Take a look at the following article that addresses the idea of interaction during preaching in the worship service: “What You Can’t Say in Church.” I would love to know what other’s think or have experienced with this. At Tidelands worship gatherings I have tried to allow time after many sermons for questions and interaction. I have found that it is often one of the most profound moments in our time together. However, I also know that we are small and that is one of the reasons that we can get away with it. I like the idea presented in the above article though: Preach for a bit, ask a discussion question to be talked about with those seated nearby, and repeat. Of course, coming up with a worthy question would be the key.
I can’t tell you how many times over the past 10+ years I’ve had a discussion with other parents and church leaders about the struggle of discipling children through our current church programming models. The following is an excerpt from a Verge Network article by Ben Connelly called “How To Incorporate Kids into Your Missional Community” (full article here) that articulates this challenge well:
Focusing on the right things
The focus of a “kids ministry” shouldn’t actually be kids; it should be parents. Whether preschool or high school, the same principle applies: churches and leaders who put time, effort, money, resources, and intentionality into equipping parents instead of merely entertaining children accomplish two significant things:
- They help develop the whole-life spiritual maturity of the children
- They put parents back in the place the Bible places them.
Churches with Sunday-focused kids ministries spend 50-100 hours per year (of the 8,760 hours in any given year) with your kids. Minus vacations, sickness, and other reasons to miss, trained workers teach kids biblical concepts for an hour or two on Sundays. And even the most intentional churches might host a second age-specific gathering sometime during the week.
In those few hours, trained leaders must cram in entertainment, music, a snack, and often a Bible story that immediately transfers into a life lesson. “Discipleship and spiritual growth” become limited to a few hours a month, and generally limited to one “style”: in a group, with lots of energy, listening to a teacher teach a broad lesson.
What about the rest of the week?
But what happens in the rest of a child’s week when the teacher isn’t there? Who hears about getting made fun of on the playground? Who’s there to encourage the student in the midst of a specific high school struggle? If a child is in school until 4pm and goes to bed at 8pm, parents interact with their kids 1460 hours a year!
Parents see the daily struggles. Parents have conversations in the car. Parents are asked the hard questions. Parents deal with the specifics, the scenarios, the struggles, the sins. Parents meet their child – every single day – where the real-life rubber hits the road.
The author makes the argument that we need to be spending more of our time training parents as the primary disciplers of children. I agree. Yet, look at the job description of just about any church children’s minister or youth minister and you will see just how little of their time is expected to be spent doing this kind of work. In fact, it is entirely possible (and I have seen this many times myself) where we end up with adolescents in this model that “know” more about the Bible than their parents do. Can we see how backwards this is if we really believe that the parents are the primary teachers and disciplers of their kids? I personally believe that when we talk about the issue of so many young people leaving the church after high school that it is related to this issue. Their spiritual training, their so-called discipleship is totally disconnected from their life at school and at home.
So what is the solution? I imagine that for many programmatic, attractional churches they might be tempted simply to hire more staff to teach more classes at the church building for parents. Personally, I don’t think that is the answer. The didactic teaching style has its place, but it is no substitute for discipleship in the everyday life. I don’t want to claim that missional communities are the answer, but I do believe that they are a step in a better direction because the focus is on reorienting our lives to be on mission in our home, work, school, family, neighborhood, life.
As someone who worked for many years at a church where I was not only the “youth director,” but also one of the younger adults at the church, I’ve had many, many conversations about the changes in technology and the impact (positive and negative) that these changes are having on our lives. I remember sitting at a staff/session retreat trying to explain Twitter and trying to convince church leaders of the value of being on Facebook. Rarely is it possible to convincingly argue that these technological changes are either “all good” or “all bad.” I still take issue with those that want to portray the younger generations as sitting in front of a computer or cell phone all day, ignoring face-to-face interactions. If anything, I have noticed that this is more of a temptation with the stay-at-home mom/dad crowd.
Nevertheless, it IS important that we acknowledge, discuss, and challenge the dangers and temptations that come with the increasing role of social media on our lives. The following is an excerpt from a great article by Relevant Magazine about the way we portray our lives in social media (read the entire article here):
My life looks better on the Internet than it does in real life. Everyone’s life looks better on the internet than it does in real life. The Internet is partial truths—we get to decide what people see and what they don’t. That’s why it’s safer short term. And that’s why it’s much, much more dangerous long term.
Because community—the rich kind, the transforming kind, the valuable and difficult kind—doesn’t happen in partial truths and well-edited photo collections on Instagram. Community happens when we hear each other’s actual voices, when we enter one another’s actual homes, with actual messes, around actual tables telling stories that ramble on beyond 140 pithy characters.
