How’s your church going? How would you test it? What measurement would you use? Who would you ask? What about the individuals? How’s that person going; with godliness, prayerfulness, living out of grace not law, being generous?
But, what happens as you test for those things? What happens when you ask people how they’re going with bible reading? What happens when you ask people about their gospel motivations?
It affects them… it brings an area of their relationship with God to the fore and causes them to dwell on it. And you can never really know where they were at… in fact, they can’t really tell you where they were at with those things – because they weren’t thinking about them.
This is why good churches try to build a culture of people asking each other how they’re going. Those very questions change the results.
*Yes, you might call it “The Observer Effect Church” – but “Heisenberg’s Church” sounds so much cooler… We’ve just got to work out what the complementary properties of a church are… any ideas?
We came across this idea a few years ago… that most churches (ours included) were generally pretty good at communicating two sorts of things… Abstract Theology, and Concrete Details about Church. (Abstract means concepts and ideas, whereas Concrete means times, dates, locations, what to bring, etc.)
So we were good at explaining ideas like Justification, and at the same time, telling people when the next event would be on and where it would be.
But that left two areas of communication largely vacant; Concrete Theology (Behaviours, Habits, Actions) and Abstract Details about Church (Why church exists, what type of church we want to be, How we think about our programs and why we do some things and not others).
How do you see your ministry going at communicating in all 4 of these areas?
There’s one usage of the word “ἐκκλησία” that people have used to argue it simply means “a gathering”. Its in Acts 19, where the people of Ephesus riot because Paul’s preaching has affected the idol-maker’s income.
When they heard this […that Paul says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all], they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar…
Paul wanted to appear before the crowd (δῆμον), but the disciples would not let him…
The assembly (ἐκκλησία) was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there…
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians,… you ought to calm down and not do anything rash… If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly (ἐκκλησίᾳ). As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”
After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly (ἐκκλησίαν).
Does ἐκκλησία here mean “crowd”? Luke uses the normal word for crowd earlier, so why start using the word ἐκκλησία?
It’s because the word isn’t a Christian word… nor is it a religious word… its a secular word. “In classical Greek, the term was used almost exclusively for political gatherings. In particular, in Athens the word signified the assembling of the citizens for the purpose of conducting the affairs of the polis” (“Church”, BEDBT).
The whole issue in Acts 19 is that an army of people appear, people with a purpose and an ideology, but they’re not a legal one. They’re acting like a ἐκκλησίαν, but they’re doing it wrong.
Acts 19 doesn’t prove ἐκκλησία means “crowd” or “generic gathering”, it just proves that Demetrius the silversmith was an idiot who almost got arrested for calling an ἐκκλησία (town meeting) without authority to do so.
I was told for years that the Greek word for “church” (ἐκκλησία) simply meant a “gathering”… that all a church is, is a bunch of (pretty) random Christians getting together; Whether you know them or not, as long as they’re christians and you’re reading the bible, its a “church gathering”.
But look at Acts 14:26-27 (or Acts 15:30)
“From Attalia they [Paul and Barnabas] sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
Notice what they did; they “gathered (συναγαγόντες)” people. This is the normal word in Greek for gathering or a crowd. But… whom did they gather?
They gathered the church (ἐκκλησίαν). So ἐκκλησία can’t simply mean “a gathering” of people; the word identifies a group of people, a party, a family… who can be gathered.
Certainly, one of the signs of being a member of an ἐκκλησία is that you do gather. But being one of those who gather does not make you part of the ἐκκλησία, any more than coming over to my place for dinner makes you part of my family.
Take away message: 1. If you’ve been told that your “local church” doesn’t exist when it’s not gathering (as I was told at College), don’t worry – it does. (See also Elwell, Walter A. “Church” in “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” 1997).
2. Who do you gather (συναγαγὴ) with? Are they your church (ἐκκλησία)? Or are you just attending their gathering?
So, following on from yesterday’s post about inter-church involvement, there’s a practical aspect to consider when it comes to church size (which I’ve alluded to earlier, but it’s worth exploring).
