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.
In this post you can read about the values that we hope will shape us as individual Christian communities and as a network.
1. We are becoming a people shaped by the Story of God. Our lives, both individually and communally must be shaped by the Bible story. We call each other to live lives of sacrifice, service, submission and risk-taking for the sake of the gospel. We listen to God’s Word as the reliable, authoritative and sufficient word of God.
2. We are becoming a dependant people, completely reliant on God to give fruit to our efforts. We cannot plan the shape and direction of mission ahead of time it is the supernatural work of God and cannot be planned, organised or controlled. We are committed to prayer as both a regular communal rhythm and a spontaneous response to needs and opportunities. Our role is to plant the gospel seed, to respond to opportunities and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide the shape and direction of our ministry.
3. We are becoming a missional people. Our primary identity is as God’s sent people and we seek to shape ourselves, our lifestyles and our structures around this primary identity. We want people to experience church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a building you enter. We are committed to mission and not our traditions, comfort or preferences as the organising principle for our life together.
4. We are becoming a restored people. The Christian community is a foretaste of God’s future restoration of all things and we seek to reflect God’s coming, yet now broken-in, Kingdom as a community of justice, mercy, peace, reconciliation, beauty, creativity and love. We experience this restoration now imperfectly, in hiddenness and weakness, but one day in fullness and in glory.
5. We are becoming a communal people. We have not been saved for a life of individualistic spirituality but to be a part of a people, God’s new community. We are thus committed to sharing our lives together as extended family. This will impact how we make decisions, how we use our time, how we regard our possessions, where we choose to live and how we deal with conflict.
6. We are becoming an inclusive people, a community of peace in our busy and divided world. We, who in Christ have found rest, peace and wholeness, must now embody that in a community of grace for others, both believers and unbelievers, and not one based on performance.
7. We are becoming a diverse people; restored to one another through the gospel. We will not favour any one culture, education level or socio-economic status over another. All cultures are simultaneously redeemed and judged by the gospel. This diversity must be reflected in the make-up of our community and leadership and in the rhythms and shape of our life together.
8. We are becoming a local people. We wish to see truly contextual gospel communities planted that whilst maintaining robust gospel faithfulness are also truly recognisable expressions of that culture or locality. We are committed to stripping away all the non-essentials to church life and allowing the gospel to reinvent church in every subculture and local community. We are committed to living, listening to and sharing in the life of our local community.
9. We are becoming an ordinary people; sharing life together with gospel intentionality. The context for mission, community, discipleship, pastoral care and training, is ordinary life. We value people over programmes. When we run programmes they must be relational, timely and if necessary dispensable.
10. We are becoming a growing people. We are committed to a simple model of church that is small, decentralized and easily reproducible. We believe that home is the primary location of church and the location for all or most of church life. Church planting must not be dependant on financial resources, buildings, formal education or paid leadership. Leaders must be disciple-makers who create a culture of permission giving for mission and innovation.
11. We are becoming a global people. We recognise and celebrate that we are only a small part of God’s global mission among all peoples and cultures. We are committed to praying for, blessing and celebrating global mission. We are committed to sending people and finances to bless other communities, cities and nations outside of our immediate focus.
This past Sunday at The Story we heard the story of God’s call on Abraham (entitled Promise). The contrast between the two stories stood rather starkly for me and I saw something I had never seen before.
Previously in The Story of the Babel Builders we saw that they resisted being scattered, trying instead to create for themselves their own source of security, safety, provision, significance and rest. However when we reach Genesis 12:1-3 and the famous promise to Abraham, it is immediately noticeable that these are almost the exact same things that God promises to Abraham. And yet the very first thing that God tells Abraham to do is to scatter. He tells him to leave his country, his relatives and Father’s household and go to the land He will show Him. God’s promise immediately validates those desires in us as good desires but it also subverts our understanding of what it would take to truly gain these things.
