Salvationist DNA

sallyarmydreaminIt won’t be surprising to anyone that my Salvationist roots remain highly influential in many aspects of my current and hopefully future ministry.  Whilst there is no real prospect of a return to the Army for us, I guess there are some things that you don’t shake off quite possibly because they are missional dynamite.  I am still inspired by Salvation Army ministry at its best, particularly with its more historical ministry before things settled a bit in many communities.

What do I mean?

Firstly, I mean the early understanding of a Salvation Army corps as a unit engaged in active mission.  They expressed it in 19th century ways, but express it they did. A fusion of evangelistic witness, practical social engagement combined with a radical discipleship and prayer-fuelled passion spread The Salvation Army from the East End of London all around the world. As General John Gowans, international leader of the Salvation Army in the late 1990s-early 2000s said, ‘A Salvation Army corps is a mission team, and its officer is a mission team leader.’  In other words, the prevalent mode of pastor-congregation shepherd was not the sole function of Salvation Army ministers.  I said a lot about this back in the day, and I’m not in the Army now so my views on it don’t matter in that context, but I still believe they matter in the mission context of the early 21st century.

I read an article today by Carey Nieuwhoff (here), and he said:

the church today is filled with shepherds, to the point where shepherds are perhaps over-represented in church leadership. What we need most as we navigate new waters in a post-Christian culture is not more shepherds, but spiritual entrepreneurs.

Whether you call it spiritual entrepreneurship or the gift of apostleship, what we need is a new generation of Apostle Pauls who forge out in new directions. Who experiment boldly. Who dare greatly.

So, I guess I’m not alone.  There are many other mkissiologists who make the same observation.  The urge to push out in new innovative directions isn’t something everyone possesses, but it is such a key part of my experience and calling.  The church needs shepherds, but you only need pastors if there are actually any people to care for, and so the activation of a spiritual entrepreneurship and culturally savvy evangelistic ministry alongside a Kingdom shaped over-all mandate may well just recapture the heart of the mission of the church in our day.

Secondly, I mean a particular commitment to the poor. Today its not all that common that every day Salvationists will actually have much contact with those who experience poverty.  In the earlier days of the movement, there was a firm commitment to social transformation, not only at a local level, but nationally and internationally.  Booth gradually developed a wholistic approach to the ‘saving of souls’ to embrace every part of the human person, not just their eternal furture.  Many Salvationists, including myself, experienced what might be called the ‘elevator effect’ in that getting helped, cleaned up, and spiritually renewed lifted people out of their circumstance.  However, one former Salvation Army officer, Chick Yuill, comments that what started to happen is that those who were lifted up forgot what it was like to go back to help others.  We need folks who will commit to mission in urban settings today, so badly.

There is a cost to it, though, one I know personally.  There is nothing glamorous about working in poorer communities.  In fact, its very hard work.  As well as encountering poverty and all sorts of human brokenness, you often experiences several generations of people with no real church connections, in combination with very different styles of learning.  That, however, can be an exciting opportunity.  This work involves a life of downward mobility if it is to be anything close to authentic.  Whilst recognising that I, as a white, almost middle-aged, educated male will always have trouble in being 100% integrated into a community where as many as 40% are unemployed, on sick benefits or not possession more than a standard  education, missional engagement implies incarnation engagement.  It is the Jesus way. “Go out, and go deep” says Alan Hirsch.

It is also slow work.  Transformation happens over generations.  Whilst Salvation Army officers were peripatetic, the strength of the local work was always the local people who were and are the consistency, and who were in a culture where all were expected to engage missionally in their community.

Thirdly, I want to pick up on discipleship.  I’ve said this before too, but being a member of The Salvation Army is not equivalent to being a member of a church, no matter how often its equated with that.  The Salvation Army is a ‘second decision’ community in that, upon confessing faith in Christ (becoming a part of his body), the individual is then invited to make a second decision to express that discipleship under a covenant agreement…in essence, living a monastic rule of life.  The comparison isn’t straight forward, but the bar of discipleship was raised high.

