I think Michael Foster has some important thoughts to share about the potential dangers inherent in the simple church movement. In our quest for authentic Christian community let’s make sure that we don’t end up with a church that is in fact no church at all.
Archive for the 'Missional' Category
Who was I kidding? There’s no way I’m going to find the time to write a series of ‘top 8 for 2008′ posts between now and the end of the year so instead I’ll simply cram them all into one post. So here you have it, my top 8 for 2008 of everything!
Top 8 things I did or experienced in 2008:
- Got married! (October)
- Got engaged! (March)
- Started planning and implementing a church plant (All year – but especially last three months)
- Heard Piper, Driscoll, Chandler and Mahaney at the Resurgence Conference at Mars Hill in Seattle, spent time at the Journey Church in St Louis and met a whole lot of great peeps from Acts 29, and others, in the States (February)
- Was taught Deuteronomy by Gary Millar – the best Old Testament teacher I’ve been taught by to date (September)
- Road up Sani Pass – my first real 4×4 experience behind the wheel (October)
- Decided to stay in Cape Town long term – gotta love this city (March)
- Had my thinking about the gospel deepened and enriched ten times over by Tim Keller through numerous mp3s, articles and the odd blog comment (throughout the year)
Top 8 Blogs I followed in 2008 (See my 2007 list here):
- Church Planting Novice – Jonathan Dodson. A newcomer to the list, this blog has been perfect for where I’m at in my thinking at the moment. So much wisdom and insight from a guy on the ground.
- Between Two Worlds – Justin Taylor. Last year’s number 1 drops down one place – but still a great blog.
- Tim Chester. Up from last year’s number 7 spot. Tim’s writing never stops enlightening, challenging and encouraging all at the same time.
- John Scheepers. Give it up for the Saffa bloggers! John is a friend of mine who writes a great blog and brings a welcome voice to the South African Christian blogsphere.
- Drew Goodmanson. Down from #2 – sorry Drew. Drew doesn’t post very often, but when he does its almost always worthwhile.
- Justin Moffat. Another newcomer to the list. Justin writes an informative and challenging blog with an Anglican slant – I’ve enjoyed it a lot this year.
- Michael Jensen. Michael drops down from last years 3rd but still turns out great post after great post. Plus he sent me a copy of his new book which I’ll be reviewing here shortly.
- Jason Allen. Jason was one of the first people I became ‘blog friends’ with when I started blogging. I’ve always enjoyed his blog and the sanity he brings to some current trends that rage through the church blogging world.
Top 8 Books for 2008 (books I read this year – most of them are older than 2008 – please note that the books are a little one-sided topically because most of my reading this year revolved around my dissertation):
- Total Church – Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. Ok so I first read it in 2007 but I’ve read it several times this year because of my dissertation and I still think its the most important book I’ve ever read on ecclesiology.
- The Reason for God – Tim Keller. The first apologetics book that I feel comfortable giving to my friends.
- Planting Missional Churches – Ed Stetzer. Great book with practical insight. Really helpful for where I’m at.
- The Forgotten Ways – Alan Hirsch. Really good yet at times frustrating. I’m on the same page as Hirsch with a number of things – I guess I’m just a bit more conservative on one or two others.
- Breaking the Missional Code – Ed Stetzer and David Putman. Another great help on all things missional.
- On the Incarnation – Athanasius. I delved into a bit of church history this year and thoroughly enjoyed this one.
- The King of God’s Kingdom – David Seccombe. Dr Seccombe (Doc) was my New Testament lecturer this year and so I got a chance to have a crack at his book. It’s a great overview of Christ in the gospels.
- Jesus and the Victory of God – NT Wright. Vintage Wright – I don’t agree with him at every point but this is an important book.
Top 8 places I visited in 2008
- Seattle, Washington, USA
- St Louis, Missouri, USA
- Castleburn, Drakensburg, KZN
- Sani Pass, Lesotho
- Lost City, Sun City, North West Province
- Franschoek, Western Cape
- Betty’s Bay, Western Cape
- Durban, KZN (my old stomping ground)
That’s my year in a nutshell. It’s been the year with the biggest changes in my life to date. Not only did I get married but we decided to stay in Cape Town and plant churches here rather than in Durban. Things have come a long way in the last 12 months – here’s to an equally exciting 2009.
Merry Christmas all – have a great one!
“If we want to create communities with a missional mindset, we cannot allow our churches to be held back because of a lack of professional pastoral leadership. Every believer is called to missions, regardless of a more specific vocational calling. Equipping more laypeople to lead ministries and churches is exactly what Ephesians 4:11-13 describes.
