Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Necessity of Cell Groups of Two or Three Interacting Daily

All life consists of cells. The body is made up of living cells. If the body is not made up of cells, you cannot call it a body but a machine. Any organism that is not made up of cells is not actually alive. You can have a body that has dead cells, but it is necessary to remove the dead cells if the body is to live.

Jesus made disciples in small groups or in cells. Jesus never commanded us to make churches but only to make disciples. We make disciples in the smallest group level of 2-3 individuals walking with Jesus on a day by day basis. The best possible small group structure is 2-3. This structure of smallest groups is the foundation of all living bodies or living organisms. The foundational structure of the body is small groups of 2-3 that live together on a daily basis. Any other structure in the church is useful to maintain unity for greater city-wide purposes but only the cellular level is absolutely indispensable. It is disciple. We make disciples and equip the saints by teaching men and women to make disciples in the cell group level of the smallest groups.

How I think this works, at least in my experience, is that such intmate relationships that are focused on the teachings of Jesus and living them out surface our problems. We are broken people and our brokenness become apperant if we allow people to know us on a daily basis and if we allow them to speak into our lives. It is not that small groups work in themselves but that these relationships surface and make visible our weaknesses. Couple this surfacing of problems with the covenant to give and take spiritual direction and you are on your way to desperately needing the power of the Holy Spirit.

The training of leaders is training leaders to make disciples in the smallest groups of 2-3. many men and women are not called to provide spiritual direction in larger groups like house churches but all are called to provide leadership at the cellular level. Everyone is called to make disciples and this equipping is fueled when we develop a cellular structure of disciple-making relationships. By doing this we can release leaders like Jesus released leaders. Jesus recruited his church and ALL the members of His church were released into leadership. This is true for a few reasons. Most importantly Jesus only recruited fourth soil believers. Work only with people who are willing to be disciple-makers at the cellular level. Place all our effort at the cellular level where ALL the members are being equipped to be leaders of groups of two or three. This is the foundation of the church and the focus of almost all of our attention.

So principle #1 is that the primary group where all the actual work is being done is at the cellular level of groups of two or three that interact with each other daily.

This group of cellular discipleship interacts daily in one way or another. This discipleship is daily relationship of prayer, worship, confession, and contemplation of the teachings of Jesus.

Principle #2 is that leaders are released to lead intentional discipleship relationship that meet daily. Leaders are men or women who are capable of:
1. Meeting with one or two people daily.
2. Communicating the teachings of Jesus both the Sermon on the Mount and the parables from their own experience.
3. Have a practice of daily worship and prayer in private.
4. Are able to lay hands and pray for others.
5. Are equipped to teach others to make disciples.

Principle #3 – If your church is not made up of people in smaller groups of two or three, then you are not making disciples. The purpose of the church is to make disciples. The church exists to make disciples.
1. Everyone in the church is challenged to participate in daily smaller groups of two or three and to be equipped to lead these smaller groups.
2. If it is not a distinguishing mark of your church that everyone needs to be making disciples in daily covenant relationships, then your DNA is wrong. Somehow we haven’t set an example and articulated an example of a life transformation model that works. I am convinced that the only way to get victory over besetting character defects is to live in discipleship daily. I am not saying that daily discipleship works but that daily discipleship is necessary for human beings to live in faith. Such a faith is so aware of it’s weakness that daily confession has become the means of surfacing our weakness and abiding in Christ. If there are people in your church who think the weekly meeting is where discipleship happens, your DNA is wrong. Stop doing church and start over.

Think about it for a second. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you 70x7 times a day forgive him.” This passage is speaking out of the context of living in community and how these relationships surface our brokenness. It is this process of surfacing our brokenness that leads to walking in weakness and grace.

Principle #4 – The purpose of larger groups is to equip the members in making disciples. This is accomplished primarily through teaching the teachings of Jesus and the scriptural commentary upon the teachings of Jesus.
1. Do not attempt to do the work of the group of two to three in the larger house church meetings of individual confession and prayer for one another.
2. The larger group is to teach the apostolic teaching and proclaim testimony of what is happening in the smaller groups (i.e. on the street).

