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Discipleship in a New World

3 September, 2004 11:53 AM

As part of the Forge network I'm helping to put on an event exploring the theme of 'Discipleship in a New World'. Many of us have experimented with emerging forms of worship, mission, communication, community etc - but one of the questions I'm hearing more and more being asked is 'how do you disciple people in this postmodern context?'

The world is in a rapid state of change - at times it feels pretty chaotic - people can be so transient, dysfunctional, busy - how do we actually take seriously the command of Jesus to 'make disciples' in this context?

Well we don't have all the answers, but it is a theme that we'll be exploring in an evening in October here in Melbourne. If it is a theme you'd be interested in exploring check out the details below. One of our team, John Jensen, will facilitate the night and present a way forward that I've found to be quite simple yet profound.

So come along to:

Retro Cafe (upper room) - 413 Brunswick St Fitzroy (Melbourne Australia - sorry you overseas bods!)
Thursday 7th October 7.30-9.30pm
Bring $15 or $10 if you are a student/unemployed
Food and drink will be available for purchase during the evening at the bar.

Come early (6pm) to grab a bite to eat with us in the cafe downstairs. Dinner will be a pretty informal time but you're more than welcome to drop by and have a bowl of risotto or pasta with us.

Contact me if you want any more information.

This would be an ideal night to bring a group to - We'll be bringing LivingRoom instead of having our regular Wednesday night meeting that week - so cancel your small group/church meeting and come along for what should be a great night of learning and networking.

Lovemarks and the Church - Intimacy

31 August, 2004 12:18 PM

It has been a while since I started the Lovemarks series - sorry for the delay - I got a little distracted.

This is the forth post in a four part series examining the book, Lovemarks, in relation to Spirituality and Church. Read my introduction to the series first and follow the links from there to read what proceeds this entry.

The last element focused upon in 'Lovemarks'. is Intimacy. Their theory is that products that exude intimacy are far more likely to capture the minds, and more importantly the hearts, of potential customers. I think we would all agree that as human beings we all have a desire - no a need - for intimacy - it is the way we've been created. To connect with another human being is a powerful thing. Marketers have latched onto this human trait and are now focussing their energies into presenting their products as intimate.

Consider how this can be seen in advertising. I was walking past a 'Sports Girl' store recently (an Aussie retail outlet selling clothes to young women) and noticed the advertising out the front of their shop. In the window hung a huge poster featuring 6 women - probably in their late teens. The thing that grabbed my attention about the ad was not the clothes the models were wearing but the fact that they were obviously having such a good time with one another. The image had little do do with clothes, in fact the clothes were out of focus and hardly noticeable, this image was selling companionship, fun, relationship and sisterhood. This is a common story in advertising these days - most car advertisements here in Australia these days are more about family and relationships than they are about engine size or specifications. Banking ads focus upon the security their products will bring to families than they do upon interest rates and account facilities. Intimacy sells.

Jesus was someone who obviously was big on Intimacy in his three years of ministry. The whole basis of his discipleship focus happened around relationships. When he called that group of fishermen to follow him that day he was not calling them to a program of speakers, a couple of intense camping experiences and a pastoral visit once or twice a year - he was calling them to live with him. They spent three years living in each other's pockets - hiking around the countryside together, sharing meals with one another, laying down at night beside each other and knowing each other intimately.

One of the things that got Jesus crucified was that he was just way to intimate with people. He ate with the wrong people, he touched the wrong people and he talked to the wrong people. I think we lose most of the significance of the social barriers he crossed. To eat with a sinner, to touch a leper, to be touched by a prostitute, to speak with a Samaritan woman were not just events to be frowned upon - they totally went against something the society was built around. People were never intimate in these ways with anyone outside their own level of purity - it just did not happen. Jesus sought intimacy with people from all walks of life - and people responded to him in powerful ways.

The early church continued to walk in this path of a life of intimacy - it only takes a quick look at the first few chapters of Acts to spot it. This was a group of people who didn't just see each other once or twice a week - they were in each other's homes, visiting the temple together, sharing meals with one another, sharing their possessions, reaching out to those in need etc. Faith was not something a group of individuals did - occasionally connecting - it was something a community did together.

So how does the church go with Intimacy?
As we've done previously with Mystery and Sensuality we could look through church history and find times and places where the church did intimacy both well and poorly. Likewise we can all probably think of churches of today that have both good and bad examples of people connecting intimately with one another. I know in the churches I've belonged to over the years I've both felt the warm embrace and the cold shoulder of fellow below believers.

Overall though I think there is a lot more 'the Church' can do to build intimacy into both our life of worship and mission. Of course I'm grossly generalizing here but most worship services I've been to over the years have done little to build a sense of togetherness with others within the congregation or, dare I say it, God. Sitting on an uncomfortable seat staring at the back of the head of my brothers or sisters in Christ while a small group of others do most of the activity to me is hardly an intimate moment - I can only speak for me but often I find this approach rather isolating and disconnecting. Of course we do have an opportunity to connect with one another after worship over a cup of coffee (usually the cheapest brand available) and a stale biscuit which is a step in the right direction - but I wonder sometimes if we're just making excuses and kidding ourselves about the community we have.

Probably the best times of community I've had within churches have happened in small groups/bible study groups/accountability groups. Obviously a small group breeds a different sort of environment which can open up deeper levels of relationship - but even then I wonder how much we've discovered of the way of discipleship of Jesus. I've written before about the traditional 'sharing time' of a small group where people go around the circle and share how their week has been so others can pray for them. Nice idea - but if we had true community wouldn't we already know a lot of what is shared in these times because we'd been connecting with each other, living with each other between meetings?

The other area I'd like to see intimacy explored more in is in 'mission'. The way Jesus drew people to God was usually incredibly personal. He spoke one on one with many, touched people, ate in small groups with them - developed relationship. I won't go on about it here today (this is getting too long as it is), but I wonder if in many of our approaches to mission we have sucked the intimacy out of what we do by programming missional encounters (this is a topic for another day - if I go down this track today we'll enter into 'rant land'.

