Let me give you a glimpse of the typical church planting playbook.
- Step 1: Get a storefront.
- Step 2: Get an awesome band.
- Step 3: Skinny jeans.
- Step 4: Set a launch date and tell everyone you have ever met.
- Step 5: Put on the biggest and best production you can.
- Step 6: Repeat for the next week hoping there will still be people when your friends and family go back to wherever they came from.
This plan does not strike me as leading to health. It may produce a service. It may even draw a crowd. My concern is that it does not necessarily lead to health.
More than anything I want to be a part of a church more concerned with intimacy with the Lord than hitting a certain number, more concerned with bringing hope to the hopeless than filling a room. My interest is in developing a culture of community and not just pulling off a program.
The reality is we are already feeling the push in each of us to what are "religious cultural habits we have seen and had modeled for us. If you have felt/wondered/asked the "When will we get **?" question (as I often do) then you have felt the pull, the tractor beam, the black-hole tug to "religious cultural habits". If you have been in the Bible Belt for any amount of time you have felt it and been influenced by it. It being the unintentional confusion of a crowd gathered as opposed to a real depth of community. My guess is that most of us have never really had the latter.
Culture, whether of a company, a church, or a family, is the by-product of consistent behavior. What you do always wins against what you intend to do. It has been said that "culture eats strategy or breakfast" and I am here to tell you that is true. It is for this reason I feel so strongly we have to fight for health, for a culture of real community bringing light to darkness, and living/walking/sharing in the everyday stuff of life.
“A gospel-centered community is a community of people who are incrngly orienting their lives around God’s mission. They are moving toward others as God has moved toward them. They are looking for opportunities to bless and serve others so that more and more people might become worshipers of Jesus. They are talking about both the heart foundation of mission (their joy, love, delight in Jesus) and the practical implications of mission (how they will live on mission together). They are becoming disciples who make more disciples.”
Church is the great leveller. We all come broken, hungry, empty. Yet we are all children, priests, kings, joyful & triumphant. The Church does not exist for the sake of its members; it exists to continue the mission of Jesus.
So, may we be people staying laser-focused on making disciples who make disciples . May we be people (and not just the Puckett's) fighting the temptation to plant a service, but planting a church.
There is this amazing moment in the Lord of the Rings where the wizard Gandalf drops a wisdom bomb on his dear friend Bilbo. (If you are unfamiliar with the story stop reading this email right now and pick up the books. (img) I want to plead with you to believe that what the Lord has brought you through is not intended for your glory, your shame, your pain, or even your flourishing, nearly as much as it is for the building up of the body and the health of the church.
So, in my definition, a healthy church is one grounded in the Gospel, growing in our worship of God, and going to the world around us.
With all of this in your mental crock-pot, let me give you a few questions. This s of a test, but rather a barometer. If this were a test we would currently be failing. The real fruit of this is to help diagnose what we are becoming as a culture, as a community.
A Few Heart Questions
- Does each person in our group have genuine friendships with non-Christians? (The mark of this is not whether you would call particular non-Christians your friends, but whether they would call you their friend.)_
- Does our group create space to engage those relationships together? *Are we a group of isolated Christians living individual lives or are we living on mission together? Do we know each other’s non-Christian friends?”_
- “Are we praying together for specific non-Christians in our lives and neighborhoods?_
- Do we pray big, kingdom-oriented prayers—for conversion of unbelievers, for conviction of sin, for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done in our city, for the nations? Or do our prayers tend to be focused on our own needs and problems?_
- Would our prayers give the impression, to an outsider, that we actually believe in a sovereign, gracious, glorious, beautiful, holy God?”_
- Is our language accessible to outsiders? Or do our conversations tend to be sprinkled with Christian lingo, inside jokes, or church references that only make sense to our “tribe”?_
- Do we speak positively of our city and of those who don’t know Christ? Do we have appropriate gospel humility—not taking ourselves too seriously, admitting our weaknesses, not being defensive or rude toward our critics? Are unbelievers glad to know us, even if they don’t believe the gospel?_
- Do we talk about the need for gospel work around the world, giving a voice in our community to those who may otherwise go unnoticed?”_
- “Do we gather in a place that non-Christians find hospitable and welcoming? Is there anything about our place of meeting, our time of meeting, or the dynamics of our gathering that would make it difficult for an outsider to enter in? Are we actively engaging the neighborhood in which we gather? Or do we drop in, study the Bible, and head out again? Do non-Christians see us working for the good of the neighborhood or only furthering the needs of our own group? How are we involved in the mission of God to other places and cultres—either sending or going?”_
Excerpt From: Robert H. Thune and Will Walker. “The Gospel-Centered Community.” New Growth Press, 2016-03-26T17:55:03Z. iBooks.
The gospel is not about choosing to follow advice, it’s about being called to follow a King. The church is to be a place of God's love in a dying culture. So, having a get together, having good people gather, even having community but just for community sake is missing the point. As Tim Keller puts it, "Community without mission is cancer."
A few hours together every other week won’t be sufficient to give our worldview depth and durability if we soak in popular culture the rest of the week. We have to long for the day when we can fling the doors open for our family, friends, and neighbors who don't yet know the Lord. We also have to be longing for those rich times of walking in depth of relationship together. It cannot be one or the other. Like sailing a boat and finding the wind, we have to keep both working together.