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Ekklesia

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First gathering wrap-up

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The last time we gathered last year, it filled up our lounge and we had a hunch that we wouldn't be able to keep meeting there due to size. So this week we gathered at Crave Cafe on Wednesday evening and it turned out we were right: we wouldn't have been able to fit this in our lounge anymore.

We had 30+ people come to our "taste-and-see" styled night where we just wanted to be ourselves as a church expression and see who might find a place that feels like "home". Together we enjoyed some great coffee (thanks Heather, the great Crave barista who hosted us!), our team led us all wonderfully as we worshipped together, prayed and listened to the Spirit for a while. I spoke on "learning to walk: community and Kingdom" and to finish we came to the communion table.

It was pretty amazing to see something that has lived for so many months inside our hearts, minds and journals start to come out and become tangible, and it feels like the start of something good.

We want to say a big "thank you" to our growing team who are making all of this happen, and to those who are supporting us. We are so grateful.

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Why plant a church? Part one, context.

Planting a church means placing ourselves into the context of the grand narrative: the Kingdom of God.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you just don’t know why you are doing what you’re doing anymore? Ever lost the essence, or maybe forgotten the context? Have you ever spent weeks, months or years working on something to find out you left the “main thing” behind you and now you’re just holding onto something that is peripheral, or a side-issue?

As I look at the current narrative of the Church, I can see many places in its story that this is happening to us. It seems some of us are a forgetful bunch. Others of us are an uninformed bunch who have never known the true essence of what this is supposed to be all about, never been told the real climax of the story of God, and as a result, the part we play in it now.

For example, perhaps you look around at the pain and brokenness in this world and ask the question, “What is the point? Where is God in all of this? I thought He was supposed to be good, and powerful…?” 

Good question. 

What you’re asking there is the core essence of the narrative about God. So let me take a moment to tell you the story of God engaging with this world – key phrase there, engaging. 

The macro-narrative of Scripture tells us of a God who engaged with the world that He had created right from when it broke itself, up to now and will continue to do so into the future. The agenda has always been to get it back to the way it was right back at the very start: perfect. Perfect in relationship with this God, with itself and with it’s surroundings. And this story of God, this narrative of shalom, has a climactic moment when the renewing (note: renewing – making things new again) activity of this God takes on skin and bone in the arrival of Jesus Christ.

Right, let’s take a breath from that big moment, settle ourselves down again and pull out some specifics. How exactly has God gone about renewing creation?

In the Bible is a group of four books called the Gospels. These four books are the collective record of Jesus ministering in the world. Now, let’s say you were to read them and ask a great question like, “What was the core theme of Jesus’ ministry?” As a friend put it to me the other day, what is the “essence of the essence?” Well, over and over this is what you will keep finding: a phrase called “the Kingdom of God”

God’s perfect rule was breaking into the brokenness of all of creation through the words, miraculous demonstrations and deeds of Jesus. Jesus was restoring things back to the way they were always meant to be, putting things back to rights as they were once created to be. The renewing message of the Kingdom was demonstrated by Jesus when He:
healed the sick;
calmed a storm;
preached about a new hope;
cast out demons;
restored outcasts to right-standing in a community;
broke barriers of clean/unclean, man/woman, Jew/Gentile;
miraculously fed multitudes;
taught on a new way to be human in this world;
ate with outsiders;
and many more things all to demonstrate what it looks like when the Kingdom of God breaks in and collides with this broken world. The Good News of the Kingdom is the climactic crescendo, and Jesus played it out for the world to experience.

But then He did something crazy. 

At the beginning of the book of Acts, we see how He tagged in a bunch of people, effectively saying: You do this. You must keep sharing this message and doing this mission.

Enter: the Church. 

This group of people became His body, empowered by the very same Spirit that had empowered Jesus. With the cry, “Jesus is Lord!” they continued and radically laid their lives down to further His message and the mission of bringing the Good News: “the Kingdom of God is near! Turn and see!” 

Our story has become too small and stingy. The narrative of the Kingdom is not us just having faith here and now to go somewhere later when we die. The Kingdom narrative is one of our new Spirit-filled lives engaging with God’s activity in this world now; our faith invites us to live this ‘God is making all things new’ hope.

