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.
Here is some more Propaganda with some challenging words on injustice, social inequality, gentrification and the Saviour who moved in.
Every culture, organisation and church has a prevailing myth that tells the story of who we are and what we value. And every myth is held up and carried along by its heroes. These are the human vessels that carry our ideals, our dreams, our aspirations. These are the men and women who put flesh onto our values. They are the ones who have succeeded in living the ideals and the dreams we hold to in some significant way.
What is the prevailing myth in your church? Who are the prevailing heroes in your church? Meditate on this for a while. The question is not what should be the prevailing myth in your church or who should be the heroes in your church. The question is; what IS the myth and who ARE the heroes?
We say mission drives our church but yet we spend most of our energy and time on maintaining our existing structures and programmes. We say we want to see our community reached for Christ but yet we employ numerous staff members whose primary responsibility is to care for us and our needs through teaching, youth work or kids programmes. We say we serve Jesus and not money and yet we create an elaborate system of church which requires a large amount of money to keep it going. We create a system that actually hinders us from mission rather than propels us forward into mission. We speak about what we think ought to be the prevailing myth but yet so often our lives are driven by a darker, less obvious shadow myth.
Who are the heroes in our church communities? The dashing youth leader? The talented musician? The eloquent preacher? The brilliant exegete? The successful business man? Any defining myth we create is carried forward by its heroes. If you truly want to know what the defining myth of your community is then ask yourself who are your heroes?
The bible teacher as hero betrays the myth that knowledge about God is our functional salvation story. Bible college is seen as the ultimate experience for young Christians. The worship leader as hero betrays the myth that the high that shared experiences bring is our functional Saviour. The successful business man as hero betrays the myth that we will find happiness or significance through money and success. The family man or stay at home mom or home-school parent as hero betrays the myth that family is the most important thing in the world. All these heroes and myths contains some truth but as is the case with all great lies, the object of truth has been stretched to breaking point, beyond it’s ability to hold the disproportionate value we have placed upon it.
What if the myth that defined our church really was the gospel. The gospel of Him who left all the security, the pleasure and the comfort of heaven to lay down His rights, his preferences, His desires in order to serve us. To become one of us. To die for us. What if the myth that defined our values, dreams and aspirations was this gospel story? What if our goal was sacrifice and not comfort? Risk and not security? Service and not pleasure?
What if our lives were defined not by our rights or our pleasures but instead were marked as those who joined their story with the great Story, who laid down their lives for the True Myth, who become heroes in the Ultimate Adventure and who risked it all for a share in the Kingdom of our Great King. What if we really were known as the friend of sinners, the defender of the vulnerable, the light in the darkness, the peacemakers, the kind and the just?
What if we really did believe that a man’s life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions? What if we really did believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive? What if we really did believe that our Father in heaven will clothe and feed us as he does the flowers of the field and the birds of the air? What if we really did believe that our God is a good God and that his Kingdom is better than all the pleasures and joys the kingdom of this world has to offer? What if we really did believe that the gospel is true?
I am not reaching for some utopian ideal of church. I know that anything we touch this side of Jesus’ return will be marked by our brokenness and sin. What we need though is honesty, an honesty robust enough to admit that our defining myths are too small. We have shrunk the kingdom vision into easily containable chunks that we can use to control our lives. Our heroes have become too small and our dreams are too reasonable.
We have shrunk the Kingdom to a coke lite, kid friendly version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing. We need an honesty that leads us not to self-inflicted lynchings of guilt but an honesty that admits that we have been living for the wrong myth and inspired by the wrong heroes. Our myth is sadly most often the coke-lite version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.
We need an honesty that inspires us to join our story with the Great Story, to give up our small ambitions and our small dreams. We need heroes that inspire us not to greater church attendance but who lead us to far wilder, less safe and more beautiful places where only our faith and our hope in the Great King can ever hope to sustain us. For it there that we will win glory for His Name and find the life we so desperately crave. “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
This past weekend I went to a conference that in all honesty I would never have gone to a few years back. And if by some miracle of teleportation I had found myself there, I am sure I would have been incapable of learning from those whose stories are so different to my own. At times I suspect radically different. (I say suspect because that really was not the point of the conference and neither I nor they presumably felt the need to get into our differences) Perhaps even different to the extent of the basic tenets of the gospel different. But yet I must confess there was something vibrant, something alive about their faith and their spirituality, something deeply attractive. Something I wanted…
For all my good Bible teaching and wrestling with exegesis I suspect my life, my spirituality, my faith is often as dull, as rational, as safe and as attractive as a three-day old sandwich. You could eat it but given the choice you would probably choose not to. How can it be that having given years of my life to studying the biblical text, fine tuning my doctrine and training other to go and do likewise I can now find myself deeply attracted to the spirituality of those who I have regarded as having a “lesser theology”?