What was really interesting to me as I read this article is that I found myself reflecting less on social media, and more on what I have often experienced on Sunday Morning at “church.” Why is it that we dress up, act up, put on a smile, shake hands, waltz into the sanctuary with our family, sing, pray, and then bail 90 minutes later pretending that we just experienced community? Just like the “partial truths” posted onto social media sites, this snapshot of our week does not accurately portray the messiness that we really live in.
I can just hear the defensive objections coming my way already! I realize that there probably isn’t a church out there that wants our community to begin and end at the worship service. But we also all know that for many people that is what happens. But even for those that do plug into the “small group” ministry (or youth group or senior group or choir or whatever…), do they really experience community in that group? Is it a place where they can be real about their struggles, their doubts, their failures? Can they be “real” in those settings?
I know that authentic community does exist in some of these programmatic settings, but I think that it is rare. This is just one more reason why I am passionate about moving forward with missional communities. Not only does it bring people together in the messiness of life, but it also challenges them to “go out” together in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the Good News that in the midst of all the messiness Christ has overcome it all!
It is good to read about how others have approached the missional community gatherings with children. We have been stumbling along with this without a lot of intentionality or planning so far (in regards to children). It has worked for the most part, but I like the idea of having the “on call” adult for each meeting. So far, we have attempted to integrate our children into all that we do as a missional community. I am finding that, at least for me, some of the most profound learning moments have happened when our children have been engaged with us in our story time or discussion. It is a difficult challenge to navigate, but I agree with Jayne that each missional community will need to address their own unique challenges with kids. It will change as the age of kids in the group change over time.
I’ve been thinking more lately about the role of a church building in the mission of the church. Here is a good article on how one church in Chicago is doing this on a grand scale: “Building a Church For the Community”
“If God were to pour out His Spirit like He did during some of the great historical spiritual movements of the past, we wouldn’t have the right container because we haven’t equipped our people to realize and embrace the idea that they’re on mission.”
This is a quote from an excellent article called “The Church’s Sleeping Giant” that talks about the roughly 60% of people who will not be reached by our traditional church models. It makes an argument for leveraging mega churches and multi-site churches to launch new missional communities. I would argue that mainline denominations could be leveraged in a similar way. Take a look, it is well worth reading.
I continue to be surprised at the new ways people are seeking to live out church community in the midst of a rapidly changing culture. I wonder where God will take us? Take a look at the following article from the PCUSA website (there is a link to the NCD website at the end of the article):
Farmhouse becomes mission center to house new church development
To grow church literally on six acres halfway between Dallas and Forth Worth
OCTOBER 4, 2011
General Assembly Mission Council
BY PAUL SEEBECK, COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
Office of Church Growth
Imagine a new mission center in a farmhouse, housing a new congregation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). As project co-pastor Shane Whisler puts it, “We asked ourselves: what if you started a church by putting the mission committee in charge?”
Whisler and his wife Pat Felter are leading a new ministry called East Broad Outreach Center in Mansfield, Texas. Their vision for this new church development, supported by
Grace Presbytery, Synod of the Sun and the General Assembly Mission Council, is to create a mission center that houses a Presbyterian congregation.
Already they are growing — literally. They’ve planted an organic community garden next to the small farmhouse to add fresh flavor to their food pantry. This summer, the garden helped feed up to six large families a week. “You can’t always tell by looking, but there is great cultural and economic diversity here,” says Whisler. “In some of the newer homes, families are struggling to pay their mortgages. We also know there is large population of veterans around us, some homeless. We’re working with a local VFW post trying to locate them and make sure they feel welcome here.”
Shane Whisler of East Broad Outreach Center poses with custom made clothing made by a woman who works part time at a silk screening business. She did so out of gratitude for the food and moral support given to her at the new church development in Mansfield, Texas.
Whisler has heard stories of combat veterans who take great comfort in holding a guitar in their hands instead of a rifle. “We could do something like that here. It’s just a matter of us finding the people God wants to reach and being flexible enough to listen to God’s spirit.”
Whisler is quick to credit the vision for this mission center outreach to leadership within Grace Presbytery and a dedicated steering committee that opened the door to him and his wife in October 2010. “The Holy Spirit and mission work, big and small, across our denomination are our inspiration for this approach to church planting,” he says. “The vision for this mission center lined up exactly with what we’d been praying about for seven years,” adds Felter.