I'm trying desperately here to remain positive about the state of play in the church today - please believe me when I say my experiences of intimacy in church are not all bad - I just strongly believe we could do so much better. I love the church friends - I want to see it reach its fullest potential - as a result when I see that marketing experts seem to be doing a better job of our core business than we are I get a little fired up.

'Lovemarks'. gives some pointers on building intimacy - here is a quick summary of some of their main points:
- Intimacy is a two way street - it isn't something we do to another person but something we have. Therefore it is something we have to allow ourselves to experience and enter into and not just expect others to do.
- Intimacy requires feelings.
- Intimacy is about empathy - 'empathy is created out of the tension between the sound of the voice and an intended silence' (ie it is about listening).
- Intimacy is about commitment - if you want it you have to be in for the long haul. People will not respond if they think you're about to take off halfway through a relationship.
- Intimacy is about passion - without passion even the best laid plans will whither and die.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of things we could say about intimacy - but it is a good starting point for a discussion on the topic.

Questions to explore Intimacy with your Community
We spent a bit of time talking through this issue a few weeks ago at LivingRoom - we're only just scratching the surface with intimacy in my opinion - we have a lot to learn but here are some of the questions we tossed around. Feel free to take and use them if you'd like - add your own below in comments.

How was Jesus intimate in his Ministry? What other times in Scripture do we see themes of intimacy, community, relationship? Describe times in your own journey when you've experienced deep intimacy? Describe how it arose - what were the circumstances/elements? How has the church used Intimacy over the centuries from the Early Church in Acts to now? (focus on the good and the bad). What dangers would there be in focussing too much upon 'intimacy' in a church context? What would the benefits of an increased focus upon it be? How are we as a community going in this area - where/how does intimacy exist - how could we build more? Is the way we worship an approach that buids intimacy with one another - with Gold? What about mission - are we approaching it in a relational way or do we program relationships out of the equation?

Lovemarks and the Church Sensuality

10 August, 2004 12:25 PM

This is the third in a four part series examining the book, Lovemarks, in relation to Spirituality and Church. Read my introduction to the series first. Sensuality As we've already touched on, the traditional approach focuses more upon convincing the mind through logic, information and claims. Lovemark Marketing is more interested in emotions. Stimulating the Senses is one of the best ways in which to do this.

"Our senses work together, and when they are stimulated at the same time the results are unforgettable.... They alert us, enflame us, warn us as well as fill our hearts with joy." Its amazing how a simple smell can transport us back in time to a specific moment (good or bad) - how the touch of another person can warm our soul or how putting on a CD can change the whole mood and atmosphere of a party.

Sight, Touch, Hearing, Taste and Smell are powerful forces - they are the way in which we take in information, learn and grow. Advertisers are discovering this and are finding new ways to engage our senses with what they do. I think of my local supermarket and the coffee company that regularly sets up a booth of free brewed coffee. I know that they are there even before I enter the isle in which they are set up because of the smell which wafts through the shop. By the time I get to them I'm ready to buy their product purely on its smell.

"All of our knowledge comes to us through the senses, but they are far more than sophisticated gatherers of information. They senses interpret and prioritize. When we feel emotionally connected, we say "That makes sense". Jesus used sensuality in his ministry. How many times do we see him at the meal table (to the point of being accused of being a glutton and drunk), he provides food for 5000 people (imagine how good that bread and fish must have tasted and what that did for that crowd!), he touched the untouchable....etc. Even his story telling is very sensory - he speaks in a very visual ways of things that would have engaged the imaginations and memories of his listeners. He uses a daily activity like eating bread and drinking wine to remind his followers of him. The list could go on and we could do the same for the early church and Old Testament. The bible is a collection of very Sensory writings - and I haven't even mentioned Song of Songs yet! So what about the Church and Sensuality? Once again we can look back over history and see both ways the Church has engaged the senses and ways in which it has shied away from them. Again I think of some of the Cathedrals I visited last year in Europe. Stain glass windows that told the stories of the gospels to the illiterate, incense, icons, chanting.... For some reason we've moved away from a lot of these things. I can understand on one hand why there was a shift away from icons, smells and bells etc - but on the other hand perhaps we threw out the baby with the bath water. You see my experience of church growing up was one in which only two or three of the senses were stimulated in the same unimaginative ways each week. These days in church we continue to use music, most of us still celebrate the Lords Supper (although we've reduced it to a sip of juice and a bit of a cracker), some churches attempt visual stimulation with flowers, powerpoints and video clips etc - but I wonder if we're short changing our sense when it comes to spirituality. One of the things I love about the Alt Worship movement is that it takes seriously sensuality. Some of the most profound experiences of God I've had in a group context have taken place with either my senses being overloaded or deprived (fasting, silence etc use the senses by starving a person of their stimulation). In my last church we used to have a rule that in each service we wanted to intentionally stimulate at least 3, if not all 5 of the senses in new and creative ways - I think its a great rule.

'In the sensual world, faster, brighter, louder hit the wall real quick. People turn off and you lose them. Lovemarks need Sensuality, bu they need it with a human touch.' Is there a danger in taking Sensuality too far? Probably - I think we can all think of instances where perhaps church got a little too sensual in Church history (and even in today's context). However I don't think most churches are in any danger of taking it too far at present. Questions to explore Sensuality with your Community - these are some of the things we asked ourselves at LivingRoom last week on the topic. Feel free to take and use them if you'd like - add your own below in comments. How did Jesus engage the Senses in his Ministry? What other times in Scripture do we see it used? Describe times in your own journey when you've been drawn closer to God through your senses How has the church used Sensuality over the centuries from the Early Church in Acts to now? (focus on the good and the bad). What dangers would there be in taking 'Sensuality' too far in a church context? What would the benefits of it be? Which of the Senses do we engage most in our church? Which do we ignore? How do we/can we creatively use the Senses to help us in our own journey of faith and mission in our community? All quotes used in this post come from 'Lovemarks'.

Lovemarks and the Church - Mystery

9 August, 2004 11:19 AM

This is the second in a four part series examining the book, Lovemarks, in relation to Spirituality and Church. Read my introduction to the series first.

