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.
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.
Today marks the day 3 years ago that we moved to Woodstock. Convinced of God’s call we arrived with a truck full of stuff, one child, a dog and big dreams. Since then we have flogged or given away all the baby stuff, adopted a second child and lost the dream. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the past few years have, at times, been some of the toughest and most challenging years of our life. We came close at times to walking away… from everything. There were days we were not even sure we wanted to follow Christ anymore. But in the midst of the chaos, the mess, the anger and the tears, somehow we found the dream again. Mostly I think we simply found Christ again and for the first time we realised what it meant to follow him.
Mostly we try to programme, organise and control the mission. We are more concerned to know what tomorrow will look like while God is more concerned with how we will follow him today. We have forgotten that to follow Christ is to give up control, to give up our idols of control, security and comfort, to throw open our homes and our lives to the often chaotic, mostly unplanned, always unexpected and most definitely beautiful mission of God.
In three years it feels like we have lost much, but we have gained so much more. Mostly I look back and I ask myself – what have we done? And I cannot answer my own question. But somehow in some unquantifiable way we have found each other, found ourselves, found life and been found by our Saviour all over again. It has been over two years since we have been a part of a formal Christian community and I miss it deeply. Yet we are not alone we are surrounded by rich, full, deep relationships with our friends – believers and unbelievers.
We did not leave “church” because we were angry or hurt. But through some tough circumstances we found ourselves “out” of mainstream church, and as we tried to figure out the way ahead, God pulled us into mission. He called us into an unorthodox and unlooked-for path, and He has sustained us and loved us. I miss “normal church” but to be honest I don’t ever want to go back!
In 3 years: we have eaten together a whole lot, we have laughed together and we have cried together. We have walked together with the most surprising people. We have tried to listen to them and they to us. We have heard God’s Word afresh together. Somehow we have shared the gospel with the strangest mix of people. We have shared stories, life and hope with each other. Somehow in all of this we are starting to find church again. Not church as a concept. Not church as we have imagined it or shaped it but church as Jesus is growing up among this people in this place. We are finding a deeper, richer and dare I say “more biblical” experience of church, shaped and bound together by mission.
I imagine this post sounds decidedly flaky to most reading it and I confess five years back I probably would have thought so too. But somehow we are more in love with Jesus, more grounded in the gospel, more determined in mission and more a friend of broken people and sinners than ever before. Perhaps that is flaky but I suspect we are in good company with our Saviour…
Michael Frost on why mission catalyses community and worship:
Great TEDx talk by Jason Roberts from The Better Block:
Three steps to getting stuff done:
1. Show up – tell people to just show up.
2. Give it a Name.
3. Put a Date and Publish it. Blackmail yourself
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.