In addition to the organic community garden, the mission center offers a “back-to-work clothes closet” for people seeking employment for the first or fourth time in this difficult economy. Word is spreading; folks are making deposits of food and clothing in the plastic bin under the carport. “One woman was so grateful for the food and moral support,” says Whisler, “she told her boss at her part-time silk screening job about us. Two weeks later she delivered 25 custom printed East Broad Outreach Center t-shirts and hats for only one dollar each.”
As Whisler and Felter develop this new faith based community, they are deeply committed to showing peace, justice and love. Their first monthly worship service is on Saturday, October 8. They already host meditation and discussion sessions called Friday Night Candle Lights. They are building relationships with the growing number of folks who aren’t members, who come to the farmhouse to do hands-on mission work. They also host a monthly faith and music exploration event at a local restaurant in this growing city of 60,000. “I was an interior designer in my first life,” says Felter. “I went back to Austin Seminary where I met Shane. When I volunteered for mission work up in Alaska, I thought I’d be a missionary. Turns out I am one in Mansfield.”
A father of two Girl Scouts installs an automatic drip irrigation system this spring in the organic community garden at East Broad Outreach Center, Mansfield, Texas. He volunteered for the job and donated many left over supplies from his own yard work.
Felter has a “bucket list” of things she’d like the mission center to work on, including stopping human trafficking. “I have a hard time keeping up with Pat’s ideas,” Whisler says, to laughter from both of them. “Shane will go out and find community,” she says, “and I’ll organize.”
East Broad Outreach Community is home to three Girl Scout troops who bring additional life to the property. “They held a day camp here that brought 130 girls and volunteers together,” says Whisler. Whisler met a father from one of the Girl Scout Troops when he offered his help. “The father installed an automatic drip irrigation system in our garden and taught me how to add to it.”
Whisler has also developed “a great partnership” with Trinity Presbyterian Church in Mansfield. Using Facebook, he hopes to get additional partners from all over the country to pray for the mission center that houses a worshiping community. “We would also love to host mission teams that could travel here to help develop the property so we can use it to teach core values of environmental stewardship, peacemaking and faith building.” Felter adds. “Come see us at eboc.org.”
The following is a list I found on a blog by Justin Buzzard, pastor of Garden City Church in San Jose, CA (link to blog at bottom of article). If you check out his blog you will also find the positive version of this list (10 Reasons to Join a Church Plant). I find this list compelling because it is a good reminder that what we are trying to do may be different than some people’s conceptions.
1. If you’re looking for the next cool thing in town (We want to grow by conversion growth, not church-goer transfer growth).
2. If you’re a Christian and you don’t like your current church (You will find reasons to not like this church).
3. If you have a bad track record at churches of being unteachable and causing problems (You won’t change here, you’ll repeat the pattern).
4. If you’re a consumer wanting to “go to church” 1x a week for a nice show (We are not a Sunday show, we are a community of disciples on a mission).
5. If you want religion (This church will be built on the radical gospel of grace).
6. If you have an agenda (We have our vision, our mission, and our values–your private agenda does not supercede them).
7. If you’re a wolf (We will sniff you out).
8. If you think this will be a nice little church that stays the same size, where everybody knows your name and you have my cell number on speed dial and we have a picnic lunch together every week (By God’s grace, we want to grow).
9. If you think this will be easy and smooth (This will be hard and difficult; this will be a fight, a battle, a challenging mission).
10. If you want to hold onto your comfortable life (You must lose your life).
Apparently the desire to begin new “missional communities” within the PC(USA) is not limited to the local or even Presbytery level. Now, at the national level God has seen fit to put people in place who are also sensing this call. If you ask me, when something like this grabs hold of so many different people within the church at the same time it is a clear indication that the Spirit is moving!
There is an interesting article pointing to this move at the National level in the most recent issue of The Presbyterian Outlook. The article, written by Erin Dunigan, is called “Rekindling the Spirit Needed for Mission to Flourish.” I would provide a link, but I cannot find it on their website yet. Here are some excerpts.