Mystery - Marketing used to be about creating a great product with the best specifications and communicating to a customers mind logically why they should buy it by making claims and outlining benefits.

'Our washing powder makes things white. This computer has a 30gig hard drive. This car is 5% cheaper.'

This approach has something of a 'build it and they will come' mentality. If we make our product good enough and tell people about it they will buy in.

'Lovemark' Marketing doesn't aim so much at the head but engages the heart by using Mystery. Think about some of the ads we see these days on TV - a lot of them don't even mention the product they are advertising. Car ads seem to be more about escaping reality or building family than engine capacity. Clothing ads seem to be more about friendship than price...

'Mystery opens up emotions. Mystery adds to the complexity of relationships and experiences. It lies in the stories, metaphors and iconic characters that give a relationship texture.'

For an example of mystery used well take a look at the Join Me phenomenon that I blogged about earlier in the week. This guy unintentionally started a cult (of sorts) by placing a mysterious ad in a newspaper simply asking for people to 'join him' by sending a passport photo to him. Thousands joined without really knowing what they were joining. It intrigued people and they were drawn to it.

Ok - so what has this got to do with Spirituality or Church? I'd say heaps!

Lets take a look at Jesus and his use of Mystery. He told stories that often didn't make much sense but engaged the imagination. He did miracles that must have inspired a lot of awe and wonder. Often he eluded questions by asking more of them. Even when it came to talking about his own identity he didn't spell things out but used catch cries like 'I am the Vine and you are the branches' or 'I am the light of the world'. Jesus utilizes Mystery constantly - he was intriguing - it's no wonder that people were drawn to him. The Mystery continued with the Early Church - people joined them every day and its no wonder if you take a look at some of the mysterious stuff that was going on!

We could take a similar look at the Old Testament and other New Testament writings and see how Mystery permeates all of Scripture - think about the Trinity, some of the Psalms and Proverbs - some of the paradoxes that we see in Scripture - I mean who can comprehend God?

So what about the Church and Mystery? Over the centuries we've attempted to use it in different ways at different times to different levels of success. One of the things I love about old cathedrals is the sense of mystery they exude. Whilst they can be cold, echoey and uncomfortable they call also speak deeply to one's soul about the bigness of God.

Mystery is something I've not seen too many churches today do very well. We meet in low ceilinged, pastel walled, fluorescent lit buildings with few images, little art and no icons. Our preaching more often than not presents a lot of nicely packaged, easy to swallow answers that more are aimed at the head than the heart. Many church websites and promotions are more concerned with explaining times, places, structures and benefits than intriguing those that read them. I could go on - sometimes we do it well but more often than not I think we fall short in terms of Mystery.

Lovemarks suggests 5 things that one can work on in the area of Mystery:
1. Tell Stories - there is nothing like a story to engage the heart. Obviously there are stories of Scripture, but also our own stories of life, the stories of our communities themselves and the stories of our culture. We decided we're going to start telling the story of LivingRoom more in our gatherings - every time someone new comes to our community a different person will share the story of LivingRoom from their own perspective (to me its like when you tell the story of when you first met your partner over and over again - the retelling of the story engages the heart).

2. Use Past, Present and Future - I think there is some real wisdom in this one. We have such a rich heritage. I find that the times we use ancient forms of prayer at LivingRoom there is a sense of tapping into something much bigger than ourselves.

3. Tap into Dreams - I'm a big believer that when we create environments where people can dream and are allowed to chase their dreams that you create an environment with real energy and momentum. Who wouldn't want to be a part of a community where their dreams could come true.

4. Nurture Myths and Icons - I wonder if we've become a bit paranoid as protestants in terms of Icons over the centuries. Of course there is a danger in going to the extreme of this (as there is with virtually everything) but I think there is something very powerful in an icon. We've talked the other night about the symbols and rituals of LivingRoom and realized that we actually have a few that we haven't yet named. One of them I think is the Peppermint tea that we seem to always end up having at the end of our evenings together. I think its becoming a rich symbol of community, sealing our time together and celebration.

5. Build on Inspiration - Often we get inspired together in church but then go home and let go of it. The challenge is to take the inspiration - celebrate it - foster it - take it to the next level.

Now I'm not arguing that if we just start being all Mysterious that we'll see people come flocking to the church - but I do wonder what would happen if we began to explore it a little more.

Questions to explore Mystery with your Community - these are the ones we used. Feel free to take and use them if you'd like

  • How did Jesus use Mystery in his Ministry?

  • What other times in Scripture do we see it used?

  • How has the church used Mystery over the centuries from the Early Church in Acts to now? (focus on the good and the bad).

  • What dangers would there be in taking 'Mystery' too far in a church context?

  • How do we/can we use Mystery to help us in our own journey of faith and mission in our community?

Lovemarks and the Church - Introduction

9 August, 2004 11:08 AM

Last week at LivingRoom we took a look at the book - Lovemarks.

I've blogged about the book before but this week at LivingRoom we took three of the main themes of the book and looked at them through the eyes of Scripture and our experience of Church and LivingRoom. Before I say any more let me state that I'm not suggesting that we go on a marketing campaign to 'market' the church - rather I'm suggesting that SOME of what is in this book gives us a useful framework for thinking about the way we approach what we do - the principles in this book are written for people to make money - but I think they might actually help some of us think through how we might approach church.

Lovemarks is a book written by Kevin Roberts about Branding/Marketing but parts of it resonate deeply with me in terms of Spirituality. The basic premise is that the way marketing has been approached previously is just not working any more. Instead they argue that companies need to develop what they call 'Lovemarks'.

'Lovemarks' are products/services that engage consumers on a deeper level and stimulate brand loyalty beyond reason. They hit the emotions of people and not just the minds. The object is to make your potential customer fall in Love with your product.

For example - think about the way Apple Mac users often think about their computers (or iPod users their MP3 player) - think about the feelings you have to your favourite restaurant or cafe (I'm sitting in right now writing this - I LOVE it!) - consider the effect that Harley Davidson motorbikes have on some people. Some products can deeply impact people on a level that makes them customers for life - not only that it makes them evangelists for the product in question.

