If I were a pastor…

Imagine the scenario.  I’m the pastor of a traditional church that’s going fairly well. We’ve been running along at 150 members for several years now. I love the church and the people, but recently I’ve been challenged to think about simple/organic church and the impact it can have on missions. As I pray about it, I realize that at heart, I’m a pioneer and that sticking with the status quo doesn’t fit with my character and gifting. I would love to have the freedom to explore simple/organic church further.

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Here’s what I decide to do:

  • I’ll speak to my leadership team and explain that I’m getting excited about the concept of reaching into our community via simple/organic church.I’ll tell them that I’m an entrepreneur at heart and that “managing” church is very difficult for me. I”ll ask them if they will release me to follow where I sense the Lord is leading me. I’ll make sure they understand that any new groups I start need to be released unconditionally. They aren’t going to feed into the legacy church either in terms of people or finances but will remain a parallel track for the church.
  • If they give me the go ahead, I’ll find a way to transfer leadership, either to a team of people or to an individual with a pastoral heart for the people in the church. (If they don’t give me the go ahead, I have some decisions to make!)
  • I’ll look for other ways to earn income, and work with the church on a way to transition me gradually out of my full-time salary.
  • We’ll explain to the church the changes that are about to happen. This may take some time. We’ll answer their questions, and let them know that I’ll continue to be involved in the church, just not functioning in the way they’ve known in the past. I’ll get them excited and praying about the missional emphasis this will bring.
  • In the meantime, I’ll be studying everything I can on simple/organic church. I will seek the Lord about where he wants me to start. Is there a natural group I have a lot of contact with? Is he going to lead me to some specific people group?

Obviously the above is purely fictional, but I believe it is a way that anyone could go. It would also work if it was not the pastor of a church but a member of the congregation who wants to stay connected with the church while it releases them to follow the Holy Spirit.

What will it take for a second track approach to work?

In the past week, I have come across two (small) denominations who are revising their views on church planting. Rather than planning on traditional church planting with the expense of buildings and trained staff, both denominations are looking at a simple/organic approach to missions. They are encouraging their existing churches to plant out daughter simple/organic churches and any other church planting that goes on will likely be with simple/organic churches.
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So I emailed a friend of mine (who for various reasons has asked not to be named) to tell me about his experience of transitioning a legacy church into a network of simple/organic churches. I also asked him to comment on running a second track–that is, of having a separate and parallel group with a missional emphasis that runs alongside a legacy church. Here are his thoughts as to the viability of doing so: 
  1. If the leadership team fully understands that the church is not the end, but the Kingdom, and is open to a variety of ministry situations that are not necessarily alike, or even traditional in nature 
  2.  If that leadership team is willing to give up control and simply see what God can do with believers who have a different mentality than the existing status quo
  3. If the senior leader sees the house church approach as being just as viable as the traditional approach and has a “releasing mentality” rather than a “containing mentality”
  4. If equal time and resources are given to the “house church ministry arm,” not seeing it as a fad approach for those weird people who don’t want to fit into a mold, but that it is “just as important as anything else in the church.”   (I remember from many years ago, that one church I was in enjoyed great success in a lot of areas.  But the truth was that if a ministry idea didn’t fit with the Senior Pastor, it never got off the ground.)
  5. If there is an expansion of the vision that  put the house church ministry on equal footing with every other ministry — so that even those who don’t want to participate can encourage and affirm those who do.   Its the whole idea of not thinking that “my way” is the only way.   Jesus said, “If they’re not against us, they’re for us!  

In another way of saying it, its moving from a church centric vision, to a kingdom centric vision!


In addition:
The framework of the existing church could be very helpful to those who do want to start house churches or be a part of them. All of the legal aspects would be covered by the existing church structure, releasing those who were  participating in the house churches to do so without some of the difficult issues which can arise in the whole area of administration. 
Again, I do think that this could be a viable alternative to transitioning the whole church. it would actually be like a two track church approach, (kind of like the many churches today who say they have a traditional service and a contemporary service!)    The key issue, I believe, is based upon the vision for the whole entity.  And it would have to come from the senior leader, if it was going to have any chance of success!   

An alternative to transitioning

Transitioning a legacy church to a network of simple/organic churches is not an easy route. There may be compelling reasons to take it, such as the fact that your church can no longer afford to keep its building. But if there are no compelling practical reasons, there are alternatives.

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It would be very easy to start a second, missional/simple/organic track that runs parallel to the legacy church.

Here are some of the factors to consider:

  1. The leadership would need to be fully supportive.
  2. The missional/organic group would probably be just a small group of people that were fully committed to the new vision and that was commissioned by the church to explore these areas.
  3. The new group will need to be trained in simple/organic principles. Simple church is not like a home group or a home Bible study. There are aspects that are similar, but it’s a totally different way of thinking. There are many books and resources available, and many people available to help train groups who would like to move this way.
  4. The group would need to be totally and unconditionally released. Since the people most likely to be interested in the new vision are likely to be some of the most committed in the church (either that, or they’ll be the people thought of as rebels!) the cost needs to be assessed, both in terms of finances and time. This factor is key. If the parent church leadership insists on staying in control, it will inhibit and eventually kill a missional track. Are you willing to lose your best people to this vision. (Hint: you can never outgive God!)
  5. Any new believers will probably never come to the parent legacy church. This is not a way of growing your church. It’s about the Kingdom. Are you willing to make an impact for the Kingdom even if your own church never sees any of the fruit.

