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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
- The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 2 (seaofgalilee.wordpress.com)
- The New Church Members: The Harvest or the Seeds? – Part 1 (seaofgalilee.wordpress.com)