The book argues that there are three elements that help make a product a 'Lovemark' - they are Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy. I will blog about each one in turn over the next few days - starting today with Mystery (see next post).

Corporate Evangelism - EC.info

5 August, 2004 5:58 PM

emergingchurch.info kindly posted one of my older reflections on corporate evangelism. Its something I still keep coming back to. I'm not sure how well we do it at LivingRoom but its something that seems to make sense in my twisted little mind.

Liquid Conference - Melbourne

5 August, 2004 5:50 PM

Signposts has just posted about a seminar/conference/gathering to resource people who want to get creative about the cause of the kingdom to be held here in Melbourne next February called:

Liquid - The Integral Mission Conference

They write:

Why Liquid? Three major areas are integral to the practice of Christian mission: * Engaging culture community * Spiritual formation discipleship * Compassionate living social justice

Many missional events focus on just one of these areas without showing how all three are integral. Other events may dip into a couple without addressing the relationships between them. Yet, one or two of these areas alone does not create a faith framework capable of sustaining people into Christian maturity.

Liquid is a missional training event presented by several agencies, churches and organisations who want to encourage a more holistic approach to mission and discipleship in Australia. By uniting these diverse groups with their unique gifts and experience, we can emphasis all three areas and increase our capacity to significantly shape the practice of Christianity in Australia....

It looks really great and will feature the following each day:
- Diverse Workshops
- Real Experiences
- Relational Group Interactions
- Worship

Its going to be held in Melbourne from 9-11 February which is a great time for you emerging/missional church types over seas to come spend a week or so in Melbourne. Also at that time of year is the Forge's First Intensive for the year on 'Paradigms of the Missional Revolution' (not sure of exact date) which would be great to come along to as well.

Head over to Signposts for more info on the 'Liquid' get together.

Emerging Church @ Whitley College

3 August, 2004 1:11 PM

I'm currently sitting in a class at Whitley College. Anne Wilkinson-Hayes is giving the first couple of sessions talking at the moment about the Pre-Chistendom Church.

This is the first time Whitley have run a whole semester's subject of 'Emerging Church' which is really exciting.

Emerging Church Online Resources

3 August, 2004 11:34 AM

Update - I've moved this post back to the top of the page for those at the lecture today - I hope you find the resource helpful. Feel free to keep suggesting resources as this is by no ways a complete list... If your site is in the list you may just have a class of 20-30 drop by for a visit this afternoon. Put the kettle on please...

This week I'm doing a short lecture at a bible college here in Melbourne on:

'The Emerging Church on the Internet'.

I've got a fair few resources in my bookmark lists but am interested in what others 'must read' emerging church blogs, websites and online resources are.

Please leave your suggestions in comments (with a reason why you like it and/or a description of the site) and I'll collate them all and post it after my lecture for all to use.

Update - I thought I'd start the ball rolling and post a few of my own links - but then I got carried away and came up with more than a few - I'll post them below. I hope I don't offend anyone by leaving them out - it is a VERY incomplete list. It is also biased towards my home city of Melbourne because that is where those I'll be sharing with are from). I also hope I don't offend anyone by the categories of descriptions I've used - its just a starting point and a draft and I'd really appreciate you input and ideas.

Practitioners

  • Backyard Missionary - Andrew is good value. I like that he is actually doing mission in a very earthy way with ordinary people. It isn't a yuppie, alternative ministry like many emerging churches but real.

  • Emergent Kiwi - (belongs in the thinker section as well). Steve has been around the Emerging church scene for a while (one of its elder statesmen) and has a wealth of experience and wisdom. He has also seen a lot of what is happening around the world and has great perspectives.

  • Alan Creech - takes a liturgical spin. I don't know much about Alan but he says good stuff and is pretty wise.

  • Moot - edgey UK emerging church group blog. These people are doing it and pushing some boundaries.

  • Si Johnston - UK blogger, Baptist minister, good thinker, missional community practitioner.

  • Signposts - These people belong in the 'thinkers' section also. They are doing innovative church in Melbourne Australia. I like them because they are helping established church Christians to do something different.

  • House Church Blog

  • Organic Church - a group blog of church planters and leaders grappling with post modernism

  • Neurotribe - Steve is another Melbourne guy exploring emerging church and involved in the Forge Network.

  • Submergence - Karen has been exploring Emerging Church for a while and is doing some innovative stuff in the US including running a cafe called Living Room.

  • Flying in Blue Sky - Barb is another Melbournian exploring faith, church and mission from a practioners perspective on her blog.
  • Breathing Space - Eddie is another Melbourne Blogger who is experimenting with Alt. worship - particularly the Labyrinth. He's also been part of a small group of people who gather to do church called Breathing Sapce.

Thinkers

  • Prodigal Kiwi - Paul reads too much - but I'm glad he does. If you need to find out what a book is about or whether its worth the read go ask Paul first. He's a great thinker and always has something interesting to say.

  • Tall Skinny Kiwi - another elder of the emerging church movement. Andrew always has something of interest to say. He also knows so many in the movement and has seen a lot of what is going on around the globe. He blogs about anything and everything and is a great cultural obsever/participator.

  • Jason Clark - Emergent UK - currently oing doctoral research in Leadership in the Emerging Culture.

  • Open Source Theology - a space for interactive theologizing for the emerging church.

Alt. Worship Sorts

  • Jonny Baker - If you want to know about Alt Worship go to the man that wrote the book. Jonny has heaps of great alt worship tips and tricks and brings a great perspective from the UK.

  • Small Ritual - Not just alt worshippy but this section needs more entries and its why I go there!

  • Holy Space - online interactive reflection/prayer resource

  • Grace - an Alt Worship community in London who have been exploring alt worship since 1993.

  • Alternative Worship - Has heaps of alt worship resources, links and articles.

  • Labyrinth Online - Discover the labyrinth with this hands on experiential website.

  • Labyrinth Australia

  • Small Fire

  • Vaux_Greyspace - A great collection of resources and articles on Alt Worship

  • The Cube - Online Worship/Prayer Experience

  • Embody - Online Interactive Prayer Experiences

Emerging Churches

E-Magazines and other Resources

  • Gink World - heaps of good quality thinking and practical stuff.