See, if you’ve got a quite small church, chances are you don’t need to run your own church conference – everyone already knows each other. Going away for 3 days isn’t really going to make that much of a difference. In fact, if your flock has been part of a small church for years, it would be a valuable reminder that Jesus’ church is massive by going along to a inter-church conference, and meeting all these other Christians and being encouraged that they’re not the only ones. Those conferences are usually smaller (50-500 people). If you’re organising a smallish inter-church conferences, that should be one of your goals… facilitating people meeting new people and having to chat.
But, if you’ve got a bigger church, chances are that many of the people DON’T know each other very well. Going to an inter-church conference is one of the last things they need – they already feel like they don’t know people! They don’t need to meet and chat with Christians from other churches, rather they need to get to people from their own church better. So you’ve got two options. 1) Run your own church-conference so they spend the time with each other, or 2) Take your church community to a very large inter-church conference AS A GROUP that sticks together (and while enjoying the larger group, doesn’t aim to build relationships with people from other churches) – this is how we’ve viewed things like Katoomba Men’s Convention.
This highlights a potential issue with any conference or inter-church event… people have many different reasons and expectations as they head into it. That means… if you’re not clear on the purpose, almost everyone will feel let down in some way, because they think everyone else should have the same inter-church goals that they do. You’ll hear things like, “I didn’t get to know anyone from my church – I may as well have not gone!” and things like, “I only spoke to people I already knew – I may as well have not gone!”. So be clear on the purpose and be cool if churches opt-out if that’s not what they’re flock needs at the moment.
Inter-church involvement is great – but it doesn’t make Christians united (because Christians are, by nature of our union with Jesus, ALREADY united) – but it is one (of many good ways) we can express the unity Christians have. Let me stress that it is only ONE possible way and that there are many other ways of expressing this, not the least through prayer… Some will say, “But people can’t see and experience the unity expressed through prayer! Our unity should be visible.” I agree, however, I disagree on to whom it should be visible. Our expressions of unity should be visible first to God, and second to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (who I assume see what we do in secret):
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus… this mystery was for ages past kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Eph 3).
So, care less about showing the world that the church on this street corner and the church on that street corner can “do things” together, and instead, live for the glory of the God who is showing you off in the court-room of heaven. Love Jesus, love people, love each other. Be united in eternal purpose and hope and faith. Don’t get caught up in some felt need to “look” united in the eyes of the world – they really don’t care.
Recently we had our AGM which gave us another opportunity to try and help our church see itself. That might seem like a strange idea, but for most people, they only see (or even hear) about the aspects of their church they’re involved in. This can lead to misunderstandings about why the staff are never around, or a feeling that God’s not at work in your church, when there might be things to be very excited about.
We want our church family to see itself well… see how God is at work in it, and how God is at work through it.
So, we came up with this infographic that tries to display something of the messiness of church. A growing church family is organic and interrelated. It’s interdependent. This info graphic isn’t meant to make church “understandable”, but rather it’s meant to make the messiness of church understandable. (See it large here).
As you welcome new people to church, one (of the many) things to be aware of is how willing they are to join church on church’s terms or on their own terms.
The person who comes to church on their own terms is the one who is overly wary of filling in a feedback form, overly cautious about being invited to a lunch, overly suspicious about being invited to think about joining a group. They aren’t willing to be part of the church family on the church family terms. They want to work out their own unique way of being part of it… or not being part of it. This CAN be for good reasons, however it’s sadly usually because they think themselves too important to ever do what normal people do. They think they need special treatment. Ironically, they do… They especially need to be encouraged to repent of pride.
On the other hand, other people come to church on church’s terms. They are willing to be led by the hand and helped into church, into the church family.
Churches seems to have such a quandary about saying no to advertising things out the front. Its hard when someone runs up to you and says they need, really really need to you advertise their thing today!!! When the reality is that, if you said yes to everyone, you’d have no time for bible, singing or sermon. There’s just so much that goes on that legitimate church stuff, let alone the other things. I’ve had one guy come up to me 5 mins before a meeting and insist they get up and invite people to join their soccer team!
So, rather than just avoiding those people so they can’t ask you, have a clear basis for why you advertise things… here’s ours (courtesy of our brilliant Magnification Pastor – that means he cares more about making meetings good environments for hearing and responding to God – Pete Witt).
Only things that tick all three boxes:
- They affect a huge number of people (at least over half)
- They are significantly urgent
- They are closely aligned to your visions and values as a church.
