Friday, March 26, 2010

Total Church: World Mission

Some brief thoughts on the chapter on World Mission from Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

World Mission

The centrality of the gospel word and the gospel community apply not only on our doorstep, but to the ends of the earth. God summons us both to “declare his praises” and be “a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2.9).

A word for the nations

The gospel word is a word for the present about the future. Hope is integral to our message. Non-Christians campaign for justice and feed the hungry, often with greater energy than Christians. But only Christians can point people to the world to come. Only Christians can show them how eloquently and relevantly the Bible describes the world we all want! People may dismiss this as ‘pie in the sky when you die’, but this is the promise of the gospel. The very best we can do for others is turn their gaze toward eternity. This is what the gospel word and gospel communities do so uniquely (100).

A community for the nations

Psalms 67 reshapes Aaron’s prayer of blessing over the people of Israel in Numbers 6.22-27. The Psalms connect the worshipper and God. Psa. 67 makes a further connection: between the worshippers, God and the nations. The prayer assumes Israel’s distinctive identity in the world.

The psalmist knew the purpose of Israel’s election and understood the determination of Yahweh to fulfill the promise he made to Abraham. He would bless the descendants of Abraham so that through them he might bless the nations and so be recognized as the God of the whole earth (101).

Both local and global mission is the privilege and responsibility of any and every local church (102)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Total Church: Church Planting

Chester and Timmis in this chapter discuss how they view church planting as a form of evangelism. They look very closely to the mission and church planting practices of the early apostles (especially Paul) to provide a template. They are not so committed to house church planting as the only biblical manner of evangelism and church planting, but they do see the benefits that can come from planting smaller missional communities in homes. It is much more efficient for growth and reproduction that building one central meeting place. And in those smaller communities, it is easier to relate to one another, share each others’ lives and for all members to exercise their gifts in ministry.

The apostolic approach to mission
For Paul mission meant planting churches. In the NT, wherever the gospel was preached local churches were established. In Acts, Luke deliberately portrays Paul as a church planter. This methodology involves a church planting team or an apostolic band. The team functions as a church even as a church grows up around it, providing a context for discipleship and a demonstration of Christian community. (89).

The Apostolic approach to community
The apostolic churches were reproducing churches, meeting in households. This meant they grew by adding further household gatherings rather than by adding numbers to one mega-congregation. So, for example, Paul writes ‘to the church of God in Corinth’ (1 Cor. 1.2), but can also talk about information from ‘some from Chloe’s household’ and how he baptized the members of ‘the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1.11, 16; 16.15).
In Acts 16, Lydia and the jailer’s ‘households’ are baptized and a church is planted in Philippi. In Acts 18 the household of Crispus believes and a church is planted in Corinth… So in his time in Corinth Paul presumably oversaw the establishment of a number of household churches within the city. The point is that he chose to establish a number of smaller churches rather than create one large congregation. In Ephesus Paul used the hall of Tyrannus, but for public discussions. Meanwhile he taught the believers ‘from house to house’ (Acts 20.20).
Constantly reproducing churches was the pattern of apostolic churches, but it was a pattern that gave fullest expression to the principles of Christian community. The household model is in some way defining of church. The church is the household of God (Eph. 2.19-22, others). The ability of a potential leader to manage his household reflects his ability to care for God’s church (1 Tim. 3.4-5). For NT Christians the idea of ‘church’ was synonymous with household and home. (90).

