The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 3

The Entry into Jerusalem

(Photo credit: Fergal of Claddagh)

The New Church Members:  The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 3

Luke 10:23-24 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)23 He turned to his disciples in private and said to them, “How blessed you are to see what you’ve seen. 24 I can guarantee that many prophets and kings wanted to see and hear what you’ve seen and heard, but they didn’t.”

What did these people do to hear this?  What had these disciples seen that would have been something that everyone had wanted t see and were not able.  The obvious answer is Jesus and while that is absolutely true, that is not the context of this verse.

Luke 10:17-21 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  17 The 70 disciples came back very happy. They said, “Lord, even demons obey us when we use the power and authority of your name!”  18 Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 I have given you the authority to trample snakes and scorpions and to destroy the enemy’s power. Nothing will hurt you. 20 However, don’t be happy that evil spirits obey you. Be happy that your names are written in heaven.”  21 In that hour the Holy Spirit filled Jesus with joy. Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from wise and intelligent people and revealing them to little children. Yes, Father, this is what pleased you.

The disciples had returned from ministry with an amazing testimony of the power that had been unleashed through the ministry work that Jesus ha sent them to do.  The ministry they had all been engaged in was so powerful and amazing that that Jesus goes on to tell them that even prophets and kings wished they could see what they saw in ministry.

Whatever these missionaries and evangelists did, I want to try and do because it obviously worked at least for them.

Why am I talking about this and what does it have to do with the starting of this new church?  It has to do with a couple of verses the speaker referenced during the first service.  These passages happen to be passages that had been used repeatedly in trainings and discussions I have had over the past ten years about how the New Testament church planters did ministry.  These passages happen to be the ministry instructions of Jesus to these disciples that led to such a powerful outcome.  These passages also give us a completely different idea of what it means to go into a city, area or culture to do ministry.

Luke 9:1-5 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) –  1 Jesus called the twelve apostles together and gave them power and authority over every demon and power and authority to cure diseases. He sent them to spread the message about the kingdom of God and to cure the sick.  He told them, “Don’t take anything along on the trip. Don’t take a walking stick, traveling bag, any food, money, or a change of clothes. When you go into a home, stay there until you’re ready to leave. If people don’t welcome you, leave that city, and shake its dust off your feet as a warning to them.”

Luke 10:1-11 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  After this, the Lord appointed 70[a] other disciples to go ahead of him to every city and place that he intended to go. They were to travel in pairs.  He told them, “The harvest is large, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord who gives this harvest to send workers to harvest his crops. Go! I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves. Don’t carry a wallet, a traveling bag, or sandals, and don’t stop to greet anyone on the way. Whenever you go into a house, greet the family right away with the words, ‘May there be peace in this house.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your greeting will be accepted. But if that’s not the case, your greeting will be rejected. Stay with the family that accepts you. Eat and drink whatever they offer you. After all, the worker deserves his pay. Do not move around from one house to another. Whenever you go into a city and the people welcome you, eat whatever they serve you. Heal the sick that are there, and tell the people, ‘The kingdom of God is near you!’  10 “But whenever you go into a city and people don’t welcome you, leave. Announce in its streets, 11 ‘We are wiping your city’s dust from our feet in protest against you! But realize that the kingdom of God is near you!’

These are key verses for many of the things God has been showing me as the “new wineskin” that he is going to reach the next generation that repeatedly come up in completely unrelated contexts.  This context included.

As I thought of the fundamental concepts that underlie the way Jesus sent these first missionaries and evangelists out every thought seemed to confirm the idea that the format I was sitting in was structured in a way that had to be at least one generation away from the ministry that they wanted to do.

The church I was in is the model seen in the book of Luke all the way up to this point.  The basic model for reaching a new area up to chapter nine was that Jesus would go to a place and all of the disciples would congregate together in a crowd around Him.

In chapters nine and ten the equation is changed by Jesus.  Jesus sends out the people that had been congregating around Him “…to every city and place that he intended to go.”  The follows of Christ precede Him into the area looking for the people who were already prepared for Jesus to come.

The people who were prepared for Jesus’ arrival were described as incredibly hospitable people who would go so far as to support the ministry and provide the center for the ministry (in a literal sense, their homes).

If such people were found, then the town would experience God to the level of the miraculous.  If such a person was found then not only were they not going to experience the miraculous, but the arrival of Jesus (or the arrival of the kingdom of God) would be an evidence of their unbelief resulting in miraculously bad consequences.  The kind of consequences that the ones being sent were sent to these places to help the people avoid.  The kind of consequences that Jesus was going to these places to help the people there avoid.

