I was talking with some friends today about church expressions. My one friend has me pegged as a “simple church” or “decentralized church” kind of guy. While at the moment I definitely lean in that direction, I don’t actually feel too concerned with the various “models” of church out there.
It made me think of Simon Senek’s “Start with Why” philosophy.
He says the most powerful way to vast vision is to begin by communicating the “why.” Why this task/project/product? What are you hoping to achieve through it? How are you hoping to impact the world through it?
Next, communicate the “how,” or the activities you’ll participate in to achieve your “why.”
Finally, you can give your project a title or name, and that is the “what” of it.
Too often we start with the “what.” We introduce our career by saying “I build websites,” when the real “why” behind it sounds more like “I help organizations that can’t afford custom websites to get a quality website so they can tell their story and make an impact.”
How does this apply to church models?
The model is the “what.” Simple church, mega church, seeker-sensitive church, liturgical, emergent, missional, organic, etc… These are the labels and titles we’ve put on these various models that name what it we’re doing.
And when starting a new church, as we are right now, there’s a strong temptation when people ask what we’re up to to simply reply “We’re starting a missional church,” or worse, in our dreaming and planning we set our sights on building a a missional church, and that becomes our end goal.
I appreciate Simon Senek’s wisdom. So let’s apply it to our process of church planting.
This is where we need to start. This is the heart of it. This is the core of why we’re doing what we’re doing.
First and foremost, Jesus is the best thing that’s ever happened to the world. He heals and gives life to everyone and everything. And we are desperate to see him heal and give life to every last atom in the universe.
Using Kingdom language, we want Jesus to be glorified across all the Earth like the waters cover the sea. We want His Kingdom to fully come. We want the new Heaven and new Earth where the distance from God’s presence is destroyed forever.
On a secondary level, the church in the West is transitioning out of Christendom and into post-Christendom. We want to pioneer a way forward for other followers of Jesus into this new terrain.
This is our why. This is what gets us out of bed in the morning.
The “how” is the means. It’s not the “what,” so we don’t give it a title yet. We simply describe how we envision ourselves living into our why.
For us, we first turn to the Scriptures to find wisdom and design in how Jesus has built His Church. We reflect on Paul and his life of taking the Gospel to new places, and planting new local communities. We take cues from Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, and note that the Kingdom is like yeast that is worked into dough. It’s like salt that mixes in to the meat. It starts small, like a mustard seed, and grows into a large organism. We look at how the first local community, in Jerusalem organized themselves and how they spent their time.
Through this reflection process, we’ve determined there are three basic modes that answer this question of how: we will be devoted to one another, we will be devoted to living lives of discipleship to Jesus, and we will be devoted to making disciples.
We’re forming a community of people following Jesus together.
We live in intentional rhythms that facilitate our discipleship journey, and the deepening of our relationships with one another.
We are aware of the people in our lives that have not yet experiences the goodness of God, and are present for those people.
We’re a local church.
Maybe we don’t need to dig any deeper than that. Maybe defining the specific model isn’t helpful. I could get into why we chose the rhythms we chose, what they look like, and why I think they’re a good fit for our community, our city, and our postmodern world.
But the New Testament didn’t seem to interested in doing that. In fact, it’s surprisingly sparse on what model of church life was being used in the early church. We get glimpses of communities meeting in homes, synagogues, by the river… We can guess that they shared times of prayer, prophesy, teaching, fellowship, and meals, but beyond that we’re left to guess.
I think that’s probably by design. God knew if he gave a specific model of community life, we’d get obsessed with it. But models come and go as the world changes, new rulers are put in power, and we spin further out in time and space from the day of Pentecost, when the church was born.
The important thing is the why. That’s what doesn’t change. That’s what binds us together, in Christ, throughout the centuries.