Two millennia later, the group of people with this message and mission is now us. Sadly, it seems that most of the time we seem to sell ourselves short. We have made Jesus’ message a bit easier to grasp, and just stop at “us” and our “personal salvation” which is all about having faith to get us to heaven – so no wonder we ask questions about the brokenness of the world, and wonder where God is. Our story has become too small and stingy. The narrative of the Kingdom is not us just having faith here and now to go somewhere later when we die. The Kingdom narrative is one of our new Spirit-filled lives engaging with God’s activity in this world now; our faith invites us to live this ‘God is making all things new’ hope. The narrative we are invited in to join is: “the Kingdom of God is near! Turn and see!” 

We are invited to see this message and mission for all it’s worth and join in. Christ has started a re-humanising movement: He spoke on this new life, He showed what it looked like to live aware of it and He showed how to live it once you have encountered it. The life of the Kingdom is near, as near as your next action, or words you speak, or prayer you pray. With those things you can help see the Kingdom colliding into this present reality.

So is this the narrative of God you know? 

Planting a church means placing ourselves into the context of the grand narrative: the Kingdom of God. It’s this message of the Kingdom lived out by the words we speak, the prayers for miraculous demonstration and the deeds of doing good works that we start our answer, because it is the context in which Jesus started the Church.

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Why plant a church? Part two, embody.

Planting a church means embodying the Kingdom of God; making the invisible, visible.

Imagine if every idea ever had, just stayed that: an idea. 

What if every thought never left being thought? 
What if every concept never saw it’s way further to the finished project? 
And what if every vision was never bought in to?

Ideas stay ideas unless they progress from a thought, or a concept, or a vision, to some kind of reality. They need embodiment, they need to take on flesh; they need incarnation.

In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, we find these incarnational words about Jesus:

“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”
_ JOHN 1:14

God’s plan of restoring creation was no longer just an idea – it had become a reality. The plan had literally taken on “flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.” Or as Paul would later put it in his letter to the Colossians, 

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.”
_COLOSSIANS 1:15

Christ is the tangible, touchable, real incarnation of God’s redemptive plan, putting flesh on all the Divine ideas and prophecies of Israel’s history, bringing all of the invisible and ambiguous things of the Kingdom of God into reality: 

Here. And. Now.

Wait. Now?

As Christ-followers, we become an incarnation, embodiers of the Kingdom agenda to make all things new.

Yes, because as you might recall from part one, Jesus’ ministry and mission didn’t stop in the grave with Him. It rose with Him and was passed on to His followers, to continue going to the ends of the earth. As Christ-followers, we become an incarnation, embodiers of the Kingdom agenda to make all things new.

Which brings me back to my opening thought. Imagine if every idea ever had, just stayed that: an idea.

Now, let’s take that thought and team it up with this movement of Jesus.

God’s redemptive work in the world isn’t just an idea anymore, but it’s movement could stall at you. Will you, or will you not, choose to further embody this movement of the Kingdom? 

Planting a church means embodying the Kingdom of God; making the invisible, visible. Anytime a group of people gather in a community to embody the agenda of the Kingdom of God, we have a church, and when it’s viewed like that, a church is always a good thing. The world needs more of these incarnational gatherings – gatherings of people who are being a visible sign of the invisible God in their communities, cities and ultimately all of creation. 

 

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Why plant a church? Part three, gather.

Planting a church means gathering as a community focussed on the Kingdom of God; coming together to witness, enjoy and express, for the sake of the world.

I’m not such a fan of shopping malls, but I quite like weddings.

“What do those two things have to do with each other and why would you put them together in a sentence like that?”

Because I think those examples are the way in which we can “go to church”. Think about it for a second:

We can come together like a bunch of individual consumers looking for the things we need, 
…or…
we can come as a bunch of friends and family, looking to enjoy the party.

I have stopped calling my Sunday church experience “a church service” for the same reason I’m not a huge fan of shopping malls. I don’t like thinking that I would go to a Sunday church experience and my motive is that I’m after something.

But a gathering is different, because you see, gathering is the word used to describe what church was all about right when it started. Ekklēsia is the Greek word that we find in our Bibles for this assembly of people we now know as “church”. Ekklēsia wasn’t a Christian word, made-up by Christians. It was already around in the Greek culture.

Ekklēsia was when the Greek state would hold a huge meeting to sort something big out. It would be a large, almost chaotic affair, with everyone all having their turn to share. This gathering was considered to only be the ekklēsia when it actually assembled. If there was no one there, there was no ekklēsia. This is the term Paul later used to describe those who gathered in the name of following the risen Christ together.  He used a word that spoke of coming together, meeting, engaging with the current agenda and then leaving to live out what had been decided.