The implication is that in every place that Jesus was getting ready to go that there was a person who was already being prepared for the arrival of those Jesus was sending.  For there to be the expectation of that level of hospitality, God would have offered that person in each place opportunity to know it needed to be done.  The expectation that refusal to be hospitable (by a nonbeliever) was a turning of ones back on God implies that somehow that person had a more than reasonable call from God to be hospitable, yet that person’s heart was so cold that it could not be done.  That person also apparently had a call from God to represent the entire area and somehow must have been given more than the normal opportunity to respond in a receptive way, yet refused.  In other words, this was the person God had picked and called to represent the area and this person’s response to God’s tug on his/her heart was representative of the receptiveness of the entire area.

He new church that I was standing in was made up of more mature Christians, who saw where Jesus was going, pooled their resources and congregated around Him.  This is how church has been done in the western world for a few centuries now.  The challenge is that it is reactive and not proactive.  The focus is on starting with a group where He is already glorified and doing things and not on going to places where He is not glorified to prepare the way.

Here is what I am getting at.  This church apparently is part of a larger organization that is an offshoot of an even larger organization.  These organizations have been sending people regularly for years to this metropolis to minister (apparently to the poor and needy of the city in its more impoverished areas) yet the people that they have been ministering to were not present in the service.  They were either not present, or had been completely changed to look and sound like the Christianese culture they were in to the point where they were no longer anything like the people they were from.  (Sort of like teaching a church in China to have a complete service in English because that is the way we do it – that’s great, but they are highly unlikely to reach many people in china by building and English speaking church)

They had imported an entirely different culture than the culture they had felt that Christ was leading them to.  It is as if they had been to the town where this person let them stay and took care of them was, but went and did ministry in the town next door instead.

That means that instead of being in the place where Jesus intends to go like the twelve and the seventy that Jesus sent out, they are clustered together in a place where Jesus is hoping that someone else who Jesus has sent out will bring those people to where they are at in a way that they are comfortable with.  The Way Jesus traveled with crowds who watched various people com to him for miracles.

Please do not understand me to be saying that this new church was doing some great evil.  As a matter of fact, from what I saw in the two weeks the church has existed, they are leaps and bounds ahead of just about every church I have encountered.  The challenges I am describing that I was observing are more of a global, church-wide problem that I am processing that in fact they have been able to break much of the bondage of.

This is a cutting edge group and I honestly think that a study of the things that remain of the old wineskin that a group like this could not seem to get rid of or notice is an incredibly important study as it shows how strong of a grip on us these things really have.

I am left wondering why there are not more seekers and new converts instead of a new congregation of old believers.  I suppose if this is just a training ground for those that will be sent to the unreached places that Jesus is about to go to, then it is exactly what it is supposed to be.  The problem is that what the are doing now will either have to change completely at some point or the harvest will have to come from another entirely new church in the same city that is more of a new wineskin.  At some point this training church would have to decrease to allow for the less nineteenth century modeled church to begin flourishing.

A key question that I have yet to ask is how the vision of the new wineskin looks in the end to the people who carry the vision.  I wonder if it is based on a large building with the same Christianese cultural context or if it is one or more churches in that metropolis that express how God is working through and communicating with the various groups in that city.

Are they looking for the people that God has been calling and preparing in that city in its various groups or are they importing culturally Christianese trainees to communicate the old wineskin.

I am a big fan of the passages the speaker quoted from Luke 9 and 10.  These are the first missionaries, evangelists and church planters that Jesus sent and this is the way He did it.  This is also reflected in Paul’s ministry of going to places, training the people in a download of as much as he had time to (which could range from days to years) and then left them to figure it out by coming together and seeking God.

Paul trusted God so much that he would leave them the opportunity to mess the whole thing up completely and listen to God for correction.  Then if they really got way, way out there, he merely sent them a letter outlining the problem.  These letter are available for you reference if you would like:  They are a large chunk of what we call the New Testament.

I wonder if we are so worried about doing things right and not allowing for error to slip in that we have stopped trusting God and began leaning on the crutch of systems and legalism.

What will it take for this church or any “new wineskin” church to really be able to be all things to all people?

This church, as it has been is clearly the seed planting phase of a much bigger picture.  The question then becomes, do they understand it to be that way.

