Discombobulating Fellowship

Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more from folks who are frustrated because they are wanting, but not finding, participatory fellowship rooted in ongoing community.

Discombobulated

Discombobulated

In our area, we’ve been seen such fellowships emerge over the last several years. Many of my blogs arise from what God is doing among us.

Those fellowships typically involve anywhere from eight to as many as twenty-five people intentionally meeting at least weekly to encourage and minister to one another.

More importantly, folks in those fellowships are relating together and supporting each other throughout the week.

Such fellowships don’t look anything like traditional “church” or even appear on traditional organizational radar screens – often because they are informal (even though intentional) and functioning within communities on the fringes of society.

Rather than come together for directed meetings or spectator “services”, the folks I relate to are learning to allow Christ in them to be expressed among them and through them – both in our gatherings and in existing communities.

Lately, though, things have become somewhat comical as we watch others try to figure us out.

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Spectator Church

church-service“Years of sitting in traditional church has not prepared us to do church in the manner described in the New Testament. We have been taught to come, to sit, to watch, and to listen to what others have prepared. This is Spectator Church.

By contrast, the church described in the Bible invites us to engage in a kind of Participatory Church, where everybody talks, laughs, eats, worships, in an atmosphere where all learn, all minister, and all grow.

These groups are not cell groups, or even just Home Groups. They are real churches, complete and autonomous.”

~ Graham Cooke and Gary Goodell, Permission Granted to Do Church Differently in the 21st Century

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Roots

The last several years have been a wonderful journey of seeing folks come to the Lord and fellowships emerge in highly improbable places. In my own life, the roots for this go back to my dad and mom, Bob and Mary Jane Wright.

tree_rootsIn the 1970s and 80′s, the Lord used them as pioneers in what we’d now call “organic” church – before that term became popular (even though today it unfortunately can mean nearly anything).

Forty years ago, they helped birth a regional network of open, participatory fellowships in Maryland, where people could find and express the vibrant life of Christ in dynamic gatherings as everyone ministered one to another – rather than having directed, hierarchical meetings.

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I Confess: I Killed Ekklesia

Yup. It’s true. I killed ekklesia (the Greek word often translated in the New Testament to mean a local “church”). Now, several years later, it’s time to finally come clean and confess.

my_confessionAlthough we all love the “glory stories”, we also need to tell of our failures – because it’s our failures which often teach the most.

So here’s my sorry story of having killed a fellowship.

Maybe, by owning up to my failures, it will help others trying to form an organic fellowship, home group, simple church – or whatever you want to call an open, participatory gathering of believers ministering one to another in smaller, relational fellowships.

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Home Grown Organic

David Lim, an international leader in “organic” missions, wrote an important and probing article called Towards Closure.

cookie-cutter

Conforming to Someone’s Grand Vision

Basically, he discusses (from a more academic but still very pragmatic standpoint) the difference between an “imperial” and an “incarnational” approach to church planting, the Great Commission and bringing Christ into new communities and contexts.

Like me, Dr. Lim is an advocate of organic (or simple) churches because he sees them as not only faithful to New Testament examples and principles, but as best able to fully express Christ in all His gloriously diverse ways in different communities and cultures.

According to him, when such churches emerge within the context of local communities, Jesus then becomes more fully “incarnational” (i.e., embodied and alive) in and through those communities.

He also makes another very important point: By allowing the Lord to adapt to each culture and setting, without imposing some intense, cookie-cutter concept of Him – and how His Church must look and operate – we avoid the trap of “imperialism”.

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Intentional Ministry

Last night was the second week in a semester-long class Marianne and I are teaching, through Nathan’s Voice and our fellowships, on pastoral counseling. We had a full house (literally!).

counseling-picture

The Art of Pastoral Counseling

We previously taught this two years ago, and many are now ministering grace and healing in our county to those trapped in the bondage of addictions, past abuse, and controlling emotional wounds.