  • The Ooze - this site has become one of the 'go-to' places online for all things Emerging Church. Its a bit of a one stop shop with good articles on 'community, culture, faith and ministry'.

  • emergingchurch.info - another useful site with heaps of articles, suggested reading and resources for emerging church practitioners.

  • DTour - an Aussie 'The Oooze'.

  • Next Wave - Looking at Church and Culture.

  • Emergent Village - a place for spiritual leaders to grapple with postmodernism.

  • Seven Magazine - seeks to engage emerging culture and its interface with faith and life.

  • Faith Maps - tools for navigating theology, praxis, and leadership in the emerging church

  • church.co.uk - 'making the life-changing message of Jesus accessible to everyone both by stimulating debate and by demonstrating the reality and relevance of Christian faith for the 21st century.'

  • Emergent Village - 'Emergent exists to help you help others love God and neighbors in the context of the emerging postmodern culture.'

  • Church Multiplication Associates - Neil Cole is one of the best communicators I've heard on the topic of Missional Church - he's a part of this organization and I'd highly recommend reading some of his work.

Sharing with the Junction

2 August, 2004 8:12 AM

I had a great time yesterday speaking out at the Junction which is an emerging missional church out in the south eastern suburbs.

It was cool to see what they do a little more and meet some of the people out there who I found out have been reading this blog for a few months now without me knowing! Hi especially to Michael who is a daily reader - hope you enjoyed last night mate.

Emerging Church Critiqued

29 July, 2004 12:03 PM

In the past 7 days I've heard a number of criticisms of 'Emerging Churches' and more specifically of LivingRoom from other Christians. Whilst I'm not adverse to being critiqued (I think its a healthy to be asked probing questions) I'm left a little perplexed by two of the main themes that I'm hearing repeated in these criticisms (usually received third hand).

On one hand we've been accused of liberalism. 'Where are the converts?' is a question that is often asked. 'How many have you seen come to Christ? seems to be the ultimate measure of our 'success'.

On the other end of the spectrum we've been accused of being too evangelical and not interested in social justice. 'How are you involved in your community?' is a question that I get a bit. 'What holistic projects are you running to help the disadvantaged and poor in your neighborhood?' was one question fired at me recently to analyze if what we was doing is significant.

I actually think both sets of questions are valid and worth considering. We've identified as a community that we want to respond to the call of Jesus in having an impact upon our world - we call it our 'Outer Journey' and it incorporates both the call to impact the world we live in in word and deed, in evangelism and in social justice. This is the theory at least - but what about practice? I think most churches would align themselves with this kind of thinking, but do we actually do it? Does LivingRoom?

One of the reasons I suspect people look at LivingRoom and critique us the way they do is that we have taken a very non programmatic approach to our 'Outward Journey'. We don't have a high school program, we don't run a soup kitchen, we don't do door knocking or run youth rallies. We don't have a formalized corporate approach to evangelism or social justice - rather we see that each of us as individuals has ample opportunity to be involved in these missional activities in our natural daily rhythms and routines.

In fact as I think about our core group members (not a formal membership but those who regularly attend and participate) I see a group of people who are each involved in a variety of forms of mission. Some give time each week to community or social justice groups/projects, for others (over half of us) our work takes us into the coal face in terms of working with the disadvantaged, unwell and poor. Each one of us has plenty of contact with unchurched people in our universities, work places, homes, sporting clubs etc - and we regularly share stories with one another of the encounters God opens up for us to join him in his life giving processes.

So does 'LivingRoom' do evangelism, mission, social justice (however you may define these terms)? I would answer the question in the affirmative. Church to me is much more than what we do when we gather together, but is as much (if not more) about what we do when we scatter.

Having written all this I find myself asking - am I copping out? Are we making excuses? Are we really moving forward in our Outer journey? These are questions I constantly ask myself and I don't want to paint a picture here on this blog that we're the ultimate 'missional machine' - by no means have we 'made it' in finding the way to respond to the call of Jesus to be the 'light of the world' or to 'go make disciples'. We've got a LONG way to go - we're a young community still finding our feet and identity and part of this is challenging ourselves in this area. We struggle with this as much as any other church and have all the same barriers to mission that any other group of Western Christians might have - we get lazy, comfortable, consumeristic, scared and distracted. We do need to be shaken up, to get serious and to step out of our comfort zones. I'm not satisfied in our approach to the Outer Journey but I am confident that we're heading in a Godly and Biblical direction that fits well with our culture.

There may come a day when we feel God calling us to up our corporate/together efforts in our 'Outer Journey'. We have experimented with a few things already and will continue to do so.

The question I'm left with is what to do with the critiques? You see on some levels they are valid questions that I want to be impacted and challenged by - they can be and are life giving questions that spur me on. On another level they have the power to stop us (and our movement) in our tracks with frustration and disillusionment. They also have the potential to divide and destroy the Body of Christ.

I do not desire to see the Emerging Church splinter from the rest of the Body of Christ - its not about 'us and them'. I didn't start LivingRoom because I don't like other forms of church - I love the Church and want to do anything and everything in my power to build it up - whatever shape or form it might take.

What concerns me is that most of the critiques I hear of us come to me third hand from discussions that I hear other groups having about us. This is frustrating on many levels.

1. I'm getting second hand information that is probably not accurate.
2. I would love to be a part of these conversations to be challenged by them.
3. I'd love a chance to speak to the critiques - not to defend or debate but rather so that others can understand what they are seeing from a distance.
4. I want to build unity. We need to be accountable to, supporting and praying for each other.

Ok - this has turned into something of a rant - I'm sorry for that. I'm actually processing a lot of this through writing it (which may not be a particularly helpful thing to do in a public forum) - but I'm really interested in others thoughts and input. What would you do? Is this a place others are finding themselves in? I would love to hear your experiences and advice if you have time.

E-vangelism.com Relaunched

27 July, 2004 12:09 PM

Andrew Careaga has blogified his old e-vangelism.com website. Looking good - will be one to keep an eye on.