No slavish adherence to homes…the point is that, as they grew, the apostolic churches became networks of small communities rather than one large group, to safeguard apostolic principles of church life. It matters little whether these small groups are called churches, home groups or cells, as long as they are the focus for the life and mission of the church. (91)

Small communities create a simplicity that militates against a maintenance mentality: there are no expensive buildings to maintain or complex programs to run. They determine a style that is participatory and inclusive, mirroring the discipleship model and table fellowship of Jesus himself. One of the key expressions of NT ecclesiology is ‘one another’.
Many are unenthusiastic about church planting because of assumptions that big is better. But the household model of NT practice was no accident. (91)

Church planting and the renewal of the church
Good church planting is crucial to the health of the wider church. Good church planting forces us to re-ask questions about the gospel and church; to re-invent churches that are both gospel-centered without religious tradition and relevant without worldly conformity. Far from weakening a sending church, church planting is a vital opportunity to re-focus the life of the church on the gospel. The identity of the sending church should radically change. It cannot continue as the same church or repeat the same program. It must look again for new leaders to emerge. It must ask all over again how it will reach its neighborhood with the gospel. (93)

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul reflects on what constitutes good church planting. The key thing is that the gospel is at the heart of church planting. The Corinthian church plants had lost sight of the gospel. They were concerned with human power and wisdom. They were dividing over secondary issues. Paul puts the gospel of Christ crucified back at the heart of the church and church planting.
Those whose primary concern is church can too easily get absorbed with the internal dynamics or structures of the church so that getting the church community life ‘right’ becomes the priority.
Church planting is part of normal church life. At present church planting carries a certain mystique. Church planters are portrayed as a unique kind of rugged pioneer. But we need to create a culture in which transplanting is normal. Every local church should be aiming to transplant and raise up church planters. (94-5)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Total Church: Social Involvement

A Welcome for the poor and marginalized

Chester and Timmis see that many of the divisions within evangelicalism are as much about social class as theological differences. In one direction people are seen as vulgar; in the other direction people are seen as snobbish. Why does this matter? It matters because they feel that we are failing to reach the working class with the gospel. Evangelicalism has become a largely middle-class, professional phenomenon (74). (I would add that it depends on how you define evangelicalism. There are many pentecostal and fundamentalist groups that do reach certain segments of the working class)

A word for the poor and marginalized

In recent decades evangelism and social involvement have come to be viewed as alternatives or, if not exactly as alternatives, then as separate activities which need to be held in balance.

Chester and Timmis want to make three assertions about the relationship between evangelism and social action:

  1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities – good social action is about harnessing the insights and resources of the poor, but the gospel is a message from outside that is addressed to us in spiritual helplessness and powerlessness.
  2. Proclamation is central – social action without proclamation is like a signpost pointing nowhere.
  3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable

They compare this balance to their desires for their own children. They do desire from their children might be reconciled to God through the gospel. This desire does not mean they are unconcerned about their temporal needs. But they do not simply teach them the Bible. They try to create a loving home in which they can experience life as a blessing. But still the greatest concern is to teach and model the gospel of salvation. It is the same with the poor and marginalized. (76)

A community for the poor marginalized

Poor people want to be included and not just judged and “rescued” at times of crisis.” The poor are, for the most part, those who are powerless and marginal.

Rescuing the poor: if it never moves beyond this, it reinforces the dependency and helplessness at the heart of poverty. The poor remain passive. It does not produce lasting or sustainable change. (77).

It is all about working with the poor to identify their problems, to develop solutions, to monitor progress, to evaluate outcomes. The poor want more than projects; they want to participate in community. “…I want…someone to be my friend.” (78)

The best thing we can do for the poor is offer them a place of welcome and community. Our first priority in social involvement is to be the church, a community of welcome to, and inclusion of, the marginalized.

But what about the rich? Are they also needy? Yes. Should we also evangelize them? Yes. The rich have many social needs. We need to pay attention to Luke’s pitch to Theophilus and Jesus’ call to the rich within the Gospel. It is not a domesticated, individualistic offer of salvation divorced from the day-to-day realities of life in a fallen world. Luke’s call is for Theophilus to side with the marginalized just as Jesus did. (79-80).

People sometimes claim it is a question of calling. They do not dispute the validity of ministry to the poor, but feel their calling is to the rich. That is not Luke’s pitch to Theophilus. And it does not explain why God apparently calls far more people to prosperous areas than he does to the poorer areas of the nation. (80).

