Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reflections from a Community Catalyst: (1) Birthing Pains

Helping new communities of faith to form and thrive can be an interesting ministry—if you have the sense of humor to keep you from pulling your hair out. We have had a couple of these eyebrow-raising moments in our own little community plant here lately. They both hinge on the difference between non/new-Christians and established older believers. Other catalysts I have known have often expressed the preference they have for spending time with non-Christians over their fellow believers. Until recently, I always questioned the spiritual health of such an opinion. Now I am beginning to understand in what sense they meant it.

Two years ago, this group was born as a simple Bible Study. New believers and Christians seeking more had gathered together to study the Word and share their faith in the neighborhood. They asked me to come teach them what the Bible really said about “Church.” After six months, they decided that they had all the qualities that the Bible said a church should have. They split into three groups to make room for new people to join with a view of growing yet maintaining the advantages a small group offers for community. Over time, some left for a more “traditional” idea of church. One group fizzled out and was reborn later as a group of mainly non-Christians looking for God. People have been saved and community has strengthened, but it was time for the next step. The vision needed to be recast, (as it had been periodically) yet again.

Three weeks ago, and then again a week later, the two groups heard a message about reaching out, sharing the faith and looking forward towards growth and change. The reaction in the two groups was amazingly different. However, it should have been expected. The two groups are so different, even while they meet together as one once a month.

One group is composed of many original members and a couple of new believers. They received the message with excitement and affirmation. It was a great evening of sharing and plans being made for reaching the neighborhood.

The other group has few original members left. Some are temporarily gone while others have gone back to traditional church. The new additions to the group are all believers from other churches who are excited about what this new plant has to offer. They did not like the message. They responded with explanations of what they thought the church should be, based on their own views and experiences, not what the Bible has to say. They got caught up in theological arguments about minor issues. They attacked the speaker’s German grammar. It was an eye-opening experience. The whole thing ended up being an illustration of the difference between community and institution—between relationship and religion.

Like I said, I understand in what sense those other planters expressed their preference for non-church folks.


  1. Jason - this is awesome. Though I should have suspected, I didn't realize your work in Deutschland was primarily planting.
    We run into the same issues with various upstarts in our network, and the terminology we use is settled vs. missional. In the American church the tendency in a new work is to become settled as quickly as possible, especially in our denominational family. But, our desire is to remain fluid, missional, attentive and open to those God is adding to our number.
    I'm excited to read about your work!!

  2. Thanks, Jay. I like that terminology. Settled is a good word for the opposite of what we are trying to pursue. I think I'll incorporate it into my thinking.


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