About half of the class comes from our fellowships, and the rest from other churches in the area.

But this morning, I’m tired…

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Is the Holy Spirit a Liar? (Part 2)

Yesterday, I posted a debate I had on Facebook with those who claim that their personal “revelation” and “inspiration” can trump scripture, and that scripture is not the Word of God.

Existentialism

Existentialism or Scripture?

In that debate, Christopher Kirk, a longtime “organic” voice and blogger, finally made clear what he and many of the “old guard” in the organic/simple church community believe: “The bible is NOT the Word of God” and “God can tell you to go directly against scripture“.

The fellowships I’m part of are organic/simple churches. We are not big or flashy, but daily we see the transforming power of God as He works through everyone in dynamic functional community and open, participatory meetings.

Unlike the organic church “old guard”, we are growing, multiplying, and seeing folks move forth in authentic spiritual power. Many are coming to Christ, and their lives and whole communities are being transformed.

Why? Because we fully embrace a vibrant relationship with the Living Word, while submitting to the discipline and authority of His written Word.

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Is the Holy Spirit a Liar? (Part 1)

On April 1st, I posted a statement on Facebook (what a wild and wooly place!) in opposition to some postings by Christopher Kirk in his blog, notesfromthebridge.

Word_of_God

Is Scripture God’s Written Word?

In his blog, Chris creates a dichotomy between scripture and “living by the Spirit” – as though what the Holy Spirit says in the Bible can’t be trusted, or lacks validity, absent some additional deeper, personal revelation.

In his blogs, he also claims the right to personal revelation and inspiration which contradicts and is more authoritative than the Bible.

Along those lines, his blogs suggest that we cut out significant parts of the Bible because he disagrees with their content (including most of Paul’s epistles); say that the Bible is not the Word of God; and repeatedly attack the plenary authority of scripture (“plenary” means we must submit our own contrary opinions to the authority of scripture).

As Christopher Kirk confirms below in his own words, “the bible is NOT the Word of God” (it’s interesting that those who hold this position never seem to esteem the Bible enough to capitalize it) and “God can tell you to go directly against scripture“.

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Organic Leadership (Part 2)

This originally was part of a longer post, which I’ve now split in two. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you first read Part 1.


Small is Beautiful

These days, “small” seems to be the new buzz word – and I generally agree with that focus. When our gatherings become too large, it is impossible for folks to participate in sharing and ministering to each other and freely expressing the life of Christ with one another.

Let's embrace the wonderful, multifaceted, multi-gifted Body of Christ!  Ekklesia and Diverse Gifts, Part 1: The Motivational Gifts

In the New Testament, the imperative to participate – to express the life of Christ in us, among us and through us – extends to our meetings, as well as our throughout-the-week relationships.

I’m not anti-big. There are times when larger gatherings make sense – but not as the main expression of the local Body of Christ, with small groups as mere adjuncts to the big Sunday show or some leader’s grand vision.

Also, if “small” becomes mini one-man shows in someone’s home, community center, jail unit, coffee shop, homeless shelter, work cafeteria or wherever, that misses the whole point.

To keep these problems from happening, we need to restore a proper concept of leadership within the Body of Christ.

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Organic Leadership (Part 1)

Last night, two other men and I met with one of the indigenous churches some of us helped start in the jail four years ago.

The wonderful, multifaceted Body of Christ

The wonderful, multifaceted Body of Christ

This fellowship is one of several that we have seen emerge in various housing units within the local jail.

That particular church (typically numbering six to eighteen men) has been a powerhouse for God, as the guys have learned to express Christ to one another through open, participatory fellowship.

Literally hundreds of men have come to the Lord because of them, and they’ve been effectively discipling each other in the faith

In addition, many, many other fellowships have sprung forth from them, as the men in that indigenous church – rooted in the specific cultural dynamics present in any jail or prison environment – are then transferred to other units and facilities.

