In a few previous posts I have been posting bits and pieces that begin to explain the thinking and the history behind why we have founded a new “simple church” network. You can read something about why we feel the need for something new here. Or something about the back-story here. If you want to understand the name Four31 you can find that here. You can read the values that we hold as particular communities and as a network as a whole here. And you can read our dream for the future here.
When I was trying to put some of the many ideas buzzing around my and our collective heads on paper I was tempted to stop there because I have an allergic reaction to five-year plans or anything that tries to feed my desire to have the future all worked out. Rather I have learnt that I have very little concept of what God is actually wanting to do through and in us tomorrow or next week never mind next year or the one after. A road map is helpful as something to guide you, though. As long as you keep it looking more like a satellite map than a street map and you remember that you may not even have the right map in your hands.
Having said all that I thought it might be helpful to try to give people who are “for us” but don’t “get it” or who might “get it” if we could “show it” a picture of how it could all look. That is if “it” even works and grows or if we even have the right map…
When we use phrases like “organic” or “simple” church it could often sound like we are advocating a no-structure approach to church. This is not the case; it would be more accurate to say that we are advocating both a structure-light approach as well as a fluid and flexible structure. We are content for our structure to grow with us and to be reinvented and re-imagined whenever necessary. We do not expect every part of the network to look the same as any other part. We expect uniformity in theology and values not in structure. We want our structures to free us for mission not conform us to ecclesiastical distinctives.
With the above points noted we have considered what a simple church network structure could look like. We envision four basic expressions of network life. These expressions are a guide not a prescription. Nor are they designed to be sequential “steps” to a pre-determined outcome.
A node is an area in which we are working but in which there is no formal gospel community as yet. Because much of what we are hoping to do will take the form of pioneering ministry, we expect that this will take time. Time to connect with people, to invite them into community and together envision what church could look like in this community and among this people.
If we have a trusted leader in an area then we have a node that is a part of the Four31 Network. We do want Gospel Communities or church plants to develop (and in fact we believe this cannot but happen when the gospel is at work) but we do not want to restrict belonging to Four31 to only those who already have a Gospel Community structure or who are actively in the process of forming one. We are committed to “commissioning” gospel men and women to get on with ministry in an area and allowing church to grow up contextually and organically without the pressure of immediate results or “church plant” expectations in order to legitimise the ministry.
Our hope is that Four31 can become a home to those who are called to pioneering ministry outside of the current church structures. And that together we can begin to envision what new and complementary structures might begin to look like.
Currently we have three nodes:
1. East City Area, Cape Town – Woodstock, Salt River, Observatory
2. Northern Suburbs, Cape Town – Bellville, Durbanville
3. Arizona, USA – Mission to the Apache Indians
2. Gospel Community: the most basic and fundamental unit of church life beyond one’s own family. A gospel community (GC) is a group of up to 20 people who have covenanted together to share life with one another and who share a common mission to an area or people. Some potential Gospel Communities that could develop around the East City Gathering for instance may include:
a) Area Gospel Communities into the areas of Woodstock, Lower Woodstock, Observatory and Salt River.
b) People Group Specific Gospel Communities to, for instance, Muslims, French Speakers, Youth, Students or Homeless People. These Gospel Communities would exist as a missional team seeking to find ways to reach and serve that specific people group with the gospel. This would not necessarily be a Gospel Community for those from that particular background but for those who want to reach them. When people follow Jesus they could be integrated into a Gospel Community or this team may consider how church might be contextualized for these believers
3. Gatherings: As the number of GC’s grow it would be useful to group a number of these GC’s (3-6) around a centralized gathering. This gathering could share training, leadership, and some collective identity. This gathering (for instance the East City Gathering) could determine the frequency and appropriate shape of their gathering.
4. Network: As Gospel Communities multiply so new Gatherings would be formed. As the amount of Gatherings increase so these Gatherings would then be formed into a wider network of Gatherings.
Here is an excerpt from our recent newsletter (sign up by sending me an email letting me know you want in):
“Our trip to the UK in October and November last year was a huge blessing. We returned home excited, inspired, encouraged and hugely challenged by all that we saw. We were particularly blessed by our time in Loughborough with The Crowded House (TCH) family there. We love the folks at TCH. We love their passion for mission, their willingness to ask the hard questions and their love for the gospel, the church and for us.
