Archive for the ‘ecclesiology’ Category

the challenges of traditional church in my neighborhood

As we spend more and more time in our new Boston neighborhood — in people’s homes or chatting in the park — we become even more convicted that the modes of evangelism that “worked” in the Bible Belt are moot on our block. (I’m growing more and more convinced that modes of evangelism that “work” in the Bible Belt — mainly the “if we build it, then they’ll come” model — have worn out their welcome even in the Bible Belt, but that’s a different post…)

One of the main reasons is the sheer diversity that exists in East Boston. There are over 56 nationalities that people in our zip code are a part of, and they speak over 20 languages. That’s one zip code in Boston.

As I asked in a post a few days ago, do we believe that God cares about the people of Boston — and the world — infinitely more than we do? Mateo correctly pointed out in the comments section a few days ago that though we often give this idea lip service, we seldom live it out. We rely too heavily on our own methodology or pragmatism. But Revelation paints a beautiful picture of a banquet at the end of time at which “every tribe, tongue, and nation” are represented at the banquet table of the Lord. This means every diverse people group from every socio-economic bracket imagineable. Not just “postmoderns” or college-aged or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or African Americans — the Afghan, Argentine, Spanish, and Ukrainian children of God will be present as well.

Do our current church planting/evangelism methods account for this great diversity of God’s children, many of whom live right around us?

We’ve been asking the question, “What would it take to see a vibrant family of Jesus in close reach — culturally and geographically — of every person in East Boston?” Well, for one, we need someone who speaks Khmer, the native language of the Khmer people in Cambodia, to communicate the gospel in that dialect while modeling the Way of Jesus in a culturally relevant form (there are 36 people in my zip code who put Khmer as their “language spoken at home”). And what about the 10,319 people (in 2000, mind you) in my zip code who speak Spanish at home? (from experience, most of these people speak Spanish when they’re not at home as well) And who is considering how the hundreds of Islamic people in my zip code will not simply accept a proposition about the existence and divinity of Jesus Christ, but will follow Him?

Believing that God will use us to reach a cornucopia of people besides the WASP types we’ve grown up knowing means recognizing that our limited methods and strategies are just that — limited. Can just one church reach all 56 people groups in East Boston? Can 10 churches? Can 100 churches? Well, if we redefine what “church” means, then maybe. If “church” means “radical followers of Jesus hearing their master’s voice and following His lead,” then watch out. This will take us among the East Bostonians from Greece, Guatemala, and Guyana, and to those speaking Polish, Portuguese and Persian. We will begin to incarnate the love of Christ among the people — all the people — that God loves so dearly, and transformation will begin to take place. God will add to his church those who are “red and yellow, black and white.”

The best news is that Steve and Chrissy aren’t responsible for making disciples of every person in these 56 people groups (and those are just the people groups as they are broken down by nationality … imagine if we broke down people groups in terms of interests, socio-economic status, neighborhoods, social group…). God added to the church those who were being saved in the Book of Acts, and we believe He will not only do this in Boston today — He will commission and send Khmer-speaking Cambodian Christians back to their own people to live out the Way of Christ. Moroccans will begin to speak of one from whom they do not need to earn their way to heaven.

Our responsibility is simply to listen to our Master and do what he says, going in love to “all the world.” For us, “all the world” can be found within two square miles.


Note: Originally, I titled this post, “why traditional church won’t work in my neighborhood,” but at 1:07 a.m. I got up and changed the title to the one you see now. God is using several forms and structures of Christian community in East Boston to reach the diverse people groups here, and for that I am grateful. Diversity — even in ecclesiology — is beautiful. What I am calling for is a deeper and more imaginative faith in what God can do through us to facilitate the planting of “vibrant families of Jesus within close reach — culturally and geographically — of every resident of Eastie.” This takes faith, and it takes all of us.

You can see all the nationalities and languages in my zip code by clicking here, clicking “search by zip code,” and entering “02128.” I’d encourage you to do the same for your zip code. You might be surprise who lives next door.


organic church in alabama

From the August 4 Birmingham News:

Cullman’s organic church

New kind of ministry strips worship of modern trappings to find its elemental roots

News staff writer

CULLMAN — Breads and coffees aren’t the only organic offerings at Berkeley Bob’s Coffee House these days.

