How our standard poodle was witness to my failure

Winston H. Churchill is the full name of our standard poodle. (Winston Churchill obviously stems from our British heritage. The middle initial, "H," stands for Houdini which we added after he twice escaped from a wire kennel, leaving the door bolted behind him. No, don't ask!)

Winston before
Winston: before grooming

One of the advantages of a standard poodle is that they do not shed. The disadvantage is that they need grooming. Let me explain what Winston and his dreadlocks have to do with God's Kingdom and church planting.

Six months ago I would have struggled to find the books of Haggai and Zechariah; now my Bible falls open to those pages. God has been speaking clearly and specifically to Tony and me from these books about many of the things we are involved in: our personal lives, the direction our business should take, what is going on with the simple/organic/house church movement. 

To understand these books, it helps to know a little of the history. The first waves of the Children of Israel have returned from 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Led by Zerubbabel the Governor, and Jeshua the High Priest, they lay the foundations of the Temple in an attempt to rebuild Solomon's Temple, destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar invaded. But the local people (not Israelites, but others who have been relocated to their land) conspire to stop the work. For almost 20 years, the rebuilding of the Temple is abandoned. In the meantime, the Israelites settle back into their various towns and villages to rebuild their own houses.

Enter the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. They prophecy to the leaders and to the people telling them that many of the challenges they face, from financial difficulties to crop failures to drought, stem from the fact that they have neglected to rebuild God's temple. When Haggai and Zechariah prophecy the promise of God's presence and blessing  (I am with you, says the Lord (Haggai 1:13)), it is enough to galvanize Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the Israelites back into action. Within four short years the Temple is completed.

The church in our nation  is in rapid, overall decline.  Christianity is fast becoming outdated and outmoded. It's time for us to rebuild the Temple. I'm not referring to physical bricks and mortar here, but to the Kingdom, God's spiritual temple built with spiritual stones. These spiritual stones are people, followers of Jesus (1Peter 2:5).

The Lord has been convicting me over recent days through the book of Haggai and through T4T teaching that I need to be more vocal about my faith. How will we ever see a move of God here if no seed of the Kingdom is sown? If I preach the importance of speaking about our faith, then I must live it too.

As I looked at my day early yesterday morning, the one occasion I was likely to get to chat with a non-believer was when I took Winston for his end-of-winter hair cut. I determined I was going to find an opportunity to share my spiritual story with the lady who grooms him.

I failed. Completely. Someone else was in the store and I chickened out!  (Yes, I know. It's all about listening to the Lord and speaking to those he tells us to talk to.) 

God help me!

Winston after
Winston: after grooming

 

Slow multiplication or fast multiplication? Your choice.

When it comes to multiplying simple/organic churches, your pattern of multiplication will determine whether you multiply quickly or slowly.

DollsPhoto credit: archer10 (Dennis) Busy (Creative Commons)

Many people assume that the way to multiply a simple/organic church is to add new people to the church that meets in your home until it has outgrown your living room. Those who become believers, or Christians who want to join you, are assimilated into your existing fellowship. At the point at which the group becomes too large, you split it into two. 

This is the slow way to multiply.

If you prefer to multiply more quickly, then start new groups around new followers of Jesus or new people who want to join you. Some of these will become churches.

Someone becomes a disciple?  Ask them to bring together a few of their friends to explore spirituality. Help them to share their story with others. Teach them how to share the good news. Work with them and their oikos. You will soon find yourself with a group of new believers. An existing Christian finds your church? Let them know you'd like to help them work with their friends and family in their neighborhood, not yours. This is the quick way to multiply.

The faster multiplication pattern is likely to be more messy and more time consuming. It will involve people in more than just attending weekly gatherings. But it is far more effective in terms of Kingdom growth.

If you want to see your existing group excited about this and on board with what you are doing, it is important to cast vision, otherwise people will resent the disruption of a family/place where they are comfortable. The Lord did this for our group by giving us a clear picture of an orchard of apple trees. Now, whenever a new group starts, we are all excited to see the fulfillment of what the Lord has already shown us.

 

 

What might it look like when big and small work together?

Rabbit and elephant
Photo credit: brendan.wood (Creative Commons)

The rabbit and the elephant have very different strengths. Different sized churches do too.

Rabbit sized churches:

  • Can penetrate into every nook and cranny of society reaching people who would never darken the door of a church building
  • Have the potential to multiply rapidly along relationship lines
  • Foster community and every member participation

Elephant sized churches:

  • Are highly visible
  • Can produce larger-scale events 
  • Have many resources of both people and finance

Many larger churches are adopting simple/organic principles when it comes to reaching out into their communities with the good news of the Gospel. They actively encourage their members who are more entrepreneurial in terms of church planting to start new groups outside the four walls of the building. These"second tracks" (often called missional communities) are effectively simple churches with a missional emphasis. Often there is no expectation that these groups will feed new disciples into the main church.

It seems that God is working these principles right across the denominational lines. What can we do to support and involve with each other? Are there ways in which those of us who have been involved in simple/organic practices for many years, can stand together with the churches who are beginning to explore these areas?