The church today is growing among the shanty towns of Africa, and the favelas and barrios of Latin America. When we look at church throughout the world, God is choosing the weak and lowly to shame the power and wealth of the West. (81).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Total Church: Evangelism

Gospel and Community in Practice (Part 2)
The gospel word is central in evangelism
Francis of Assisi is alleged to have said: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary using words.” It may be a great medieval sound bite, but it falls short of what the Bible teaches about evangelism. (And I believe it falls short of what St. Francis actually said).
The gospel message often becomes skewed towards me and how Jesus meets my needs. But the gospel Jesus proclaimed is about God exercising his life-giving rule through his Messiah for his glory. Thus, it is important for us to tell people the good news about Jesus.

The gospel community is central in evangelism
The gospel word and the gospel community are closely connected. The word creates and nourishes the community while the community proclaims and embodies the word.
That is why Jesus ends his injunction with the words: “All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” Before they are preachers, leaders or church planters, the disciples are to be lovers! This is the test of whether or not they have known Jesus.
People want a form of evangelism they can stick in their schedule, switch off and go home from. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of love. Yet the new command of Jesus suggests that, whatever advances John made in the second scenario, there is a further vital dimension.
Christian community is a vital part of Christian mission.
In our experience people are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message.
My answer is to find ways of introducing them to the Christian community…Too much evangelism is an attempt to answer questions people are not asking.

The three strands of evangelism
Building relationship – Sharing the gospel – Introducing people to community.

A community project
By making evangelism a community project, it also takes seriously the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in distributing a variety of gifts among his people. It relieves some people who don't necessarily have the "gift of evangelism" (that is talking to strangers about Jesus) but allows them to be involved in evangelism as they are involved in community.

Ordinary life, gospel intentionality
Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.
But the ‘ordinary’ is only a vehicle for Christian mission if there is gospel intentionality. The ordinary needs to be saturated with a commitment to living and proclaiming the gospel…Otherwise we simply form good relationships that never go anywhere.
The Crowded House folks try to create this culture by regularly teaching our values, celebrating gospel opportunities, setting aside time each Sunday to share what we have been doing, ‘commissioning’ people as missionaries in their workplaces and social clubs. Above all we model the culture for one another so that it becomes the normal thing to do…We need Christian communities to which we introduce people. These communities must be communities in which “God-talk” is normal. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share needs, delighting together in the gospel, sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers.
At the same time we try to make our meetings less strange to unbelievers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Total Church: Why Community?

Total Church: Why Community
Paul emphasizes here, and in many other places, that Christ wants to create “a people”, not merely isolated individuals who believe in him (see Titus 2.14). We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died (37).

The Christian community is central to Christian identity
The Bible shows that we are communal creatures, made to be lovers of God and of others. Genesis 2 underlines this as the writer tells us that the only thing in all creation that is not good is the man on his own (v. 18).
Into our pervasively individualistic world-view, we speak the gospel message of reconciliation, unity and identity as the people of God. This is perhaps the most significant “culture gap” which the church has to bridge.
Today it is often difficult for people to contemplate conversion to Christ if that means distancing themselves from their existing networks, especially if those are the close bonds of a minority community such as those found in the gay community or among ethnic minorities. They need a new home. In The Crowded House they have also found some people wanting to be part of their church community not initially because they were interested in Christ, but because they wanted a kinder, gentler alternative to their existing network of relationships.
The NT word for community is koinonia, often translated by the now anemic word ‘fellowship’. Koinonia is linked to the words “common”, “sharing”, “participation.” We are the community of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13.14) in community with the Son (1 Cor. 1.9): sharing our lives (1 Thes. 2.8), sharing our property (Acts 4.32), sharing the gospel (Phil. 1.5; Phile 6) and sharing in Christ’s suffering and glory (2 cor. 1.6-7; 1 Pet. 4.13).
At the center or hub of life is not me as an individual, but us as members of the Christian community.