The Bible goes into too much detail about pastor/elders not to assume they were a normal part of the local church. But the qualifications are those of a godly person with one exception. The godly person must be ‘able to teach’. Beyond the standards of godliness, that is the biblical qualification for a layperson functioning as a pastoral leader in a church plant.” Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, p.78
If we’re developing missional communities that, for all intensive purposes, function as small churches in a network with each other, maybe united by a central Sunday gathering, then surely all missional community leaders must be able to teach. If the leader is not able to teach then is the missional community really a self-contained church formed and led by the Word of God?
I know that some guys (even in the more theologically conservative wing) in the missional community movement don’t think that the leaders of individual missional communities need to be elders but I think that’s something of a contradiction in terms. They want their missional communities to function as micro-churches but they don’t want them led by elders. I can’t see how you can get away from it: not elder-led=not biblical church. I know there are other ways to ‘lead’ and numerous different ways in which non-bible teachers in a church ‘lead’ others but at the core of biblical ecclesiology is elder leadership which is, as Stetzer points out, a teaching leadership. Or am I missing something here?
‘We all agree with the theory of being a community of God that defines and organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God’s mission in the world. But the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the “attractional” model of church as ineffective. Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people “come to us” isn’t going to cut it anymore. But here’s my dilemma—I see no evidence to verify this claim.”
Wow!!!!! – that’s all I can say after reading Dan Kimball’s Missional Misgivings. Here’s an emerging/missional leader sharing some serious misgivings about the state of the missional church. His little article is definitely going to draw some heat – but its also going to make a lot of people think very hard about what it means to be missional. I wonder if the issue is not so much attractional versus missional but rather the content of the gospel message preached in either approach. I’m convinced that when the gospel is rightly proclaimed people are converted and disciples are made. For me the missional approach rightly suggests that there is an important context for that gospel proclamation – the redemptive community on mission – but at the end of the day the transformative power is in the gospel message, missional or not. Perhaps the reason why many missional models have failed to get off the ground is because the community has been prized over the message – but that’s pure speculation on my part. Either way, Kimball has made us think.
(HT – Jason)
After making a biblical case for the necessity of living breathing community as the best context for the gospel and the work of the gospel, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester put forward the following caution:
‘If you warm to this vision of Christian community then start where you are. Sell the vision by modelling the vision. Don’t become a pain to your existing congregation, telling them everything they are doing is wrong. Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people. Create around you a group of Christians who will share their lives and encourage one another in the faith. You might start with your home group. Often home groups are little more than a meeting. Make yours a community by acting like a community. You don’t have to mount a campaign for change – just get on with it and make community infectious. Create something that oter people want to be part of. And think about whether you could establish a context in which people in your church can hang out together and invite unbelieving friends: something like a regular cafe night, an open home or football practice‘ (Total Church, p.48)
What I appreciate about Steve and Tim is that they somehow manage to be radical, challenging, mature, sensitive and patient all at the same time. My temptation is to err on one of those at the exclusion of the others. Its easy to be radical and just forge ahead disregarding all the genuine people of God around you who might not be ready to go where you lead. Its easy to make a lot of noise about your newly found convictions and not worry about whether or not you are alienating others. Having read much of Steve and Tim’s literature, following Tim’s blog and listening to all their talks from the recent Total Church conference in San Diego, I’m convinced that these guys know how to bring balance and sanity to the missional conversation which is, by nature, a very radical conversation. I’m greatly encouraged and rebuked not to simply go out and tell everyone that they’ve got it wrong but rather simply to get out there to love and live in God’s new community.
Thabiti Anyabwile and Carl Trueman think that there’s too much fascination with ‘culture’ and ‘engaging culture’ in Christian circles today. I must confess that I’m not completely convinced that they’re on the money, or (if I may be so bold) that the school of thought, ministry and theology that these gentlemen speak out of has taken culture seriously enough yet and what it means to engage culture in a way that is congruent with the gospel. But then maybe I’m just a naive, young, little upstart – ok so I know I am, but anyway… I really get the feeling, looking at the average reformed and evangelical church around me that culture, and real engagement with it is still something a bit mysterious and off the agenda at present even despite the large amount of press available about engaging the culture. (HT – Jason)
Well JR Woodward has prepared an amazingly comprehensive list of resources that cover the concept of ‘missional’ from top to bottom from a great diverse group of commentators unified by their desire to ask hard missiological questions about what the church should be doing in the world today.
I know this is half a month late, but given recent developments you can forgive me for my tardiness:
Drew Goodmanson has posted all the audio from the Total Church Conference that took place in San Diego earlier this year. Go and listen.