Food for the soul is dished out Thursday nights at Organic Church, a new Christian ministry meeting inside the 1960s California-style coffee house in downtown Cullman.

Like many church groups, worshipers at Organic Church read and discuss Scripture, pray, and sing. Sometimes they read spiritual poetry or entries they’ve made in journals.

But what the church doesn’t have are committees, a staff, buildings, membership or a collection plate.

“We started off with trying to be the church without the additives of modern church,” said Jason Elam, a minister and founder of Organic Church. “This is our attempt to strip back all the things that were added to the church.”

Elam considers Organic Church part of the house church movement, a term that describes a move back to the way early Christians as described in the book of Acts in the Bible met in small groups in houses.

A recent study, based on interviews of 5,000 adults around the United States, by the George Barna Group says that 9 percent of adults attend a house church during a typical week. While still small, it represents a big increase from 1 percent a decade ago.

Elam said he began considering forming a small group ministry during a couple of events in his life. First was the birth of his daughter, Emily, in 2004. She had birth defects that had to be corrected with multiple surgeries, he said. Soon after the final surgery last year, his wife, Csilla, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, he said.

Throughout the time of his daughter and wife’s health problems, Elam said their church family at The Father’s House in Vinemont helped them through the crisis. He said he came to believe there are many who love God who haven’t been able to find that kind of intimate relationship in a traditional church setting.

‘Experiment in faith’

“We wanted to try and provide that,” he said.

Elam is testing the idea of whether a church can succeed without anticipating going to a church building and paid staff. “This is an experiment in faith,” he said.

Instead of a house to meet in, Elam found the coffee house to rent for a minimal fee that Elam pays.

Walls are painted with peace symbols, flowers, “make coffee not war,” and a large purple Volkswagen bug with a yellow heart. A small stage sits in a corner where folk singers belt out ballads in concerts and novices sing, read their poems, and tell stories on open-mike nights. Worshippers sit on cushioned chairs or around tables with tie-dyed tablecloths.

“I thought this place was so cool – the environment would compensate for my uncoolness,” Elam said.

Services began the first of May and are held Thursdays at 7 p.m. with anywhere from a half dozen to 25 people showing up. Elam doesn’t preach but rather moderates discussions among worshippers about Scripture. Often a person who attends will bring up Scripture they want to discuss.

Those who attend believe Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins and was resurrected, Elam said. Other than that core belief, Organic Church has no doctrines, rituals, no connections to a national organization, and no preferred Bible translation.

“I believe the church to be an organism, not an organization,” said Jonathan Graves, of Hanceville, who first found out about Organic Church through an advertisement in a shopper’s guide.

Graves said he likes the family togetherness displayed during the sessions. “Openness and sharing is what Jesus teaches we should have,” he said.

Most, like Graves, also attend church on Sundays at their own denominations.

One minister from a local Baptist church also is among those who often attend. Diversity of the local churches – both Southern Baptists and Catholics have deep roots in Cullman – makes it ideal for what they’re trying to do, Elam said.

“We’ve got every church on the Christian buffet here in Cullman,” he said.

Joshua and Beth Haynes, of Fairview, attend a Southern Baptist church, but said they come sporadically to Organic Church.

One recent Thursday night the discussion evolved into how ritualism can sometimes replace developing deep spiritual relationships in churches .

“It doesn’t mean these things are wrong – it’s just these things can be empty,” Joshua Haynes said.


Dear Church…

Recently, I have heard older people questioning whether or not the younger generations would be fit to lead the church once the older generation passes the baton. What these older leaders don’t understand, I’m afraid, is that many young people aren’t sure they want the baton in its current state. Call it “baggage,” “red tape,” whatever-you-want, but many young people have serious questions about &emdash; or simply do not want &emdash; the church of their parents (let alone their grandparents).

