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.
One person who read my last blog responded, “Is there anything new here? This is something I have been saying for the past 40 years, and I heard it from others before me…” My response was, “While it is not new, the priorities of churches (house or legacy) indicate most reject this reality.”
Let me give you a little of my story as background. I have spent most of my life worshipping with congregations in the 100-150 range. I have served as a preaching minister in three of those for a combined 31 years. But almost ten years ago God invited me on a journey exploring the great need of people who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel once. “What will it take to get the gospel into regions where the power brokers do not want it?” became a compelling question for me.
But what about 50+ years of spiritual journey? Juxtapose those two questions.
Being a “both/and” guy, I tried to do both. Amazingly, God gave me several years of knowing where he was taking me before he called me make the change. I am so thankful for his patience with me and wish I would have done a better job of extending the same to others around me (oh, well, that is “water under the bridge”).
But, most people who came to the Lord like me, still want to take the church with us when we believe God has called us on a new journey. We want their prayers. We want their money. We want their approval. We want their manpower. We keep thinking it would be so much easier if they would join us in this transition. And some of us do everything we can to “shoe-horn” them into it. And then we wonder why they resist us and resent our tactics.
Just because God called me does not mean he called Stones River Church. It was easier for me to see that truth for someone else than for myself.
Yes, these recently settled people were at great risk. Their situation was dire.
The king of Assyria ordered, “Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them….They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively—they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from” (2 Kings 17:27,32-33, The Message).
The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were descended from these peoples. This is the historical-cultural background behind Jesus’ parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It also informs his interactions with the woman at the well and people from her village. Jews considered the Samaritans spiritual mutts. While they claimed to worship the God of Israel, the religious purists knew their sordid spiritual lineage.
Sounds remarkably similar to Islam.
Would Jesus shock us with the modern-day Parable of the Good Muslim? Would he spend a couple of days with Muslims who want to hear about the Messiah?
I find the use of the word “skeptic” interesting as the starting point. I would hope that the greater detail of the book would detail why this term is used. I suspect it reflects the Southern California academic/young professional setting targeted by InterVarsity there—the “Post-Modern” worldview that Choung’s dissertation addressed.
Since I believe the Western attempt to export Modernity to the majority world is unwise, I am going to be cautious about introducing Post-modern terminology and concepts. “Individuality run amok” is one of Post-modernisms stinging critiques of Modernity. But I fear that the Thesaurus being utilized was defined on Modernity’s terms.
Many of the least-reached people groups in our world are pre-modern! Yes, they are being impacted by elements of Modernity and Post-modernism, the more “connected” they are, but why drag them through all of this? They have “skipped” the land-line telephone technology in many areas, going from no phones to cell phones. Let’s skip the individuality the terms create.
Let us find Persons of Peace. Train them to facilitate discovery studies within their families, friendship groups and communities. Coach and mentor them as high into leadership as they will progress. Equip them to contextualize for their people group. They will do it better than we will. Let them draw the “four circles” for their context, if that proves needed.