For me, what I’ve found as I’ve moved from a Salvation Army context to other contexts, is that there is, in many individual Salvationists, a base level of discipleship that means that folks could speak, pray, share faith, or engage in some sort of ministry as standard.  Passivity, whilst existing, was not the norm.  The church has so much to learn from that.

As an example, I became a Christian in the Salvation Army at the age of 15.  The following week I was invited to speak of my experience in public.  I was discipled in understanding scripture, taught how to pray, not only privately, but to pray with others.  By the time I was 16 I was preaching, leading meetings (services) both indoors and outdoors.  I was engaged in evangelistic work and in meeting the needs of the community.  Yes, by the age of 16.  This was normal, many of my friends did the same.  Likewise, this is similar to Tracy’s experience although we initially lived 60 miles apart when we met.

In many ways, this ‘second decision’ shouldn’t be needed.  However, down through the entire history of the church, the church has often been renewed through monastic ‘second decision’ communities quite simply because they highlight a new vision of what it means to follow Jesus.

Finally, please don’t hear my say that The Salvation Army was perfect.  It is far from it, it is a human organisation at the end of the day.  However, in the same way that the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Moravians and others gave a counter cultural discipleship witness and restored many skewered notions of church, so The Salvation Army, has done similar, all with limits (and even slightly guilty of creating its own skewers).  But, these are the things you learn on the way and there is so much to be learned by the Army’s witness when at its best and purest.

I carry, I suppose, Salvationist DNA that will always find expression in what I do and the work I engage in.  I’m convinced that, even outside its cultural settings of the organisation, that there are principles that can be carried to the benefit of Kingdom mission without even closely ending up with a clone or poor imitation.

Missional communities.  Wholistic ministry.  Radically active discipleship.  I’ll take that.

10 years of vision…

Back in 2007, the seeds of my long-term hope/vision was sown in my heart through a dream!   I recorded it on my blog at the time, and have revisited it several times.  That dream, like a seed, has been hidden underground, awaiting the right soil, temperature and conditions to begin to raise its head out of the ground.  It gives context to some of the things I’ve started to put in place in recent months as our circumstances move us towards a different future.  The thing that strikes me is that, since that initial vision in 2007, I’ve had so many experiences of part of it…so many tastes of it, and so many learning moments that have given me fresh understanding of that initial vision.

Back in 2007, new-monasticism, simple missional church, and had no knowledge of teh celtic-style mission endeavours by the monks of, say, Lindisfarne.  Those things were not in my sights, I’d never heard of the concepts.  And yet, as I reflect on that early vision, I’m struck that what I saw encompasses so many of those ideas.  Here is what I saw:

– disciples living a missional life together in a geographical area, committed to prayer, mission, discipleship and active engagement in communities

– an urban presence, a shop-front type idea, open as a community hub with simple lounge, kettle on, a creative prayer space, a meeting space.  Someone available here for drop-in to happen, but also functioning as a base for some detached workers engaging in the streets with people.

–  this, in essence, wasn’t going produce an institutional church – it was going to be what could best be described as a mission station.  It would certainly create communities for people to belong to, but it would seek to avoid church ruts by keeping mobile and keeping things light.  Its ‘missioners’, for want of a better word, may even be engaged with other church communities, but we part of this mission to advance God’s Kingdom, particularly amongst the poor and marginalised.

Reflecting on all that now, the language I’d put to it would be that of ‘missional order’ – people signed up to live out rhythms of mission and prayer, not being content to simply play the game of church survival, but pioneering new forms of engagement with the world in the way that the Fransiscan Friars did, or, indeed, how the early Salvationists did before falling down the church pit. Maybe even similar to what ‘Eden’ have done amongst youth culture in some of our cities.   Very much in partnership with the church, but also seeking to renew it by giving it a new vision of how it could be.

Reflecting on it all, I often consider how much easier it would be just to forget about it and take another pastor job…but I’ve been doing that now, rather restlessly, for nearly 10 years and I know I must take the step.  I know I won’t rest until I can do this thing that God has been stirring inside me for so long.  I want to give my blog-reading friends firm permission to stop me from settling for less again.