Sarah Cunningham is one of the young people &emdash; a twentysomething, specifically &emdash; who has some serious questions for the church. She recently wrote a book &emdash; Dear Church: Letters from a Dissilusioned Generation &emdash; which reveals that Cunningham is certainly not alone. I’ll let her tell you about this new book, which is available for purchase at your local Barnes & Noble, Borders, or any online retailer. (I interviewed Sarah via e-mail a few days ago in an exclusive HarvestBoston feature)

For someone on the fence about purchasing “Dear Church,” summarize or tease the book in a few sentences.

Dear Church connects with Christians who are burned out or frustrated with their local church experience, but it doesn’t leave readers wallowing in disillusionment. The second half of the book offers tips and personal anecdotes for readers who seek to sift through disappointment and maintain allegiance to Christ. Dear Church also includes a firsthand introduction
to Generation Y and their approach toward faith, 50 tips on forgiveness, a sweeping apology from the church at large, and a love letter to the church you won’t want to miss.

Talk about the process that led you to write this book.

I had an ideal introduction to the faith as a child. My brothers and I were immersed in church from day one because my dad, Harold Raymond, is a pastor and church planter. Our dad found a wise balance between exposing us to his own take on God and encouraging us to develop and own our own faith. Along the way, I naturally adopted a sense of ownership in the local church. Later, in college, I went a few steps further by getting involved with and eventually becoming a full time staffer at an energetic, innovative church. This experience allowed me a lot of creativity and freedom to lead and, by doing so, pushed me toward deeper involvement in the global church. But simulataneously, adult life revealed some flaws and credibility gaps in church systems that I had not always seen as a child. It was disappointing to me to see areas where the church lost credibility and it was even more disappointing to see my peers distancing themselves from the church at large. This book responds to the disillusionment I saw in myself and those around me.

You put in some considerable research for this book. Talk about the directions the research process took you.

I took a couple different approaches. I did read just about everything I could find about my own generation and about disillusionment in general. And I also conducted some informal surveys of twentysomethings and disillusioned people in real life and online. But most importantly, I really wanted this book to have a personal feel, one that genuinely connected with people who were frustrated. To try to accomplish this, I spent a significant amount of time just talking conversationally with every person I could find about their experiences with and impressions of the church. I talked to people in the post-office, I talked to people at the park, I had what seems like a million conversations in coffee houses. That made for some incredible, eye-opening dialogue. And the more I talked to people, the more they inspired me, saying “You have to finish this project. Someone needs to write this book.”

What was the most surprising thing that you discovered?

I discovered that my own disillusionment was more of a universal problem than I had realized. It seemed like almost everyone who had been invested in church at some level had a concern or frustration related to their church experiences. I don’t remember running into anyone who didn’t have a very personal and often painful story to tell.But what I discovered, at the same time, is that–despite my lifelong exposure to church–I was not personally equipped to sort through disillusionment. I had a tremendously hard time trying to reconcile the issues I saw with the message of Christ. For me, it was a long journey to push past my cynicism and critiques and to find renewed commitment to Christ and his mission. I wanted to capture this difficulty along with some of the solutions, with hopes it would inspire others who were challenged to overcome their frustrations.

What nugget do you think will shock your readers the most?

Maybe the balance? It sounds funny to say people would be shocked by something like “balance,” but I think some people will be. There have been so many books that offer critiques of the church. People sometimes expect this one to be almost a “celebration” of disillusionment–flaunting how savvy it is to be cynical toward the church. But after reading the book all the way through, people are often surprised that the book really is a journey THROUGH disillusionment. In the end, it retains an air of responsibility and wisdom without sacrificing authenticity. And it comes out strongly on the side of the church.

In your view as a twentysomething yourself [this is correct, right?]…

Yes I am 28 now, which is a nice age to be because it puts me past some of that initial idealistic-to-a-fault save-the-world mentality. Whew. That stage of life was exhausting. But I still believe the world can be infused with hope in massive ways. I’m still a thousand percent idealist. I just am a lot more content and a little less dramatic about how I invest toward that end.

…what role does “the church” play in society in the 21st century?

