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.
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.
As they are “sent”, they in turn start new churches without needing any particular outside help, because they first learned how to be the church in our local jail.
Restoring the Foundations
As you might imagine, the composition of that fellowship is constantly changing as men come and go from the jail and that particular housing unit.
Over the last several months, however, their fellowship started drifting back into the mentality of needing someone from the outside to come “lead” them in a directed time of “worship” and “Bible study”.
So two weeks ago, I started joining with them to help restore their Biblical foundations of what it means to be the wonderfully diverse, indigenous, multi-gifted and participatory Body of Christ.
Healthy churches, I have learned, seldom arise from some leader trying to create “community”.
Rather, they take root within the context of existing communities – whether it be the unique cultural dynamics of a jail, a workplace, the homeless living in the woods, middle class suburbia, or wherever.
After all, Jesus said to “go” and make disciples of all “nations” (actually, that word in the original Greek means distinct ethnic and cultural communities) – rather than “come” and be a disciple in the context of my own culture.
Laying the foundation for that to happen is really not that hard.
It is not telling folks how to do church, doing church for them, imposing my own measure of Christ on them, or trying to reproduce my own idea of community among them.
Rather, it is letting them know it is OK to be what should come naturally for any believer – which is to express the participatory life of Christ one to another in the context their own culture and existing community.
As that starts happening, it then means getting out of the way.
As we’ve been re-affirming that foundation, the men in that part of the jail – like ducks taking to water – are discovering the freedom to be the Body of Christ. Last night, they started openly sharing His life with each other, ministering to each other, challenging each other, and encouraging each other.
It doesn’t take months for this to start happening. After just one prior gathering with a renewed focus on them being the Body of Christ with each other, they were doing it.
As a result, Jesus once again is coming alive among a body of believers in that housing unit – and through those men He’s starting to be more fully expressed to the jail community where God has placed them.
For me and the two other men who have been going in to meet with them, our role is to just lay the foundation of Christ in them, among them and through them – then sit back and let it happen.
One of the things I’ve been doing lately is to mentor others in how to start and encourage such fellowships – whether in the jail, the homeless community or the white-picket-fence suburban neighborhood down the street.
For those with the leadership motivation to see such fellowships emerge, the biggest impediment is our impulse to want make things happen – not in a control-freak way, but rather from our natural impulse to want to help the gathering be focused, relevant and interesting.
After all, if we don’t initiate and keep things on track, it won’t happen, right?
In fact, that inherent impulse – which is present in anyone with leadership abilities – will surely keep authentic Biblical fellowship from emerging.
By “authentic Biblical fellowship”, I mean letting Jesus come into a community and be expressed in the context of that community. It’s allowing folks to fully express His life to each other their way – rather than your way.
Often, this means letting the Lord emerge and find diverse expression through and within existing community (rather than trying to artificially create community that revolves around your own “vision” or measure of Christ).
This involves an entirely new mentality about what it means to “be the church”, and it comes down to this:
Going into existing communities and letting Christ take root in them – and then letting Him be expressed among them and through them, according to the unique and diverse measure of grace and gifts that He bestows among His people in the context of their own culture.
By “culture”, however, I don’t necessarily mean some tribe in New Guinea (although culture is certainly found there, and God can certainly send some there!).
In your own town or county, there are many, many distinct cultures and sub-cultures – each with their own unique ways of relating, acting and living.
So why not do what the Great Commission says?
Rather than say “come” to a meeting and find Christ among me and my friends, can I “go” help Christ emerge within the community and culture that already exists among you and your friends?
Buzz Word Movements
Some leaders get it, but many don’t.
Some are secure enough to allow Christ to organically take root and bear fruit within existing, diverse communities – while others think it’s about reproducing their grand vision of what Christ and the Church should look like.
The former allows His life to find varied expression in unique contexts.
The latter, however, often is little more than artificially imposing someone’s cookie-cutter image – borne of their own gifts, motivations and cultural imperatives – of Christ and “community” on others.
Programs and methods come and go, fads emerge and die away, and some author’s grand concept of Christ and His Church will be hot today but gone tomorrow.
Although there often are good ideas found in each new buzz-word “movement”, the real work of the Kingdom of God seldom occurs there.
God just never seems to thrive very long in a neatly packaged box, no matter how catchy the buzz word, enticing the book, charming the visiting “worker”, or thrilling the conference.
(Be sure to read Part 2 on Organic Church Leadership.)
~ Jim Wright