Monday, September 29, 2003

Our Sunday Field Trip Report

Yesterday was our first Sunday “away” from SPV, the church we’ve been part of for about 3 years. It was a strange feeling. On one hand I was relieved to not have to load and setup musical equipment, on the other hand we terribly missed being with our dear friends. It felt a bit isolated, yet peaceful. Hard to explain.

We took a nice walk around the neighborhood (awfully quiet on a Sunday morning!). Later, we hooked up with some friends and visited a church called Quest in Ballard.
Here’s the link to Quest’s website:

They’ve been together for about two years now and seem to have a congregation of about 100 people or so. What interested me (and the reason I wanted to visit) is the way they’ve structured their ministry. They renovated a building in Ballard and turned it into a coffee/espresso bar and cyber café called Qcafe ( In addition to being a nice place where people can hang out during the week, they also function as a non-profit community center which provides referrals to social services, teaches computer classes and has other services to the community.

So instead of having a building that sits empty all week long and is only used on Sunday morning, they use the facility to reach into the surrounding community, provide a non-"churchy" place for people in the community to hang out and generate revenue to boot. Then they also use it to meet on Sundays for “church”.

The congregation appeared to be about 80% young people – lots of college students. The pastor was an engaging young man named Eugene Cho.

The service itself was very traditional. 3-4 (moderately recent) worship songs, announcements, sermon, communion, blessing & dismissal. Apart from the hip & trendy espresso bar decor, it could've been any Evangelical church service. I guess I was a little disappointed that they weren’t as adventurous in their liturgy as they are in other areas. As I noticed some of the college students yawning and squirming in their seats 30 minutes into the sermon, I wondered how much more an interactive, dialogical approach to the service might have engaged them.

All in all though it was a great learning experience and a blessing. More blessings followed as we were treated to lunch and conversation with friends.

Not sure what we’ll be doing next Sunday, but this week we’ll have our first get-together to talk and pray about where to go from here as an ekklesia. The adventure begins…

Friday, September 26, 2003

Teaching & Learning

My friend Susie is a very experienced and gifted teacher. She works in the public school system and specializes in teaching kids who's second language is English, as well as kids with learning disabilities and other "at risk" factors. A few weeks ago she shared with me a paper that she had written on things she's learned about teaching. I was reviewing at again this morning and wanted to share some of her insights. Although these are written from an elementary school teaching perspective, I think they apply to any teaching/learning situation, including church.

Here are some of the things that she's learned:

* We ALL learn from each other.

* Literal translation from one language to another does not ensure meaning.

* The teacher is part of the learning process, not the dictator.

* In nearly all American school classrooms (and church sanctuaries! - DC) to this day, approximately 92% of the words spoken are by the teacher.

* Education does not exist in a vacuum.

* Education is a social phenomenon.

* Institutional change of any sort is very difficult.

* As a teacher of any student(s), the goal of instruction should be to help facilitate 'negotiation of meaning' -- coupled with what it is the teacher wants
the student(s) to learn in the lesson.

* Another instructional strategy would be the use of a "Book Club".
Assign students a passage, or book to read, and the teacher facilitates discussions with GROUPS of students on topics such as "What did you feel, hear, relate to...?"

* The teacher must talk/discuss with the students the subject matter about
every single lesson because it is difficult to know/assess what the students are learning at any given time.

* The teacher has got to learn to shut up!

* The best learning is interactional, relational.

* All learning takes place in socio-cultural interactions.

* Teachers MUST provide a rich environment for learning that allows for
"negotiated interactions" between and among learners.

* Social interactions are of the utmost necessity in any learning situation. Acceptance of individuals and groups is a priority.

* All classrooms should be set up as "Dialectical": Everybody in the classroom
is sometimes a student and sometimes a teacher.

* It is healthy to change the physical environment of the classroom every so often.

* Make sure that learning is fun!

* The teacher modeling the expected behavior of the learner can have a
long-lasting and skill solidifying effect.

* It is great to remember that we are all life-long learners!

What I distill out of these nuggets are some basic truths, such as that learning best occurs in a relational, interactive, social environment and that learning requires the teacher to be secure and humble enough to facilitate and not dictate.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

The Church with no Name

I was talking with some friends yesterday, and also with Carla last night about some of the details that surround starting a church, such as what to call it. The church name I like is "The Church That Meets at So-and-so's House". Has a nice Biblical ring to it. Perhaps, I thought, if there are multiple churches meeting at various houses, when they join together for corporate celebration they could be called "The Church with no Name". But of course, that's a name, isn't it?

Anyway, this morning I received an email newsletter from The Ooze (a "post-modern" Christian site - and was intrigued by the title of the message: "A Church with no Name". It's a good read, so I thought I'd share a link to it:

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


I had a lovely day today, hanging out at my son's school and engaging in some deep conversation with some of the other parents (who are also good friends). This is probably a no-brainer, but seeing friends frequently and really spending time together is such a core component to relational community.

I'm reading a book called "The Church Comes Home" by Robert & Julia Banks. Robert Banks is Professor of the Ministry of the Laity and Executive Director of the De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, has been involved in the church renewal and reform for over 25 years and is considered one of the key figures in the "house-church" movement.