Which brings me back to weddings. 

Church gatherings are to be the same. We gather, not because we are the point, but because Christ is.

I quite like that when I go to a wedding, I’m not the point. What joy there is to be found in arriving with all those different friends and family members, all dressed up looking dapper, and enjoying the day together. The focus is the couple who are in love and the centre of the attention. We are just there to be the gathered ones who have come together and met, to witness the various parts of the ceremony, sharing in the joy and celebration of the occasion and eventually head home inspired from it all. 

Church gatherings are to be the same. We gather, not because we are the point, but because Christ is. We come together to celebrate this life being found in being together in His Kingdom. The point of arriving isn’t to just get “what I want”, but it’s to enjoy His presence in our midst, to engage again with Jesus’ message and mission to this world, to be reminded together what we are here to be and do, to enjoy each other’s stories and company as fellow Christ-bearers and eventually head home inspired from it all.

So, what’s this got to do with church planting, when I already have a gathering I go to?

I’ve seen weddings that reflect the couple getting married with individuality and flair. I’ve seen enough Westfield’s across the country to know exactly which shops to expect in them: Stevens, Just Cuts, Footlocker…

Gatherings take on a life of their own. They have nuances and style that reflect their makers, where as services just copy-and-paste what the franchise wants done, or what will be successful. If it’s a gathering that we are to be, not a franchise, then we must enjoy the rhythms we find ourselves in as a collective of individuals from our lives in the world, use the creativity we have been given and come together to love God, love each other and enjoy Him forever the way we would like to for the sake of our community and city.

Planting a church means gathering as a community focussed on the Kingdom of God; coming together to witness, enjoy and express, for the sake of the world. It means there’s a gap that’s been spotted – maybe a location, or a people group, or a set of values that aren’t being embodied yet – and to build that kind of special one-of-a-kind gathering of people. The kind that if it never happened, it could never be said to have – just like the Greeks used to say. 

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Why plant a church? Part four, mission.

Planting a church means joining in the missional activity of the Kingdom of God; a broken world, restored and renewed, becoming fully alive.

What would church be like if all we ever did was “go to church”?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was issuing a manifesto for what his followers were to be and do. To sum up this job description, he used an interesting word picture:

“You are the salt of the earth…
… You are the light of the world…”

Think about this for a second. Jesus is explaining two functions which exist within a context: salt does something, light does something, and they are both to be done for the sake of the world. Salt exists for use in something not of itself; it brings out flavours and preserves. Light is the byproduct of itself; it illuminates and warms. These functions sound a lot like something the Church is to do. It was said by William Temple that “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” The Church has the responsibility to exist for whatever is outside of it, and it is to go there to meet the need it finds upon arriving.

That could be poverty, pain, abuse,or  loss.
It could be the excessive, lonely, depressed, or confused.
It might be white or brown, man or woman, child, teen or adult.

This means that those who follow Jesus aren’t to just be good at going to church, but they’re to be good at being in the world too. ... We are to exist for the sake of the world, and that means getting spent on it.

This means that those who follow Jesus aren’t to just be good at going to church, but they’re to be good at being in the world too. Just as salt isn’t much use if it stays in the shaker, and light isn’t any good at illuminating if it gets covered over, so Christ-followers aren’t fully alive if all we do is stay good church-attenders. We are to exist for the sake of the world, and that means getting spent on it.

Spending ourselves on the world takes a lot:
It takes risky sacrifice and radical generosity.
It takes mucking in and rolling-up-the-sleeves just as much as it takes talking and planning.
It takes the adventure of entrepreneurism as much as it takes good ol’ fashioned service.
It takes using our abilities and gifts and other times it takes depending on God for the gifts only He can give.
It takes all of us, and it takes all of us again and again and again…

But what a cause to spend ourselves on: a broken and hurting world that needs to experience the flavours and illumination of the Kingdom of God. This can be as close as a neighbour, the local school or a prison, and it can be as far away as another country and culture all together.

Planting a church means joining in the missional activity of the Kingdom of God; a broken world, restored and renewed, becoming fully alive. The Kingdom of God extends further when another group of people set up shop in a community, find the need, and start to get to work meeting that need – whatever the sacrifice and cost that may be involved – all in the name of the risen Christ.

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