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God is Good!

toddler_walking

The Body of Christ – Toddler Stage

Two new fellowships, comprised of about twenty new believers, stood on their own two feet today.

Two of us did some foundation laying over the last month, but today we just sat back and let ‘em go – and they did! We literally had nothing to say, and there was no opportunity to do so even if we wanted.

Life was popping out all over the place among them. They were amazed, but I wasn’t. God moves among us when we let Him. :-)

Next week, I’m expecting the same with several more new fellowships we’ve been helping to start, comprised also of mainly new believers.

God is good!

~ Jim

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Some Good Reads…

Two recent blogs I liked are:

Giving in Simple Church, by Tim Day.

Like Tim, Marianne and I reject the idea that Christians are obligated to tithe or that the tithe carries over into the New Covenant. But like Tim, we still give at least 10% of our income because we feel that’s what God wants of us personally, as we help and serve others.

Tim’s blog provides some very balanced, practical insight on giving.

The Changing Face of Full-Time Ministry, by Alan Knox.

We need to move past the old mentality of “full-time ministry” and realize that we all are ministering Christ full time.

Both of these brothers, and their blogs, should be on your “must read” list.

~ Jim

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The Delusion of Organic Intensity

Have you ever noticed how those who heavily promote organic food and natural health with the most enthusiasm and sincerity, sometimes look the most sickly and anemic and seem to have the most health problems?

They are reacting to real problems, but have turned their idealistic and seemingly good-sounding concepts into an all consuming idol – to the exclusion of real health which comes from a balanced life.

I’ve also see this among some who are the most ardent proponents of organic church. They’ve fallen prey to unbalanced reactions and aspirations which prevent authentic life and sustainable, healthy fellowships.

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Finding Organic Health

I believe a new “organic” move of God is emerging in the West, which affirms the good things about organic/simple church but radically rejects the crazy stuff of the past.

Stuck in a Rut

With this new move, we are finally climbing out of our ruts and catching up with our “organic” brothers and sisters in the rest of the world – who never fell prey to the crazy stuff and thus moved far beyond us.¹

We also are seeing healthy connections form between fellowships in different regions, as locally-rooted leaders use Skype and other Internet tools to build mutually helpful relationships with each other.

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Authentic Discipleship

A newly-wed couple in our fellowship invited Marianne and me to a Super Bowl party at their apartment last night.

True Discipleship!

True Discipleship!

Marianne couldn’t make it because she needed to finish her lesson plans for the week (she’s an elementary school teacher), so I went.

When I showed up, I was blessed to see some old friends – including guys I knew from the surrounding woods. That evening, we enjoyed lots of good food and good times as we hung out and watched the game together.

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Single Parents

single momSingle parents are ubiquitous in the church; however, often they are a very misunderstood group that usually doesn’t quite comfortably fit anywhere.

As a former single mom with 25 years of single parenting experience, these are some of the impressions I have collected. Maybe it is different if you are a single dad, but I don’t have any expertise in that area.

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Traction

treadmillI’m having an interesting online (but private) conversation with someone, talking about the state of things in his part of the country.

Here was my observation:

“My impression from interactions on Facebook with various folks in the [deleted] area is that there is a lot of angst that has driven folks from institutionalism and legalism, but not much in the way of any solid foundational Biblical principles operative among them.

“Your area seems to be a hotbed for interest in ‘organic’ things, but mired in lots of unrealistic sensibilities. They seem to have idealistic expectations rooted in those sensibilities but can’t seem to find traction, yet they are not willing to change and so they keep trying and trying without success.”

I wonder if this describes other areas around the country as well?

~ Jim

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Ekklesia: Diverse or Cookie-Cutter?

be_healthyAs I delve into the history and status of the organic church community in the U.S. (and to some extent Europe), I’ve been impressed with how some “church planters” are able to help diverse fellowships emerge. Each fellowship they help looks very different based on the context of its own local community.

Others, however, seem to forge fellowships that look strangely the same – and like them – from locale to locale.

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