Kingdom Movements in the USA
The excellent magazine, Mission Frontiers, has devoted an entire issue (available online) to movements in western contexts, specifically the USA. Some of the articles are good for sparking ideas and dreams of what can happen as God releases his church ‘out of the building’ and into the process of making disciples and gathering simply. And, isn’t it interesting how many traditional worshipers are, in fact, out of their buildings at this time!
The lead editorial is titled: “Movements Can Happen Here Too, If We Are Willing to Work for Them.” Here are a couple of highlights:
The model of ministry pursued by most churches in the U.S. where we go to a big building once a week, sing a few songs, listen to a sermon, go home, forget what was said in the sermon and then repeat this process week after week, is killing the Church in America and everywhere else it is exported. At best the Bible-believing Church in America is barely holding its own and is likely in a slow decline with an increasing number of people moving into the “no faith” category. We are losing the culture to increased secularism, biblical illiteracy and moral decline. We are also often losing our own kids to unbelief. The status quo is unacceptable.
The doing-church-as-usual crowd may be comfortable with a Christian faith that requires little of them and provides the worship experience they are looking for, but this model of doing church is leaving the great majority of lost souls untouched and the surrounding culture unchanged.
Employing an attractional approach to ministry in the hope that the unsaved will come in the door of your church, hear the gospel and be saved is at best a passive approach to ministry that leaves most of the unchurched, untouched. According to Barna research, two-thirds of the unchurched have been to church and do not wish to return. Creating all sorts of new programs in the hope of attracting them will not work. We need a new strategy.
Instead of asking the unchurched to come, why not equip your church members to go and make disciples of their friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances? People who will not darken the door of your church will very likely respond positively to an invitation to dinner at a friend’s home where the gospel may be sensitively shared. They may even respond well to an invitation to see what the Bible says about God.
This, for me, captures the heart of what I refer to as “simple church.” Not a different way to 'do church’ but a lifestyle that is primarily outside the confines of buildings and traditions where believers are interacting with, loving, and reaching those who are far from God. It is not so much a strategy as a Jesus way-of-life. Simple, reproducible, engaging organically with people, gathering for growth and accountability, and motivated to join the Jesus-mission of doing the same with others.
Many of the articles are worth a look.
Christianity Today - Getting this Bit Right?
Jeff Christopherson writes an article in Christianity Today that is pointing in the right direction. You can read the full article here: When Culture Tilts Away from your Church.
Here are some highlights:
Thinking differently can be difficult. Our ruts testify to our staggering preferences for the familiar. Even if they slow us down to a creeping clamber, they’re ‘our ruts,’ and we prefer what we know.
But at some point, in our crawl, some of us look up and around and ask, “Is this familiar path that I’m traveling taking me where I need to go?”
...Few among us believe that we are still in the “golden age” of church growth, yet many of our systems are still calibrated with methodologies designed for a previous era. We prioritize launching worship experiences which bake in the preeminent consumeristic value of excellence with the principal metric of attendance...
When culture is tilted toward the church, we instinctively know what to do. We position ourselves as a preferred, or at least viable alternative. We welcome them in with a warm and sincere greeting. Hand them a nice gift bag with a quality T-shirt and a mug. Invite them to a casual meet and greet with the pastor. And get them to sign up for the new member’s class.
Its muscle memory for most of us.
But what happens when the culture is tilted away from the church? What do we do when there are only social disadvantages to our evangelical ties? What do we do when our golden era techniques no longer have an attraction?
Make no mistake, this is the current reality of our mission field.
But to that difficult question, there is some very good news. Much of the disciple-making within the majority world, and numerous immigrant and inner-city churches within North America, and the entirety of the book of Acts embodies three priorities that appear to be alien to our “golden-age” thinking – but serves as living proof to the Jesus-way of his community.
From here, Christopherson outlines three priorities the first of which is this:
We need a different kind of church. Rather than a hyper-focus on the gathering, we must prioritize equipping people for a disciple-making movement. Disciple-making is the goal, not a hopeful byproduct of the gathering. By decreasing our focus on the gatherings as an end, we now have the margin to increase our effort to make disciples who live vibrantly sent lives. We are no longer a church of the intentionally gathered and unintentionally scattered – but of the gathered and intentionally deployed.
Amen. This paragraph alone is worth reading the article for. Again, you can read the entire article here.
After a 10 year hiatus, it is very exciting to see the House2House website running again. Tony and Felicity Dale, along with others, first started a print magazine in 2000. Their subsequent website, books, and training have had a tremendous impact on our own simple/house church journey through the years. The current website has many invaluable resources!
From the website:
This is being written as we are in the middle of the crisis, and everything has been closed down, including church buildings. Many people are having church online. Although things will slowly begin to return to normal, the likelihood is that churches will not be able to reopen as they were for months, if not years. It therefore seemed expedient to make available the best of the resources that House2House has produced over the years, again to be a resource for those who are meeting in homes or online. The dynamics of a small group are very different to those of a large meeting with its professional musicians and pastors. Obviously, the majority of the materials were produced in pre-Covid days, but are easily adaptable to the current situation.
Take a look here!
Methods and Tools vs Prayer and Obedience
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." 1 Corinthians 1:25
Westerners love methods and tools. I see it in our churches where we plan programs and services that look much the same from one place to the next. I see it in our house churches where we want to know 'how things are done' and then implement accordingly as we seek to follow the methods that others tell us work. I also see it on the mission field where we focus on the currently popular missiological methods.
For example, people love to talk these days about disciple making and disciple making movements. The tools that are taught in this vein are the current 'way to do ministry' that all must follow in order to be 'successful.' In fact, as I travel around the globe, I find that DMM (disciple making movements), and the corresponding tools that are now taught, is the ONLY way that missions is to be done.
Don't get me wrong. I am a proponent of most of these tools and have helped many to implement them. I spend much time training these very methods to others!
BUT, we so often miss the real point in our reliance on the right tool, the right method, the right practice, and the right way to do ministry.
Let me share what an African woman told my wife. She and her husband are currently working with 1,000 disciples in their area who are actively reaching others. They expect to have 2,000 disciples meeting in house churches later this year and 4,000 by next year. My wife asked her some routine questions about her life and also probed about her spiritual life. This very humble woman spoke about her prayer life without any pride in her voice, "Naturally I am walking close to God and spending much in time in prayer. How else would we be seeing this kind of fruit?"
Oh, right! How else? How else is fruit born? How else is the Spirit released to work? How else is the work of God accomplished? You mean it's not all about methodology and programs?
The Issue is Always Love
I recently ran across this quote from Alan Hirsch:
"It is LOVE that is the final defense of the faith. Jesus actually expected no other kind of apologetic when he said that it is by our love that the world will know we are his disciples (Johns 13:34-35). Love is therefore the defining mark of authenticity."
One of the transformations that the church is going through is the metamorphosis into a new creation that has the motivation and ability to love with no strings attached.
Let’s be honest here, while Jesus said that his followers would be known by his love, this is frequently NOT the case.
Someone wise said:
Christians are re-discovering that the heart of the Jesus-way-of-life is not church attendance and a smug attitude toward others, rather it is truly embodying the love of Christ—anywhere and everywhere—in a world that is desperately in need of this love. It is a type of reaching out that is marked by authentic concern for people. (Okay, I wrote this myself in Simple/House Church Revolution).
When Jesus-followers are known by their outbreaks of love towards a world in need, along with a clear Gospel message, we will again find a fertile environment for making disciples and our gatherings will be filled with vitality and excitement.
Easy to say. But it does require a transformation of our inner heart that can only happen by His grace and powerful love creating this ability and motivation in each of us.