In order for Abraham to receive the promise of land, descendants, blessing and a great Name he must scatter. The creation call to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord remains. As Abraham (and his descendants) scatters he is to demonstrate to the world that it is good to live under the reign of God. Abraham is blessed in order to be a blessing to the all the peoples on the earth. Unless Abraham is prepared to scatter he will never be a blessing and (is it safe to assume that) he himself would not be blessed. It is the man of faith who believes the Good God that the life of blessing is the life of scattering.
The paradox of God’s Kingdom is that the very things that we seek in order to “save our lives” are the very things which will rob us of the life of blessing. But yet the things which seem so diametrically opposed to blessing – leaving our people, seeking security and rest in being scattered among the nations- are in turn the very things through which we will find the good life. All rational thought tells us to build our own security. All rational thoughts tells us to stay with our own people, in our community, among people like us.
But the life of faith trusts the Good God, when he promises that the life of blessing, security, significance and rest will be found not in the building of a great name/city/business/church but in the life of scattering. We were, it would seem, made to give our lives away. We will be truly blessed as we leave our own people and our own safe havens and step out to follow God where he leads.
Nowhere do we see this more clearly demonstrated than in Jesus, who gave up his security, his people, his land, his blessings in order to take on humanity. He became a man not because he was lacking anything (the complete opposite in fact), or because it was a good choice, or a comfortable choice, or a secure choice (he was crucified for our sake), or even a wise choice. It was not a life of rest, or of significance (rejected, misunderstood, betrayed). He gave up his blessing in order to seek our blessing. He did not seek to hoard his blessing instead he trusted his Father to be “scattered” into the world in order to fill the world with His Glory through our salvation. And because of that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him as Lord (Philippians 2:5-11).
I came across a few helpful thoughts from Andrew Reid’s commentary on Genesis when I was thinking through The Story of the Babel Builders for this past Sunday.
“Having a home of your own somehow means something. It conveys a sense of belonging and of security and refuge. It panders to that deep-seated need within us all to flee the transitory and to seek security in something stable.”
“This personal tie to buildings mirrors a problem that God’s people have had throughout history. Most meeting places for God’s people have had very humble beginnings – tents in the wilderness, places of prayer besides rivers, school classrooms, and the like. But then, as the gospel is preached, more people come and casual meeting places are no longer adequate. People begin to feel reputable and crave something more stable, and so they build buildings. These buildings make demands, chew up time, money and resources. This problem alone might be manageable if it were not that the people of God begin to put their trust and security in the buildings. For the people of god, as with us individually, buildings often convey safety, security and comfort. At this point the children of a moving God often lose direction.”
There seems to be something strangely ironic about the followers of this moving, seeking, scattering God and our obsession with buildings to provide us with stability, respectability and legitimacy.
This past Sunday at The Story we heard the story of the Babel Builders (entitled: Settle Down”) found in Genesis 11. Often the Babel builders get a bit of a bad rap for being all about their own glory and power. What they really wanted to do was to make a name for themselves and be famous and somehow take God’s place. Well yes, sort of… but when we read the narrative what we find though is that their desire to make a name for themselves is not the goal. They want to build this great city in order to make a name for themselves SO THAT they will not be scattered over the face of the earth.
The thing that they want most is not fame or power or prestige; that is what they seek as a means to the end, which is not being scattered. Significantly this is exactly what God has commanded them to do. In Genesis 1:28 the first humans are told to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. After the flood in Genesis 8&9 Noah is given a similar command. Implicit in the command to fill the earth is to fill the earth with God’s glory. It is as human’s created in the image of God take up the raw materials of His creation and “create and shape” his world that we display his goodness and his majesty. There is of course also a literal filling of the earth with people, as the commands to be fruitful and multiply imply.
Why do the Babel builders not want to be scattered? Ask yourself what would you prefer, being scattered over the face of the earth; or safety and security as a part of some great enterprise or some great city? What does the great city of Babel offer? Safety, security, provision, communal enterprise, prestige, comfort, a sense of belonging… stable work, safe place for the kids to grow up, good schools?
