I am part of a community social enterprise in Warrandyte called Now and Not Yet Cafe inc.  It is a non for profit charity which was birthed about three years ago to serve the people of Warrandyte with the support of the Baptist Union of Victoria.  All of the profits of the cafe go back into the Warrandyte community.  We like to say that our mission is to ‘BE’ the presence of God in the community.  People say, ‘are you a church’?  Then they look for the stage.  Then they ask ‘what time do we meet on a Sunday’?  I say, ‘we meet everyday’.

We have ‘come out’ of the traditional understanding of  ‘church’.  However, the harder part is getting the church out of us.

Recently we have been working on language around what we are doing in this space and how others perceive us. We are still coming to a full understanding of what we are doing at NNY.  Still finding language.  It is deeply challenging, full of joy and sometimes a little frustrating.

Being a follower of Christ it is not about preserving the structures of the church but about staying to true to the message of Jesus.

Let me explain what we believe and then we can look at the struggles and unique issues that we face at Now and Not Yet Cafe.  To do that we need to unpack  personal bias and theologies or it will be difficult to understand.

Colossians 2:7 in the New Living Translation says:

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

What is the church? What is a missional church? What is an incarnational church model? All very catchy theological phrases.  What these terms do is give us language so that we can communicate our thoughts.  

What is a church anyway?  

Unlike some of my friends I do not have a ‘masters in church practice’ so I don’t pretend to be an expert. However, my understanding of the New Testament is that greek work for church is ‘ekklésia’.   Ekklesia means – ‘people gathered together for the service of God’.  It refers to the assembly or gathering together of the people of God.  It does not  mean a location, a denomintation or  building.  If so they would have used the word Synagogue.

My background is conservative pentecostal.  The church that I was most recently associated with, operated out of the  attractional church model.  This is where the church produces services that attract people to ‘come to them’.  It is about attendance and conversion.

I recently asked a pastor of a church of about 500 people if he personally knew any unchurched people.  He said no.  I said ‘what about family, friends’?  He said he doesn’t talk to them.   He replied: “I talked to our neighbours for a little while and asked them to a church service but they never came so I don’t bother now.  I am too busy”.

I am not suggesting that this model is wrong, but for me, I believe that Jesus model for doing life was to ‘go’ .  To be present in and participate in community.  The great commission does not command us to make converts of Christianity.  Instead, we are to make disciples of Jesus.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Difference between a Church and Disciples

by Joey Shaw

Convert Disciple
Converts follow a system Disciples follow a person
Converts build Christendom Disciples build the Kingdom of God
Converts embrace ritual Disciples embrace a way of life

Are we following a Church or are we following Jesus?  If we are following Jesus we need to look at his mission.  I am sure that there are churches who are already following the mission and mandate of Christ. Our community is attempting to reframe what our understanding of the mission of Christ has been, and what it should and could be.

What was Jesus mission:

The mission of Jesus was to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. Jesus’ mission was to save that which was lost.  This salvation and good news was and is directed toward every area of need, poverty, and problem of humanity.

Jesus makes his life a concrete parable about how to live in this world, therefore his teaching and life is our central reference point.

“He is our guide in how we stand with culture, how we stand against culture, and how we stand in service of culture”. Rohr

equal

“It is rather obvious that Jesus spends most of his ministry standing with the accused, the excluded, the unworthy, the so called bad people, the demonized.

It is actually rather scandalous how the only way he tries to change them is by loving and healing them, never accusing anybody but the accusers themselves.

His social program is primarily solidarity” (Centre of Action and Contemplation).

 

He said that that those who are well do not need a Doctor.  He came to the sick, broken and discarded.  This is who I believe we should be doing life with.

What is the Mission and Nature of the Godhead

The ‘Missio Dei’ is the mission of God.  The mission of God is to seek, save and redeem.

God SENT his SON, His son sends us.  We are a people who have been sent.

“As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Totally opposite to the attractional church model where the people are in a building – one location –  and they want people to come to them. Instead of being sent they stay with the herd.  Instead of  being sent, they nominate a few ‘missionaries’ who become  the ‘sent’ ones.  Every single Christ follower is called to be sent into the world.

What Is A Missional Church?
Karl Barth, proposed that both church and mission should be taken up into the missio Dei—the mission of God. Missions is not just a function or program of the church.

The Father sent the Son; the Father and Son sent the Spirit; and now the Spirit sends the church. “If the way that God engages the world is through incarnation, the we must become an incarnational people.”

Word became flesh and dwelt among them – full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit’. 

“Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him into the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing kingdom of God.”

Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church

“It’s not so much that the church has a mission, it’s that the mission of God has a church.” – Alan Hirsch

Incarnation:  a person who incarnates human flesh. 

Jesus combines humanity and divinity in one act.   He is divinity clothed in humanity. That is his great service to human history, and reveals to us our own task too. If God is a missionary God then we must become a missionary people.  If Jesus was incarnated  then we must become incarnational.

“We are meant to be a people who go in and love and grow and affirm people.  People who take the Gospel seriously who are willing to take it out and share it in an engaging way, in a friendly way, a way that makes sense to people round about us”. Hirsch

I would say that our community at NNY aims to incorporate both missional and incarnational church life – and is struggling to root out attractional and consumer mentality church models.  Our mission statement at NNY is to BE the presence of God in the community.