I don’t feel very courageous, many times I doubt myself and this irresistible call, but as my kids keep telling me, you do only live once.  It all sounds rather grand, but I want to begin to flesh out a dream of a particular kind of missional community, standing on the shoulders of giants, but entering into a new land for a time such as this.






A New World is Possible

On Good Friday, Jesus faces a major stage of the battle to usher in the Kingdom and become the first of the new creation God as promised.  Defeating the decay, the death, disease and disruption of God’s created order, he moves towards the cross and becomes the narrowest section of the sand timer, bringing one era to a close and announcing the next, absorbing the suffering and death in himself before a resounding restart for all.

There is no greater motivation for mission.  Mission is not just about personal salvation and pie in the sky when you die.  The mission of God is the restoration of all things, in all places, in all ways until it reaches its completeness through the return of Christ and the New Heaven and New Earth.

Right there is the reason for living.  We are to recognise, co-create, and work towards helping the world see God’s reign, his Kingdom breaking increasingly through.  We’re not in the business of getting scalps for our religious brand, but in alerting to people to the reign of Christ and helping them to step into that Kingdom life themselves.

There are so many beautiful signs of God’s reign in the world.  There are so many ugly signs of ‘broken shalom’ and so, like the Suffering Servant Messiah, we are to become co-workers with the Creator.

In the beautiful chapter of Isaiah 61, we see the role of any Kingdom revealer who would follow in the way of the Messiah…our mandate right there.  No need to wonder what the call of God is, just needed willingness to obey and act.

“They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.”

I’ve spend many years of my life walking the devastated cities of the UK and they continue to be my calling I can’t escape from.  God’s kingdom needs to be revealed everywhere, but no more so that in the places where devastation still reigns supreme, or so it seems.

The thought of returning to ‘compassionate ministry’ is daunting at times, especially after 6 fairly cushy years in well resourced churches…I mean, just look at the word ‘compassionate’…it means ‘with (com) suffering (passion)’.  To enter into the suffering of the other and nurture the hope of the Kingdom.

As a Salvation Army officer I covenanted my life thus:

to love and serve him supremely all my days,

to live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life,

to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends.

…and whilst there is little chance of me doing that within The Salvation Army, it is what my life is ultimately about.  All the circumstances of life have brought us back, full circle, to this one thing: to walk with Jesus into the mess of the world, whatever the cost.

It is worth it to see transformation in just one life, all worth it.  But God willing, we’ll see many others.

Community Connections will be the main piece of work I’ll undertake in Newcastle, from which I hope many other possibilities will spring, as we work with others to see God’s Kingdom reign revealed in that place, little by little.


white_vinyl_picket_fenceI’ve tried it.  It doesn’t work.  Living a ‘normal’ life that is, one a bit more conventional, a bit less close to the edge of things.  A life where one takes no creative risk, and where one seeks to quieten the passions of your life to make them more palatable to the onlooker.

Nice house, holidays, disposable income, respectable occupation, toning down the radical call to discipleship to make it palatable to 21st century sensibilities, somehow placating those who can justify sitting passively in a pew as discipleship.  What a load of tosh.  What makes us think that a life following Jesus of Nazareth looks like a picket fence and a MPV in the driveway?  What makes us think that church is a Sunday show that simply tides us over until we’re zapped away to heaven?

It has been an insightful experiment.  I’m convinced more than ever that the world will never be changed by a passive, low-impact expression of the body of Christ…and yet, it is often the only vision that people have ever been sold.

We’re into Holy Week now, the week where the Son of God demonstrates the full, ridiculous, suffering, loving, outrageous love for humanity.  If God had waited another 2000 years to send his Messiah, I still think he’d had sent a homeless, counter-cultural upstart that you couldn’t help but love or hate.  I think he’d still have come asking people to leave their nets, cast aside the 9 til 5.

‘Oh, but we can’t all follow Jesus like that’…really?  What makes us any different?  What changes his mission now that wasn’t applicable then?  The call to discipleship is our very first vocation…to hear, take up the cross and follow, investing our lives in the unveiling of his Kingdom instead of building our own.