What does God’s command to scatter and fill the earth bring? Uncertainty, instability, insecurity, an unknown future, unknown provision, loneliness, fear of hostile neighbours or bandits and numerous other drawbacks. Life would certainly be easier in Babel.
Was it wrong for the Babel builders to desire these things? No. But they sought to be their own source of security, safety, provision, rest and certainty for the future. If they would instead choose to embrace the life of scattering they would have to find their security, their rest, their future hope, their provision and their name in God and God alone. As an aside: note that all the Babel builders attempts at self-preservation and self-provision are wiped out with one simple action by the God who spoke the world into being.
The God-following life today is still the life of scattering over the face of the earth. Was it not Jesus who told his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations”? Our calling is still to fill the earth with the glory of God. Our call is still to scatter into all the unreached people groups of the world. Our call is still to scatter as communities of light into all the forgotten places and the dark corners of our cities and our communities.
But if we are honest most of us are more like the responsible, wise, Babel builders. Most of our parents would be delighted if we got a job with the ambitious, forward-thinking, innovative, new urban centre of our world. Stable income, pension, good schools, medical aid, good career prospects, safe neighbourhood for your kids, wise use of resources. Let’s be honest the Babel builders plans make sense. Of course they do they are our plans, our dreams our ambitions.
But everything we have seen in the story so far tells us that God is a good and a gracious God. In the midst of sin and chaos – he constantly shows mercy, provision, salvation, patience, goodness, peace, rest and hope for the future. The legacy of man’s ambitions are deceit, anger, jealousy, murder, boasting, snatching for power, shame, blame-passing, back-breaking labour, cursed ground and broken relationships. It might make rational sense to follow the example of the Babel builders and seek to secure our own future, but by faith we seek instead to follow the one who has secured both our future and our present through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.
Sadly, we mirror Babel not only in our private lives but in our church life too. Rather than being scattered into all the dark and broken places of our community, instead we choose to build our own sources of comfort and security. Our obsession with buildings betrays our unwillingness to scatter and fuels our need for legitimacy and respectability. We design our programmes and structures around the things we enjoy and our felt needs. We meet at times and in ways that suit us and our schedules.
Often we barely know the community surrounding us and our lives are filled up with Christian activities and Christian friends. Is it possible that just as the Babel builders refused the command to scatter and fill the earth with God’s glory, so we too have refused the call to scatter and fill up our communities and cities with the glory of God. Babel looks so much more respectable and legit than the scattered community of a Moving God.
At the back of Mark Miller’s “Experiential Storytelling: [Re]Discovering Narrative to Communicate God’s Message” was a link to a website for further resources, ideas etc. When I pointed my browser in search of said website I was informed that I was now free to purchase this domain name, which I took to mean that the website was now defunct. What I did find however, was a review by Steve McCoy, so I thought I would have a quick peek to see what he said before I posted my own thoughts.
How annoying to find that not only did Steve say everything I wanted to say… but I am sure he said it better. So rather than clog the already crowded internet with more of the same I thought I would rather cut some thoughts from Steve’s review and point you to the rest of the blog post if you want more.
“I expected more. It was a fast read, with not a great deal of content. The book did spark some interesting questions in my head and I learned a few things along the way, but by the end I felt like it never took me where I needed to go. It never got me into “aha!” stuff. It never solidified anything I was already thinking.
It’s possible the issue is partially with me, but the book is explained as a book about “rediscovering narrative,” and I didn’t read it that way. I felt the point the book ultimately made was to emphasize “sensory” stories over “verbal” stories. Verbal has a role for Miller, but for this book at least it’s a diminished one.
I think the book serves better as a tool for helping a handful of youth leaders supplement their normal communication of the truth with creative experiences. Because of the work it would entail, these youth leaders would probably need to be in large churches with lots of youth and a sizeable budget.”