What might happen in our cities if no one is seeking to get the credit?

What problems is the simple/organic movement facing?

Problems
Photo credit: Donna Grayson (Creative Commons)

Simple/organic church has become mainstream here in the United States. According to the statistics, although the rate of growth is slowing down, 3-5% of the adult population of this country now finds their primary form of fellowship within a home or similar context. While at most levels this is very encouraging, and God is doing some extraordinary things with very ordinary people, there are some definite pitfalls and disadvantages to becoming acceptable:

  • The terms, house church, simple church and organic church are popular. Groups of people are changing their names without changing their DNA. Home groups are becoming house churches with no discernible difference in lifestyle.
  • We've become a fashionable fad, the latest phenomenon in church statistics. People are hopping onto the bandwagon because they want to be part of the latest thing, not because God is leading them.
  • Many people meeting in homes are doing, "Honey I shrunk the church!" They've not yet begun the adventure of letting the Lord lead their times together.
  • Many churches meeting outside the four walls of traditional structures are comprised of people who have left their legacy church but have not yet found a missional emphasis. Until that happens, even though our numbers may increase by transfer growth, we'll be a movement without Kingdom momentum.
  • With some outstanding exceptions, we as a movement are still immature in terms of both finances and mission. Financially, we give generously to missions and benevolence, and most churches use less than 5% of their budget on internal needs, but we could have more strategic impact if we worked together on financial projects. In terms of missions, we have not yet fully understood what "simple/organic missions" will entail.

I believe God is working to fix these situations. There are more resources available than ever before; coaches are working across the spectrum to help produce healthy organic churches, and there is a greater understanding of what it means to be missional.

Do you see other problems too?

 

Ten positive signs of God at work in the church

God is at work across the nations, and I see many positive signs that he is at work here in the West too. Here's a little of what I see going on currently (in no particular order of priority):
  1. People understand the importance of listening to God and doing what he says.  The prayer movement and 24/7 prayer has an impact.
  2. Many churches are becoming more missional rather than attractional. Luke 10 principles are being applied by many across the church spectrum. Legacy churches are starting missional communities. Simple/organic churches are using these principles to produce daughter and grand-daughter churches.
  3. Churches are engaging in their communities with a resultant impact for the Kingdom.
  4. We've rediscovered some of the principles that result in multiplication rather than addition at every level. Simplicity and reproducibility are key.
  5. Discipleship that reproduces more disciples (rather than conversion) is of increasing value. 
  6. There's a blurring of distinctives between groups of people–charismatic/non-charismatic, organic/legacy, clergy/laity.
  7. Women have an increasingly equal and valued role.
  8. Legacy churches and simple/organic churches are working together with a focus on the Kingdom of God. Who knows what might happen if nobody minds who gets the credit.
  9. The separation of sacred and secular is waning. Ordinary work and its potential to be of impact for the Kingdom is valued. Church is happening in the workplace.
  10. God is working in supernatural ways; we are seeing miracles, healings and deliverances.
  11. God is raising up apostolic and prophetic leaders who serve from the foundations rather than rule from the rooftops. He is giving them his strategies and plans for their areas.
  12. We recognize that God is working in other parts of the world  and we're willing to learn from other nations.

What am I missing?

7 shifts towards organic

Many churches are looking to become increasingly relevant to the society around them by shifting to a more organic form of church.

DandelionPhoto credit: Michael | Ruiz (Creative Commons)

Here are some of the shifts toward organic:

  1. We're moving from being building and event focused to lifestyle and family focused. Church is no longer an event to go to or a building to assemble in. We may meet together, but church is more like a family. You don't go to family; you are family. It's based on relationship and lifestyle. 
  2. Church is missional rather than attractional. We're looking to make disciples rather than converts.
  3. We no longer need specially trained people to do all the work of ministry. Ordinary people are fully equipped to minister. The clergy/laity distinction is becoming less and less relevant. 
  4. Churches are expected to multiply out–to reproduce–rather than getting larger.
  5. Jesus is head of his church and ordinary people can be trusted to hear the Holy Spirit. 
  6. Our times together are becoming simpler and therefore reproducible. Everyone participates in what goes on.
  7. Leadership is servanthood.

What others can you think of?

The future of the church in the West

The church landscape in this country is changing.

Picture 2
Ecclesiology lies along a continuum. At one end churches are  traditional, structured and liturgical; at the other end they are simple, organic, and missional. Most lie somewhere in between. But a shift is occurring. Many churches are taking steps towards the organic, missional end of the spectrum. The Lord may not lead them to move completely to that end of the continuum, but the changes they are making appear more organic than traditional. 

What is most important is that wherever we are along the continuum, our focus in on the King and his Kingdom.

What are the reasons for the shift?

