Friday, March 27, 2009

A Simple Resource for a Simple Church

Brian over at Faith Practice & Simple Church Movements has posted a wonderful little brochure (still a draft) that offers a description of simple churches. It includes a set of three norms for this kind of church life that are oriented towards practice rather than doctrine.
  • A Rhythm of Presence speaks to the relational foundation, being present to God and each other in ways that are significant and active.

  • A Movement of Renewal speaks to the outward focus of working to bring peace and justice - God's shalom - more fully into the world.

  • A Culture of Blessing speaks to enacting grace in love and gentleness no matter what you do (or is done to you.)
Beyond being explicitly centered on Jesus it is presented without any doctrinal core or theological boundaries. Some may find that to be a weakness, but for the purpose helping to nucleate a broad spectrum of faith communities instead of cloning the one you have I find it to be an attractive strength. I think this comes through most clearly in this one comment in a section of final thoughts; "Communion & baptisms should become a consistent expression of your simple church."

I invite you to take a look at his work and give him some feedback as he continues to develop it. Below are the first couple of introductory paragraphs.


This simple church brochure is designed for Jesus-centered & Spirit-led communities that revolve around three essential norms of expression: rhythm of presence, movement of renewal, and culture of blessing.

Simple churches share life together through prayer & deep conversation, over meals, in play & recreation, & through adventure in serving those in need. Simple churches actively seek the care of the last, the lost , and the least in our world – always with a gracious invitation to
join us if you’d like & yet whatever your decision we will still treat you with dignity & respect . . . we will treat you as Jesus himself.

And while this brochure does not place an emphasis on restricted religiosity as typified by many fundamentalist expressions of religion it does have a central focus on following and imitating the practices & teachings of Jesus & the rhythms of the Holy Spirit - envisioning the renewed reality of a people unleashed to collectively utilize their gifts & talents not toward service of money, consumerism, & self but in service of the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of constantly. (Read more...)


Brian said...

Hi Tim,

Sorry for the delay in responding. Thanks for your thoughts & input & pointing to us on your blogspot - much appreciated.

Won't be able to tell you everything here. But we're a bit of an experiment of sorts. We are but a worship gathering pointing toward smaller & simpler expressions of church practice - a training ground & way-station for those a bit tired of the proverbial "show" of the worship service. We are in the process of launching a couple of new simple churches over the next two months. But . . .

We've learned from some of our own failures over the last year in living into simple church practices. We started a few and watched them flounder & then ultimately come to a stop. Primarily we discovered that if the inward/intentional impulse for coming together in the name of Jesus doesn't quickly break into outward/incarnational impulses in loving neighbor & enemy alike then it is likely that after a number of months of just getting together in smaller groups as "church" - boredom, predictability, & even animosity begin to emerge (essentially mimicking a conventional worship service in a smaller setting). This is really due to not consistently & intentionally placing Jesus as the de-facto Head of the Church & allowing the Holy Spirit to lead (which if we read anything about the Holy Spirit in the NT it is that the Holy Spirit is always moving churches into new & unconventional territory). As you know, we in the west are conditioned into claiming that Jesus is the head of the church & we also claim that we are being led by the Holy Spirit. But I think for the most part that is all merely theory that is packed neatly in our ecclesiological heads & has never been allowed to be released into our every day praxis of church living. Sundays still dominate as the only church expression in the west & the idea of communally following Jesus as the Way of life is largely ignored.

This fact has also led us into moving into purposefully moving into higher levels of personal discipleship - & weekly encouragement occurs in groups of 2 or 3 of the same gender if possible. Our process is outlined in the brochure that is in the help for Jesus-centered Spirit-led living brochure (and I stole freely from Benedictine practices, the LTG concept from Neil Cole, Dallas Willard's work, and the Renovare stuff from Richard Foster). Let me use Alan Hirsch's & Michael Frost's apt bifurcation of those who "admire" Jesus v. those who "follow" Jesus. All followers of Jesus admire Him but not all admirers "follow" Jesus. Followers of Jesus are adamant, albeit broken, practitioners of the Way of Jesus. Admirers of Jesus tend not to think anything of Him at all until the next Sunday rolls around. We want to invite people freely into the following way of life. Individually as well as communally. But we're in the process right now & taking some baby steps in a new direction.

Anyhow sounds like you have similar impulses? Love to keep the conversation going when we can so we can learn from one another in completely different contexts. Peace to you.


Like a Mustard Seed said...

"we in the west are conditioned into claiming that Jesus is the head of the church & we also claim that we are being led by the Holy Spirit. But I think for the most part that is all merely theory that is packed neatly in our ecclesiological heads & has never been allowed to be released into our every day praxis of church living. Sundays still dominate as the only church expression in the west & the idea of communally following Jesus as the Way of life is largely ignored."