Sustaining Emerging Church

27 July, 2004 1:19 AM

There is an interesting discussion going on over at Jonny Bakers on the issue of funding for Emerging Churches. It comes out of a community in London not receiving funding from the Church of England through a grant they've applied for.

I've posted my comments over there but thought I'd also do so here as its taken me a good hour to put them together. You might need to read the other comments on Jonny's to understand some of what I've written below.

It is an issue that I've thought about a lot lately and found myself going backwards and forwards a little on it.

On one hand I'm incredibly grateful for the support my own denomination has given me in giving us a seeding grant to help get us going for two years. I'm realizing how unique a position they are taking in wanting to not only give permission but wanting to put their money where their mouth is. I hope that this becomes more and more common for denominations. If we want to see the Church survive into the decades and years ahead then we need to see a significant investment from the established church into those exploring new directions.

On the other hand I do wonder if we need to explore some new ways of thinking about clergy and new ways about sustaining ourselves financially.


I can only talk about my own community and my own context, but I've been challenged recently to readjust what I've been thinking about 'full time ministry'.

For me it was always a goal for a similar list of reasons to what Gareth outlined (in comments at Jonny's) - but recently I've been wondering why we seem to want a paid minister to do a lot of those sorts of roles. I guess I've personally been feeling God leading me in a direction that Lucy is alluding to and am attempting to create a community where it is not just the 'minister/clergy' that does the pastoral care, community development, running of gatherings, linking with other churches but where there is a community of disciples who are all responding to the call of Jesus by fulfilling these things.

Now because i do have some giftings, training and experience in some of this stuff I might take some of it on - but I'm hoping to move to a position where we have an environment where participation means I'm just one of many doing this stuff.

Having said this (I said I go backwards and forwards on this stuff didn't I?) I still think there is a role for paid ministry/clergy. Leadership is important and each community will identify different things they will want/need these leaders to do. The question then comes to how to fund it?

I think its time we did some serious talking about this question and explore some options that might include a combination of:

- Denominational (and interdenominational) grants/support. We need to keep communicating to the powers that be the need for experimentation, new forms of church etc. I think its very important for denominations and established churches to support what we do.

- Bi-vocational Ministry - Its a bit of a hobby horse at the moment for me but I'm feeling more and more drawn to the 'secular' workforce and have been blogging about it a bit lately. I think its something more and more of us 'clergy' types should explore for a multitude of reasons including sustainability - but also for reasons of mission, reality check etc. I've made a conscious decision this year to start my own business and am finding it an incredibly liberating experience that is invigorating my ministry and giving me so many opportunities for missional encounters.

- Self Funding - I've been challenging my community lately to step up to the mark in their giving. Why should we expect our denomination to pay me to care for them? If we decide that one of the roles of a leader in our community is pastoral care....or worship leading...or preaching...(things that largely focus upon the group itself) shouldn't they contribute to the financing of such a role? I thin we have to bite the bullet as communities at some point and stop putting our hand out to our denominations to fund us and work on ways of sustaining ourselves.

- Churches running Missional Enterprises - I'm seeing more and more churches that are running businesses or that are developing income streams. Often these income streams are missional in their focus. Some I've seen include opening cafes, pizza shops, galleries, gift shops, starting guitar schools, hiring our their buildings to community groups, starting book stores, running skills based courses in the community, running welfare programs and getting grants from governments, running multi media courses etc. In this way many of them are not only creating an income stream but are developing proximity in their communities.

Ok - its now 1.20am here in Melbourne and I've been thinking about this way too long. Hope its been a worthwhile contribution to this good discussion. Will probably post this over at my own blog too.

How Open?

20 July, 2004 4:24 PM

One of the things I've been wondering about the past month or so is how open to make Living Room gatherings to people outside our community who want to come for 'a look'.

It is becoming more and more common for us to have visitors to our Tuesday night gatherings - in fact every week for the past month I've had people ask if they can come and visit our group (I'm aware some of these people read this blog so please forgive me if you are one of them and don't take offense at anything I'm about to write - I'm not talking about any individual here, but in general terms about a broader issue than any person or group of people).

I always have a bit of a torn feeling inside of me when someone asks if they can come along to check us out.


On one hand I'm really excited for two reasons.

  • I want to share what we're doing with as many people as possible. There is a real interest here in Melbourne of people wanting to see new and different forms of church. Many are in the process of wanting to start their own and to taste and see who we are can be helpful in that process.
  • I also think LivingRoom benefits from new people and I like to have outside stimulation for our community. It's great to have interaction with new people - even on a one off basis. Some of our best nights have been with visitors stimulating our discussion.

However on the other hand I wonder what impact it is having on the group also on a number of fronts.

  • Constantly having new faces can impact the amount that some of our regulars will share of themselves. We are trying to create a safe place for deep sharing and growth. Whilst some of our group are fine with sharing deeply with visitors others (myself included) may not be as comfortable with this.
  • Because we are so small, one or two visitors can really change the dynamics of a night. Of course this can be positive, but it is difficult to get momentum going and establish patterns in a gathering over time with such coming and going. Also I find that in preparation for our nights I take into account who will and won't be there in terms of what we do. There are some things its not appropriate to talk about with visitors around (ie issues we're working through as a group in terms of our community/relationships etc). If we have a run of 4 weeks with visitors it has an impact.
  • It seems that around half of those who say they are coming - don't show up or ring in at the last minute that they won't be there. I suppose in a larger church context it doesn't matter quite so much if people don't show up, but in a small setting it is very noticeable. I guess people assume we operate on a 'come if you like' mentality. In actual fact we don't. Of course we have people away each week, but generally we know of people's movements in advance and can plan accordingly. By plan I mean plan for our meal (quantities of food etc) but also the content of what we do on the night. People not showing up can really throw a night off.
  • So why am I writing this? I'm hesitant to post it at all for fear that people will think I'm ranting, please believe that I'm not. I'm just trying to work out where the balance is. It's something I want to talk to the group about tonight actually - but I'm interested in my wise readers thoughts also. Has anyone thought this one through? How 'open' is your community to new one off visitors? Do you have some boundaries to keep the balance? Interested in your thoughts.