The church may undergo a makeover of sorts. Not necessarily a change of doctrine or even a change of spiritual practices like corporate worship and teaching, but a change of face. Barna, for example, reports that the local church is the primary form of faith experience for about two-thirds of U.S. adults currently. However, he projects that by 2025 the local
church will lose roughly half of its attenders and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack.Some will say this sort of movement toward alternative church communities, like house churches, is superior because it allows for more personal connections, more life-on-life relationships. But I genuinely do think there are a variety of models or non-models even that can be equally effective, as long as the majority of their efforts are spent on generating internal transformation and not just religious ritual. The reason house churches may be superior to my peers, in my opinion, is more about context and life stage. If right now, that is the form of community that feels real and personal to us, if it inspires us to love Jesus more
and to become more like him, to align more of our lives to His ideals, then we should embrace it without institutionalizing it. A feat which is very tricky.

What changes must it make? What must stay the same?

Personally, I would most like to see the church move further toward being intentionally inclusive. I want to think past simply stating “all people are welcome” in words and put some significant energy into building and maintaining relationships in diverse parts of our communities. This is what paints a true-life invitation that shows Christ’s care and desire to transform all people.When I say that, I am not just throwing the “race card.” Focusing on race alone would be a very narrow understanding of what it means to “go into all the world.” There are plenty of groups defined by other characteristicsâ&emdash;their education level, their family arrangement, their income, their disabilities and so onâ&emdash;who are on the margins of the church. To get at these, we may have to shift a little bit of focus away from in-house programs into more natural, more organic opportunities. For example, I would like to see churches inspire their small group leaders to go beyond book discussion with twelve fellow church attenders once a week and to mentor twelve people from their routine social circles. But my own ideas for how the church “should” change won’t necessarily match up with everyone elses. I think the beauty of personal tensionsâ&emdash;individual observations about how the church could improveâ&emdash;is that each of us can work out the tensions we see in our own lives. We can use our dissatisfaction to bolster the church’s weaknesses. And hopefully, if I put my life energy into building a more inclusive church and you put your energy into a completely different source of concern, in the end, by our collective efforts, Christ wins.The things that needs to stay the same is the focus on Jesus and his message. God designed Jesus to embody all the truth and enlightenment that our world could ever need. Where Jesus is lifted up, regardless of model or generation, He draws all men to himself.

Many of the readers of this blog (including myself and my wife) are experimenting with less traditional “forms” of church than we grew up with (ie house/simple, emergent, cell churches, among others). For many of us, this change came from seeing how far the church seems to have strayed from the biblical precedent and the example of pre-Constantinian Christianity. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon, which George Barna has found is more prevalent than anyone thought? Is this consistent with your findings for “Dear Church”?

One of the most important things to note when talking about how church is changing is that the need for change and the move toward change is not new. Throughout church history, there have been cycles of change and renewal that have given rise to many faith movements. The Reformation. The Great Awakening. The SECOND Great Awakening. And so on.We don’t have to fear change or even be absolutely focused on anticipating it or responding to it exactly right. Change is a natural life process and as it applies to the church, we know it is one that will not drain the church dry. From the first time Christ mentioned the word “church” in the gospels, in Matthew 16:18, he told us all we needed to know from the beginning. The gates of hell, or some translations say the forces of evil, will not prevail against the church. The church may change, but it will never die. It will live on until the climaxâ&emdash;its wedding day with Christ.

As I write a book about disillusionment, its funny how many times I find myself calming the panic that once gave me concern. These days, I am not worried if people are going to go to home churches or if they are going to church in a coffeehouse on Friday night or anything similar. If they are furthering their understanding of God’s principles defined in the Bible, if they are worshipping, if they are reflecting and praying toward living out God’s aims, if they are opening themselves to feedback from other followers of Christ, then I bless them. I bless them and I say “Live out what God is doing in your life as fiercely as you can. Work your faith over in your mind and your heart until it is seeping out of your daily life. It is only then that we ARE church and we LIVE church in a way that makes our concerns about whether or not a specific steepled building with pews is full to the brim become unnecessary. When we are all aligning ourselves with God and internalizing and living his ideals with intensity, no one will be afraid the church is dying. It will be more obvious than it has ever been that the church is alive and thriving.In closing, the fact that the church will always be evolving is a sign of health–a sign that an organism isn’t dying. At one level, it is a enormous positive to see younger generations struggling through their own reservations and reconciling their own doubts because this illustrates their wish to truly own and live out the mission of Christ within their own generation. I hope older generations will encourage them to seek the answers they need and come along side them to shed some light on their path to truth.