Our lives should be captivated by the question ‘what would the Kingdom look like in this situation?’  If God’s Kingdom was come on earth as it was in heaven, how would that change our priorities?  And yet, we’re called to pray for that and live it.

I can’t get it out of my mind the height from which I’ve fallen, that’s how I feel about my life at the moment…but not in a ‘beat yourself up’ kind of way.  I’ve learned the lesson that dwelling on things does no good.  The only thing to do is to step up and ‘do the things that you did at first’…rekindle our first love, fan into flame the passion no matter the cost.  I don’t view that as brave, just necessary.  It is the irresistible call to follow.  If it doesn’t hurt a good bit, I’m not sure how close it is to the original call.


Rooted and Grounded – 3

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  – 1 Peter 3:15 – 16

So, having begun to learn how to live our lives in Christ, and to live out our life in the context of the body of Christ, participating in its ministry, there is that third dimension of witnessing to that life in the communities where God has places us.  I think we often give ourselves a hard time because we’re not Billy Graham [or insert evangelist of choice here]. The role of evangelist is not something that everyone carries though, in the same way that not everyone is a prophet/teacher/pastor/apostle etc. (Ephesians 4 ministry functions).

We are, however, called to engage in mission in our day to day lives, in the words of Peter, knowing how to ‘give an answer for the hope we have’, whilst being gentle, kind etc.  Living a missional live, sharing our story, seeking to demonstrate the values of the Kingdom of God.  Thats all well and good, but how?

For a long time I’ve been convinced that we all need practical suggestions of how to live the Christian life.  It doesn’t happen by accident.  And, although we’re all free in Christ, it doesn’t do any harm for us to be kept on our toes by others in the process, quite simply because a missional lifestyle can be the first thing to be jettisoned when things are turning cold in our spiritual lives.  It is often the first thing we won’t engage in, shortly followed by prayer and engagement with the bible and ultimately gaps appear in our connecting to Jesus.  But equally, we can do all the other stuff but never get over the fear of living it out.

solace-missional-practicesThe best simple suggestion I’ve come across is Michael Frost’s missional BELLS, or a similar pattern.  These are 5 missional practices, not just about outreach, but about keeping connected to the Spirit, to the body of Christ, and to living out the missio dei, the mission of God.   These are ‘In, Up, and Out’ practices which can help bring balance to our daily lives.  I heartily recommend them to you.  They are something I hope to encourage people to engage in as we plant some missional churches and make disciples in Newcastle from the summer.   Below , you’ll find a link to Solace’s proposed planting strategy and a copy of an e-book by Michael Frost explaining the full BELLS practices.  Please take time and have a read.  Live out God’s mission and your life in Christ where you are.

Free BELLS e-book PDF:  here
Solace Church Planting Document PDF:  here

Just to recap the key essentials of missional discipleship:

1) Learn how to live ‘in Christ’ 
2) Learn how to live out our lives as part of the people of God, how to live as the body of Christ 
3) How to share the possibility of that same life to those who don’t yet know it


Rooted and Grounded – 2

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” – 1 Corinthians 14:26

The second essential of disciple and Kingdom life may be this:

2) Learn how to live out our lives as part of the people of God, how to live as the body of Christ

I’m not into ‘blueprints’ – the idea that you copy Acts and all will be well.  We are significantly separated in culture and experience from the first century church and it is inevitably going to be different in many ways.  Having said that, I do believe that there are inklings of early church life in the New Testament which highlight some things we are missing.

Here is a question:  how many voices did you hear the last time you went to church?  I guess in the average church you might here the person leading worship, someone leading prayers, someone reading the bible, a preacher…so, maybe 4 people?  Sometimes all those people are the same person, sometimes there are one or two more voices, but I think on average 4 might be your best bet.  The reality is that worship has, by and large, become a spectator sport.  The New Testament writers couldn’t really have imagined church becoming like it is.  And, as I say, that ok, but I do think that Paul may have asked some questions.

