Tag Archives: Scattered Communities of Light

Corner Shop Christianity

In my community there is a corner shop on… well every corner.  If not quite every corner at least at the top or bottom of most streets there is a corner shop.  They stay open late.  They know your name.  You know where to get your bread, milk, cigarettes or 2 litre coke.  For some of them they have been in the area for generations, like the famous Mr Parkers on Roodebloem Road.  For us, though, Mrs Cassiem’s house shop is our local.  She knows my boys and they will run from our door all the way to her house before I have even gotten half way there.  We normally chat about the weather, her plans to extend her shop, how big the boys are getting and lately she has even given us some good health care advice.

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I cannot help but wonder if the church was more like a corner shop than the large franchise store in the main street.  What if on every street there was a place where people knew Jesus followers lived?  A place where they could find rest, help or prayer.  A place where people laughed, cried, ate together and shared life.  A place where kids were welcome.  A place where people knew they were loved.  A place where people knew they could go when they were desperate, when they had blown it or when they needed help.  What if throughout the east city area there existed scattered communities of light and of life and of hope?  What if on every street a home like this existed?  What if more of us intentionally chose to be move in and to share our lives in order to be these kind of people?

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Will you take a risk?

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We are in somewhat tricky stage of ministry.  While we find that God increasingly is giving us more to do, in terms of people and discipleship and ways to better connect with our community.  In a strange twist of God’s sovereign sense of irony we are have the most forward movement in ministry than at any time over the last few years… and yet we have the most backward movement financially.

Over the last year we have steadily lost a number of our supporters, through changing life circumstances as well as the rising cost of living.  Currently we are at about 65% support from donations.  Our baking business The Cake Faerie takes us up to about 77% of what we need.  However, it does take a lot of time and energy.  Next year we are aware that we will lose another major financial supporter, which will take our base support to around 52% support

While we continue to explore different ways to finance our work.  Including getting a “regular” job of some sort we are also somewhat hesitant to do that.  Because as with all choices there is always a trade-off, and in this case it limits the time that we have to invest in people and discipleship, just at a time when we feel like God is opening doors… All a bit confusing really.  First prize for us is still that we can get a substantial or all of our support from those who resonate with it is that we are trying to do.

But we are not naive enough to think that this does not involve a risk on your behalf?

The gospel calls us to adventure, risk and innovation in taking the unchanging, beautiful and true gospel to the whole world. What would it look like to take the gospel to those not being reached? To the dark, broken and forgotten places of our cities? There are no simple strategies or answers to those questions, but there is a call to risk, to pioneer, to venture beyond where we are comfortable and what we currently know.

In many ways this is something that we figure out and learn on the road. We adjust, change course and risk failure, but in the midst of all that we can take heart that God is at work. And we pray that his glorious gospel will shine in all its beauty and splendour in the dark and forgotten places of our cities.

We invite you to join with us in this gospel risk, by considering financially partnering with us. We realise that we are asking you to take a risk on us, on something that is hard to define, messy, not clearly mapped out and open to failure. But is this not the life of risk that God calls us to? We do not fear failure, only the failure that comes from the unwillingness to risk and try new things for the sake of the gospel.

Would you or your church community consider committing to taking a one, two or three-year “risk” on this gospel endeavour? Or perhaps you might consider a once off gift if you feel you cannot commit to monthly giving. We would love to meet with you, speak to your community, pray together, dream together and talk over how we may partner together for the fame and glory of the Lord Jesus.

If this is you… contact details here

Photo Credit: Derek Gavey via Photo Pin

God does not call you to settle down

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.

I am a Misfit!

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…