The Christian community is central to Christian mission
God is a missionary God and God’s primary missionary method is his covenant people.
The church is not something additional or optional. It is at the very heart of God’s purposes. Jesus came to create a people who would model what it means to live under his rule. It would be a glorious outpost of the kingdom of God: an embassy of heaven. This is where the world can see what it means to be truly human.
Our identity as human beings is found in community. Our identity as Christians is found in Christ’s new community. And our mission takes place through communities of faith. Christianity is ‘total church.’

If you warm to this vision of Christian community then start where you are. Sell the vision by modeling the vision. Become a blessing by offering hospitality, showing practical care, dropping in on people…Create something that other people want to be part of (48).

Total Church: Why Gospel?

In the first major section of their book, Chester and Timmis discuss “Gospel and Community in Principle.” The first chapter is called, “Why Gospel?” They defend the preaching and teaching of Scriptures as a way of extending their community because Christianity is word centered. It is word centered because God rules through his gospel word. God extends his rule through his word.
Christianity is also mission-centered because God extends his rule through his gospel word. To tell people the gospel is to announce the kingdom or kingship of God and Christ. Their concern to be word-centered does not conflict with a concern to be Spirit-centered. The community formed by the gospel for the gospel is the community in which God dwells by his Spirit. In the Bible, word and Spirit always go together.
This means that Bible study and theology that do not lead to love for God and a desire to do his will have gone terribly wrong. True theology leads to love, mission and worship.

They sum this up by saying: The gospel is a word so the church must be word-centered
Being gospel centered has two dimensions. First, it means being word-centered because the gospel is a word. The gospel is good news. It is a message. It is a word that has become incarnate in Jesus Christ. It is this word that brings new life to people and shapes the life of the church.
Second, the gospel is a missionary word so the church must be mission-centered.

They begin to flesh out missional living with some very challenging thoughts to their community members (not just “called” missionaries and ministers). To think mission centered, they ask people to imagine they are part of a church planting team in a cross-cultural situation in some other part of the world:
• What criteria would you used to decide where to live?
• How would you approach secular employment?
• What standard of living would you expect as pioneer missionaries?
• What would you spend your time doing?
• What opportunities would you be looking for?
• What would your prayers be like?
• What would you be trying to do with your new friends?
• What kind of team would you want around you?
• How would you conduct your meetings together? (33)

For them, they believe the UK will never be reached until they create open, authentic, learning and praying communities that are focused on making whole-life disciples who live and share the Gospel wherever they relate to people in their daily lives.
The challenge for them (and passed on to all of us) is to make the gospel the center of our lives not just on Sunday mornings, but on Monday mornings. (36)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Series: Total Church

Total Church


I haven’t blogged in a while, so I’m going to begin a new series blogging through the book, Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. I read this book two years ago and have had notes sitting around for two years. Thought I’d work through them here.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis began "The Crowded House", a church planting movement that is centered around missional house groups committed to the gospel in community and communities on mission. They place a big emphasis on sharing lives with another and welcoming unbelievers into the network of relationships that make up the church. They grow by planting new congregations rather than acquiring bigger premises.

Chester and Timmis saw that ministry had become a production line: churning out sermons, putting on events and trying to generate another wave of enthusiasm for evangelism. If only there was a different way of doing church. They saw that so much of what they called church was good but inaccessible and irrelevant to those around them. Non-believers were not being exposed to “church”.

The focus of this book is “gospel and community”. They are committed to being gospel centered which involves two things: first, being word-centered because the gospel is a word – the gospel is news, a message. Second, it means being mission-centered because the gospel is a word to be proclaimed. The gospel is good news and is a missionary message.

They center their activities on being gospel centered in the sense of being word-centered, gospel-centered in the sense of being mission-centered and community centered. They admit that at times, a focus on community becomes insulated, me and my acquaintances talking about God. They strive to be enthusiastic about truth AND mission as well as being enthusiastic about relationships and community.

They flesh this out by

· Seeing church as an identity instead of a responsibility to be juggled alongside other commitments.

· Running fewer evangelistic events, youth clubs and social projects and spending more time sharing their lives with unbelievers.

· Starting new congregations instead of growing existing ones.