“The PC(USA) is ____________ .” What would you use to fill in the blank? The hope of Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for the General Assembly Mission Council, is that the answer would be “people who are changing lives.” Dermody’s vision, fleshed out as 1001 new missional communities in 10 years, is an ambitious challenge for a denomination that has faced struggles of political and theological controversy as its membership declines. Dermody came to the GAMC after nearly two decades of ministry at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. “By God’s grace I was part of some ministries that, even though circumstances looked bleak, they turned around,” he said. His current call, he said, is to be a catalyst for new life. “We in the Presbyterian Church used to have this incredible entrepreneurial spirit that created hospitals (and) amazing schools, as well as churches. So what I began to wonder was: How can we help inspire people to get back to that?” It was from that wondering that “1001 in 10” was born…
…Dermody said “1001 in 10” is also not meant to discount the mission and ministry of existing congregations, but rather to engage those communities in thinking of new experiments. The term missional communities rather than churches or congregations is intentional. “The minute you call something a ‘church’ we have so many rules that it almost chokes something out before it even starts,”…
Although I would agree that changing the language may create some freedom from regulation, a more positive reason for using the term “missional community” is to reinforce that idea the a gathering of believers is supposed to be identified by their common mission in Christ rather than a shared denominational membership, church building, etc. However, I recognize that the language is very important when you are talking about finding a place for something new within an existing denominational structure and polity. The article goes on to explain that there is a desire to support the grassroots movements (like the one we are beginning, I hope) rather than legislate it top-down.
[Dermody’s] hope, … is to create a movement where the church rediscovers its role in giving birth to new worshipping communities. Dermody said the initiative is not an attempt to bypass the role of middle governing bodies in new church development. “It doesn’t have to come through us,” he said. “Our role is connecting and inspiring the church and using our balcony view to see what is going on and connect that.” Dermody said he would “love this to be something that we all take on together.” He already has commitments from organizations within the PC(USA) for close to half the target number of new missional communities.
Sometimes, timing is everything. Often people want to look at attempts at New Church Development in the past and figure out how to make it work “this time around.” But if this is truly Spirit-initiated then we won’t have to “try,” we just have to respond faithfully.
A Missional Community is a Family of Missionary Servants who make Disciples who make Disciples.Family – First of all a missional community is a group of believers who live and experience life together like a family. They see God as their Father because of their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the new regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit.This means they have and know of a divine love that leads them to love one another as brothers and sisters. They treat one another as children of God deeply loved by the Father in everything – sharing their money, time, resources, needs, hurts, successes, etc… They know each other well. This knowledge includes knowing each other’s stories and having familiarity with one another’s strength and struggles in regards to belief in the gospel and its application to all of life.They speak the gospel truth to one another, regularly building each other up in love. They also love the people around them as if they were part of the family, showing them what the love of the Father looks like and in so doing inviting them to experience life in the family of God.John 1:11-13; Rom. 12:10-16; Eph 5:1-2Missionaries – God’s family is also sent like the Son by the Spirit to proclaim the good news of the kingdom – the gospel – and fulfill the commission of Jesus. A missional community is more than a bible study or a small group that cares for other believers.A missional community is made up of Spirit-led and filled people who radically reorient their lives together for the mission of making disciples of a particular people and place where there is a gospel gap no consistent gospel witness. This means people’s schedule, resources and decisions are now collectively built around reaching people together.Matt. 3:16-4:1; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8; Acts 13:2Servants – Jesus is Lord and we are his Servants. A missional community serves those around them as though there are serving Jesus. In doing so, they give a foretaste of what life will be like under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ.Living as servants to the King who serve others as he served, presents a tangible witness to Jesus’ kingdom and the power of the gospel to change lives. A missional community serves in such a way that it demands a Gospel explanation – lives that cannot be explained in any other way than by the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus.Matt. 20:25-28; Jn. 13:1-17; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Pet. 2:16Disciples – We are all learners of Jesus our rabbi who has given us his Spirit to teach us all that is true about Jesus and enable us to live it out his commands. Jesus commanded us to make disciples who believe the gospel, are established in a new identity and are able to obey all of his commands Matt. 28:19-20. The missional community is the best context in which this can happen.Disciples are made and developed: 1 through life on life, where there is visibility and accessibility 2 in community, where they can practice the one anothers, and 3 on mission where they learn how to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.What do you think about Jeff’s definition of missional community? What other questions does this leave you with? Join the conversation in the comment section below…Jeff Vanderstelt is a Church Planter who leads Soma Communities, a body of church planting churches in the South Puget Sound. He also serves as the Vice President West of Acts 29 as well as the Church Planters Advisory Counsel for the Conservative Baptist NW Association. Jeff spends most of his time equipping church planters and church leaders in Gospel Centered Leadership and Missionally focused methodology. He has been planting churches for 7 years. Prior to that he was a youth pastor in four different churches over the span of 14 years, the most recent being Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Jeff has been married for 18 years to Jayne and together they love and shepherd 3 beautiful children in the Gospel and Mission of Jesus Christ. Twitter: @JeffVanderstelt.