Both terms, as you know, are defined differently by different people.

As I understand the terms, missional church reflects the belief that God’s sphere of concern is not just the church, but all of creation.  The church, in missional theology, is God’s agent of transformation and healing for the sake of the world.

In missional theology, the gospel is a transformation plan, not an evacuation plan. It is focused not on airlifting souls to heaven, but on transforming lives so they can be agents of God’s will being done “on earth as in heaven” (source Brian McLaren). 

 

Problems that we have found

One problem is that you run the risk of  adapting an old product to a new market.  We recently got to a place where we realised that in our ‘core group’ we were just re inventing the wheel and not a very good one.  So we are revisiting what this core group or cheer squad looks like.

Let me explain.

There are four primary pastoral spheres of influence for us as a cafe that operates 7 days a week. We interact with:

  1. Staff – daily
  2. Volunteers – daily
  3. Patrons – daily
  4. Core group – weekly

All of these people are amazing beautiful souls.  Concerned for their community, inclusive, concerned for the environment and for one another.  The majority are not what you would call ‘churched’ people.  Our core group would have the largest percentage of members who have had churched backgrounds.

community

Our challenges lay in getting the churched people to understand incarnational mission.  The unchurched people get it.  They happily embrace community, service and shalom.  They are on a journey of spirituality and awakening that is different from church systems, dogma and history.  It is a very different dynamic.

These are people who would most likely never step foot into a church but are interested in spiritual things and resonate with the teachings of Jesus in the way that he cared for and loved people.

It is messy, joyful, wondrous and inspiring.  Very much like childbirth.  Do we get it wrong – yes.  Is it messy – yes.  Do we get impatient and clunky – yes.

Recently I was asked about our strategies and planning. This is how I replied.

“It’s a bit like standing in front of a freshly plowed field with handfuls of seeds that you are throwing out into the soil and the lovingly tend.  The problem is that you don’t know what seed you are throwing.  When the seedlings  burst through the soil and eventually bloom, it is like standing on the edge of that field and exclaiming.  “Ooh look, a sunflower, and over there some sweet peas.  Oh wow.. look lillies and roses”.

7437948-Cottage-Garden-Stock-Photo-english

All different, all unique, all with different biological needs, but each one celebrated and loved for who they are.

Yesterday as leaders we attended a conference with the Victorian Government on suicide prevention.  Isolation is seen as a leading cause of suicide.  Our cafe and places like it need to be places of safety, of community.  Places where people belong for who they are.  As I write this we are in the middle of brainstorming  a mission statement to go on the wall of the cafe.  This is so that people who come into the cafe can know what we believe.  It is also to remind us of what we believe and to hold us accountable.

 

 

WE BELIEVE

God is love

love is love

all lives matter

no human is illegal

you belong here

we were created to create

everyone has a right to flourish

women’s rights are human rights

injustice anywhere is

a threat to injustice everywhere

everything & everyone belongs

mental, emotional & spiritual health matter

we are all created equal

but the greatest of these is love.

 

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Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

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6 Comments on “What is Church Anyway?

    • Thank you my dear dear friend. It is a very public wrestle I know. I hide under the bed some days but there has to be more people than me wresting these issues. xxxx Love you.

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  1. OK I own up as ‘one of those people that have a Masters in Church Practice’. There is a lot to like in this post. The Church can have many forms. For so long we have been besotted with the Gathered Church, to the point where we have neglected the Scattered Church, where the main action of life is played out. The problem is that whenever we try to contextualise anything something is in danger of being lost. Does the Church in the coffee shop demonstrate the ability to discipline where necessary, are the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist incorporated into worship. And is Trinitarian theology taught to the church? Or is it simply a case of loving one another and hope the rest just happens?

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    • I’m so glad you joined the conversation. These are all great questions. Discipline where necessary – absolutely. This is the most difficult thing. There is a danger of people in this environment thinking that anything goes. This is not the case so loving instruction and firm boundaries are actioned regularly and are actually one of the best way of transformation and teaching. It is also the area that causes the most grief and frustration as it is in any setting where there are people.
      Eucharist – yes. If you count coffee and cake instead of juice and crackers. Trinitarian theology – of course – with our theological beliefs and backgrounds that is a non negotiable. Baptism – the river is across the road – very new spiritual seekers in this group but we are definitely heading in that direction – we might invite you to join us in the river Lance. lol

      I am not frightened of things being lost. Jesus is absolutely central to everything that we do. We are not so much contextualising as being if that makes sense. We are no different to the people that we were in leadership within the system. We are just more relaxed, experiencing more freedom, seeing more miraculous encounters with Jesus from people who are drawn to his love like moths to a flame.

      The most revolutionary effect is the sense that everyone belongs and everyone has a part to play. It is not a passive experience. If fact there is no room for passivity.

      We have a governing board of elders – all male of course. That is still a heritage from the modern church. The BUV have been incredibly empowering and supportive. You might call it an experiment or a fresh expression of the Gospel? Stay tuned. Come say Hi and have coffee Lance. xx

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