TCH leadership have, however, been re-evaluating how external church plants best affiliate with them and how best they can operate as a network. In short they thought that it would be best for us relocate to the UK for at least 2-3 years (probably more) for a time of training, assessment, gaining of experience, belonging to the church family and building of strong relationships.
While there was much to commend this suggestion and everything was been discussed in a spirit of love and grace towards us; we do not think moving to the UK for a few years will best prepare us for church-planting in Cape Town. So, it is with sadness that we will no longer be a part of The Crowded House network.”
“As a result we have begun work on developing a vision for what our own network (cue Four31) could look like.”
“More and more it feels as if God is calling us to pioneer something new. There is great value in partnering with more established overseas networks, but we all know that contextually Africa is a very different place. So perhaps God is leading us (read kicking and screaming) to take up the experience and the wisdom of our overseas brothers and sister and forge something new and highly contextual here. Perhaps it is time to stop looking at what others are doing and to start simply asking “what would it mean to follow Jesus here?” “What would church look like here among these people in this place?”
This Easter we decided to try express the death and resurrection outside the walls of a church building or the confines of a church service.
It was a low-key time of meeting with brokenness and neglected people as we followed Gods spirit into the streets. We cleaned streets and parks as a sign of restoration and new life. We ate together as a sign of restored community. We walked the streets praying, listening to God and learning from those we met. We asked God to show us where to serve as we looked to the future. We learned fresh things from Scripture because of our experiences on the streets.
We discovered the mix of people in the East City area all over again. The division between races and classes. The hatred towards us cleaning the streets and the appreciation for us doing it. We saw the brokenness, the solidarity, the escapism, the hopelessness, the laughter and the lies. We saw our community with fresh eyes and listened with hopeful ears. We mapped the area and discovered more about what is happening – good and bad. We prayed for people and shared the Jesus who came to transform the mess in the world at Easter.
It was a good Easter.
I shall confess…. I am a misfit.
I have never really fitted in with the church scene.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is not going to be one of those disgruntled with the church blogger type rants (at least I hope not).
I love the church!
When I read the Bible I find a picture of the church made in the image of our God. A church that reflects the character and the mission of our God. I read about a God who loves the unlovable; who shows grace to the undeserving, mercy to the merciless, who sends rain on the just and the unjust. I read the story of the King who used his power not to crush us or serve his own ambitions but to rescue us, to restore us and to give us new life and new birth into a living hope.
The church is not perfect but we are right now a foretaste of what God is at work doing. His Kingdom has now broken in and is at work saving and restoring a people, where the good and gracious reign of King Jesus can be seen. We are now a foretaste of God’s restored humanity. In the church we find a taste of what it means to be truly human… again.
In the Scriptures I find a picture of church far beyond my experience.
I find myself frustrated wishing it would be so much more. It could be so much more. It should be so much more.
Mostly I wish we were more radical in our love for lost people…
I am fully convinced that God does and can and will continue to use the contemporary/ traditional/mainstream (choose the most appropriate and least offensive description) church to preach the gospel, care for the broken, disciple believers, and reach the lost. I, for one, am a testimony to this.
Honestly I think that there are some great churches within easy driving (or walking) distance of where I live. They are reaching people and will continue to do so. But in all honesty, many of them are reaching the same kind of people. Even if they have a diversity of membership it is still largely a similar kind of diversity.
In a country as diverse as South Africa, and in a city as diverse as Cape Town we need to continually be thinking through our methodology and our church culture, asking ourselves – who are we reaching? And perhaps more significantly who are we not reaching?
The answer of course is not to be all things to all men in one structure. What we need are scattered communities of light willing to get into the nooks and crannies of our society, adopting the rhythms, and shape of their lives, meeting them on their terms and on their turf. Engaging them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, in word and in deed. And demonstrating through the shared life of the gospel community that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.
I suspect am a misfit because I did not grow up in a Christian family or breathing the unusual air of the pervasive Christian culture. I got saved in a culture of mission and I was discipled in a culture of mission. I admit I got lost in the whole church culture scene for a bit. But through some really tough circumstances I ended up out of the church culture for a bit. And I realised that I never want to go back…
Like I said I love the church and I love so many people who are part of the contemporary church scene. Some of them are doing some amazing thing and some of them are being used by God to do amazing things. But we have slowly (read kicking and screaming) made peace with the fact that God has called us to a different path. A path for misfits. I struggle to put words to it but somehow I have always gravitated to those on the fringes; the doubters, the strugglers, the broken, the sceptics.
