here.

George was saying how they continue to be inundated with reports of God working in ways that parallel the accounts we read in Exodus and Acts in the Bible. God is always working, Jesus reminds us, and the Sentinel Group see it as part of their mandate to "tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom." [Psalm 145:11-12] As I listened, I again recognized the desire and longing in my own heart that we would witness such a move of God among us here in Central Texas. As I write this, I am reminded of the prayer of the prophet Habakkuk, "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time (and city!) make them known; in wrath remember mercy." [Hab 3:2]

But what will it take, what are the conditions that enable God to move in such revival power among his people. We are generally familiar with them ... prayer, humility, unity, holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy. It is not because of a lack of knowledge or understanding here in the West. Rather, as George reminded us, it is a matter of hunger. What are we truly hungry for, what do we devote ourselves to ... our time, our money, our dreams, our families? Unfortunately, among the majority of believers, the manifest presence and glory of God are not at the top of the list.

Everything belongs to the Lord, is desire and intent is to fill the whole earth with his glory. He desires to dwell among his people and make himself known to them. So it is not a question of God's unwillingness to act or to give. Rather the issue is with us. The issue is with me - will I settle for something less than God's best, or will I devote myself to the pursuit of God and his Kingdom. Will I simplify my life, will I remove the 'excess baggage', will I give myself wholeheartedly to his work and his call upon me. 'Lord, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, help me in my weakness'.

I know I cannot do this alone, I do not trust myself. I need others with me on the journey, men who will pray for me, push me, carry me when necessary. I am blessed to be part of the community of BridgePoint, blessed beyond words. But let us not stop short of the Promised Land, let us know settle for the land east of the Jordan because it looks attractive. Let us believe for a great work of God among us, and the fulfillment of his word for our lives together.

Pressing on towards the goal,


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What does it mean to love one another?

"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love ... do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."" [Galatians 5:6b,13b-14]

In these words, Paul gets to the heart of the purpose of the Gospel, and Christ's liberating work through the cross and his subsequent resurrection. The goal is love, because as John, the 'apostle of love' reminds us, "God is love." Recently, I was having dinner with a group of our home church leaders and much of the discussion centered upon the characteristics of authentic community, and how we might attain to such a notion in our fast-paced culture. The same wise insight we see in the Scriptures was laid before us as someone commented, 'You can never have true community until there is a commitment to love one another'. For me, it brought to mind some other challenging words of the Apostle John, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." [1 John 3:16]

So that got me thinking this week about different characteristics of this kind of love and what it should look like. I wanted to share just one of these with you this week ... others may come later, and I also invite you into the 'discussion' (by replying to this posting). The characteristic that has been on my heart is UNITY (not uniformity!) Paul suggests in Philipp. 2:2 a connection between the love of Christ (which we are to reflect) and 'being one in spirit and purpose'. Unity in the body was always a high value for Paul - whenever that is being challenged he comes out fighting.

When different factions in the church in Corinth started to rally around different personalities (Paul, Apollos, Peter, Christ), his response is swift. "Is Christ divided?" Nothing less than perfect unity is to be settled for in Paul's thinking. Yet sadly the history of the Church down through the ages, has been one of bitter division and in-fighting. Even our labels today betray a similar following of personalities under a different guise ... Lutherans (Luther), Methodists (John Wesley), Pentecostals (the Spirit), Presbyterians (John Calvin), Anglicans (Henry VIII/Prayer Book), Catholics (the Pope), the list goes on.

However, the Spirit of God is still graciously working in the hearts of all those who truly belong to Christ, and that is the ultimate loyalty of the Christian. Our devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ overrides any devotion a particular denomination or nation for that matter. The kingdom of God transcends all these man-made structures. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [Gal 3:28] I love the way that our simple model of church reduces the emphasis upon denominational labels or practices. It is not that these are irrelevant, just secondary. If I see my identity in being Anglican, or even belonging to BridgePoint, rather than in being "in Christ", then by definition I am advocating division at the very least in my own mind, if not in my lifestyle.

We belong to Christ ... and we belong to one another, not just because we attend the same fellowship, but because we have been baptized into Christ. We only have true life in him, and in connection with his body. We must find connection with the body - those with whom we commit to work out our salvation by laying down our lives for one another, in love. We must also seek ways to promote unity within the wider Church in Austin, all those who truly follow Jesus as Lord. So I encourage you to use your freedom to serve one another in love, get connected, open your heart to one another, preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace and let this be a testimony to the world that Jesus lives and reigns .... in US!

Grace, mercy and peace.