I’ve posted the sermon I preached on Sunday morning at The Message Church in Mowbray, Cape Town, entitled ‘Created for Community’. If you want to know what I think about the concept of community and its relation to the Christian church then have a listen. Please note that my ideas are not really all that original – I’ve borrowed a ton from people who have influenced me like Tim Chester and Steve Timmis as well as, I think, simply saying what seems obvious to me in the Scriptures. Some feedback would be great…
“The church is always tempted towards a church of glory, whether that takes the form of grand buildings, political influence, global structures, charismatic personalities or mega-churches. But an approach to the church consistent with the gospel of Christ crucified and discipleship shaped by that gospel is an ecclesiology of the cross. That means power in weakness, wisdom in folly, and glory in shame. It means we must put our confidence in Christ’s little flock and the sovereign rule of God. It means we must put our energies into the church of the cross even if that means obscurity.
The problem is that ‘power made perfect in weakness’ is so counter-intuitive and counter-cultural that we do not believe it. We believe that God will use the powerful and important and impressive. But he does not. We need a radical change of perspective. We need to ditch our worldly notions of success. We need to ditch our modernistic preoccupation with numbers and size. We need to turn our notions of success upside down so that we align them with God’s kingdom perspective.” (Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church, p.194-5)
As I stand on the precipice of church planting and church leadership I’m overwhelmed by the need I have for God to come and do some serious reconstructive surgery in my heart so that I will lead his church with a theology of the cross and not a theology of my own glory.
My continued reading in everything missional is providing me with insight, surprises, encouragement and also concern and, at times, disappointment. Since I spend most of my time on this blog waxing lyrical about the upside of the missional movement I think its time I started to approach it from a bit more of a critical stance. I’ve already done that a bit in my last post.
Today I want to think a little about the usage of prescriptive texts versus descriptive texts in our developing of a missional ecclesiology. What has become apparent to me is that a significant amount of weight, in much missional writing, is given to the descriptive texts of the Gospels and Old Testament narrative. Now I’m not at all against gleaning insight from descriptive texts – I firmly think it is a task we must embark upon. But, I also think its a delicate task which requires a bit of hermeneutical skill. So for example, what does it mean to embody the life of Jesus in our mission? How do we follow the example of Jesus? Is everything he does a paradigm for us to follow? These are difficult questions that, in my mind, are bypassed a little in a lot of missional writing. I think Tim Chester exposes this a bit when he explains why he doesn’t believe in incarnational mission. I think its tricky and we need to be careful of not forcing the bible to match our missionary methodology of choice. In our desperation to convince others of the missional agenda we can misuse texts and make prescriptive requirements for others from texts that were never meant to be prescriptive.
Conversely, I haven’t seen enough interaction with the prescriptive texts of the epistles in missional literature. I haven’t seen many detailed discussions of passages like Ephesians 4 and how they should shape our missional communities. I think we’d all benefit from some serious study in these areas. Paul is the single biggest commentator on the life of the local church in the Scriptures and so we should be hearing more from him as we build missional ecclesiologies.
I guess this is kind of an open forum so I’ll throw out some thoughts and maybe we can all have a nice stimulating chat. Here’s the rub…
I’m still wading through material for my dissertation on missional church planting and today going back over Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways, I was struck by how much the missional crew hinge on the pre/post Constantine distinction. Now I think it is a major issue in the history of the church and it is foundational to the way that the church of Christendom panned out over the following centuries up until the enlightenment. What I’m not thoroughly convinced on yet is exactly what the pre-constantine church looked like. Missional gurus tend to paint this era as being highly organic, non-institutionalized, simple or small church meetings, anti-building, no top-heavy leadership and on the fringe of society in general. Sounds fairly similar to the emerging church paradigm doesn’t it – hence the obvious excitement for missional practitioners over these historical insights.
My question: Is that an accurate historical portrayal of the pre-constantine era? I guess I’m a little concerned that we become reductionistic about church before Constantine because it fits with our missional agenda and so we pick up on some distincitves from the era and gloss over others. Have I picked up all the organic/simple/non-institutional/fringe/decentralized distinctives in my reading from that era? Yes I have, but its also been a lot more messy than that at times. And so I wonder, just wonder, if we should perhaps refrain from making the pre-constantine era such a fundamental hinge to the contemporary argument and turn our focus rather to the biblical exegesis of missional life and practice? I don’t want to devalue the lessons of history at all but or the brilliant insights of missional gurus like Alan Hirsch, but coming from a reformed, evangelical missional perspective, I would like to see them rooted more within the context of biblical exegesis. What do you think (history buffs and all)?