The obvious first point of examination must be the possibility that my theological convictions are wrong? I have tossed that idea around a bit lately and while I can conclude that I have moved on a few issues, it is more the moving of nuance than of relocating to a different theological neighbourhood altogether. Perhaps, I am being naive but I am not sure it is my theological convictions that need moving. It is my heart!
Please don’t misunderstand me. Doctrine matters! Right doctrine leads to right living – breaking down the walls of exclusion, eating together, loving one another, joy, hope, freedom and life. Bad doctrine leads to division, strife, confusion, bitterness and hatred, just read Galatians if you are not convinced.
If this is true, and I would stake my life on it being true, then how can it be that those whose of us who have spent most of our lives studying, teaching and contending for what I would regard as good doctrine have lives that are so profoundly mundane and unattractive?
I suspect that what we need is not more information but rather some deep contemplation, sustained meditation and some profound experiences of the Spirit as we seek to live the information that we already know. We have become drunk with our quest for more knowledge. Like giddy schoolgirls we flock to hear, download and read yet more and more information on our latest theological crush. And somehow as we “just teach the Bible” we expect that transformation will just magically happen.
What makes these “lesser theological lights” (by my tribe’s standards anyway) so effective and vibrant and attractive? Faith. They actually believe in a God who wants to redeem and restore all of creation. So much so that they actually act on it. They base their lives around it. Make intentional choices to be downwardly mobile, committed to prayer, reaching the lost in the toughest neighbourhoods, speaking out against injustice, racism and exploitation. When God says that money enslaves and that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, they listen, they obey and they build lives on the words of Jesus. Faith.
It is after all not Bible teaching that matters but Bible living. It matters not how well you exegete the text but how deeply the text exegetes you! Will you follow where the text leads you? Will you meditate deeply on the implications of the text for your life, your aspirations, your lifestyle, the lost and the broken or will it merely become another interesting sermon to be tucked away until next we meet? Will you follow the text to where it leads to the end of you and your resources? Will you follow the text where it leads to a deep dependence upon the Spirit to lead you, guide you and sustain you for mission and in fact for life?
Strangely, I remain committed to my tribe theologically. Some days I wish I was not so convinced. But yet I long for my tribe to do so much more than contend for, teach, exegete and understand the truth. I long for the days when evangelicals will be known for their spiritual vitality, their love for the poor, their stand for justice, their care for the planet, their love for homosexuals, their lives of simplicity and sustainability, their radical generosity, their fight against consumerism and wastefulness.
Not at the expense of the gospel proclaimed. But precisely because we have believed the gospel proclaimed we are no longer conformed to the standards (comforts, securities, importances) of this world but rather our minds are being renewed by that gospel. Precisely because we have believed the gospel we will give our lives away in service of the last, the least and the lost just as Jesus gave his life away for us. We intentionally join our small story with God’s Great Big Beautiful story of redemption, resurrection, restoration, hope and beauty.
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.
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.
Here is our vision for what we hope God will do in and through our communities and our network:
It was one of those terrible fights, that starts about nothing and very quickly gets very ugly. I know that you know nothing about those but let’s just pretend anyway. It started just as we both got in the car to make the less than ten minute journey to drop the boys off at school and in that short time we were shouting, gesticulating and finally steaming in silence. Not pretty. Not our finest moment.
When we reached the school, I sprung up, wrenched the door open, and offered a terse “Come boys”
But my four-year old had other ideas, he got out of his car seat, put his head between the seats, looked at my wife and rebuking us said “You guys mustn’t fight.” Then he turned his head to look at me and said, “You must love Jesus.”
To my shame it was not well received at that moment. I mean, who honestly wants to hear the truth you taught your four-year old when you really want to be angry!
Later we apologised to the boys for not trusting Jesus or listening to them when they reminded us. It was a simple but deeply profound conversation.
On a similar vein: Is Following Jesus Really That Simple?