If it hits all three, go for it. It’s worth advertising.
Don’t pretend you don’t know what’s going on. Don’t make out like that interview answer surprised you. Don’t act like you’re being spontaneous when you’ve planned it all out.
First, because unless you’re a trained, seasoned actor… You suck at it. It’s SOOO obvious that your pretending… It’s embarrassing. Embarrassing for you, and for your audience.
Second, why are you doing it at all? Before you ask me why you shouldn’t do it, I’d really like to hear you explain why you think the best way to communicate something (which you obviously think is very important) is by pretending its so unimportant that you didn’t plan what your going to say?
You see, the method of communication communicates MORE than the content of the communication. By acting like you’ve made it up on the spot, you’re communicating that it’s not very important to you, and thus it shouldn’t be important to me.
At one level, this shouldn’t be a hard question… surely you design your meetings for the people who are meeting with you.
So, since the meeting is for everyone – especially Christians (see the last post) – you have to think about the different types of people in the room, and there’s really only two types of people: people who are not Christians who need to hear the gospel, and people who are Christians who need to hear the gospel.
So proclaim the gospel. Proclaim it in the welcome, in the songs, in the reading, in the sermon, in the prayers, in the invitation to hang around for supper. Christian or not, they need to hear it and be reminded of it.
But, since the gospel is the power to save from God’s eternal wrath, there’s a right priority to make the most of the opportunity afforded by the non-Christian in the room. Don’t do everything for them, but don’t ignore them as though they’re not meant to be there… they are meant to be there! They just don’t know it yet.
This is a question that seems to cause grumbling, but that’s usually because those discussing it haven’t defined their terms, and the preposition “for” is very slippery. As such, these are all true…
- Church is for everyone!
It’s a gathering to sit under and respond to the word of the living and true God. The God of the universe. When Jesus comes back and raises everyone from the dead, they’re all going to be gathered (churched) around him and respond Philippians 2 style. So they should be in local churches now too.
- Church is for Christians!
This is a true, although narrow, use of the term “for”. Technically, church “is” Christians. Church is the family/community/flock-of-an-under-shepherd gathering of those who hear and respond to Jesus as Lord. It’s a Christian “thing”, so yeah, it’s for them by the simple fact it is them.
- Church is for Christian encouragement and perseverance!
This takes the previous point and gives it some flesh. If church is the gathering of those under Christ, then that gathering should support and equip those very ones to remain in Christ, in a fully Heb 3:13 way. In other words, if you’re going to get people together who exist on the basis of Jesus’ words, REMIND THEM to keep going!!
- Church is for gospel proclamation
See, this is really the common thread. The gospel is a message of the global king. Its content describes its extent. It’s a message for everyone, especially those who have already believed it.
So, if church is for everyone, especially Christians… how should you design your meetings?
Desert-island theology is when you try to reduce a theological question down to its basic elements. This can be a really helpful activity for thinking clearly, however it need to be taken back into context. Some examples:
What is marriage? Well, if a single guy and single girl found themselves stranded on a desert island, couldn’t they make promises to Other and get married and have sex and it not be sin? Sure. At its most basic level marriage is two people in a covenanted relationship. But that doesn’t mean you and your girlfriend are married when you promise to live each other and decide to have sex. You’re not on a desert island!! The basic principles are not the only ones.
What about church? If two people find themselves on a desert island, and they read the bible and pray – yeah, it’s their church! But when you refuse to be part of a local group that has authorities and support, you’re ignoring Jesus’ people.
Desert island theology is a helpful tool for identifying important elements of ideas, but those ideas should never be left on the island.
We used to say, “Dress slightly more dressed-up than the average person in your church.” One of the main reasons was because we didn’t want people to think, “hmmm, this is too casual to be ‘church’ – it’s meant to be formal and reflective – but he’s dressed like a slob.”
But really – who’s gonna’ think that? Probably the type of person who’s going to find fault with EVERYTHING!
But what happened to your visitor when they come in for the first time and see the person up the from looking more dressy than they are? Chances are it’s another thing for them to (wrongly) feel judged about.
Why try to appease the 5% by dressing up when the same action could be off-putting to the 50%?!?
Dress just below the average “dress level” and see how it makes people feel comfortable to see Jesus as part of their whole life – trakidacks and all.
