Tag Archives: Woodstock

East City Beauty

I love to walk around my neighbourhood.  There is so much beauty in the people, the colour. the buildings, the life. And the glimpses of hope that spring up from between all the grime, the brokenness and the hurt remind me of what God is doing in this world.  In the midst of all the brokenness and pain, God is busy with his work of restoration, hope and reconciliation.  Sometimes you have to look really hard too see it but there in the middle of all the death is the tiny hint of green.  I love to walk as much as I can because it slows me down long enough to see what can only be seen at a slower pace.  Beauty it seems revels in the unhurried pace of the walker.

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A beautiful piece from the master Freddy Sam

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London based street artist David Shillinglaw (aka Dodie Boy) did this piece in Woodstock

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What makes this even more amazing is that it done on a stippled wall!

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

A Picture of Good News

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Last week we threw a birthday party for our friend J, who has never had a birthday party or even a birthday cake. Friends who are a part of our wider Four Three One community drove through from the other side of Cape Town. We ate together, gave presents, prayed for her, took a bunch of photos, ate cake, laughed and, of course, sang happy birthday. J and her family are a real part of our community even though she is not sure she want to “be converted” as she says. We talk about Jesus a lot with her but on that night we just wanted her to see that the gospel is good news. We wanted to show her that our God is a good king and to follow him is taste life, hope and joy now in part and one day in full.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part six

So now you know how we got here.  Confused, yes me too. I am not sure really where here is either, except we are not there anymore.

One last thought, if you are part of a church, which you love, then you probably will not understand the need for what we are doing.  You could not imagine that anyone would not be loved and feel welcome at your church.  Without breaking down something that is obviously good in your life, trust me on this… they will not love it, they might hate it, they might be offended, they most probably will just not care! Your exegesis may leave them cold, your worship may freak them out, your liturgy may confuse them and the fact that you smile a lot, only sing happy songs, don’t swear and all seem ok, will probably confirm what they already knew when they walked in… they don’t belong!

Having to nip out the back for a sneaky smoke will confirm it.

They have problems, questions, doubts and bills to pay.  We have seen too much and felt too little.  They hear everything and yet often know nothing.  How might they possibly justify their existence when they’re broke and stuck in a dead-end job?  Or perhaps we are living their dream but don’t know how to pay the rent or perhaps they are unemployed (unemployable?), homeless, cold and hungry.  You probably don’t know what it like to live just for today or what it’s like to go to bed hungry?  You have forgotten what it is like to be all alone in a crowded room?  We long for the simplicity of good friends, a place to belong, a place to kick your shoes off, put your feet up, a place of honesty, a place to breathe…

As the community of God’s people we are set free to once again discover what it is to be truly human.  And it is this life of the Trinity, this life of Creation that we are busy discovering.  It is into this life together that we invite others to come and join with us, journey with.  It is a life of peace, of joy, of hope and of rest!

Vincent Donovan once said about mission work, “… do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, as beautiful as that place might seem to you.  You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before.”

You may also like to read part one, part two, part three, part four and part five of these ramblings.

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.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part two

In hindsight I am not sure why we started doing The Story at all… I had seen and read about story-telling a number of times before and always been intrigued by it.  So when we saw it how it was done in Loughborough I remember thinking… “This could actually work.”

 As a result when we came home we decided to give it a go.  Looking back I am not altogether sure who we thought would come or why?  But we got a few people who committed to coming along, at least for a couple of weeks…

16 stories later, we have had about 26 different people (including children) come to at least one evening, a core group of about 15, at least 5 different languages and 4 different nationalities, and an age range from 4 to 51.  We have had old friends come visit, spiritual seekers, people who have lost their way, people who are learning to find their way again, people who love Jesus and people who do not, homeless people, recovering addicts, cynics and saints.  We have shared food, strong coffee and something of our lives.