A couple of paragraphs about community really struck me deeply today:

"God has called us to unity, to love our neighbor as ourselves. This requires a costly commitment to hang in there and work at issues unless it becomes obvious that there is no achievable solution. Unfortunately, when disagreements occur, we usually try to deny the conflict, exclude the offender from the group, or withdraw ourselves. All of these behaviors are detrimental to community. True community only develops as we learn to face the reality of our differences and work through them together."

"Other 'problems' arise from the varying perceptions people have of their role in the group more than from particular doctrinal or practical matters, with what goes on in their imaginations and feelings rather than what goes on in their thoughts. The chief hindrances to our becoming a genuine Christian community lie within us: in our basic attitudes, expectations, and motives. These are so intrinsic to our way of looking at others that we are often unaware of them. Yet they govern our relationships with each other, the way in which we seek to serve our fellow members, and our view of what our home church should become."

Banks goes on to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions, but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight - begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community, the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse."

"Every Human dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Calf Path

This is a poem I came across in the forward of Frank Viola's book "Pagan Christianity" (a somewhat disturbing yet thoroughly enjoyable critique of the historical roots of many modern church practices). The poem is entitled "The Calf Path" and the author is Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911).

The Calf Path

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way.
And then a wise bell-wether sheep,
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep;
And drew the flock behind him too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about;
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed - do not laugh -
The first migrations of that calf.
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
that bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load,
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half,
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this,
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout,
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went,
The traffic of a continent.
A Hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind,
Along the calf-paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach -
But I am not ordained to preach.

The Alter of the Future

“God is about to do incredible things!” “God is about to do a new thing!”

These quoted phrases, or ones like them, are proclaimed week after week, year after year by Charismatic pastors, preachers and prophets.

As a Charismatic Christian, I’ve been hearing proclamations of an impending incredible “thing” for twenty years. In fact, we seem to have heard it, and repeated it ourselves, for so long that we live in a continual state of anticipation of an event (outpouring, revival, etc.) that is always just around the corner – just over the horizon.

Often these statements of what God is about to do are linked to exhortations for the church to do something: Get a hold of a particular truth, have faith, pray, give money, follow the leader; all because “God is about to do a new thing! Something big is about to happen and you don’t want to miss it!”

My question about this is what about the old thing? What about the thing that occurred with a cross and an empty tomb? What about the ongoing, day-to-day, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, work of being a disciple? What about being ekklesia (church)? What about abiding? Attending to the task at hand? Here. Now.

In his epistles, I see Paul exhorting the churches to grasp a hold of truth, to have faith, to pray, to give, to follow Christ, not because of the new thing He’s about to do, but because of what He has done. Not because of what we’re about to become, but because of who we are, right now, in Him.

That God can, and does, do new things is irrefutable. That’s His prerogative and an aspect of His wondrous creativity. But how much of our hope and excitement is in the “thing” we believe God is about to do, and not in God Himself?

In “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis devotes Chapter 15 to the folly of living in the future. Lewis puts forth that man lives in time, but is destined for eternity, and that therefore, God wants us to be concerned primarily with two things: Eternity and the Present. “For the Present is the point at which time touches Eternity.”

Lewis goes on, through the devilish character of Screwtape, to point out the futility of living not in the Present, but in the Future: “…thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it (the Future) is unknown to them (mankind), so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the future is, of all things, the thing least like Eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we (‘we’ being the demonic antagonists of Lewis’ book) have given to all those schemes of thought…which fix men’s affections on the future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the Future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead.”

The demonic advisor Screwtape then gives this insight into how the forces of darkness would like to see men and women occupied: “But we want a man hagridden by the Future – haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon Earth…dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the alter of the Future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”

God’s very name, “I Am”, speaks of the Present. What is He doing right here and right now? What can we do in order to join into that? Here. Now.

Exploring Ekklesia

The Greek word “ekklesia” is translated as “church” in our New Testament Bibles. It literally means “the called out ones” and was originally used in Greco-Roman culture to describe an assembly of city council members – those who had been called out to perform a task and given authority to do so. Another way of defining “ekklesia” is as “a group of people on a mission”. Here’s a more expanded definition of what I believe “ekklesia” means today: “A gathering of believers, with Christ at their center and the Bible as their doctrinal authority, who are intent on glorifying and experiencing Jesus through their relationships and the mutual sharing of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.”

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (ekklesia) and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” – Matt. 16:18

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” – Matt. 18:20

Many believers all over the world have been, or are beginning to, reevaluate what it means to be “ekklesia”, and to strip away centuries of man-made traditions to get back to the essence of what “church” really meant to the early Christians. This “back-to-basics” way of being the church is referred to by names such as “Relational Church”, “Simple Church”, “non-Institutional Church”, “Open Church”, “House Church”, “Believer’s Church”, “New Testament Church”, etc.

Regardless of what it’s called, the basic elements are pretty consistent. Listed below are some of those elements. I would encourage you to look up the scripture references given:

· Meeting in houses, as the New Testament church did, or in other locations that don’t drain resources, but foster a sense of family and connectedness.
(Acts 2:46-47, Acts 8:3, Acts 20:20, Rom 16:5, 1 Cor 16:19, Col. 4:15, Philem. 1:2, 2 John 10, etc.)

