Tag Archives: Contextualization

Hip- Hop Tuesdays: For the City

I don’t know why but Tuesday just feels like the kind of day that you need some hip-hop to get you through.

Here is some more Propaganda with some challenging words on injustice, social inequality, gentrification and the Saviour who moved in.

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Light in the Asphalt Jungle

I
I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city that rose up out of the crust of the earth.
And it’s streets were paved with asphalt,
And a river of dirty water ran down along it’s curbs.
It was a city
And its people knew no hope.
They were chased and herded from place to place by the churning jaws of bulldozers.
They were closed up in the anonymous cubicles of great brick prisons called housing projects.
They were forced out of work by the fearsome machines and computers,
And by the sparseness of their learning.
They were torn into many pieces by the hostile angers of racial fears and guilt and prejudice.
Their workers were exploited.
Their children and teenagers had no parks to play in.
No pools to swim in,
No space in crowded rooms to learn in,
No hopes to dream in,
And the people knew no hope.
Their bosses underpaid them.
Their landlords overcharged them.
Their churches deserted them.
And all of life in the city seemed dark and wild, like a jungle,
A jungle lined with asphalt.
And the people sat in darkness

II
I had a dream,
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in neon-lighted darkness.
And I heard people talking.
And I looked at them.
Across their chests in large, golden letters-written by their own hands
Across their chests were written the words:
“I am a Christian.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said;
“How terrible…How terrible…How terrible.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said:
“That is no place to live,
But some of our people have wandered there,
And we must go and rescue them.
And we must go and gather them, like huddled sheep into a fold;
And we will call it a City Church.”
So they built their church.
And the people came,
And they walked past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying men who lined the city’s streets.
Year after year they walked past,
Wearing their signs: “I am a Christian.”
Then one day the people in the church said:
“This neighborhood is too bad for good Christians.
Let us go to the suburbs where God dwells, and build a church there.
And one by one they walked away, past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying people.
They walked fast.
And did not hear a voice that said:
“…the least of these…the least of these…”
And they walked by, and they went out, and they built a church.
The church was high and lifted up, and it even had a cross.
But the church was hollow,
And the people were hollow,
And their hearts were hard as the asphalt streets of the jungle.

III
I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in bright and gaudy darkness.
And I saw more people with signs across their chest.
And they were Christians too.
And I heard them say:
“How terrible…how terrible…how terrible.
The city is filled with sinners:
To save sinners,
To save sinners.
But they are so unlike us,
So bad,
So dark,
So poor,
So strange,
But we are supposed to save them…
To save them,
To save them.”
And one person said:
“Can’t we save them without going where they are?”
And they worked to find a way to save and be safe at the same time.
Meanwhile, I saw them build a church,
And they called it a Mission,
A City Mission:
And all the children came by to see what this was.
And the city missionaries who had been sent to save them gathered them in.
So easy to work with children, they said,
And they are so safe, so safe.
And week after week they saved the children
(Saved them from getting in their parent’s way on Sunday morning).
And in the dream the City Missionaries looked like Pied Pipers, with their long row of children stretched out behind them,
And the parents wondered in Christianity was only for children.
And when the missionaries finally came to see them, and refused to sit in their broken chair, and kept looking at the plaster falling, and used a thousand words that had no meaning, and talked about rescuing them from hell while they were freezing in the apartment, and asked them if they were saved, and walked out into their shiny care, and drove off to their nice, safe neighborhood-
When that happened, the parents knew;
This version of Christianity had no light for their jungle.
Then, soon, the children saw too; it was all a children’s game;
And when they became old enough they got horns of their own,
And blew them high and loud,
And marched off sneering, swearing, into the darkness.

IV
I had a dream,
And I saw the Christians in the dark city,
And I heard them say:
“We need a revival to save these kinds of people.”
And they rented the auditorium,
And they called in the expert revivalist,
And every night all the Christians came, and heard all the old, unintelligible, comfortable words, and sang all the old assuring songs, and went through all the old motions when the call was made.
Meanwhile, on the outside,
All the other people waited impatiently in the darkness for the Christians to come out, and let the basketball game begin.

V
I had a dream.
And I saw Christians with guilty consciences,
And I heard them say:
“What shall we do?
What shall we do?
What shall we do?
These people want to come to OUR church,
To OUR church.”
And someone said:
“Let’s build a church for THEM,
For THEM,
They like to be with each other anyway.”
And they started the church,
And the people walked in.
And for a while, as heads were bowed in prayer, they did not know.
But then, the prayers ended,
And they people looked up, and looked around,
And saw that every face was THEIR face,
THEIR face,
And every color was THEIR color,
THEIR color.
And they stood up, and shouted loudly within themselves:
“Let me out of this ghetto, this pious, guilt-built ghetto.”
And they walked out into the darkness,
And the darkness seemed darker than ever before,
And the good Christians looked, and said,
“These people just don’t appreciate what WE do for THEM.”

