I know, I know, you haven’t heard from me in a while. I am well aware that the death mark of a blog is inactivity. However, I have a
good excuse. Laura (my wonderfully gifted wife) and I are in the midst of a major life change. We have just recently moved to Massachusetts. The purpose for our move is to plant a missional Anabaptist-Pietist church (Seeds of Hope) in southeastern Mass.
On Friday the NuDunkers will be hosting a conversation on church planting in the Church of the Brethren, in which I’ll be participating. So check out the live video chat this Friday, Dec. 6th, at 10am Eastern. Also check out the event page on our G+ community page
for more information.
Several years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Haiti to teach a theology of leadership to pastors in training. While there we worshiped in a small house church. It was here that a vision of ministry which had been developing in my imagination came to life. In this little house church embedded in a poor community, this small Christian community burst forth with the light of God’s kingdom through the risen Christ. As we worshiped (accompanied by instruments salvaged from the trash) in a room with open windows I soon became aware of crowds of neighbors gathering outside trying to see what was happening. Following a lively song (sung in Haitian Créole) the pastor offered a prayer in which he invited people to come forward with need requests. What happened next amazed me. People from the neighborhood began to come in with little pieces of paper on which they had written their requests. Soon the pastor had a pocket full of slips of paper. He continued his prayer of intercession followed by one of thanksgiving. While the specifics of the service may be interesting, what I found most notable was the embedded context of this little congregation. What I witnessed was a small, poor congregation seeking to love their neighbors. This experience served as a powerful (at least for me) illustration of the simplicity of what it means to be church.
One of my ongoing struggles with the institutional church (in North America at least) today is that we have made it an extracurricular activity that has perpetual meetings and institutionalized liturgy. What, in my mind, we seem to have lost is a gathering that invites, discerns the Spirit of Christ, worships and serves others. It seems to me that according to the modern social script we have dichotomized between church life and home life (or even work life) as if our life outside the “church-building” is somehow exempted from our faith. We put “church” on our calendars as if it is an event or appointment of some kind rather than the very life we are called to live. Moreover we have brought the very market Jesus overturned in the temple into the church we are. We give lip service to calling pastors but hire them as employees to do the ministry Jesus called us all to do. We treat the body of Christ as a club in which we get to control the membership. Unfortunately many of our churches today are more reflective of the national government (in which we broker power) than they are of Christ’s body. There is often a notable absence of North American churches in those places where God’s kingdom is breaking in. We tend to busy ourselves gathering people like us, who look like us, act like us, talk like us, believe like us. Yet the Jesus we claim to follow is constantly seeking the other.
I have had the great opportunity of introducing this new vision of ministry to the church I was serving over the past six years. What was most exciting was how the people of the community responded. Much like Brian Gumm’s proposal, reconciliation and peace (shalom) at the local level sit at the heart of my vision of ministry. While I have not had the opportunity to talk with Brian about his vision, I find similarities of our visions striking. Unlike the traditional church plant that sets up the organization and sends mass invitations, we are committed to living out our faith in the local community where we live. Primarily “Seeds of Hope” will be focused upon building relationships and becoming involved and invested in the local community. Throughout the process we will unashamedly love people in the name of Christ. The ministry revolves around discerning where the Holy Spirit is already working. It primarily involves bearing witness to the in-breaking kingdom and cooperating in whatever form the Spirit leads. This newly formed community will meet regularly to read and study scripture, pray, worship and actively discern the Spirit’s leading. In one sense the organization of the congregation will be pneumatically organic in that it will be according to the Spirit’s gifting and formed from pragmatic necessity.
As Brian notes, patience is a primary practice as growth and success are not measured according to the quantitative markers of the world, but according to qualitative aspects of Christian discipleship. Making disciples, baptizing and teaching all the things Jesus commanded is the primary mission. A core preunderstanding theologically is that the Spirit converts hearts and we surround those converts with loving community.
Obviously more could be said and I have probably raised a whole host of questions. I certainly don’t have all the answers nor all the questions. But I am excited to live out this new adventure and enter into the larger conversation about church planting.