For as long as I can remember I have always had a burden to reach those who are not being reached by others. I can clearly remember on Scripture Union camps asking for the “difficult” kids to be in my group and volunteering to be on duty to “baby-sit” the smokers because I knew it was most likely that most of these kids were not Christians. At one church I worked at as a youth pastor I remember another youth pastor telling me that my kids scared him a bit… I’m still not really sure what that was all about?
But something within me has always come alive when faced with those others deem too difficult, too broken, too lost. When I was a 19-year-old rookie camp leader, a man I greatly admired looked at me across the table one meal time and said, “John, God is going to use you to reach people the rest of us can only dream of reaching!”
Honestly, I never believed him. But as I look back over 15 plus years I can see unlooked-for echoes of those words throughout my life. I still don’t really know if I believe him but I now know I want it to be true.
And finally I think I am starting to be at peace with the unorthodox shape of our ministry. Finally I realise that sometimes it is a blessing to feel more alive outside with the smokers than inside singing with the saints. Sometimes God uses misfits too…
Deuteronomy 4 is the language of all of life. The Word of God is to be something that “dwells among us richly” (Colossians 3:16) not simply when we gather on Sundays or for Bible study on Wednesday. But when we walk the dog, do the shopping, watch the rugby, eat dinner, play football… We are to speak the gospel Word to each other daily in the ordinary events of ordinary life.
We are to let the Word dwell among us richly both when we gather as Christians and when unbelievers are among us. Of course we do this in a manner that is gentle and respectful (1 Peter 3:15). If we are theologically convinced that the Bible is a Word that speaks to all of life then we must bring it out of the special and into the ordinary, everyday, on the road life of the people of God.
It would be naive though to simply expect this to happen in some spontaneous, natural, organic movement. It would also betray an inadequate doctrine of man and sin. We are sinners, easily swayed from “what we know we ought to do”, easily distracted from the mission of the gospel, easily consumed with chasing careers, relationships, comfort or family as our satisfaction. We are easily seduced by the lure of comfort, entertainment and pleasure to serve our “needs” rather than giving ourselves away in service to others.
It is therefore crucial that we gather regularly, at least weekly, to eat together, share stories, study the Word, pray and share life. This is not church, it is a gathering of the church. This meeting must always be seen as both an outflow of our identity as God’s people and in the context of our wider life together as God’s people. Our regular, structured meeting together must never replace the Word dwelling among us in our day-to-day life together as God’s people. The meeting must lead to the Word dwelling among us in all of life more richly, deeply and consistently. Our life together on mission, must compel the need to meet together, pray together and be together to encourage and challenge one another in the gospel. Gathering leads to scattering as scattering leads to gathering.
“Paul and his team, in their work and relationships, functioned as a ‘church’. As they engaged Jews and Gentiles in evangelism, and some became Christians, a new ‘local church’ grew up around them. The understanding of these new believers would have been shaped, not only by the apostolic message, but also by the apostolic method.”
“They understood what it was to be church by experiencing church at first hand. They had the gospel explained to them and they saw the gospel fleshed out in the lives of the team. The idea of the church as a body was tangible, and the reality of the church as a missionary body was self-evident. Just as a baby is, ideally, born into a family, so too new believers are, ideally, born into a family of faith.”
“In that context, they hear truth spoken, see life lived and absorb cultural values and norms. The benefit of this being a church planting team or new plant is that there will be a freshness and vitality that is often lacking when a church has grown beyond the planting phase and ‘normalised’.”
You may also be interested in:
This is a great little clip that the guys in Sheffield put together describing our life and vision.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … buying from local shops.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … frequenting a local coffee shop or pub.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … playing for a local sports team.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … always tipping generously in local restaurants.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … being the kind of neighbour everyone wants to have as a neighbour.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … volunteering at a local charity shop along with a couple of others from church.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … doing ordinary things in community.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … opening your home to, and sharing your food with others.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … walking the same route to work at the same time or catching the same train each day.
Living ordinary life with gospel intentionality means … we do EVERYTHING for the sake of the gospel!
What would you add?