    DNA of Emerging Church

    12 July, 2004 8:38 AM

    There is a great interview of one of my mates, Mark Sayers, but another of my mates, Stephen Said, over at emergingchurch.info. Here is a snippet:

    'One of the questions often asked with risky endeavor's such as the one you have described, is one pertaining to control. How do people learn and grow? How do people worship? how do you keep people doctrinally in the ballpark?

    We centre everything we do around our DNA.

    DNA?

    TEMPT. TEMPT is an acronym. T is for "Together we follow", E is for "Engagement with Scripture", M is for "Mission", P is for "Passion for Jesus", and the T is for "Transformation". TEMPT is our control. We find that it plays the same role as DNA does in the human body, it shapes our identity.

    In practical terms?

    For us it is the old wells and fences. Instead of building fences keeping people in, we try and build wells in which people will be drawn to gather around. Young adults are leaving the church in droves in Australia, so we find that people who come are drawn to our DNA. We don't really have to try and control them. The great things is, because we focus on DNA rather than creating programs, is that the congregation will often shock you and start missional and discipleship ventures off their own bat, that we would never have had the imagination to develop ourselves. For example, I discovered that during Australian Idol, one of the groups were inviting their non Christian friends to mingle and chat over a BBQ whilst they watched Australian Idol together. This led to a whole host of evangelical opportunities. They knew the M is for missional. The funny thing is, we as leaders were the last to hear about it.'

    Creative Worship - Mapping Influence

    12 July, 2004 8:31 AM

    I love Steve Taylor's entry on blessed to be a faithful witness. What a creative way to help people get a grasp of an important message.

    'The theme of Sunday was blessed to be a faithful witness. The challenge is to move that head/heart knowledge to hands/feet/body action.

    As part of the response, I "drew" a street map on the floor, using white tape to mark the main streets of the east side of our city.

    People were given stars, and invited to place a star on the place in the city where they are blessed to be a witness. (This was mixed with communion and a song by Ben Harper, Blessed to be a witness, from his Diamonds in the Inside album.) It was an hands/feet/body way of praying.'

    The idea is great - the pictures of the results very cool - and the description of how much people got into it are even better.

    Melbourne Emerging Church Gathering

    8 July, 2004 10:48 AM

    Had a good time last night gathering with a small group of Melbourne Emerging Church/Alt Worship guys. Many of you will know of Mark Pierson (pastor of Cityside in NZ, co-author of the Prodigal Project) and that he has taken on a role here in Melbourne working with Urban Seed. He's still in transition between NZ and here but it was great to meet him and have conversation with the group that assembled which included fellow bloggers Eddie and Luke.

    There are some exciting things happening in Melbourne at the moment, I get the feeling that there is some real momentum building and that God is doing something quite interesting among many around our city in terms of mission, worship and forms of church.

    Rhythmic Mission

    5 July, 2004 1:45 PM

    Random Daily Coincidences or Divine Opportunities? Can the mundane daily rhythm of life actually be the key to effective mission?

    It has been two days since V left on her overseas trip and already my daily routine has changed! Normally my day starts at around 7.30am with V getting up for work - a process that usually involves a hair dryer in our bedroom. The last two mornings have seen me awake at 9.30am. I think I might have to start using my alarm clock or I could get quite slothful.

    It is interesting how our daily rhythms align with those around us. When I was a single guy my day generally started at 8.30am - 9.30am and would end at around 1.00am - 2.00am. Obviously that had to change a little.

    I've always been fascinated with daily rhythms - especially lately when thinking about mission. I have a growing theory that one of the most helpful ways of being effective in mission is to become a part of the rhythms of our culture and the individuals around us. Even just to be aware of our own daily routine and where it intersects with others is a powerful thing.

    What people do you see at the same time every day? The lady at the bus stop each morning, the work college who always just happens to be at the coffee machine when you are, the family who is at the park each Saturday when you are their with yours or the neighbor who takes his dog for a walk each night as you're coming home from work.

    Perhaps it is time that we saw these encounters as something more than a quirky random coincidence but rather as a divine opportunity to journey beside another.

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the 4 P's of Mission. The first of these was Proximity - or putting ourselves in places where we will 'bump into' and interact with our world and those around us - the second was 'Presence - or the allowing of a relationship to come out of the proximity we have with others.

    It strikes me that as followers of Jesus we all have proximity with others in very natural and even unintentional ways. My daily rhythm puts me into proximity with an incredible amount of people. From the man who sells me milk at the corner store, to my landlady who I bump into at the front door through to the waitress that serves me a coffee each morning.

    Where I think things tend to break down for many of us is that we do not allow our Proximity with those around us naturally develop into Presence. For whatever reason we're content to allow people to remain 'those people we see' and don't find ways to initiate something a deeper.

    Maybe its fear that stops us in our tracks, perhaps its laziness or business or that we are so numbed by our mundane daily existence that we don't have eyes to see what is staring us in the face. Someone last week told me that they were too busy doing ministry to have time for any more relationships.

    Often I think we build mission up to be a bigger deal than it is. By that I don't mean we make it more important than it is, but rather that we make it seem harder than it actually is. We develop strategies and training seminars on how to do evangelism - and we often feel so much guilt if we 'fail' to see the results we expect.

    Perhaps we need to chill out a little and take a fresh look at mission. Maybe it is time to stop segmenting it from the rest of our lives and become aware of the natural opportunities that we have right in front of us every day to connect with those around us. Could it be time to let go of the strategies and techniques and actually build relationships with people. In doing so we may just spot that God is already at work in the life of those we bump into and find ways to join him in the work that he's already doing there.

    Sexy House Churches

    3 July, 2004 3:57 PM

    Tall Skinny Kiwi has a great post - House Churches have no Sex Appeal.

    I particularly like some of his 'gripes' with house churches and thought I'd add a few of my own comments under each of his headings. (The headings and quotes are his, the rest are my ramblings).

    1. Name is Misleading - Andrew writes - 'The label needs to change from house church to something that better describes it.' I agree completely for many reasons but will outline two here.

