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Friday, September 09, 2005

church planting in a chaordic age

“We need to watch the margins of our society - the inner cities and the rural areas where creative approaches are emerging, often born in despair. And so when desperation forces us to let go of the old ways, God can bring new life.” Anne Wilkerson-Hayes. "New Ways of Being the Church." GOCN Vol.13, No.2, June, 2001, 7

Most of you are familiar with the terms modality and sodality. Ralph Winter used those terms to talk about two different manifestations of the Church…

Modality is more generalized, sodality more specialized. They are like the two phases of water.. liquid and solid.. Solid is more reliable.. liquid is more flexible and dynamic… but both are water.. both are the Church.

In these days we are in a place where sodality is becoming more critical. Our experience, and the experience of others (Robbymac for instance) has been that we birthed a group that had a short (2 years), flexible and strong life.. It was definitely church for us and for others…

Because it was not set in stone .. was not founded within permanent structures.. and because it was missional.. it included believers and unbelievers. Ralph Winter would describe it as sodality...a temporary missional structure. It was church. We had no other focus for our "church" experience, though we have relationship with other believers in the larger network, both local and non-local.

What works better for me is metaphor.. like the mushroom. A mushroom is a temporary manifestation of a hidden network.. it appears suddenly.. then disappears as suddenly and mysteriously.

Yet the hidden network remains… and may even be growing and expanding.

The disappearance of the mushroom does not mean the network is unhealthy. The short life of a “mushroom” church doesn’t mean it was not significant in the economy of the kingdom. In reality, if we had attempted to preserve the group life beyond its time, we would have become controlling and manipulative and territorial.

We have to find new ways to validate these temporal manifestations of hidden life. If we do not find ways to validate them, we won't resource them, and they will not grow and thrive and appear as often as they should. And those involved in the ones that do appear will feel like second class citizens.. they will wonder if they have done something wrong. They will wonder if they were not quick enough, caring enough, smart enough or spiritual enough to create something permanent. When the mushroom disappears, they will feel they have failed.

Perhaps they did exactly what they were called to do. They did it imperfectly, but they did it by the grace and call of God. And when the purpose for the group no longer existed, it dissolved back into the soil from which it came. Rosemary Neave writes that,

"This is where neworks as a structure come into their own. They reflect a commitment to connect rather than to control; to share information rather than to ration it; to disperse power rather than gather it into the center..." (From "Reimagining Church")

It's not going to be easy to convince denominational leaders that this kind of kingdom experiment can actually be a valid expression of "church planting," particularly if the leaders/planters are bi-vocational and non-ordained. But these kingdom initiatives, led more by the Holy Spirit than by a committee, may be some of the most powerful expressions of the life of Christ we will see in coming years. In a letter on the ANZAC list last year, Doug Orton wrote,

"We are hell-bent on salvation through "praxis"! There has to be a system, a process, a strategy, someone or something we can import to knock the socks off our city... We are eaten up with praxis – ‘Are you purpose driven? Or seeker sensitive? What model or method are you using? G-12 for your groups? Or some other model?’ I am not opposed to more effective praxis - but what we have ignored is "ethos" - that is, the texture, the intangible, that element which is almost indefinable, that which is difficult to quantify, but arguably impacting. It has to do with "how" to do "praxis" - the atmosphere, the attitude, the interior."

Finally, Gerard Kelly in Retrofuture writes to remind us that the seeds of the future can seem tiny and insignificant (rather like mustard seeds)... It is going to be difficult to find resources for these new initiatives so long as the money continues to be poured into buildings and mortgages. But as the aging boomers die off, a shift will gradually occur.

"Experimental groups seeking to engage the Christian faith in a postmodern context will often lack the resources, profile or success record of the Boomer congregations. By definition, they are new, untried, relatively disorganized and fearful of self-promotion. They reject the corporate model of their Boomer forebears, and thus do not appear, according to existing paradigms, to be significant. But don’t be fooled. Somewhere in the genesis and genius of these diverse groups is hidden the future of Western Christianity. To dismiss them is to throw away the seeds of our survival."

Click here to read the original article at the Resonate website.

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