Do they realize that to go from being the seed to being the harvesters means being sent away from the Jesus environment to prepare new places and groups of people to become new Jesus environments that may not look anything like their current Jesus environment (all the churches Paul planted, for example, did not look and act the same way).

Overall this is an awesome group of people doing an awesome thing that is a step beyond most of the church planting I have seen in an American context.  They have done such a great job of following the new direction that God seems to be calling so many people in, I could not help but look at the few things that they still have as things that even the best of us will have deep struggles breaking free of.

Thanks for patiently walking along this road with me as I process through the details what I feel God is revealing to me and my thinking out loud.  I hope and pray that this sparks deep introspective thought, deep prayerful conversation with God, deep conversation with others, and even heated debate all in a passionate desire to do the will of God.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19 Although I’m free from all people, I have made myself a slave for all people to win more of them. 20 I became Jewish for Jewish people. I became subject to Moses’ Teachings for those who are subject to those laws. I did this to win them even though I’m not subject to Moses’ Teachings. 21 I became like a person who does not have Moses’ Teachings for those who don’t have those teachings. I did this to win them even though I have God’s teachings. I’m really subject to Christ’s teachings. 22 I became like a person weak in faith to win those who are weak in faith. I have become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers.

I hope and I ask God to make your life really cool all the time (non-Christianese for “May God bless you”);

W. Lawrence Hess

The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 2

These oranges have seeds

These oranges have seeds (Photo credit: toastforbrekkie)

Matthew 9:14-17 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus. They said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples never do?”  15 Jesus replied, “Can wedding guests be sad while the groom is still with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them. Then they will fast.  16 “No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that will shrink. When the patch shrinks, it will rip away from the coat, and the tear will become worse. 17 Nor do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, people pour new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved.”

As I really listened to the vision of the speaker at this new and fresh church, I realized that I was not wrong to like what was occurring at this church as it was in fact awesome, was well planned and was definitely God blessed, but as it is it is at least one generation removed from the desired outcome.  As it is, it is an excellent preparation ground for those that will be sent out to do the truly different church. They like myself feel that God is calling the American Church to change. The new wineskin kind of change.

The obstacle for the church is that it is still noticeably specific to one specific style of Christian culture.  It may be a newer version of Christian culture, but it is still an extremely noticeable version of Christian culture.  It is in effect not all things to all people.  It is one thing that all people must change to or at least learn to be comfortable with.

The current oranges are from the neighbors garden and there has really not been any crops grown in that soil yet.  The question is not if crops can grow, the big questions are:

  1. What is the best way to grow crops in that ground that do not require using the neighbors fruit to call it a harvest
  2. How will the people doing the farming learn how to farm in that ground if their experience is taking fruit from the neighbors and calling it a harvest

The next generation, the one that this model will be a wonderful training ground for, will still be tasked with the challenge of learning to deculturalize all of the habits and tendencies that will become a part of who they are from being in that environment.

It is quite possible; the big question for them is where will this next generation learn this skill if the environment they learn in is not conducive to it?

The reality is, that the church has only been there two weeks and I have been to both services, yet I am quite sure that nobody could really know how God is going to change that church over the next few weeks, next few months, next few years etc. nor what role that church will play in the bigger picture of transforming that major metropolis.  It does seem that God has been pushing me as an individual to look at what He is moving us to as something completely different so I am a bit hypersensitive to things that are the same.  The old wineskin verses the new wineskin thing.

The real conflict is not even what this particular church is doing.  In fact, as I have stated repeatedly, what they are doing is incredible and is just emanating newness and fresh vision.  The real conflict for me is with myself.  I know that God is talking to me about this next deculturalized church He wishes to build, but I am still deeply drawn to the more Christianese models that sound like Christians I have been around speak and that does things the way Christians I have been around do things.  “This is not being all things to all people” I hear God telling me, but this model still has a powerful pull on me.

Lots of clichés and quotes come to mind:

“Sometimes the good is not good enough to God”,

“The good is often the enemy of the great”,

“What we consider good and what is actually God are not always the same thing and even though good has more letters than God the good is not greater”,

“On the road to greatness there are many good places you could stop, but on the road to greatness the good spots are not the destination; the good is a distraction.”

“Those who settle for the good can never know the great”

It may be that the people of this new and exciting church are suffering from what I am hindered by or it may in fact be just something God is showing me for my next level; to that end I am not clear.  What I do know however is that God is showing me the struggles that I have in breaking the old Church culture I have been nurtured into adopting so I can process the struggle and start conversation about that aspect of the change I feel God is making.