What other important considerations can you think of?

One sad fact of transition you need to know

It’s a sad fact, but one that you need to face up front.

 

You will lose people.

When you transition from a legacy church to a network of simple churches, not everyone will come with you. For many, the legacy church has been their whole life, and when you suggest a paradigm shift as major as the one this entails, you are rocking their spiritual world. They’d rather find somewhere else where they feel safe and that meets their needs. Jesus said, “They will say the old wine is better.”

What should your reaction be?

I hear many stories where people say they feel betrayed, hurt and angry when others leave, or for those who are leaving, they feel rejected and ostracized.

Don’t let it be that way!

If people want to leave, don’t let them slip out the back door. Ask people to let you know if they want to go so you can bless them. Throw a party! Yes, if you legacy church has done anything right, you’ll have tears, but let it be a time of spiritual growth. Honor them. Let them know its good that the Lord is leading them that way. Have a group of people gather round and prophesy  over them and pray for them. Send them out from your legacy church with the blessing and good wishes of everyone concerned. Help them find another legacy church if that is what they want. Write a letter of commendation to their new pastor. Do everything within your  power to make their leaving something they will look back on as a time when the Lord was leading and blessing them. Ask them to pray for you and bless you.

You won’t experience the sadness of broken relationships.

 

How do you transition from legacy church to a network of simple churches?

The answer is: slowly!

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I know several legacy churches that have successfully made the transition to a network of simple/organic churches. When I’ve asked their leaders about the process, they have always told me that its been a lengthy one–a couple of years to complete.

Usually they have taken about a year of preparation to teach the principles of simple/organic church covering questions like these:

  • What is church?
  • What happens in a simple/organic meeting?
  • How will it differ from what we know now?
  • Luke 10 principles

They take plenty of time to dialog and answer people’s concerns. They bring in others who are more experienced in the journey.

Then the transition begins. Things are no longer led from the front in the same way. They split up into small groups for interactive Bible study instead of having a sermon. They break into pairs to pray. They encourage people in the congregation to participate in the worship time by suggesting songs, praying, prophesying, reading a verse of Scripture. The object is to get everyone to take part where before, they would have been spectating.

Finally comes the time when one week a month, there is no church in the main building but everyone meets in homes. After a few months like this, it happens twice a month, and finally, they just get together occasionally as one large group.

Are there problems with this? Of course.

Do any of you have experience in a church transition? What was it like?

10 hurdles to overcome in making the transition from legacy to simple church

If the Lord shows you that you are to make the transition from legacy to a network of simple/organic churches, there are a number of obstacles to overcome. (This post assumes you are in a position of church leadership.)

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  1. Many people in your church do not share your vision for the transition. It’s not what they signed up for. As the parable of the wineskins says, “they think the old was better.”
  2. People are scared they will lose the friendships and sense of community  that’s been created over the years.
  3. People are used to a professional standard of church: a worship band, well-prepared sermon etc.
  4. There is no Sunday school program in simple/organic church. People enjoy the freedom to drop their kids off for an hour or so and having some thinking/spiritual time for themselves.
  5. People like decisions being made for them. They don’t want to carry the personal responsibility entailed in simple/organic church.
  6. There are no trained leaders.
  7. How can you prevent heresy?
  8. There is no vision for outreach.
  9. Some of the people who are keen for the transition are the ones disgruntled with the status quo. They will take a negative attitude with them.
  10. The financial welfare of your family depends on the church paying you a salary. You aren’t trained for any other job. What will happen to you?

These are all very valid concerns. It’s worth thinking through the potential problems before embarking on the transition.

What other hurdles can you think of that will need to be overcome?

 

Why transition from legacy to simple church?

Transitioning from a legacy church to a network of simple/organic churches generally involves letting go of the building, and may result in the paid staff finding other means of income. Of course, many hybrid forms are also possible.

Here are some of the reasons why a church might consider transitioning:

  1. Finances are tight; they’ve already had to fire some of their part or full-time staff. The building payments are beyond their reach. It’s either transition into something else, letting the building go, or close the doors permanently and let people fend for themselves. They know that there’s little finance involved in meeting in homes so they decide to try it. In these challenging economic times, this is becoming more and more common.
  2. Simple/organic is one of the new buzz-words.Many  churches are moving towards the organic end of  a continuum. They want to be on the so-called “cutting edge” of what God is doing. So they change the name of their home groups to home churches, and empower their leaders to baptize and give communion. They may or may not expect everyone to turn up on Sunday too. In a complete transition, the Sunday service will at least become sporadic.
  3. God is speaking to them as a church. He’s telling them that it’s time to transition–either wholly or in part. He’s challenging them that this is a way to reach out to their communities and make a difference.

