Here in the West, we think of church as “gathered.” No doubt, you must gather to accomplish some of the “one anothers” and other functions of church (as the body of Christ). But what we generally fail to recognize is how much our cultural individuality impacts how we understand “gathered.” We often overlook the household language of scripture.
The gospel was planted into existing households.
Church was not primarily isolated believers who come together to act like a quasi-family. The gospel took root in the families, friends and employees that were 1st Century Roman households. It is not that church took the household structure.
Because we start from an individualistic bias, we miss this. Because we start from an individualistic bias, our strategies and tactics are often damaging to households, and thus extractional. Yes, there are times when some members of a family will come to trust in Jesus and others will reject them because of that, but Disciple Making Movements want that whole household to hear the gospel, interact with the gospel and not make their decision just because they incorrectly view the gospel as a Western oppressive intrusion.
This is why we evaluate our approaches to insure that they can be reproduced within any existing culture that highly values close-knit, multi-generational families. This is why we work to disciple the whole household to faith. The last thing we want is for the household to feel like Christian families do when one of their children converts to the Moonies or another cult–“they kidnapped and brain-washed” her/him.
Too much of the church planting talk is about gathering unconnected individuals and trying to get them to act like family. Real movements come when the gospel is being planted into existing family/friendship structures where people are discipled to trust and obey Jesus.
[NOTE: I originally wrote this as a comment on an article by Felicity Dale (http://simplychurch.com/on-cpms-and-dmms/). She moved it and a couple of other comments to her main page and there has been some interesting dialogue there. I decided to re-post it here on my site so that my networks could interact with it, also. You probably ought to check out the other dialogue.]
No, I am not suggesting anyone else has to open a non-profit coffee shop (while I am also not opposed to you doing that, but if you do, let me connect you with Rob so you can benefit from his experience). I am telling you this true story to illustrate that “first steps” are going to be greatly impacted by where you are on the journey to making disciple-making disciples (true replication).
While we say we don’t, most of us really want the ease of a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. We don’t want to spend the time getting to know a coach/mentor who will ask a gazillion questions about what we are already doing in order to answer the question, “What are the first steps I ought to take to reach this God-sized vision and overcome my dissatisfaction by pressing through the resistance I am already facing?”
In our heart of hearts, we know that canned answers will not work. But we also know that change is going to mess with our lives. That is why we stay in dead-end jobs. That is why many stay unhappy in their marriages–the work of change will be demanding. We dance the dance we dance because we won’t do the hard work of learning a new dance and doing it long enough that it becomes our new norm, our new default.
Our default evangelistic strategies, developed to reach individualists, isolate people from their existing affinity groups (family and/or friends). Perpetuating them will contribute to extraction and undermine any true movement potential! We have seen the enemy and he is us.
Too much work has gone into making The Well different to tack on traditional missional strategies. Our post-Enlightenment young adults are wary of the communitylessness of my generation. They want authentic community. Those who are disciples want to discover ways to plant, water and harvest the gospel within their affinity groups, wherever possible, rather than ditching them for surface-level small groups which are not authentic. They go to third spaces looking for something meaningful
I continue to worship with Stones River. They also insisted I continue to serve as one of the six shepherds (“elders” sounds old and within our fellowship these groups tend to focus too much on things deacons should do and no one focuses on spiritual leadership, so we decided a name change might remind us and the members of our family that we are attempting to have a different focus). While I gather with Stones River, when I am in town, I travel a fair amount internationally and domestically. These are the times when it is hard staying in the loop, but I have a deep trust of the other men with whom I serve. Nine out of the next ten weeks I will miss our Sunday gathering, but I will be able to participate in the Monday evening shepherds meetings.
Starting next Sunday, I will be driving about forty miles to do some training at another church. Some of their folks have opened a non-profit coffee shop as an intentional outreach. The business was deliberately organized as a fund-raising mechanism for water projects in third-world nations. The name is appropriately, The Well.
Recently, they launched three Sunday evening worship experiences that happen in one side of the coffee house. They have met eight people who have expressed some interest in further spiritual discussions. But how do these caring Christians conduct these conversations in ways that are non-manipulative and hold the greatest hope of bearing spiritual fruit. They hope Discovery Groups will be helpful.