The parable of the Good Samaritan might better be titled the parable of the unloving Jews. For that’s what is highlighted as three wannabe “righteous” Jews come into proximity with a man who needs help, and they avoid him.
But realise, had they not been travelling that road that day, or even at that time, they would not be condemned for their failure to act. That is, it was their proximity to this fallen man that brought upon them the opportunity to do good, to love. And in the same way, it was their proximity to this man that brought upon them the sin of failing to do as a loving neighbour ought.
Love thy neighbour, at the very least, means love the one you’re with.
I think this has massive implications for church families and growth groups. These are people you are with – whether you choose to be with them or you were placed with them, they are your neighbours, they are the ones you are with – both in proximity and in regularity.
This doesn’t mean we ignore loving at a distance, there’s heaps in the bible to show Christians do that, but we mustn’t fall into the trap of the Pharisees who ignored their real and present opportunities to love.
Who has God put in your path to love?
This is one of the exercises we get our MTSers (and staff) to do every 6 months or so. All you need is a blank page (better if there are no lines on it) and a pen.
Then you think about your ministry… starting at either the whole church, or the whole city/town, or the people that you’re directly involved with. (Note: Never start with a Structure like “Sunday Church” or “Simply Christianity” or “Growth Groups” – That will stifle your creativity because you’ll be trying to fit things into your current ideas)
Then you write down everything that comes to mind. People’s names, current structures, your prayers for the whole, sins that you see happening, the future, the past, anything. Keep at it for 20mins at least.
Note: We’ve found that some staff can’t do this on their own, and they need to do it with someone else to keep them thinking about the one area. This can be a really good exercise to do with a member of church!
Then… wait for the ideas to formulate.
This type of exercise helps you see opportunities that are right in front of your face, but would never have noticed before.
This is a really important distinction. And it’s important that you keep making it clear both to your church and your staff team.
Some church staff members see themselves kind of like “consultants”. They are only at this particular church because that’s their job. That’s dangerous because that’s a completely different point of view of everyone else who’s part of that church. All your members aren’t paid to be there!! They choose to be there. In fact, don’t you hope they want to be there?
Rather, as you go about employing staff, the very first question to ask is: will you join this church? Will you make this church your home – not because your paid to, but because Christians are meant to be part of a church family.
Only after they’ve made that commitment to join the church, then you ask them to be part of the staff team.
Staff should be church members first, and staff members second.
It’s hard enough to grow in the first place. But if you do grow, that’s not the only hurdle. That new growth produces its own problems to overcome.
So don’t let this list make you stop praying for more in Jesus’ kingdom, rather pray for more and pray for the ability to handle more.
Our youth group used to meet in a school basketball court. It was great for games and activities, and the leaders thought the small group times worked pretty well. Until they moved to a purpose built venue with lounges and cafe tables and meeting rooms. All of a sudden the youth group kids started “discussing” and relating and talking about the passages and the study questions like never before.
They didn’t improve the studies or the questions or the leaders, just the “space” they met in.
The space you meet in has a huge, repeat HUGE, influence on how humans behave in that space.
People find it easy to discuss deep thoughts in rooms that are designed for people to sit around tables (with paper and pens out).
But you can’t have the same type of meetings in a cafe… The tables and the atmosphere is “lower”. It’s hard to have out pens and paper, it’s hard to silently consider and focus. The space just isn’t designed for that.
Don’t have planning meetings in cafes, book an office or a library meeting room. Don’t have casual catch-ups in meeting rooms, go to a cafe or a park or whatever.
The space humans meet in makes a huge difference to humans.
Have you ever wondered what happens when you don’t turn up? Whether it’s to church or a growth group or something else, do you know what happens when you’re not there?
People notice, and generally they try and assume you had a good reason.
People don’t give it a second thought.
Other people will have put chairs out for you, prepared food for you, and prayed for you, and they’ll be disappointed (in a good way).
Other people will take care of things that you could have helped with.
Several fewer conversations will happen that day. Some if those conversations could have been really valuable and important to other people.
A chair will be left empty next to someone who would love it to be filled.
Other people will hear and engage in God’s word together. It will bind them that little bit more together as Jesus people who are committed to him and each other.
Yes, each one is just a little thing, but all together, and regularly? They make a huge difference!