The verse from 1 Corinthians  implies that worship was multi-voiced.  Part of the problem of building large churches is that the bigger you get, the less chance God’s people have to contribute to the building up of the church.  There is an expectation in this snap-shot that believers all had something to bring, something to share, something to contribute.  Yes, there may still have been more in-depth teaching by an apostle, elder or itinerant worker, but church was a team support.

It isn’t all about worship though, or gathering.  Living as the body of Christ involves all the ‘One Anothers’…all the things we are invited to do for our brothers and sisters.  Here is a link contain all 59:  Again, how can you do that sat in rows facing the front?  How can you do all that in an hour a week?  You can’t, really.  Early churches were communities in relationships that went deeper than ‘How d’you do?’ on a Sunday morning.  As well as all that, we are to live a missional life with an outward focus.

People have become disempowered to live as disciples IN the church, not only in terms of mission OUT of the church.  A willingness to look our brothers and sisters in the eye and say ‘You know, I’ve no idea how to live out this faith thing’ or ‘I’ve no idea what my contribution to building and edifying the church’ is a place to start.  If we’re going to be a healthy church, we must once again realise that we are all ministers, we all have something to share, and we each have our part to play.

But, if you don’t ‘have it’, its not so easy to share it.  And so, learn how to live in Christ, then learn how to participate in the gathering of his people.  Another question would be ‘what capacity is there for me to actually BE involved in the life of my church?’  As we learn how to live in Christ and function as his body, we then begin to share that in the world where he has placed us.  Tune in tomorrow for some more thoughts on that.






Rooted and Grounded – 1

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” – Colossians 2: 6 – 7 

What is the basic foundation of discipleship and Kingdom citizenship?  Maybe 3 things:

1) Learn how to live ‘in Christ’ 
2) Learn how to live out our lives as part of the people of God, how to live as the body of Christ 
3) How to share the possibility of that same life to those who don’t yet know it

Frank Viola, in his book “Finding Organic Church’ notes that this was the mission of Jesus, Paul and all the other apostles and those who trained.  I want to look at these three items in a mini series.  I am aware that not all followers of Jesus are given this foundation in their discipleship.  I’ve observed what kind of fruit is produced in lives without some sort of solid foundation in Christ.  Today, I’ll look at learning to live in Christ.

1) Learn How to Live in Christ
I’m glad that my early discipleship had this foundation, to a degree.  When I was being taught what it meant to live my life as a follower of Jesus, I remember being taught the importance of repentance and faith, that initial declaration of allegiance to Jesus and being encouraged to trust him for everything.  I remember receiving the Holy Spirit with power, which has stood me in good stead all these years, never having to doubt the presence or reality of God.  God just delighted to confirm his work in my life by his presence, giving me confidence that he had indeed begun his work.

The language that was used in my settings were ‘learning the means of grace’ which I didn’t understand so much as a 15 year old, but came to know and appreciate.  The ‘means of grace’ are pretty much what it says on the tin…the things that help us to be responsive to God’s grace; things like exploring the bible, prayer, worship, and the like.

I know after 15 years in ministry that people struggle with this, and that I’ve struggled at times with this.  There are so many things which mean that we’re not built up in our faith.  Everything from circumstances, laziness, our own waywardness, and everything in between.  The most unhelpful thing to do is to beat ourselves up over it.  There have been times when I’ve become a stranger to prayer and then what happens is that I put off getting back to it…sorta the same (but worse) as if you’ve forgotten to take your library books back and you can’t bear the stare of the librarian!  Naughty child syndrome.

But I don’t find that my Father has that sort of reaction or outlook.  I’ve enjoyed so often that sense of the Father’s delight that I’ve come back, that I’ve reached out again, that I’ve made the connection.  I’ve also known at times, particularly through my fight with major depression in the past, that sense of being held when I wasn’t able to string two words.  To reach a low point but know that at the very bottom of the hole is the strong arm of the Lord.  This has been when grace has been most amazing.

I know its quite trendy to be ‘less sure’ of our faith, and I do think we have to evaluate our experience and what we are taught as if to test it,  but for me, although there have been many unhelpful things I’ve had to unlearn, I never cease to be drawn to the example of Jesus, the lavishing love of the Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.