Wow, couldn't agree more with that sentiment, we've encountered many examples of this ourselves. Looking forward to reading more here Tim...


Feral Pastor said...

What I hear you describing in the breakdown of your first attempts rings a bell for me. I have a core metaphor I return to often which is that God created humans to be like L-shaped pipes: conduits that receive what he "pours in" from above and then direct it outward in loving service to our neighbor. We can't "shut off the flow" from God to us, but we can shut it off to our neighbor, and when we do it the "plumbing backs up" with the end result that we can't receive from God anymore either and whatever we do have just stagnates within us. Sounds like maybe that's what happened to your communities as they didn't tend to the outward flow. (It's that whole "...and your neighbor as your self" thing.) Am I reading that right?

So now as you work to learn from that attempt, I see the emphasis on personal growth and discipleship with the 2-3 person support & accountability groups. I expect that will pay some serious dividends, provided the push for personal growth doesn't become narcissistic which is always a risk. What I'm wondering is, what do you have in mind to help the community as a whole keep it's eyes on not just sharing the love with each other, but on letting it flow to the least & the lost etc? Is this part of what you were getting at when you wrote about "the Holy Spirit... moving churches into new & unconventional territory?"


Brian Bajari said...

yup. you know it. love the L-shape metaphor. and the plumbing does get backed up pretty quickly if we don't have ready access to living out Kingdom of God to neighbor and enemy alike. similarly, what happens if you put an athletic team together, or a band, or a thespian troupe, and all they do is only practice? Initially, the practice is exciting and energetic & perhaps life-changing as all are learning their roles - but if eventually there is no live game to play, or no concert to be had, or play to be performed then what's the point of all this ridiculous practice? everyone becomes disillusioned, loses heart, and creative energy quickly turns into bitterness, in-fighting, and power-struggles for those who continue to opt in. this happens so often in so many church expressions that don't have any kind of norm of living into a movement ethos.

this is where the last, the lost, the least come into the picture. church communities need to serve those in need for her very vibrancy & vitality to continue in exploring the greater depths of God's love. so the question is not should we serve but rather how is the Spirit specifically directing us to serve in the unique contexts we find ourselves in? this is where the efficacy of placing Jesus as head of the church community & allowing the Spirit to specifically lead us. this is stuff you already know I'm sure.

An example: a couple friends of mine who are in a band, living on the way of Jesus, and like to drink beer at a local pub suddenly were given a vision of putting all of these interests to use.

they asked the owner of the pub if they could put on a show at no cost to the owner on a night that doesn't typically draw in a lot of business. but they asked if they could charge a cover of $10 in order to support an organization that provides clean water technology all over Africa. Brilliant. They drew in 90-100 customers at a pub that typically sees 10-20 on that particular night & made over $1000 for clean water tech in Africa in the process while also getting great publicity for their band. a kind of inverse of changing water into wine; in this case turning beer into water and all in the name of Jesus as head of the church. try passing that by most elder/deacon boards - where many will never get past the word beer.

only the Holy Spirit could come up with such a ridiculous plan to spread shalom & gospel both locally & globally don't you think? and only thru prayerful obedience did this at all get accomplished.

Feral Pastor said...

Love that story! That's exactly the kind of thing I'd love to be spending my time on and encouraging in others!

And just for fun - I sent a copy of the story to my Bishop, Mark Hanson. He often tells a story about a joke he made on an airplane. They ran out of water in-flight, so he - wearing his bishopy clerical garb - said to the attendant; "You know, if you have some wine on hand, maybe I could turn some back in to water for you..." But the attendant was utterly bewildered and said; "Sir, I have no idea what you're talking about." I think he'll get a kick out of your real-life example, (but with beer.)

Anyway, back to important things.

I'm interested in concrete, practical strategies that can help the Church continually renew it's attention to this kind of work to bless others. For example, I think some groups simply make a practice of doing a "mission project" once a month. Embedding it into the schedule is a tactic for keeping the emphasis going.

In your experience, what - if anything - have you found most helpful for that? What's your strategy here with the new groups that are starting?

Ron Amundson said...

Brian and Tim,
This has given me much to think about in the online arena, so much of it carrys over. The problems in many ways are nearly identical. In our first run, the intended model was similar to the L pipe... but we failed to facilitate it (making that virtual to 3d connection is obviously a real challenge), and sure enough, things backed up in a huge way. Lots to think of, thank you for sharing.

Feral Pastor said...

Thanks, Ron - glad you found it helpful. If you want to fill s in here a bit on your "first run" I'd certainly be glad to hear about it, especially any ideas you have for facilitating more effectively in the next round.