Saturday, September 26, 2009

Transitioning Church Models

There are many traditional expressions of church in the US that are attempting to transition to becoming more organic and missional. Instead of calling them transitional churches, I like to call them “transfusional churches.” The reason for this is that the idea of transitioning implies simply modifying a model or a system, and we have found that this would be useless without a transfusion of healthy DNA. The problems our churches face in the West are not structural, strategic or mechanical. And a mechanical fix is not a fix at all. The problem is a lack of life in the core, or perhaps a more diplomatic way to describe it is that they are lacking some healthy DNA. So every transition begins, not with a structural change, but with a transfusion of holistic and healthy disciples infused with the DNA. We want to see them fruitful and multiply enough that there is a growing emergence of health in the church body. Rather than simply use up those disciples in meeting existing ministry needs, we challenge church leadership to release some of them to start groups, perhaps even outside the walls of the congregation itself.

Think about the importance of DNA with me for a moment. When I speak, I sometimes ask if anyone in the audience would be willing to show us their DNA. Usually people laugh at the thought and someone eventually stands up with arms extended and says, “Here it is.” You see, DNA is in almost every cell of your body. If your DNA was somehow corrupted with a mutation, how would you fix it? You can’t conduct surgery on every cell of your body. You can’t just take a pill and hope that will fix things.

Changing your church’s model or mechanical structure is like trying to take a pill to fix your DNA. It can’t be done. But if we could somehow fix someone’s DNA, I would imagine we would need a more viral approach that brings change one cell at a time. To do that you would first need to introduce a healthy DNA cell that is capable of reproducing. The change would be microscopic and slow to begin with, but as each generation of transformed cells reproduces it would build momentum and change would eventually be noticeable.

Once healthy discipleship is underway, leaders can be trained not to get in the way of the growth in disciples, leaders, churches and movements. This is not as easy as it sounds because most leaders have been trained for decades in a certain way of thinking. At CMA we even talk about going through “detox” at this stage, because we have created such a dependency in our churches that none are self-sufficient or self-replicating. This detox creates a death. We must die to ourselves, to our past, and to our future ambitions in order to be born again to a new way of working. I sometimes even suggest that churches have an official funeral service in which the leaders go first. Everyone then has a sense of anticipation of what God may birth (It is also a good indicator of the willingness of people to change). Lest you think this too harsh, realize that this is the entrance requirement Jesus demands of any who would follow Him.


James said...

"The change would be microscopic and slow to begin with, but as each generation of transformed cells reproduces it would build momentum and change would eventually be noticeable."

DNA tranfusion can be a painfully slow process. Given our western penchant for results - PATIENCE is becoming a precious Kingdom commodity. Fires require patience to build. Are we willing by faith to gather the necessary pine cones, twigs & kindling for future revival? Today is our opportunity to patiently pioneer, feeding the flames of future generations.

Tagbo {grimtraveller} said...

Sometimes, I get a little weary of the word 'model'. Forgive me on that one, I've heard that word so much recently in relation to church. As I've looked around England and the US of A and various parts of the world that have aped the 'models' that the Western churches have given, I can't help being a little cynical/suspicious. It seems to me that we are all too often trying to come up with “new forms” of church in the race to stay relevant and interestingly, that seems to run parallel with a relaxation of previously held standards that were, for centuries, not up for debate. Now, in some instances, that has been a good thing because some previously hard line stances may not only have done more harm than good, but may not even stand up to closer scrutiny.
But I digress.
Is it naive to suggest that there weren't really different models of church as recorded in the pages of the NT ? Different accomodations, yes. Different circumstances and maybe certain emphasis at times, yes. And the way some churches came into being were a departure from the ‘norm’, yes. But actual different models ? I just don't see that. A thought struck me a while back about Paul. Before he ever began planting ekklesias, he had been part of three churches {Damascus, Jerusalem, Antioch}, a point I've never heard anyone raise. But it's significant. When he & Barnabus had to go to Jerusalem and thrash out the vital Acts 14/15 matter, the issue at hand was about Jews and Gentiles and whether or not Gentiles had to become Jews, in effect. What was not up for objection or debate was any 'model'. Why ? Simply because, having been part of three {and importantly, one was outside of Israel}, he knew what to look for and how to go about forming it and Barnabus, having known how to get things going in Jerusalem for years, they together weren't into starting off some new fangled thing. It’s not like they decided to do something different or create something that was a departure from what they knew.I think it's fair to say that churches then all followed a similar pattern. It was the way the Lord interracted with them {ie, the assemblies} and led them, and the way the believers responded that made for particular distinctions. For example, the Jerusalem church had a great feeding programme going at one point, while the Corinthians and the Thessalonians really looked out for their Jerusalem counterparts when famine hit that region. So different churches may have done different things at different times, but essentially, followed the same model. Paul and Sosthenes actually tell the Corinthians this.
The final paragraph of "Transitioning Church Models", hits the nail firmly on the head. Simplistic perhaps, but if we keep the narrow focus of a life led by the Spirit of God, then the true expansiveness of life lived with him reveals itself and maybe, just maybe, stops us in our tracks and our man made structures/models. Chaos with God isn't really chaos at all if he's really leading the way...

Anonymous said...

Tagbo insists that there were no competing models of church in the NT. But in fact, he identified one of them in his response. The Antioch model was the one Paul was part of, as he indicates. However, there was a Jerusalem model of church led by James that was very different from Antioch. The churches that Paul planted were different from the Antioch model especially in regard to the role of the Holy Spirit. See Ralph Martin's work on this subject for more details.