Before they can assist you, you must remodel, retool, and/or retrain near neighbors. They intuitively realize that what they already know to do will not succeed. Doing it harder, faster or in greater quantities will only produce reprisals. Getting Christians to reach out to the unengaged is a demanding work. Just telling them they “ought to” will not produce positive change. If that is all you have–don’t!
Realize you are going to have to remodel this house, while you live in it. You must be a part of this church, or you will not change it. Sure, you can pick up some of the malcontents who have already left, but they bring their own set of problems (many have not left the strategies of “the church” from which they departed, they are upset that they could not lead the coup to overthrow the dictator to become the new dictator).
But all of this remodeling work is a means to an end–if your goal is movements. Real replication is only possible when it starts happening among the lost. That is where multiplication takes place. These near neighbor believers are critical because of proximity, cultural awareness, language capacity and the potential that you can replicate yourself in them. But the real work has to be done among the currently lost people group.
Before you paint a clear picture of a new way forward and stoke the fires of dissatisfaction, be sure you know at least a few of the first steps toward the new vision. No, you probably will not know how to map out the full path the change will demand, but you must know how to take the first steps to open the way to discovering the next steps.
In 2005 I was captured by the vision of movements. Rapid replication resonated within me. It connected to the history of my spiritual family. A handful of spiritual leaders trained up thousands of “lay” leaders. They reassured farmers, cobblers and shop keepers that they could understand Scriptures. Simple people obeying simple Bible directives found their lives transformed. They became the conduits for reaching their families, friends and communities.
But I did not know how to help the mildly intrigued picture themselves getting started doing the same kinds of things in 21st century America. Talk of what happened when this region was the western frontier of the U.S., what was happening in Northern India and what was starting in West Africa did little to help these people.
The vision captured my heart. A trip to a West African nation that had only recently come out of a bloody civil war heightened my dissatisfaction. I left there amazed and troubled. It all coalesced in my self-talk, “They are doing so much with so little; we are doing so little with so much!” I was compelled to see change happen here.
About three years ago I counseled my daughter and son-in-law when they were developing curricula for that inner city program. They had asked me if some of the materials that were being used overseas could be utilized if they could adapt them for age appropriateness. I provided them with a copy of the “God and Man” material written by Dell and Rachel Schultze for the New Tribes work in the Philippines. I also suggested which lessons might be a priority to use since they needed to reduce the number of sessions. Both had served as volunteers for years, prior to becoming the coordinators and Bryan, was a licensed educator.
The “God and Man” material suggests the following characteristics of God be taught and then explore significant biblical passages to learn to identify them:
- God is righteous. He is holy, just, and good. He does not have any sin.
- God is all powerful. He can do anything He wants to do.
- God is all knowing. He is the source of all knowledge. He knows how to make everything. He knows every thought, every word, and every action of all people.
- God is the source of all grace. He is the source of everything that is good; love, mercy, pity, goodness, kindness, caring.
- God hates sin. He has no sin. He will judge all who sin. He will punish all who sin.
- God keeps his promises. Whatever He has promised He will do, even if a long time passes.
Eleven months ago I published a blog article that began a series addressing worldview:
These posts shared my reflections on an article, “Understanding Culture” by Lloyd E. Kwast, found on page 397 of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition. Pasadena: William Carey Library. Through these six posts I explored the significant role that stories play in shaping a people group’s view of themselves, their beliefs, values and behavior.
Recently I was asked to share relevant parts of this material with a children’s education group. People from four different churches came together on a Friday evening. Most teach in regular Sunday School programs in traditional Western style churches, but several work with a program that has classes for inner city children who come from high crime and poverty stricken areas of our city. Some of these people are also involved in curriculum development.
[NOTE: Over the next several weeks I will write about this experience. I will also explore how to be intentional in developing the worldview of children. While I did not have the benefit of this material when my son and daughter were young, my first grandson is due to be born February 18, 2013. My responsibilities live on!]