God Bless,

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Church or the Kingdom

In our community, we are continually asking, “What can we give to people?”. The answer is often that we can give them a level of community that will teach them a new and healthy way of life. When community is the answer to how we help people, the mandate is to build community and to emphasize dialogue about real life problems and the principles that are foundational to functional living. Such an emphasis is a huge step forward compared to the come to church on Sunday and then you are on your own. With people like myself that are way to damaged to make it on my own, the Sunday and Wednesday routine just doesn’t work. For the sick, authentic community is an absolute necessity to a sane life. BUT!!!, this emphasis on COMMUNITY IS NOT THE ANSWER to the “What can we give to people?” question.

Conversion to the Church or Entrance into the Kingdom
The above scenario where a new believer enters a Christian community that meets daily and studies the teachings of Jesus is a good thing, obviously, but I have no interest in converting people to Christianized social work. We must be very self-critical and precise in what are we really offering people. What we are offering people is LIFE IN THE KINGDOM THROUGH THE IMMEDIATE POWER AND PRESSENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST. The answer to the question, “What can we give to people?” must be THE HOLY SPIRIT on a daily basis. We must beware of converting people to the church.

The Real Problem with American Evangelicalism
If you are reading this article, I am assuming you are looking for more than the mainstream church has to offer. When the mainstream church honestly answer the question, “What can we give to people?”, the answer is that we can offer good programs and clear bible teaching. We may say, “We offer relationship with Jesus Christ”, but if the by relationship with Jesus Christ we mean the immediate power and presence of the Holy Spirit then the mainstream church cannot honestly testify that we offer people a life of relationship with Jesus Christ. The daily power of the Holy Spirit has not been my experience of the life of the normal church-goer. No what the church offers is programs and teaching. In other words, the church offers people church. The real problem with the church in America is that we convert people to church and not the kingdom. BUT if we in the home church, simple church, organic church simply convert people to daily, authentic church as opposed to weekly superficial church, we are merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. The problem with the mainstream church, and I believe the mainstream church is on its death bed in America, is that church life does not necessitate authentic spirituality and does not model the life in the kingdom. Life in the kingdom is living daily filled with the power of presence of Jesus Christ through the daily imitation of Jesus Christ in community.

The Emphasis of the Church Growth and Mega Church Approach
The church growth approach taught pastors to make sure that all the processes were in place to assure that people have a positive experience in church. The program of the church needs to be excellent to attract a crowd. The speaker must be entertaining. The music must be excellent. The programs must be fast paced and offer relationship with nice people and the parking must be sufficient. If we do this well, people will be attracted to the church and this will expose the masses to the word of God and the gospel. In this approach, we are really converting people to church attendance. The program takes most of the pastors time. He is the director of a presentation. This approach has led to the total carnality and impotence of the church. This is not how Jesus Christ made disciples. Only true spirituality and the offer of the power and presence of Jesus Christ in our daily lives demands everything from the baptized. We have made the gospel palatable in order to baptize people into the church. Such an approach caters to second and third soil hearts. Such an approach is total folly and bears no fruit that remains. If your pastor is concerned for even one instant about the flow of the service, I contend this is completely wrong headed. Jesus sent seekers who were not totally repentant away. Jesus said things that were totally offensive in order to separate the second and third soil people from the good and pure hearts. Our goal should be like Jesus’. We should try to offend people with the demands of the cross and the kingdom life. Only the call to live in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit daily demands everything from us.

The Necessity of Community
Even when the mainstream church offers, the power of the Holy Spirit, the mainstream church cannot deliver. When a seeker comes into the church and we offer them the kingdom life through the immediate power and presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, we cannot deliver on this offer without daily community meetings. Jesus Christ couldn’t deliver the kingdom without walking daily with the disciples. Are we so anointed that we can deliver bread that magically nourishes people for a week at a time? It is impossible to live by faith in the immediate reality of the kingdom without daily corporate prayer and worship and contemplation of the apostle’s teachings. The corporate life models for the new believer what it means to pursue God in prayer and worship. We teach how to confess and repent in the presence of God.