I don’t want to be a church planter as much as I want to be a world-creator/enactor.

Let me explain.

Walter Brueggemann has popularized the image of the preacher as a poet who causes people to imagine new worlds and calls them to inhabit them:

The event of preaching is an event in transformed imagination. Poets, in the moment of preaching, are permitted to perceive and voice the world differently, to date a new phrase, a new picture, a fresh juxtaposition of matters long known. Poets are authorized to invite a new conversation with new voices sounded, new hearings possible. The new conversation may end in freedom to trust and courage to relinquish. The new conversation, on which our very lives depend, requires a poet and not a moralist.

While Brueggemann’s statement should be true for preaching, how much more true should this be for our lives? Shouldn’t our lives embody a new reality, a different way of living, as we also imagine out loud how “Christian difference” can change a person’s life and the world? If we are Christians, what role does actually following Christ have on this world creation? (GKB brings this up over here, if you haven’t already read it.)

This is why I’m not satisfied simply with “church planting” as the end-all of mission. We envision our lives being the sermon that demonstrates a different way of living — a truly Christian way of living, in the fulness of that term — to a culture crying out for a “different way.” I love the way Shane Claiborne puts it in The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical:

Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.

If this is true, what would the Christian report card look like with regard to distinctiveness from yet attractiveness to the world? I have a theory about why people weigh Christianity on the scales and end up saying, “No thanks.” While hypocrisy is obviously a big deterrent, I think an even bigger reason people don’t choose Christianity is that we have created a religion that is really not that different from anything else in the world. The only thing that changes is the individual’s status, moving from the “Hell” column to the “Heaven” column.

What if we and everyone that reads this blog committed to modeling a truly different way for the world around us? Would lives and communities around us change? I’m afraid that taking this seriously, though, might mean taking seriously the thing that should strike fear in every comfortable, safety-oriented, “neat” American Christian (myself included) — following Christ.

Hank Hill goes church shopping

“I guess I can understand buying coffee in church, but do you really think Jesus recommends Nat King Cole?” — Hank Hill, King of the Hill

(press the “play” button at the bottom)

HT: Kelly

boston celtics?

I haven’t read the book all the way through, but I have been impacted deeply by missiological principles gleaned from George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism.  Hunter suggests that an ancient practice of celtic monastic communities might have some relevance to how we in the West make disciples in a post-everything culture.  He compares the Roman model of “reaching” people with the Celtic model:

The Roman model for reaching people (who are “civilized” enough) is this:

  1. Present the Christian message
  2. Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians
  3. If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship.

In other words, we explain the gospel, they accept Christ, and we welcome them into the church- presentation, decision, assimilation (P. 53).

The contrasting Celtic model for reaching people is this:

  1. You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.
  2. Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship
  3. In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit (P. 53).

Christians have defaulted to the Roman way of evangelism for a long time.  We have assumed that a “good gospel message” should stand on its own to convict “the heathen,” and sometimes it does.  But reducing the gospel to a list of propositions to which a person can either agree or disagree is a gross oversimplification.  I have come to realize that in addition to eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, salvation means a different way of living — an attractive way of living — than what the world knows and experiences.  The practices of hospitality, Sabbath, non-violence, service, social justice, praiseworthy speech, as well as the traditional tenets of prayer and worship, point to the goodness of Christ and are indeed “good news” to a broken world.