My struggle to get rid of my old, favorite wineskin, and accept that God is giving me a brand new one (really He has been giving it to the whole world).  The key is that I have to let go of the old one to take hold of the new one.

Part 3 to follow –

Blessings…

Related articles

The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 1

These oranges have seeds

These oranges have seeds (Photo credit: toastforbrekkie)

The New Church Members:  The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 1

Matthew 9:14-17 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus. They said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples never do?”  15 Jesus replied, “Can wedding guests be sad while the groom is still with them? The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them. Then they will fast.  16 “No one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth that will shrink. When the patch shrinks, it will rip away from the coat, and the tear will become worse. 17 Nor do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, people pour new wine into fresh skins, and both are saved.”

I recently went to the birth of a new church in a major metropolis and found what I encountered quite interesting.  The church is a plant from an organization that shares some of the same ideas about the challenges of the American church that many of us do and they are looking at following God in new ways.

The environment of the church was exciting, incredibly friendly and incredibly inviting.  Each person there; which I think was about a hundred people the first week, was interacting with each other in deeply real and personal ways.  It was as if every greeter from every church in San Francisco had come together to start a church.

There was worship and prayer from the outset and the environment was electric.  The room that the service was held in was beautiful to the point of even having a large fireplace that made the environment warm in comfort as well as being part of the heating of the room.

As I settled in, I was astonished at the feel of the worship and how God was being glorified.  Then, suddenly it hit me, these are clearly mature believers doing a wonderful thing, but not a soul in the place was new to an atmosphere of worship.

The feeling of spirituality and the sense of God being there with us was unimaginable yet I have had trainings, read books, had debates and conversations on the topic of cross-pollination verses seeking the lost and found myself conflicted.

If you are not familiar with the term cross-pollination, lets start with the dictionary definition (the botanical definition):

cross-pollination  = Botany the transfer of pollen from the flower of one plant to the flower of a plant having a different genetic constitution. Compare self-pollination.

So in this definition the term is used to describe taking the pollen from one plant to another different plant for that plant’s betterment.  In a church context it means the taking of the people from one church to another different church for that churches betterment.  The church is growing but it is growing because of believers that are coming from other churches and not because the lost are being led to Christ.

We will get back to that concept, but lets get back to that church:

Everyone there was awesome and the service was going awesome and I was experiencing a sense of God in the place, why even consider changing anything when God was being glorified so amazingly in the place exactly as it was.  I remained conflicted through the worship and looking to God for clarity throughout the service.

As the worship drew to a close there were a series of people who apparently are in training to do ministry that came and spoke with exhortation and excitement.  Every word that was spoken was powerful and uplifting for each individual in attendance, for the group as a whole, for this new church and for those having the faith to step out and walk out the vision of God that is that church.

There were the usual responses of praise to God in “halleluiahs”, and “amen’s” etc.  It was a mighty thing to experience.

In the middle of being moved and touched mightily, I was suddenly struck by the thought that if I was not used to Christian environments and our special insider language (Christianese) I would be lost by all of this.  Then I thought that I might not be put off necessarily, but I would definitely feel like an absolute outsider.

It would be like being at a show where everyone gets the punch line of the joke but you.  They cannot stop laughing and enjoying themselves and you just sit there staring or pretending to get it too.

I began to wonder if the conflict was me being crazy or some evil trying to keep me from simply enjoying the presence of God in this place.

Then came the speaker who at the time I had concluded was the pastor, but turned out to be a guest who had a hand in training some of the people who started this church.  He had a good personality and was an excellent speaker without fitting too neatly into any denominational stereotypes.

Then like a ton of bricks bouncing off of my hard head, God cleared up the question of if I was resisting this mighty move of God or actually hearing something that God was trying to tell me.  The message delivered was about a vision for churches that impact the unchurched and otherwise lost.  He described churches that were not going to be like other churches and represented the new kind of move that God is trying to get the Western Church to make.  He talked about how the church is using a nineteenth century model to reach twenty-first century people.  Basically, he taught all of the same things that were brought to my attention that have been driving my quest for the new things that God is doing.

As I was pondering how universal this message has become (the message that God is looking to do a different kind of church) I realized something:  This looked an awful lot like a next step, but not exactly like the vision.  The heart and the fundamental ideas of the new church that God seems to want to be establishing were there, but a lot of the culture of what we are used to as church was being imported as well.