I once had a home churcher ask me sarcastically, “What we have to pray for it to be church?” My answer is “No, we have to pray passionately with true authentic repentance for it to be church!!”. Church is a group of people encountering God in spirit and truth. Church is not Christian potluck. In the book of Acts, the church met daily but they didn’t meet to have potluck. People are not afraid of potlucks. People were afraid to enter the early church and be double minded. God showed up at the meetings. People got healed at the meetings. The prayer and the teaching was 200 proof Holy Spirit. A new believer will not experience the life transformation that we call the kingdom without this type of community on a daily basis.

When we answer the “what can we give to people?”, we offer them a life in the power of God. In doing this, we must offer them to be immersed in the teachings of Jesus. We must offer them corporate meetings everyday BUT if we end with principles and community and do not lead people all the way into the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we still have merely converted them into the church. We do not baptize people into the Church, we baptize people into Christ. We are offering people a daily relationship with the living risen Jesus Christ. Jesus is alive. Jesus is powerful. Jesus delivers. Nothing short of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit will deliver those around us.

God Bless,

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Christianity by Total Immersion

Come and Walk with Us as We Follow Christ

In this post, I am going to attempt to answer the question, “What are we really trying to do in our faith community?”. The best answer to this question is that we want to be able to call people out of the world and into the kingdom way by saying “come and walk with us as we follow Christ”.

Last night, we had a meeting at our home. There was a nice sized group of people including a family who was visiting for the first time. I am sure the visitors went away thinking “that is a pretty nice group of people” BUT...that is no where near enough. As a community, we still lack the daily rhythm to call people out of the world and into the kingdom by simply saying “come walk with us as we follow Christ. Walk with us and you will come to know what it means to walk in the kingdom of God. You will come to know freedom from sin and true happiness….”

Baptism into a Daily Way of Life
As a good evangelical, I was taught that baptism really means immersion. The application of this etymological truth was that the proper mode of baptism was total immersion. It is true that baptism best symbolizes our life in Christ when we totally immerse new converts as opposed to sprinkle them, but we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water if we miss the real point of baptism by total immersion. The application is that discipleship into the kingdom only comes through total immersion in the new language of the kingdom life. When we are baptized, this event is a symbol of our commitment to total immersion into the body of Christ. If the church is to honor the baptism of the new convert, we must be able to offer them Christianity by total immersion.

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander
To be able to offer the kingdom to those we meet obviously takes a very “all in” lifestyle. We often say in our community that we minister as much for us as for those we minister to. When we realize that discipleship is by total immersion it is we who must go through the change of lifestyle so we can call others to come walk with us. The every day discipleship immerses our community in the language of the teachings of Jesus. Daily encouragement makes the insecure confident. Daily immersion in discussion makes the biblically illiterate biblically literate pretty fast. The point is to be able to call others into the process, or so we are told. But the benefit we reap ourselves is so great it is hard to say what is greater the benefit we bring others or the benefit we receive ourselves.

We often ask ourselves, “should we wait until we are very consistent and strong in our meeting frequency before we start doing outreach to others?” I think the answer to this is no, not really. It is in the asking others to join us that we are forced to be more consistent. When we say, “Meet me at my house every night at 6:00pm”, we are pretty “all in”. Now we have to play the hand all the way out. We have to start being consistent because we have commitments to others that we need to honor. This boldness spurs us on to being more and more daily.

The end of it all is that total immersion is the biblical mandate. It is the meaning of our being immersed in the body of Christ in baptism. So many find they cannot find the kingdom and yet they have no total immersion model to follow and no total immersion community to join. If we find ourselves in this situation, risk is needed. Where ever two or three are gathered is church. Find one friend and challenge each other to live out discipleship by total immersion. Once we take this first step, we will find we are not far from the kingdom.