I guess I’d ask ‘how are your roots?’  Do you sense that experience of being built up, encouraged, growth in faith?  What would help you in that?  If you’re in a dry patch, or even a dark patch, how can you take a step towards Him?  And finally, is there anything that can really stop you from grabbing the opportunity of the presence moment to look again at Jesus and turn towards him?




Rethinking Church 7

As I sum up this week’s reflections on church, I want to conclude by saying that the church, whether gathered together some place, or dispersed through out the wider community in the week, is something I love. It is something Jesus loves because we find our life in him. It is something the Father loves, because from the beginning of time God has been looking for a people who become living stones to form a spiritual building into which he pours his divine life. Jesus pointed people towards the physical temple in Jerusalem and said ‘this isn’t it…I’m it’. God is making us a bride fit for her husband, a body expressing Jesus indwelling life in the world. It is the embryo of God’s new creation started here and now in the middle of history, called to make heaven on earth our business.

There is no ‘but’ to follow. That’s the bottom line for me. The heart of church is Jesus and our participation in his life.

I want to gather with the church; I want to pray and be prayed for by the church; I want to eat and celebrate life with the church; I want to learn more about Jesus with the church; I want to sing and celebrate with the church; I want to laugh and cry, weep and mourn with the church; I want to fight for justice and peace with the church; I want to impact the world with the church by living out the way of Jesus; I want to raise my kids with the church; I want the whole world to be connected at the deepest level with Jesus, and consequently, the church. And then, one day, I will see it in all it’s glory around the throne of our Father as we live out our life eternally in the New Creation.

Let’s not make it about something else.

Rethinking Church 6

Let’s talk about leadership.   I’ve been in full time church leadership for about 15 years in a variety of settings, which gives something of an insight from the inside ‘for better or for worse.’   I don’t proclaim to know all there is to know, by far, neither do I have any wish to malign any who serve in ministry, but I think it is fairly safe to say that there is something of a bottleneck in the church when it comes to diminishing numbers of leaders in the traditional denominations in particular.  More and more leaders are being stretched in more and more ways, and whilst God continues to call, less are responding. Either that, or God isn’t calling so many.  Whatever is happening,  this challenge can cripple the local church.

The current form and set up of churches, from the traditional to the new churches, set around the Sunday morning preach, basically do the same thing in a different style and many are strongly reliant on the pastor-teacher mode of leadership.  This, coupled with the worship service, mean that the leading of churches has become the realm of the professional.  Again, I speak as someone who has done more than my fair share, but I confess that I’ve long realised that fulfilling the role I have in the ways I’ve fulfilled in traditional church set ups have been a part of the problem.  I’ve said many times that I hope that I am in the last generation of leaders who lead in this way.

I won’t bore you with too much history, but its common knowledge that the church moved into a very different mode when Christianity became the state religion of Rome, adopting practices alien to the church in its first 300 years or so of existence.  When your religion is inseparable from your State, the mission task becomes very different when the assumption that everyone in the country is ‘Christian.’  At worst, this brought nominally and compromise, but there were, of course, some benefits of this arrangement. Yet, here in the 21st Century, were at the back end of this religio-sociopolitical arrangement…Christendom is fading, we are in a new missionary setting.

Without a doubt, many solutions and ways of working will need to happen to enable transition.  The occupational hazard that I have is that I’m not one of those who can maintain the status quo without losing my soul in the process.  And so, my desire is to maintain close relationships with the wider church, but begin working in faithfulness to what I see is part of the way forward.

How can leadership change?  I am convinced that we must realise that God didn’t just give pastor-teachers.  Some are called to apostolic ministry, evangelistic ministry, as well a to engage prophetically.  The apostolic ministry is what I’m going to talk about in particular though.

The New Testament Apostles, whilst unique in their position as being the founding 12, set a pattern for apostles who came after them.  The NT mentions folks fulfilling apostolic ministry beyond the 12.  But what did they do?  The apostolic task was, largely, to do the following:

1.  Instruct believers how to live deeply in Christ.
2.  Teach believers how to function as the body of Christ
3.  To equip the believers for ministry and send them out on mission where they were.