First of all, there was that cross-pollination thing.  This church is starting based on people from other churches.  I think of it this way:  if my goal is to grow fruit in my back yard.  I plant a tree.  I may be able to get seeds from my neighbors, but if I just get a whole lot of oranges from my neighbors, put them in a basket and show everyone how many oranges I have in my garden in that basket, it is artificial.

The oranges from my neighbors can be a part of the process of growing the tree, but they are really meaningless until I have some fruit of my own.  Everything else is just for show.

I suppose the difference lies in the degree to which one considers the people there now the seed and not the harvest.  If they are the seed, then the only question left is how to best plant them in this environment to produce the most fruit.

If they are the harvest or even evidence of the harvest, then up to this point the harvest is actually from somewhere else and to get more harvests they will all have to come from somewhere else (which statistically is how quite a few churches operate).

Then there is this wineskin thing.  A wineskin is a leather (usually goat skin) bag used to hold wine.  It is a good container for wine when it is new, but they do wear out.  When you get a valuable new wine, you don’t put it in an old wineskin.  One the old, worn out wineskin cannot keep the wine fresh. The old wineskin is no longer soft and loses its elasticity and if you put your valuable new wine in the old wineskin, it is apt to explode because it is in no condition to hold the valuable new wine.  It is past its usefulness and it is time for a new wineskin.

There is a growing feeling amongst, pastors, Christian leaders and believers that the Western Church model (specifically the North American Church model) is an old wineskin and that God is preparing the people of Christ for a new wineskin that is different than the old one.

This church has new vision, new ideas and many new ways of doing things.  There were however, some old wineskin that I noticed and troubled by.  The language, some denomination specific ways of doing things, even the setting, although prettier and more inviting than most was a stage and rows of chairs.

This group is definitely a huge step in the right direction, but I also was observing how hard it is to separate yourself from a culture that you have been programmed with.  They were trying hard, but as an “kinda” outsider I could see how much they still had that was the same.

I suppose what I am saying is that to the normal churchgoer this church would seem vastly different than most things that one would have seen.  On the other hand, to a person who had left the church for some reason (particularly if hurt or angry) this would look about the same as any other church.  To a total outsider, they would feel like a very accepted outsider, but clearly an outsider.

To people who have something against the concept of church I imagine this would have many of the things they suspected accept for the people being considerably nicer than they would have guessed.

Then I put all of this into perspective.  I realized that I have been reading books, going to trainings and classes, having discussions and debates, writing and praying etc. on this idea of doing a deculturalized church and may just be being to legalistic about all of this.

Would a nonbeliever actually be completely repulsed by our Christian insider language and actions?  Some yes and some no.  Wouldn’t things Jesus said and did been really strange to all that encountered Him?  Isn’t that a part of what attracted people to Him?

Then there is the other side of that coin; the fact that at the end of his ministry there were only eleven insiders who were truly clued in.  When those went out (adding Paul to the equation) they began to minister in ways that were all things to all people.  That is what changed the effectiveness of the evangelization.  The inner circle methods of Jesus were to catalyze the movement through the ones he trained.  The Disciples were not the oranges, they were the seeds.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)  –  19 Although I’m free from all people, I have made myself a slave for all people to win more of them. 20 I became Jewish for Jewish people. I became subject to Moses’ Teachings for those who are subject to those laws. I did this to win them even though I’m not subject to Moses’ Teachings. 21 I became like a person who does not have Moses’ Teachings for those who don’t have those teachings. I did this to win them even though I have God’s teachings. I’m really subject to Christ’s teachings. 22 I became like a person weak in faith to win those who are weak in faith. I have become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers.

The soil in various places is different and as such the planting and growing methods in various places has to be different too.  Planting oranges in the dessert requires a lot of irrigation and different treatment than planting the oranges at an oasis.  The seeds must be treated differently in different environments to accomplish the same end.  The whole process changes depending on environment based on what will work best in that environment.

The ideas that I take away from this is that the models we have been building are good first generation sending ministries, but in the current American environment will not be transformational to cities until the nineteenth century Western Church model and really all twentieth century Western Church models are left behind for however God will best speak to the community at hand.

That includes knowing how to be like a person who is weak in faith to win others who are weak in faith.  There are many in the metropolis that I am speaking of that are at best weak in faith and to build a church that is centered on the comfort levels of the strong in faith could only tend towards cross-pollenizing from the other churches and denominations, particularly in the metropolis I am speaking of.

Cont. in Part 2