    Firstly many of the emerging missional churches and communities I know of do not meet in homes. They have very similar ethos, DNA and practices to each other (including many that meet in homes) but meet in cafes, galleries, parks, work places and pubs. They are not 'house churches' but they are 'the same' as many house churches in virtually every other respect.

    Secondly even for churches that do meet in homes I wonder if such a label or name can actually limit the scope of the group. At Livingroom we meet for our main gathering in a different home each week, but we're also meeting weekly in local cafes in 'micro groups'. That is not to mention the other 97% of our weekly time - the time when, as individuals, we are involved in schools, universities, hospitals, sporting clubs, neighborhoods. My idea of church is that it doesn't cease to be church when we are not gathering together - but in fact is a 24/7 thing. Maybe I'm being pedantic, but I worry that we're setting the tone for a segmented understanding of faith and church if we label our churches by the places we meet in when we gather. That is why I more frequently call us a 'missional community' than a house church - it sets the tone in a completely different direction

    2. Authentication is Delayed - Andrew writes that 'House churches are not yet recognised by the mainstream.' In some respects I see this as changing here in Australia. Whilst they are still no where near as prominent I'm hearing them talked about a lot more. This is partly because of the types of people I hang around with - but its also happening more and more in established churches and denominations. In my state, Victoria, I know of at least three denominations that are seriously talking about establishing new types of churches (many of which are meeting in homes - but other types also). They are not only talking about it but putting resources into training, planting and are resourcing such groups. By no means are we there yet - but I sense that many of our denominations leaders are recognizing the gloomy reality that unless we take some new directions that the future of the church is not bright.

    3. Orientation is Backwards - Andrews makes the brilliant observation that 'The focus needs to change from "our house" to "their house" '. I couldn't agree more. The reputation of house churches in Australia is that they tend to be rather insular in the way they operate. One of the critiques that I constantly hear of them is their lack of missional focus. Of course there will be exceptions to this generalization - but the critiques come from both within and outside the movement. Of course it should also be said that this same critique can be equally be given to all forms of church including traditional and contemporary models.

    I could (and do) write about this for hours. Jesus commanded his disciples to 'Go' into all the world - not to congregate in their holy huddles and expect the world to come to them. All churches, including some of the emerging forms need to consider how they might work on this.

    4. Support is Minimal - Andrew writes - 'We might be 5 years away from seeing a complete ecosystem of organic ministries that work together to enable a healthy, reproducing, movement of house churches.'

    Once again Andrew is spot on although I'm happy to report that what I'm seeing going on in this part of the world shows some positive movement towards an integrated networked group of emerging churches. I'm very intentional about bumping into other emerging church leaders and communities on a regular basis. I'm not sure how formal the structures and networks between us will ever be - however they are growing. I'm especially excited to see local gatherings of similarly minded communities who are exploring ways to work together and build relationships. This is an important task that needs to be high on our list of priorities.

    Having said this one of the things I am enjoying most about this new way of doing church (new for me) is the lack of structure and freedom to form new support networks. I love that I am free to form tight relationships with people from numerous denominations, other community groups and even (dare I say it) groups from other faiths. One of the temptations that will no doubt emerge along with these new communities is become institutions - hopefully this day will be in the far distant future - if at all.

    5. Integration is Absent - Andrew writes - 'House Church Utopia is still painted as being pure and contaminant-free. As if you leave one model of church and adopt another with no reference to what you came out of. '

    I haven't yet given a lot of thought to this last 'gripe' of Andrew's. I might need to do so in order to really hear what he's saying. If it is that we need to allow individuals who join house churches freedom to interact with and bring along some of their baggage from established churches then I'm cool with that. It is impossible to start a church in a vacuum without considering where we have been. We spent quite a bit of time when we first started telling our stories and sharing our past experience of life, faith and church - on reflection I think this was a very useful exercise and something we've continued to do as new people join us. Whilst some of what we do is possibly a reaction against some of our negative experiences of church I would also say that most of what we do is a reflection of the positive experiences. Also I encourage everyone in the group to retain their past relationships with established churches and individuals in them - many of us do 'go back' from time to time - I feel this has been a positive thing not only for us but the churches where we have been previously involved.

    So there we have it - a few scattered thoughts from me in response to some much better ones from Andrew. What do you think? Leave yours in comments below if you feel moved to do so...

    Living Room Seattle

    29 June, 2004 8:31 AM

    Wow cool - Living Room has gone international! Ok, its not really connected to us, but I just read on Karen's Blog that their group has started a great cafe called Living Room Seattle. This is the kind of thing I'd love to do someday in our area if we can ever pull in some investors.

    Karen describes the ethos of Living Room Seattle writing:

    'that is why living:room is not a christian cafe, but a real, regular, cafe. we don't play christian music or serve 'christian' tea. as apostles, we see our mission as, well, apostolic...the word apostolein mean to be >sent out.< because of this, our primary orientation is not inward (towards church) but outward (towards kingdom). so we feel called by god, not to 'live' in the church (run a christian cafe...) but to live in the world (and run a regular cafe) and to >be< church (carry within us christ and the kingdom) and express this in how we live. as gerard kelly writes in his rad book 'retro-future' "the postmodern generations are looking for authenticity, reality, transparency and openness. to that extent, postmodern ity is saying, "don't talk to me about what you believe - show me how you live.' it is entirely biblical- more so at times than the church it savagely critiques.

    as we serve tea, we don't preach at people about what we 'believe,' but we do show them how we live. 'preaching' gospel in our deeply post-christian context is less about words spoken, and more about life lived >in the way of jesus< which speaks louder than any words or tract... so our ethos is more st. francis than billy graham, more corner pub than christian cafe, more burning man than cornerstone festival, more monastery guesthouse than sawdust trail... and very sacramental/incarnational, reflecting our anglican/lutheran heritage/tribal d.n.a.'

    It really reminds me of Mars Hill Cafe in Sydney who are doing something very similar - creating a proximity space (not a 'Christian Cafe). The approach is going well in Sydney and I'll be interested to see how it goes in Seattle. Now I just have to save some money to go see our Seattle cousins for a coffee.

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