Think about Jesus…what did he teach his disciples?  To do those same three things.  The NT apostles do what Jesus showed them.  And why did Jesus show them this, in particular?  Because that’s what the Father send him to do because the Trinity live deeply in one another, function as community, and sent both Jesus and the Spirit. I’m just honestly wondering why we think doing anything other than what the Father showed makes any sense?

We pay lip service to the concept of the priesthood of believers and the ministry of the whole body.  This, I believe, is one of the larges reasons the church is the way it is.  I’ve met so many people who do not know how to live in Christ, participate fully in the body of Christ or effectively carry out mission in their locality.  How has this become the norm?

I want the rest of my days, as far as church goes, to be spent in building up and releasing the church to be the church and to build churches that can sustain their own life because they are rooted and grounded in Christ, not because they’re luck enough to be able to afford/employ someone to do ministry for them.  This conviction has come through hours of study, reflection, conviction and a deep sense of calling.  The church needs to be allowed to rise up and live in a new way.

If you fancy some reading, here are just a few on this topic:
‘Forgotten Ways’ by Frost and Hirsch
‘Finding Organic Church’ – by Frank Viola
‘Reimagining Church’ – Frank Viola
‘Organic Leadership’ – Neil Cole

Rethinking Church 5

Let me start again with Bonhoeffer, and with one of my favourite quotes of his:

‘The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this’

For me, church is never about a series of events or a Sunday service, not even stuff in the week.  Following the Way of Jesus is about our everyday moving, breathing, living.  Bonhoeffer talks of a ‘new kind of monasticism’ – that is, people who seek to live life devoted to key principles of the gospel, allowing discipleship to pervade every sphere of their lives.  I still meet too many people for whom church is an event, and where following Jesus is for ‘other people.’

I firmly believe that people need ‘pegs’ to be able to hang their approach to discipleship on.  The traditional vows of ‘obedience, chastity and poverty,’ especially lived out in community, were one of the ways our predecessors have sought to flesh out discipleship.  I’m not suggestion that those are the pegs that 21st century ‘new monasticism’ will look at adopting.

One such expression of this is Infinitum, a movement which has its birth in the Salvation Army, or certainly originating with some Salvation Army people that I know, which spans several countries.  However, engagement is not restricted at all and non-Salvation Army people are engaging and building life around this.  They express their ‘way of life’ like this:

One Vision – Following Jesus
Two Virtues – The Two Loves, that is, Loving God and Loving Others
Three Vows – Surrender, Generosity, Mission

Again, with this expression of community, there is nothing to join, nothing to pay, just a life to live.  They suggest that people find themselves one or two friends or more, explore the framework, and then meet once a week for an hour to ask ‘OK, how have we gotten on with this this week?’  An opportunity to share, be refreshed, encouraged, share burdens, to pray and to help keep focussed.

In many ways, if that was my experience of ‘church’ I’d be glad of it.  I also recognise the value of gathering together to express that common life and also to make ourselves visible in the community BUT ITS NOT ABOUT THE GATHERING – it’s about the life. This is so simple, and there are a variety of expressions of this ‘new monasticism’ which focuses on giving a simple frame work, a means of connecting life and faith, which builds in the expectation that this isn’t just about fronting up on a Sunday…it is ‘church’ from Monday to Saturday.

The longer I reflect, the more I’d see church planting as these things:  firstly, releasing and empowering such a network of connections around a ‘way of life’; secondly, facilitating a regular gathering where all can come together to celebrate, eat, worship and be hospitable to those exploring church – a public face.  A church that is dispersed AND gathered, missional AND attractional.  Both/And.

If church is as ‘simple’ as this, then people are released to live life and engage in a whole feast of mission-focussed opportunities and lifestyles that isn’t hampered by 20 committee meetings before breakfast (slight exaggeration!). But just think of all the extra hours you wouldn’t have to spend inside church doors…

How does that grab you?  I want in.