This is why the Celtic model is so important.  It allows Christians and not-yet-Christians to authentically enter into each other’s lives, as most normal people in the world do, without the question of “have you committed your life to Christ” (writer’s note: what does that even mean, anyway?) being the first question. It allows the secular person to experience what virtuous Christian life looks like, assuming the life of the Christian friend is virtuous. It allows dialogue to frame the process of discipleship, not simply “teaching,” “telling,” or Bible study. It focuses on the process of discipleship in terms of belonging before behaving or believing, with the latter two always eventual goals for the future.

If we began taking a more Celtic model of evangelism/discipleship (where discipleship is what leads up to someone’s turning to God, not what follows it), how would that change the way we conceptualize Christian community? How would it transform our relationships and friendships with the not-yet-Christian? Would it make them less awkward if we weren’t always bent out of shape that they aren’t a Christian and allow us to focus on simply being a Christ-like friend to them? I think the Celtic way of evangelism has great implications for the relationship of the Christian community to the world, a world that is growing more and more skeptical of us with each hour that passes and that sees in the church less and less relevance for their lives.


by Fred Peatross

I’m a recovering church addict who has intentionally exchanged church activity for time with the people Jesus misses the most. I’m learning more while swimming with the fish than I ever learned while attending Sunday school.

It’s counter-intuitive for church folks to disconnect from the church way of thinking and feeling but it’s the most effective way to incarnate the post-Christian world. Missional incarnation means trading church time for time in the water with the fish? It’s about choice. Will it be missional priority or church activity?

Missional-priority was Christianity’s original state.

Think Jesus.
Jesus spent most of his time with the “fish”
Think early disciples.
History reminds us that the first disciples were centrifugalâ&emdash;continually moving away from their spiritual centerâ&emdash;Jerusalem. The book of Acts chronicles their “road stories.”

Is there a church somewhere that would admit to not being missional? I can’t imagine a church anywhere saying they weren’t mission-minded, forget foreign missions–we have post-Christian America. All would affirm! “We’re missional.” But suppose a missional auditor, if there was such an occupation, made an annual visit to every church in America to assess the church’s budget and expenditures? Exposure would tell a new story.

Spiritual Formation, or Consumers and Spectators?

Swimming with the fish is a radically attractive way of living. Jesus was subversive and we were created to be a community of revolutionaries. But , for many, the sum total of American Christianity is the 11:00 AM Sunday gathering where spectators passively sit waiting for their Sunday homily. Prayers revolve around the sick, newborns and a safe return from a sunny vacation. Seldom, if ever, do prayers mention the missing.

Someone said, “True believers aren’t people who have a mission; rather, a mission has them.”

Church-Primary and Church-Secondary

  • Church-primary has become ten to twelve Christians sitting around a table at a restaurant every Sunday afternoon and Friday night
  • Church-secondary has become, at maximum, gathering with a Christian assembly 1-2 hours a week
  • I rarely give to the local church. I now give to emergent missional churches and missional-priority people who indigenously incarnate culture. Most churches overlook or cannot afford to give to missional-priority people because of the financial limitations created by staff salaries and budgetary priorities. But the greatest barrier to a clear Kingdom vision may be a misunderstanding of what a priority-missional community looks like.
  • Granted, most Christian churches have a missional aspect. But when one examines a missional-priority church more closely, one discovers a significant difference between a church that does mission and a missional- priority church. That difference begins at the theological foundation and ultimately finds expression in practices inherent to the broader Kingdom vision .
  • Missional-priority means more time with the missing than Christian friends
  • Missional-priority means stepping across the borders of the church campus to engage the “missing” on their territory.
  • Crossing borders to create safe places for the missing stands as a corrective to the prevailing mentality of the church and its uncanny addiction to centripetal ministries, which attempts to drag seekers into its gig.

Think Jesus!
Jesus wasn’t centripetal but centrifugal.

Fred Peatross is a Christian who lives and worships in Huntington, West Virginia. He has been a deacon, a missionary, a pulpit minister, and shepherd. Presently Fred is responsible for carrying out the Great Commission and directing a Nuclear Medicine department. He has been married to his wife Paula for twenty-seven years. He is currently giving his blog a rest.

This article is re-printed from Next-Wave E-Zine, which explores church and culture.