  1. As the nation slides towards a post-Christian status, church is no longer at the center of social life. People no longer think about going to church on a Sunday. Across the board, denominations, missions groups and churches recognize that an attractional form of church is no longer effective for the future.  Many are exploring the concept of missional communities or simple/organic churches.
  2. The current economic crisis is affecting many churches. Just in the last month or so, we have been working with a church locally that can no longer afford to keep their building. They are therefore looking at a more organic network of smaller churches.
  3. A subtle, but increasing hostility towards Christianity is affecting some churches. For example, in New York, recent legislation means that more than 60 churches are no longer allowed to use schools or similar buildings to meet in.
  4. As churches follow the Holy Spirit, some of them are hearing the Lord leading them this way.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing what we've always done and assume we'll get different results. If the church continues the way she has been for the last several decades, we'll find ourselves in  a post-Christian society.  

Is God using this shift along the continuum to prepare us for what lies ahead?

 

 

A simple/organic contribution to global mission

Passport
Photo credit: Gravitywave (Creative Commons)

Over the past few months, we have had several people from a more traditional church background and who are in the process of leaving for the mission field visit the church that meets in our home.

The exchange has been valuable. Our “Jesus family” has rubbed shoulders with people sold out for the Kingdom who are literally giving up everything they know in order to take the good news into cultures that may be hostile to the Gospel. And those visiting us have tasted a simpler, relational style of church that seeks to follow the Holy Spirit when they come together and that is reaching out using Luke 10 principles into the different spheres of influence that people represent.

Many churches and mission agencies are using simple/organic church patterns on the mission field. These days, mega-churches and denominations do not ususally plan to replicate traditional Western styles of church when they get into a cross-cultural context. Mission sending agencies recognize that the most effective evangelism uses a simple/organic model of church that multiplies along relational lines.

Current experience shows that simple/organic patterns of church are less likely to provoke persecution in environments hostile to the Gospel.

The problem for many of the people going abroad as missionaries is that they have no experience of simple/organic church, even though that is what they plan to do on the field. So when they arrive on the mission field, they not only have to cope with a totally new cultural environment–language, customs, lifestyle; they also expect to work within an unfamiliar style of both evangelism and gathering.

This leads me to two conclusions:

  1. People who have been involved in simple/organic expressions of church in their home countries are well-suited to involve in cross-cultural mission. If they have been involved in a healthy expression of organic/simple church, they are already accustomed to Luke 10 principles of mission and an informal, home-based style of gathering. But a single simple church or even network of simple churches, even though they may be able to provide financially, may not have the resources or experience to provide the cross-cultural training and support on the field necessary for someone going out as a missionary.
  2. One of the contributions that the simple/organic movement can make towards global missions is to willingly work with mission-sending agencies, giving prospective missionaries a taste of what they are likely to experience on the field.

Are there ways we can partner together?

 

A simple story of darkness to light

Light at end of tunnel
Photo Credit: Jon…in 3D (Creative Commons)

Yesterday evening church met at our home. Rosaura had brought along a young man, maybe 16 or 17 years old, a relative. He gave his heart to Jesus last night. This was his story.

"All my life I've felt as though I'm in a dark tunnel. I could see the light at the end, but it didn't matter what I did, I couldn't get any closer to the light, no matter how hard I tried. Tonight the light is right in front of me."

He walked into the light with Jesus and a smile from ear to ear.

The good and the bad of missions

World map 

Photo credit Stijn Vogels (Creative Commons)

Tony and I have been privileged to travel to various countries in all five continents and to see missions at work first hand.

First the good:

I was brought up, in a Christian sense, on the biographies of those on the mission field. I learned from Hudson Taylor (China), Amy Carmichael (India), James Frazier (Lisuland), Jim Elliott, (Ecuador) Helen Roseveare (Congo), Bruce Olsen (Colombia) and many others. I was inspired and challenged to live a sold-out life, to be willing to give my life for the sake of the Kingdom.

During my early days as a doctor, I had the privilege of working with several senior doctors who had been part of a revival that went on in Rwanda in the 1940s and 50s. They came back to the UK with the unmistakeable fragrance of Jesus on their lives. Their message was one of repentance and living a transparent life. What a privilege to work alongside them.

I know an American lady who has spent years living in the villages of North India. She has seen many hundred churches start and trains many church planters.

Another friend, Michele Perry, runs an orphanage in war-torn Sudan. She is seeing miracles and many are finding the Lord. Whenever I feel discouraged, her life inspires me–she was born with only one leg. What excuse do I have?

This past fall we were in Southern Russia with a lady from the UK who rescues people off the street. Most of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from the wars with Chechnya and Georgia. She takes these people in to her center, sees them healed, trained and then sent out to various others parts of the country for the Kingdom.

Most people need no introduction to Rolland and Heidi Baker. Tony and Rolland went to a missionary school in Taiwan together. We have seen their extraordinary work in Mozambique at first hand.

I have learned much from others who have spent years on the mission field. People like Guy Muse,  David Watson, and Curtis Sergeant are profoundly influential.

We in the organic/simple church movement owe a huge debt of gratitude to the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists. Much of what we have learned about church planting movements comes from their teaching and experience.

God is using many men and women to reach out to the nations cross-culturally. They are effective ambassadors of the Kingdom who are seeing much fruit from their work. In some cases, many tens of thousands of people have found the Lord because of their impact. The lives of these missionaries are an example to us all.