We have sung prayers, said prayers and listened to prayers.  We have questioned, challenged, rejoiced, got angry, got frustrated, laughed, and on more than one occasion simply sat in awed silence.  We have learnt how good and gracious God is, how rebellious we are.  We have contemplated the fruit of our ways and the fruit of His ways.  We have seen a God who despite the mess we make is simply not finished with us.  We have seen hope, we have seen grace, we have seen the good life and we have yearned for it.  We have been stunned by our inability to grasp it and left wondering what is God up to in this the greatest story ever told..

It was never meant to last this long but somehow the stories have pulled us in and we have stopped being in a rush to finish the whole story in 8 weeks.  Will we continue with this forever? Not sure… probably not.  Sunday night will morph and change and take on a new life and a new direction.  Possibly once we have finished the whole Bible story we will revert to a twice a year 8 week story set (Spring and Summer possibly)?  Maybe get an outside venue this? Maybe an Acts story set or a Luke story set or even more ambitious an Ecclesiastes reading (I’m thinking like a poetry reading) set.

I don’t know where it will end up but I rejoice that I no longer feel like I must have all the answers… as a community together we can determine where it is that God is leading us, as we grow in him and as we engage with our community on mission.

You can read part one here

It seems like a lifetime ago… part one

It seems like an age ago that we arrived back from the UK with yet another feeling of now what? Our tenuous official link with the wider Christian community was severed once again (albeit not at the expense of relationships or integrity as has been the case in the past).

I found myself one night sitting in my study staring at the computer screen, blank…

What now?  No people?  No programmes?  No sending church?  No affiliations?  No community? No one ahead of us? And yet somewhere in the midst of all that a deep rooted conviction that God has called us here to this place, to these people, at this time!  Beyond that… not much really!

The offer on the table was to move to the UK and be a part of movement, a people, a community.  A people we loved, we were inspired by, we were encouraged by, a people on mission, a people among whom I would be proud to have my sons grow up.  And it was enticing… a year ago perhaps we would have taken it. Would have thrown it all in and left to be a part of another people in another place.  Don’t get me wrong it would not have been sinful or unfaithful, the UK definitely needs gospel workers. But it would have been wrong!  I know now that God has called us to this people, in this place at this time!

Without getting any funny super-spiritual kind of ideas it seems like God was waiting for that first step of obedience- that conviction to say no to a very good thing- to throw open not the one door we had prayed for but multiple doors… simultaneously!  Never a dull moment with our God.

I remember clearly sitting on my couch getting ready to initiate a conversation with a couple with whom we had been working through Porterbrook material for the better part of the year.  There has been no agenda to doing Porterbook, except a shared desire to work through some of the material.  But as the year had gone on we had seen the lights slowly begin to go on in their heads and their hearts.  As a result while we were overseas we had boldly decided to broach the subject of would you-perhaps-possibly-maybe-no pressure-if you like consider joining us here?  Needless to say before the wheels of the plane had even smelt the African tarmac our reckless abandon to people’s approval of us had been… well… abandoned.

But (to crib from CS Lewis) God was once again on the move… “While you have been away we have been thinking” they said “And we want to talk to you about something…” And suddenly thanks to our brave endeavour and reckless abandon to the gospel (just go with it, ok!), a few months later our gospel community was 5 people.

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: Our Dream

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:

  • To take discipleship as our first priority. To have our humanness restored in God’s image as we learn to follow Jesus and as we invite others to learn with us
  • To reach those not being reached by contemporary church models by re-imagining the shape and style of church organised around mission. Questioning our inherited strategies for the sake of reaching a lost and dying world with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • To litter the nooks, crannies, forgotten and neglected places of our city with scattered communities of light. Authentic communities of light living distinctive, shared lives that both demonstrate and proclaim the goodness of living under the reign of King Jesus
  • To see the diversity of our cities and towns being brought together through the gospel into one new body, the church. New communities, where the racial, cultural and economic barriers are being broken down as an expression of our unity in Christ. To be communities shaped by the cross and where the patterns of our life together are a taste of God’s new kingdom.