Since the spirit of spreading ‘friendly-fire’ is upon us I thought I’d chip in with a thought or two of my own. Driscoll’s ‘skewering’ of Sydney got me thinking about his ministry and similar ministries from other missional-minded reformed peeps coming out of the States.
But first some disclaimers: First off, although I never heard Driscoll’s talk itself Gordon’s notes gave me a fair idea of where he went and what his criticisms were. As I’ve already stated I resonated with many of them as one who understands something of the Sydney paradigm of ministry. I also thought one or two of his points were probably wide of the mark or perhaps failed to understand the Sydney Anglican context well enough. All and all I greatly value his critique and hope that people will give it some serious thought.
What I was left wondering however, was what has Driscoll learned from ministry in Sydney? I hope he posts some reflections on his time there and what he has learned – but I thought that, until he does, I’ll mention something that I think he (and others like him) could benefit from in the Sydney paradigm of ministry.
I’ve been listening to his podcasts and podcasts from other Acts29 church planters for two or three years now. I’ve listened to some of their Sunday preaching and I’ve listened to their conference talks. I’ve been greatly encouraged and built up in the gospel through these talks and I’m going to keep on downloading them and enjoying them. What I have found a little concerning is the quality of bible handling on occasion. I’ve often struggled with the way narrative passages tend to get a bit spiritualized and moralized where it looks like hard work hasn’t been done on the text. Its clear that hard work has been done on the whole sermon but I sometimes wonder about the work on the text.
In this light I think Sydney ought to be applauded. Their commitment to hard work on the text, to text driven and directed preaching, is of the first order. Preachers like Phillip Jensen, John Woodhouse, John Chapman, Simon Manchester and others have provided me with great models of exposition in the past. Yes, I think Driscoll is right when he says that their (Sydney peeps in general) preaching is sometimes weak on application – I feel that too – but I don’t want to have to be in a situation where I pick one or the other, I want both. I think God calls us to both. So to Mark and the reformed missional crew I think you could learn something from Sydney here that would only make your ministries even stronger and more faithful.
Since the cat is out the bag I thought I’d start slowly blogging through the church planting experience I’m about to embark upon. This gives you a way to keep up to date with what we’re doing and a forum to give some critical feedback. To be honest the more I think about church planting the more I realize that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Sure I’ve read some books and talked to some peeps – but let’s be honest Cape Town City presents a conundrum of challenges and opportunities in its radical diversity and its going to need serious prayer and real hard work to see something start emerging here.
To date God has been very good to us in laying the groundwork in so many different ways through the people he’s brought into our lives and the way everything, so far, has just effortlessly fallen into place. My guess is that its probably not always going to be that way and we’ll need to have a long term view of the work we’re doing to keep going. So welcome to my church plant diary and feel free to make comments along the way as a group of us take on the city of Cape Town with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the past few months I’ve added some blogs to my sidebar without mentioning them in a post. Maybe you’re getting tired of the same set of blogs in you feed reader, well here are three more that I’ve begun following over the last few months:
Church Planting Novice: This is the blog of Jonathan Dodoson, a church planter in Austin, Texas and part of the Acts29 Network.
For What it’s Worth: The blog of Mike Kendall a pastor in the UK
Arieljvan.com: The blog of AJ Vanderhorst an urban church planter in Kansas City (I can never tell if Kansas City is in Kansas or Missouri or both?)
Go have a read…
I can finally tell everyone the news!!!
Some of you will be aware of this news already, some of you won’t, but today it all became official and so now I can post about it on my blog. We are joining and helping to head up a church plant in Cape Town City! As many of you know I’ve been completing my post-graduate studies at George Whitefield College this year with a view to going out to be involved in some sort of church planting ministry in the future. Initially Robin and I thought we were going to head back to Durban and be involved in some work there, but since January this year I’ve been in conversation with some people from our denomination about a church plant in the Sea Point and Greenpoint suburbs of Cape Town. Altough we’ve been fairly certain for the last 3 months that it was going to happen we had to wait for denominational approval. Well today we got it. Robin and I attended a selction conference where prospective ordinands are placed in various ministries throughout the country and there we met with some of the bishops of CESA and lecturers from GWC. They gave us the great news that they’re all keen on the idea of the plant and are happy with our involvement in it from January 2009 onwards! So we’re extremely excited about what God is going to do in this city through us.