Obviously the third reason is the best, but God could easily use a combination of two of these things. For example, a church might realize that their financial resources are dwindling and it’s only a question of time before they have to let the senior pastor go, but as they seek the Lord about the situation, he reveals to them some of the principles behind simple/organic church. Another example: some of the church members start reading some books on simple/organic church that convict them about reaching out into their neighborhoods, and again, as the church seeks the Lord, he reveals to them a plan for transitioning.

What other reasons might a church consider the transition?

To transition or not to transition: that is the question

As the simple/organic movement becomes more mainstream, and the financial trends force more and more traditional churches to cut back economically, then many churches are asking the question: should we transition our legacy church into a network of simple/organic churches?

Church2
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Every church needs to hear from the Lord about their specific situation, but the next few posts will look at some of the pros and cons of this step and some other potential alternatives.

Jesus described some principles that speak into this situation when he gave the parable about putting new wine into old wineskins.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say. (Luke 5:36-39)

Jesus cared about the wine, and therefore he had concern for the wineskins. Similarly he cares about the people in our churches, and therefore he cares about our structures. Jesus said that if people have tasted the old wine, they won’t want the new, and this is true when it comes to transitioning churches too. Many people are comfortable with the old and familiar ways of doing things, and asking them to change is going to rock their world so much they may leave. They didn’t sign up for simple/organic church and they aren’t going to change their minds quickly.

There are now many examples of churches that have successfully transitioned. We’ll examine the following topics over the next few posts.

  • Why might a church consider transitioning? Pros and cons
  • What lessons can we learn from those who have transitioned successfully?
  • Are there alternatives to transitioning that still accomplish the same goals?

I’d love to hear some of your examples.

 

 

 

A dream; a story; a challenge

A dream

Two nights ago I dreamed there was a movement of Christians all over the country who had decided to pray in public.  They asked to pray in a secular context before business meetings. They prayed openly before meals asking the non-believers with them how they could pray for them. They refused to be intimidated by the current culture that in many situations, looks down on the Christian lifestyle. They weren't religious or confrontational or political. They weren't obnoxious in a "holier than thou," super-spiritual way. But they were willing to live out their faith under the public eye.

A story

When we lived in the UK and Tony (my husband) still practiced as a doctor, the General Medical Council, the licensing body for physicians in the country, sent a letter to all the family doctors. It explained that whereas up until now, a doctor had to get consent from the parent of a minor child before any kind of medical procedure, from this time on, certain situations were exempt from that. This included contraception/abortion. So a doctor had to get parental consent before operating on an ingrowing toenail, but wasn't allowed to tell the parent that their daughter wanted to go on the pill.

At that time, Tony led a ministry to doctors and others in the caring professions. He phoned several of them to see what they thought, and then drafted a letter to the GMC explaining that our organization represented more than 2,000 family doctors, and that if they wanted to remove their medical licenses, they could, but he would like them to know up front that the doctors he represented planned to disobey this edict.

A few weeks went by. Then they had the nicest letter in reply saying that the Council had no idea that so many doctors felt that strongly and that they were free to go with their conscience in these matters.

I often wonder what would have happened if in 1962, when prayers in the classroom was deemed unconstitutional, the Christian teachers in this country had refused to comply with the law.

A challenge

The climate in this country is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. In our institutes of higher learning, Christianity is ridiculed. The beliefs on which this country was founded are being eroded. We are only a generation away from being a post-Christian nation.

Are we willing to stand up and be counted? Are we willing to buck the trends? Are we more concerned about the Kingdom of God than our own reputations? What does it look like for us to follow Jesus in a way that is radically different and makes a radical difference?

 

Multiplication tools; KISS

Simple things multiply; complex things are much harder to reproduce.

Eggs
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One of my favorite quotes from a Filipino church planter is this: Never do anything in church that a one week old Christian would be unable to duplicate.

Only model what you want to see reproduced and what will lead to multiplication. How is this worked out?

Teaching: an interactive Bible study using simple questions or symbols is more effective and reproducible than a sermon. Since many people’s greatest fear is that of public speaking, if you model a sermon, people will think they have to do this in order to start another church.

Worship: if you have music of a professional standard, people will think they have to have a musician in order to start a church. Better to sing a capella or accompanied by a CD.

Prayer: if you model 5 minute prayer sermons you will inhibit new believers from praying. Better to teach single sentence prayers and for people to pray multiple times.

Food: if you produce a gourmet meal, people will assume they have to produce a similar meal if they have church in their home. Better to have a simple, potluck meal where everyone contributes.

Fellowship: happens naturally over food.

In the church that meets in our home, we tend to use a simple pattern that anyone can reproduce. It’s not the same every time, but most of these elements are usually present. It’s based on Acts 2:42. We share a meal together. Over dessert, we talk about how things have gone during our week together–joys and challenges. Was there an accoutability challenge from the previous week? We share how that went too. We share around the Word. We pray for one another. In all of this we expect the Holy Spirit to lead our time together and we give him freedom to break in.

It’s simple enough that a new believer can copy it.

Simple is not the same as simplistic. We’ve had very profound times together. But it is duplicatable.

So Keep It Simple and Straightforward!