VI
And just as the night seemed darkest, I had another dream.
I dreamed that I saw young people walking,
Walking into the heart of the city, into the depths of the darkness.
They had no signs, except their lives.
And they walked into the heart of the darkness and said:
“Let us live here, and work for light.”
They said, “Let us live here and help the rootless find a root for their lives.
Let us live here, and help the nameless find their names.”
They said, “Let us live here and walk with the jobless until they find work.
Let us live here, and sit in the landlord’s office until he gives more heat and charges less rent.”
They said, “Let us live here, and throw open the doors of this deserted church to all the people of every race and class;
Let us work with them to find the reconciliation God has brought.”
And they said, “Let us walk the asphalt streets with the young people, sharing their lives, learning their language, playing their sidewalk, backyard games, knowing the agonies of their isolation.”
And they said, “Let us live here, and minister to as many men as God gives us grace,
Let us live here,
And die here, with out brothers of the jungle,
Sharing their apartments and their plans.”
And the people saw them,
And someone asked who they were,
A few really knew
They had no signs
But someone said he thought they might be Christians,
And this was hard to believe, but the people smiled;
And a little light began to shine in the heart of the asphalt jungle.

VII
Then in my dream I saw young people,
And I saw the young men and women
Those who worked in the city called Chicago,
Cleveland [Johannesburg],
Washington [Bangkok],
Atlanta [Nairobi],
And they were weary,
And the job was more than they could bear alone,
And I saw them turn, turn and look for help,
And I heard them call:
“Come and help us,
Come and share this joyful agony, joyful agony,
Come as brothers in the task,
Come and live and work with us,
Teachers for the crowded schools,
Doctors for the overflowing clinics,
Social workers for the fragmented families,
Nurses for the bulging wards,
Pastors for the yearning flocks,
Workers for the fighting gangs,
Christians.
Christians who will come and live here,
Here in the heart of the darkness,
Who will live here and love here that a light might shine for all.
Come.”
I heard them call,
And I saw the good Christians across the country,
And their answers tore out my heart.
Some said, “There isn’t enough money there.”
Some said, “It’s too bad there. I couldn’t raise children.”
Some said, “I’m going into foreign missions, where things don’t seem so dark.”
Some said, “The suburbs are so nice.”
Some said, “But I like it here on the farm.”
Some said,
Some said…
And one by one they turned their backs and began to walk away.
At this moment my dream was shattered by the sound of a great and mighty whisper, almost a pleading sound;
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am hungry in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am thirsty in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am a stranger in this asphalt jungle.”
And a voice said, “Come, help me, for I have been stripped naked, naked of all legal rights and protection of the law, simply because I am black in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for my heart is sick with hopelessness and fear in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, live with me in the prison of my segregated community, and we will break down the walls together.”
And the voices were many,
And the voice was one,
And the Christians knew whose Voice it was.
And they turned,
And their faces were etched with the agonies of decisions.
And the dream ended.
But the voice remains,
And the choice remain,
And the city still yearns for light.
And the King who lives with the least of his brothers and sisters in the asphalt jungle…
Yearns for us

Vincent Harding

 HT to Nigel for posting this first.

Why diversity matters in church

If there truly are a diversity of people and cultures in the world then surely it is inconceivable to imagine that the a community of the gospel ought to have a homogeneous look the world over, in vastly separate communities of culture, economics or way of life.  Or indeed in a multi-ethnic and mixed economic community.

If it is the gospel and the gospel alone that shapes and directs our churches, then diversity is not simply a “nice to have”, it is crucial to the existence of the gospel in that community.

Ephesians 2, for example, makes it clear that the gospel is busy creating out of a divided humanity (in Ephesians that is the Jew-Gentile divide) one new man or humanity.  This one new man is the body of Christ (the church).  When we are in Christ we have a new identity, a new affinity and we belong primarily to a new humanity.

This does not mean a kind of a-cultural homogeneity or, as has been the case in the past, a conformity to Western Christianised  norms.  Rather we bring all of our previous cultural richness, diversity, strengths, weaknesses and idolatries into the one new humanity.  And together our cultures enrich the church and grow us in our understanding of the gospel.  Nothing helps us see our personal and cultural blind-spots than reading the Bible or sharing life with someone from another culture.  The diversity of the church is a gift of God.