I’ll be joining with a friend by the name of Jacques Erasmus to plant this church. Jacques has been working in the area with a ministry called Straatwerk (Street Work) for the last few years ministering to homeless folk, prostitutes, the homosexual community, refugees and the night-clubbing crowd. He’s an amazingly gifted gospel worker with a huge heart for the unconverted – especially the marginalized in society. Together, with a small core team, we’re going to be launching an all out offensive on Cape Town come January. Please hold us up in prayer as we attempt this. Pray that God would be pleased to grow his church in these difficult places.
I’ll be updating you with news as we go along and give you more details to the plant as we flesh it out. Peace.
I’ve just finished reading through a number of articles and papers by Broughton Knox on the issue of ‘church’. Now I know there’s a bit of debate going on as to whether or not Knox’s view of church (and those who practise forms of it today) is compatible with missional ecclesiology where church is identified primarily with an identity. I’m beginning to wonder though if its not an issue of semantics in some way. From what I can see Knox seems to be using the idea of the heavenly assembly in a very similar way to the concept of church as identity – I’m not sure that the two are that incompatible. It seems to me that how you interpret Knox’s concept of the heavenly assembly will lead you to certain implications and its at this point that the two groups tend to diverge because some tend to take Knox’s view as leading us primarily to local earthly assemblies as the central locus for church with a disregard for church as identity. But I don’t think that has to be the necessary implication of Knox’s view, nor do I think (and this is pure speculation) that Knox would have the locus of church as closely and tightly tied to the local assembly as some contemporary practitioners of the Knox/Robinson view have it today – I think he would allow more freedom, especially with regard to structures, for ‘the fellowship’ to take place. I guess what I’m saying is that I think we might be misreading Knox a little bit here and that he might be a bit more disposed towards missional ecclesiology than we think. But then again there are many around who studied under him and would know better exactly what he was advocating (perhaps they might leave a comment ).
In January I posted about my desire to interact with the issue of ‘church’ over the course of this year. ‘Matt the Knight’, a friend of mine, suggested that I give a mid-year update as to where I am in my thinking about some of the questions I set out to explore. So here’s some of the answers to the questions so far:
According to the New Testament what do you have to have, as absolute minimum, for a church to exist?
I’m thinking you need people who have been regenerated by the gospel, living under the consistent proclamation and teaching of the word of God, worshipping in a community by serving, caring, speaking, teaching and loving both each other and those outside. I found a recent study I did on Luther’s view of church quite helpful in part and I’m still blown away by Timmis & Chester’s ‘Total Church’.
What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God?
This one is difficult. I’m still not sure if I have it nailed down (or if I’ll ever nail it down). In light of this a did a study and wrote a paper on the concept of the kingdom of God as found in Luke’s gospel. You can read it here.
What is the relationship between the church and social concern (as opposed to the relationship between Christians and social concern)?
Still not clear on this one either. I know all the various arguments out there and I’ve read quite a bit but I’m not sure I’ve read anything that directly answers this question in a way that looks at individual Christian responsibility and the corporate church’s responsibility.
What is the relationship between the church (local) and culture?
Daniel 1. I have a brilliant talk by Vaughan Roberts on Daniel 1 that answers this question beautifully. Unfortunately I don’t have the rights to post it. I haven’t checked if its available elsewhere so have a look around and I’ll tell you if I find it on-line. Basically his thesis is: Don’t run away from culture but don’t compromise either – and be humble and generous as you figure out this tension.
Is the Knox-Robinson view of church too narrow?
I’m struggling to figure out if its the actual theology that’s too narrow here or the way people practice it in church life. Do I believe that the earthly gathering of believers is the embodiment of an already existing heavenly gathering? Yes. I just think there’s more to ‘church’ than ‘the gathering’.
What does over-realised eschatology look like in the church?
A church that neglects gospel proclamation because its too busy trying to make the new creation happen now.
What does under-realised eschatology look like in the church?
A church that only ever does evangelism and forgets that God’s agenda is the renewal of all things.
How do the above two questions relate to the plausibility of the homogeneous unit principle?
This is tricky. Most people who write on this issue, that I’ve read, write from predominantly mono-cultural society whereas things in South Africa are a lot messier. I’m still working on this one.
What do those same two questions have to say about the depth of gospel community a church should be attempting?
It should be deeeeeeeeeeep. The one thing I’m becoming more and more convinced about in my studies is the need for authentic community that extends beyond the structures.
Are multi-site churches theologically viable?
I don’t see why not. But I also think they can be a breeding ground for a number of different sins: like pride for example. There is also the chance that they can turn the church into not much more than a market commodity – not good. But then again the whole arena of multi-site is quite diverse.