As 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.
The former church planters seem, over time, to do much better – but they are more low key and unassuming than the latter.
The latter tend to have much tighter control over the churches they relate to, but do not seem to produce lasting health. Instead, they tend to create cookie-cutter imprints of themselves, rather than authentically diverse expressions of the Body of Christ rooted in existing local community.
Those cookie-cutter fellowships typically implode after a few years as the strains of conforming to the “worker’s” grand vision, pet doctrines and peculiar practices – which often are somewhat cultish but not obvious at first – finally take their toil.
I also see that the former tend to “go” and help establish fellowships within existing communities and let them find their unique identity, whereas the latter often urge people to come and move to them to be – in essence – part of their identity (although they always claim it is an expression of Christ).
Again, this seems to be a significant factor in whether the resulting fellowships are healthy. Helping ekklesia emerge within existing community and its cultural context, rather than urging new community to coalesce around the church planter and his concept of ekklesia, seems to be much more fruitful.
Of course, these problems with cookie-cutter fellowships also can emerge with local leaders, and are not unique to itinerant “workers”. (One of the best blogs I’ve seen on healthy local leadership was posted this morning by Tim Day, Running for Overseer.)
Nonetheless, discovering these differences as I listen to folks around the country tell their stories – for good and for bad – has helped shape my own approach with the fellowships in our area.
Go, rather than come…
Diverse fellowships rooted in existing local contexts…
Bringing ekklesia into community, rather than hoping community emerges from ekklesia…
None of these are absolutes, but if you read how Jesus did it in Luke 10, these seem to conform to His approach. And if that was good enough for Him, then I guess it should be good enough for us – not as a rigid model, but as a reflection of important principles that we ignore at our own peril.
Finally, I want to emphasize that many healthy fellowships emerge without the help of outside “church planters”, “workers”, “apostles” (or whatever they want to call themselves) – so I am not saying they are required.
In fact, the “organic” fellowships which are the most healthy here in northern Virginia were not started or aided by any outside “worker” – whereas the one remaining fellowship near us that was (most have folded) is – it seems to me – not so healthy.
I am open to having or not having outside help. But where an itinerant helper plays a role, I have been fascinated to see the contrast between those who “go” and help diverse fellowships emerge within existing local contexts, and those who say “come” and coalesce around me and my vision.
I’d be interested in your thoughts, experiences or observations on this.
Feel free to leave a comment (sharing our stories openly helps many others), or you can contact me privately.