An affirmation of gospel diversity rescues us from cookie-cutter church models.  Have you every paused to consider why throughout my city Cape Town for instance no matter which community you go into from the ludicrous wealthy to the desperately poor the essential structure of church life will be the same?  Surely the gospel frees us to allow church life to grow up in such a way that resembles the life of the people of that community.  It is a community whose life together makes sense to the people of that community whilst at the same time it exists as a challenge to the community because of the gospel at work in that church community.

If there exists in a community a gospel community which bears no resemblance to the culture and rhythms of that community then we must question whether there has indeed been a fundamental shift of identity from the old life to the new.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part four

Don’t forget we where still homeless, we were not a part of a church network or a denomination… not even a book club really! So what were we to do? The guys we loved theologically were a bit hesitant about what we were up to… really no Sunday service (although I did hear someone refer to The Story as a Sunday service… epic fail!), no preaching (more correctly no monologue but shall we save that for another day?). Basically it felt like we love you and you have good intentions but you are going too far… Why are you trying to do church differently. After all it has been working fine all these years. Look at all the people just like me that have been saved.

The guys who do get what we were trying to do, are the guys who are a bit trickier theologically, very broad, a bit slippery on some key questions and just a little bit fruity (love you guys!). Mostly they longed for church to be different not for the sake of mission but for the sake of their (and their tribes) preferences or desire to see more social action, more authentic worship (by this they normally mean singing), better community or less autocratic authority.

Honestly I can relate to a lot of this – sometimes the happy Hillsong crowd drives me balmy. And if I hear one more vision about the new building I might just vomit. But yet all of this is pretty much just about me. What would me and my friends prefer? What are my pet peeves, well let’s create a new community that does worship/social justice/ teaching / community better?

What we are trying to do is to not make church all about us. I could quite happily (so I think) be plugged back into the matrix and just become a “church guy” again. Lock me in my study with my books, preach some moderately interesting sermons, be a part of a loving community (except when it’s not), send my kids to Sunday school and enjoy being a part of a bigger group of men and women who are working to keep churches running faithfully and hopefully see a couple of people come to Christ. Sounds quite nice actually… But I feel like I took the red pill and now I know too much to ever go back

Our community must be shaped by mission. It is not our preferences or ways of doing things that are considered firstly, but those who we are trying to reach. Our community life and community rhythms must be shaped around the life and rhythms of those we are trying to connect with. It may be that Sunday morning is a terrible time to connect with your community? So why then do we persist on Sunday as the only day that the church can meet…

What if Monday night was the best time to get together as a community… would you really give up Survivor? What if the time that you could best connect with the people you are trying to reach is not a convenient time for you… would you do it anyway? If the answer is no, then who is your church community really for anyway? You and your tribe? Or those who are lost, broken and without hope in the world? Seems like Jesus told a few stories about those who were lost… But then he did get nailed for it, so probably not the best plan right?

You may also want to read part one, part two and part three of these ramblings.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part three

We soon realised that as God began bringing people to us, (Honestly I am not even sure where they all came from?) The Story was not going to be enough for us as a community here in the East City, if we were going to grow in the gospel and be a community on mission together.

Discipleship is always in the simple, ordinary bits of life together – a once a week story was never going to cut it. We needed to consciously reshape ourselves from a group of people who gathered for a once off event on a Sunday to becoming a gospel community. A group of people who have committed to sharing their lives together, and being on mission together in this place.

Discipleship is also always contextual, so we needed something that our friends who drive through from the Northern Suburbs were not a part of. We love them and they have been an incredible blessing to us. But they are not here- their struggles may not be our struggles… their questions may not be our questions… their community is not our community. To follow Jesus is not to impose a cookie-cutter church model wherever we go. Rather it is to wrestle together, as together we ask “what would it look like to follow Jesus here, in this place and among this people?”

To help us start thinking through how we do that we started to meet together on a Thursday evening. Studying Scripture, sharing our stories, dreaming and planning for mission, eating together, praying together and sharing communion. My favourite parts are always when those who by their own self-designation are not Christ-follower yet ask us to pray for their friends who they have invited. It has not been mainstream, it has not been ordinary but someone said to me last night while we watched the dishes… “I cannot shake the feeling that God is doing some amazing here!” And I thought it was only the idealistic dreamer that thought that!

You may also want to read part one and part two of these ramblings.

Four31: What Could It Look Like?

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.

1. Node:

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.

Four31: Values

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.