True Christianity has no earthly boss, bosses, or layers of bureaucratic leadership. Rather, it has one, heavenly Head Who is made manifest corporately through the Word and the Spirit as each part functions as a body. This corporate identity of the Head, which is none other than the very person of Christ, is made manifest not with ceremonies, traditions, forms, models, services, buildings, programs, structures, rules, regulations, rites, creeds, star performers, or well-crafted speeches, but, rather, through self-sacrificing, obedient love. This is the essence of God, of His Christ, and of His Bride.
I have been reading the material of T. Austin Sparks (1888-1971) over the last couple of weeks. I must say that I am enthralled. I have been challenged, encouraged, convicted, and convinced of many things and ideas. I will have many thoughts and posts to share in the future on Sparks writings.
Today, I felt wholly compelled to share this question asked by Sparks:
What is the Church, and what are the churches?
This may not be so profound to you in particular, but coming from my background this question and it’s varying answers constitute supremely dramatic issues, controversies, and divisions.
I can’t possibly share the entire article here, but I will share the link for this discussion. You can find the article in it’s entirety HERE. I do ask that you come back here and offer any thoughts of discussion in the comments.
I had to share my absolute favorite quote from Neil Cole’s most recent book, “Organic Leadership“.
I wonder if God likes getting the credit for all the crap we do.
This quote comes from a section where Cole is writing about the sin of self-preservation. This is the sin we see when churches, organizations, ministries, etc. died long ago, but are being kept alive artificially with man’s systems, institutions, and organizations. When I was young in the ministry, I visited MANY churches such as this, and I still know of some that continue to hold on to a “life” that is but a distant memory now.
Sometimes, actually often, things need to die in order to live. After all, Jesus did say, “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:24-25, NASB)
In fact, CrossLife, actually had to die last year in order for us to finally begin seeing the life we always dreamed of. Once we decided to “die”, we began seeing a new life that has not stopped. In fact, it even multiplying! I am excited to see what Father will do in the future with our “dead” stuff.
I would rather see God get credit for the great things He does rather than the second-hand crap, we can do!
Since I seem to be in the quote stealing mood lately, I’ll offer another from Alan Hirsch’s Blog:
The Gospel is like a seed, and you have to sow it. When you sow the seed of the Gospel in Israel, a plant that can be called Jewish Christianity grows. When you sow it in Rome, a plant of Roman Christianity grows. You sow the Gospel in Great Britain and you get British Christianity. The seed of the Gospel is later brought to America, and a plant grows of American Christianity. Now, when missionaries come to our lands they brought not only the seed of the Gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flower pot included! So, what we have to do is to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the Gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.
–Dr. D.T. Niles of Sri Lanka (as quoted in this post.)
The idea he shares in this particular post has to do with what I would call our obsession with the idea of “church planting”. On a personal note, I still refer to myself often as a church planter. Hirsch challenges this connotation and offers in its place the idea of “gospel planting”.
I like the thought, for it is in the planting of the Gospel, the resulting life-transformation, and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit that Jesus builds His church in a natural, organic way.
So are we actually planting churches or are we planting the Gospel? Intersting thought to ponder.
I came accross this article on this blog: http://churchplantingnovice.wordpress.com/
I just decided to post the whole thing here…
There are a variety of models for church planting that have proven effective. Church Planting Village lists five main models:
Ed Stetzer includes all but the Program-driven model, but notes that only 19% of planters (among Baptists) actually identify themselves with a model. My guess is that this low percentage is a product of post-modern scorn of models, as well as ignorance regarding models. Whether you like it or not, your church plant methodology will put you in the orbit of some kind of model.
Relationship-driven models are on the rise and include House, Cell, and Missional Community churches. Because of their relational emphasis, these churches are typically drawn to the more Organic method of church planting. Early in our core team phase, Austin City Life was thinking organically but still held onto “the Launch” as a part of our methodology. Most Organic churches jettison “the launch” in favor of a people-focused ecclesiology. We did just that, but the reason was more Spirit-led than “organic”. I’ll take a stab an explaining what I see as the difference between Organic and Spirit-led church.
As I see it, there are two main types of Organic Churches:
- Unintentional Organic: clueless organic church planting because you like stuff that is different. A kind of “wherever it grows” attitude.
- Intentionally Organic: informed organic church planting that builds structural lattice for the plant of church to grow on. Relies on gospel soil, relational stalk, and thoughtful structure.
Although we certainly appreciate #2 more than #1, we have sought to cultivate a Spirit-led organic church, which fosters slightly different growth. I’m not saying that the Spirit is absent from the approaches above, so bear with me. The Spirit-led church places its emphasis on relationship/community underneath its reliance on the Holy Spirit to grow and mature a missional church. Spirit first, community second, not community first, Spirit as an holy nod.
The more I learn about being a Spirit-led community, the more I realize I have to learn about what it means to follow the Spirit, not just the organic growth of spiritual disciples. Craig Van Gelder defines the church as: “a people of God who are created by the Spirit to live as a missionary community.” For Van Gelder and for us, Spirit-led is more than a nod; it animates decision-making, structure, organization, community, and mission. Van Gelder lays out his theoretical ecclesiology in Essence of the Church and a functional ecclesiology in The Ministry of the Missional Church.
One of the strengths of being a Spirit-led church is the emphasis on church as our identity, not our responsibility; its nature over its function. We need to plant and grow churches based, not on function (organic or otherwise), but on nature—Spirit-led missionary communities. On this Van Gelder writes: “Failing to understand the nature of the church can lead to a number of problems. Defining the church functionally—in terms of what it does—can shift our perspective away from understanding the church as a unique community of God’s people.”
Our models and methods should be determined from our ecclesiology, not form our ecclesiology. This is why I make a distinction between theoretical and functional ecclesiology. Others would call the latter a Philosophy of Ministry. Whatever you call it, you models and methods should be primarily governed by the Holy Spirit and a biblical understanding of the nature of the church. In my next post, I’ll try to unpack and illustrate this from our own experiences.
I really identify with this article. Good stuff.