God Bless,

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Art of Holiness and Spiritual Progress

As many of you know, our family has moved out of the more institutional approaches to the Christian faith into what is often termed a more organic or simple approach. I personally prefer to speak of our move as from a more academic approach to the faith to a more monastic or intentional community approach. Our current goal is to find like minded families who are interested in living in community in such a way that meetings are available every night in homes and that in these meetings the primary focus is how to live out and practice the teachings of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though I would personally never attempt going to meetings every night, it is very helpful to have meetings available every night. Currently, we have families who are committed to opening their homes on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday AM and Sunday PM. The primary learning technique is to allow the close proximity of our living to surface relational, emotional, and spiritual weakness in all of us. Let me begin by saying, this new simply approach to the faith has been quite fruitful with our children. Later in this post I will describe how we do church in our home.

Why Begin Outside the Church
The Benefits of Daily Community
The current misconceptions regarding how to approach Christianity and a lack of proper language in Christian circles to explain and train one another in the methods of sanctification and spiritual progress is so acute that I find it necessary to go outside of the majority Christian culture in order to develop what I understand to be a disciple making community. One element is the understanding of the need for community. Our approach as we are practicing it today sees community as a pre-requisite for spiritual progress. In the intentional community approach, the need for skills in conflict resolution, humble confession, giving and receiving spiritual direction, and forgiveness is absolutely crucial. Community surfaces our immaturity, and our weaknesses become opportunities to learn the teachings of Jesus. This progress only happens in the context of intentional community and in an all-in approach which embraces weakness and confession. In this context, mentoring and discipleship becomes an organic characteristic of our Christian life.
While our approach to the faith takes a daily practice of community as a prerequisite to spiritual progress, we also are developing a different model to our actual meetings which focuses on the learning of practices and spiritual disciplines more than the development of a worldview. In the institutional church, we are taught that Spiritual growth comes through the listening to and sometimes discussion of concepts when in fact spiritual progress is attained primarily through repetition of certain practices. Like any other activity, Spiritual progress comes through the development of certain talents and skills. Church meetings are modeled more after a sports practice than an academic classroom. Again, Christianity is learned more like gymnastics than geometry.

Ultimately, Christianity is not a body of truths to be intellectually known but a body of practices to be learned and skills and talents to develop. I think of the Martial Arts. In the Martial Arts, skills are learned, a certain type of kick or a certain type of stance. Or we could use the analogy of ballet. The result is a dance but the method of learning is repetitive practice of skills. Then the skills are put together like sentences in a story and the dance is developed. Church then is to be modeled after a ballet or Martial Arts lesson where we learn and practice skills as opposed to an academic exercise where we discuss and learn truths.

Our Family Church
In 2006, we began doing church differently. Though we have always led “small groups”, recently we began doing church in our home using a model where doing church was learning a skill and not a set of truths. To know Christianity is to know how to live a certain way in imitation of the life of Jesus Christ and not to develop a worldview or a theological system. It is difficult for me to explain how revolutionary this approach has been.

We began by asking ourselves what skills do we find essential to living a morally beautiful life. The conclusion we came to, my wife and I, was the practices of prayer and worship. Ultimately, it is affection and encounter with God Himself that is the foundation of all holiness and commitment to the ethical commands of Jesus Christ. If my children learn worship and pray, then I can trust the Holy Spirit to mold their affections.

So we are teaching our children not about prayer but actually how to pray. As a specific skill, we have been teaching our children how to use silence to adjust our attitudes and enter into worship and thanksgiving, reflection and confession, and preparation and petition. We begin in silence and thanksgiving. Next, we work together on some project like practicing music. In the course of the “band practice” there will inevitably be some conflict. After the band practice, we use the conflict as a teaching point to reflect on the teachings of Jesus. After discussion, we return to prayer and confess our weaknesses humble ourselves. This always ends in a wonderful time of worship and joy. We close by praying for the rest of the day and any people we are planning to meet that day.

The church time becomes a model of the daily cycle of morning prayer, daily work and evening reflection and worship. Our goal is to live this daily cycle every day and to teach this spirituality to our children.

So far, we are seeing spiritual growth both in ourselves and in the other folk who are taking this journey with us. We are hoping that as we learn this model through a few years of practice that we can bring our approach to the faith to those in the institutional church that are seeking to become and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.