· Gathering in open, mutually participatory meetings, rather than as a passive audience listening to sermons. Moving from an “organized” to an “organic” form of Christianity. (1 Cor 12:4-14, 1 Cor 14:12, 26, Eph 4:16, Eph 5:19-21, Col 3:16, Heb 10:24-25, 1 Pet 4:10-11, John 13:35, etc. Note how often the words “one-another” and “everyone” appear in these texts.)

· Moving away from the unscriptural division of believers into “clergy” and “laity” castes, which has been the norm in church for centuries, and instead learning to function as a body that is directly under the headship of Christ. (Eph 1:22-23, Eph 4:16, Col 1:18, Col 2:19, 1 Tim 2:5, 1 Pet 2:9)

· Having a plurality of Elders (mature believers) who lead through service, example and supportive guidance as opposed to the “top-down” leadership style of the one-man pastoral system which is not present in the New Testament. Pastoring is not an office or position, but a function performed by those believers who are gifted by the Holy Spirit. (Matt 20:25-28, Acts 20:17, 28, 1 Tim 5:17, James 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1-4)

· Endeavoring to make decisions by Spirit-led consensus, which means giving each person in the fellowship the opportunity to provide input and learning to
wait in prayer together, listen together and follow the Holy Spirit together, seeking to learn God’s council and the depths of His heart for the church and the unsaved when making decisions. (Prov 15:22, Prov 24:6, Acts 15, 2 Cor 8-9)

· Placing an emphasis on fellowship – really getting to know one-another and showing love in tangible ways. Encouraging one-another to fully interact as the
parts of Christ’s body that the Holy Spirit desires each of us to be. (John 13:34-35, 1 Cor 12:4-31, 1 Cor 13, etc.)

· Using finances in biblical ways such as giving to the needy in our communities and helping one-another out in times of difficulty. (Acts 6:1-7, Acts 11:27-30, Acts 24:17, Rom 15:25-28, 1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8:1-15, 2 Cor 9:1-12, 1 Tim 5:3-16, etc.)

· Sharing the Lord’s Supper (Communion) as a meal, as it was done by the New Testament church. (Acts 2:46, 1 Cor 10:16-22, 1 Cor 11:18-34).

· Studying the Bible together in an interactive, participatory dialog as opposed to a lecture-style monologue. (Read Acts 20:7-11. Note that in v. 7 where it says that Paul “spoke” or “preached” the actual Greek word is “dialegomai” which means to dialog, to discuss, to reason together. This is consistent with the interactive
teaching style of that day.)

· Prayer. Learning about what’s going on in one-another’s lives and taking time to pray for each other. Expecting God to move powerfully and speak to us as a

· Worshipping God, not just through the musical performance of a few, but with anyone being capable of being the “worship leader” at any given time (1 Cor 14:26, Eph 5:19-20, Col 3:16). Exploring expressions of worship with the idea of learning to follow one-another as we corporately follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. Including, but also going beyond music and learning together to worship God with our whole selves and entire lives.

· Evangelism, which takes place not through programs, but through pursuing relationships. Not by inviting people to a church service but by inviting them into our homes.

· Including the children and youth fully in the fellowship so that they can be mentored and fed along with the adults.

· Church growth through multiplication, not addition. In other words, as a house-based fellowship grows it should split (like a cell) into two house-based fellowships. These fellowships continue to “multiply through division” as new members are added. The eventual goal is that house-based fellowships are focused on reaching their immediate surrounding communities. These house-based fellowships periodically come together for corporate celebrations.

To express these elements can be misunderstood as being critical of those who whole-heartedly serve God in the institutional church, and that is not the intention. Neither is this a judgment against the body of Christ. Rather, this is a reevaluation of systems, structures and traditions that have been added to the New Testament picture of ekklesia.

Do we know how to do all this stuff? No! Are we going to make mistakes? Definitely! Remember, this is an exploration, which implies stepping into the unknown.

The costs of exploring “ekklesia” are many. First off, it entails moving into unfamiliar territory (Heb 11:8). It means having our presuppositions challenged (1 Thess 5:21, Acts 17:11) and sacrificing comfortable traditions and practices. It requires having to take responsibility to be a minister and to bring something to give of ourselves and our gifts for the body, and no longer just passively receiving. It means taking the risk of becoming known. It means dying to self: Laying down our agendas, control issues and need to be the center of attention so that the Holy Spirit can lead and Christ can be formed in us corporately (Phil 2:1-4). It means a commitment to helping each other surrender our lives and pursue the depth of God’s heart through sacrificial love (1 Cor 13). It means taking the risk of being misunderstood and labeled as “difficult”, “independent”, “rebellious” or worse. It means making a commitment of time because we are called to be a community (ekklesia) and community doesn’t happen with an investment of two hours on Sunday. It happens by being part of each other’s lives and walking out our discipleship together.

We are beginning this journey of discovery, having just left a pastoral position at a Vineyard church on Sunday. I'll try to use this site to document thoughts that occur along the way.