Sunday, January 11, 2004

My Blog has been clogged!

Wow, I haven't blogged in a while! I think there are four reasons for this:

1) The novelty wore off
2) The last couple of months have been very busy
3) I've been doing a lot of face-to-face sharing with people
4) I'm not sure that anyone reads this anyway!

Our Friday night "ekklesia" has grown and we are seeing some wonderful fruit in people's lives. Now we meet on Fridays and Sundays. Our Friday gathering is geared around mutual edification through the sharing of one-another's spiritual gifts. There is rarely an agenda. Each Friday night meeting has been different, but every one has been wonderful. We refer to our Friday night gathering as "TIC", which stands for "This Is Church". We are currently averaging 30 to 50 people in attendance.

Our Sunday gatherings exist primarily for the purpose of Bible teaching. We liken it to Paul's use of the hall of Tyrannus for teaching ( Acts 19:9). We refer to our Sunday gathering as "TAC", which stands for "This Ain't Church". Currently we meet at Alfy's Pizza in Marysville for "TAC".

Here is a document I've thrown together to explain to visitors what we're all about. It's sort of an FAQ:

A Community of Christians (aka Exploring Ekklesia)

Our Mission

To love God and love each other. (See Matthew 22:36-40)

Our Values

Our values flow out of our Mission. Everything we give value to should be examined to see how well it serves our Mission. As a result, the following partial list of values is broken into two categories:

Love God

Pursuing God
Worshipping God in all we do
Hearing God
Obeying God
Learning, knowing and doing God's word
Praying to God
Meditating on God's word
Being in the presence of God

Love each other

Proclaiming the Gospel in all we do (the "Gospel" is the truth that Jesus is Lord)
Invading and infecting society with the Gospel
Co-Laboring and participating in God's rule and reign (the kingdom of God):
Through building community
Through mercy
Through grace
Through compassion
Through justice
Through restoration
Through signs and wonders
Through spiritual gifts
By living Spirit-led lives
By seeking holiness ("Holiness is choosing obedience. Holiness is choosing to be separate from the world and it's sin.")
Seeking to build up, not tear down
Walking in integrity in our dealings and relationships
Living in relationships of mutual accountability
Giving generously to meet needs
Seeking unity in the Body of Christ without requiring uniformity
Identifying and reaching out to the poor and marginalized
Placing a high value on relationships, friendships and community
Being open and honest
Learning to love unconditionally and unfailingly
Being hospitable
Seeking other's benefit before our own
Making disciples through servant-leadership:
By seeking opportunities to serve, not to be served
By seeking to edify, not to control
By having a passion for other people's growth
By helping people recognize or discover their callings, giftings and visions
By releasing people to receive vision from God and then encouraging and
equipping them to fulfill it (preparing God's people for works of service).
Putting the needs and ministry of others before our own
Obeying, teaching and modeling all that Jesus command us to do.
Seeking transformation/Christ-likeness in ourselves and in each other.

Our Praxis

"Praxis" means "translating an idea into action", in other words, what we actually do to apply these values. The things we do and the way we do them should be reflective of our values. We must be willing to continuously re-evaluate how well our actions support our values and we must be flexible and open to adjustments. Listed below are some of the practical ways that we're applying our values.

Where we meet
Our primary place of meeting is in homes: The church met primarily in homes for the first couple of hundred years of its existence. Meeting in homes fosters a sense of intimacy, family and connectedness. If we have gatherings in locations other than homes, we seek venues that don't drain our resources or compromise our values of interactivity. See Acts 2:46-47, Acts 8:3, Acts 20:20, Romans 16:5, 1 Cor. 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1:2 and 2 John 10.

How we meet
We gather in open, mutually participatory meetings. We are moving away from being a passive audience that sits facing one direction listening to a sermon. We seek to be interactive and allow everyone to function in their gifts, for the mutual edification of all. Even when we have a lecture-style teaching, it is followed by open discussion. We are seeking to become less "organized" and more "organic". See 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. Note how often the words “one-another” and “everyone” appear in these texts.

Who does what
We do not recognize the division of believers into the two classes of clergy and laity. Although this has been the norm for centuries, it is not scriptural and ultimately undermines the "priesthood of the believers". Instead we desire to learn to function as a body that has many parts and is directly under the headship of Christ. See Eph 1:22-23, Eph 4:16, Col 1:18, Col 2:19, 1 Tim 2:5, 1 Pet 2:9.

Who's in charge
Our leadership structure is that of a plurality of elders (mature believers) who lead through service, example and supportive guidance. We do not practice a "top-down" form of church government. Elders have a God-ordained responsibility to provide protection, direction and correction to the church, but not to “lord it over” or exert control over other believers. Our elders are (hopefully) only visable because of the way that they serve, guide and lead by example. We recognize elders based on maturity, character and servant-heartedness, not on business acumen or credentials. Elders are accountable to the entire community, just as anyone else is. We do not view pastoring as an office or position, but as a function performed by those believers who are gifted in this way by the Holy Spirit. We view the functioning of all gifts (see Eph. 4:11-13 & 1 Cor. 12) as being necessary for the body to be mature and effective. See also Matt 20:25-28, Acts 20:17, 28, 1 Tim 5:17, James 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1-4.

How decisions are made
We endeavor to make decisions by Spirit-led consensus. We want to give everyone the opportunity to provide input on decisions. We are learning not to hurry into decisions, but to take time to pray together, listen together and follow the Lord's leading together. This only works if we are in committed, submitted relationship to one-another. See Prov 15:22, Prov 24:6, Acts 15, 2 Cor 8-9.

What we do when we meet
Our emphasis is on fellowship and building community: Really getting to know one-another and showing love in tangible ways. We encourage one-another to fully interact as the parts of Christ's body that the Holy Spirit desires each of us to be (see John 13:34-35, 1 Cor 12:4-31, 1 Cor 13).

We share the Lord's Supper (Communion) at nearly every gathering and we do it as a full "pot-luck" meal, just as it was done by the New Testament church. See Acts 2:46, 1 Cor 10:16-22, 1 Cor 11:18-34.

We recognize that worship is much more than musical expression; it is how we live our lives. We do, however, highly value musical worship and usually devote time to it. We are learning to not have one person in the role of "worship leader" but instead to follow one-another, as the Holy Spirit leads. See 1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 5:19-20, Col. 3:16.

We place a high value on learning the Bible together. When we meet for this purpose, we seek to be "active learners" not "passive listeners". To this end, our Bible teaching always has strong element of interaction and dialog.

We also tend to pray together a great deal.

What it costs
There is a cost to being a community of Christians. One must be open to having their presuppositions about church challenged. There are sacrifices involved such as giving up comfortable traditions, having to take responsibility to be an active participant instead of a spectator and laying down agendas and control issues. It means taking the risk of becoming known and being vulnerable and living out our discipleship together. It also means an investment of time. Community can’t be built on two hours each Sunday. Our gatherings tend to run longer (though people come and go as need be) and we seek out opportunities during the week to be with each other.

Our Goal

Our goal is to participate in the Great Commission by faithfully co-laboring with God in the expansion of His kingdom in this time and place where He has set us. We seek to reflect Jesus to the people, systems and structures that we come into contact with. Our hope is that those who come within our sphere of influence will know we are Christ's by our love and will be drawn to Him by the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: When do you meet?

A: Currently we meet on Friday evenings at 6pm and on Sundays at 10am. We refer to these two meetings as "TIC/TAC" (until we can come up with something better!).

"TIC" stands for "This Is Church" and is what we call our Friday meeting. The emphasis is on mutual edification through the sharing of one-another's spiritual gifts. No one person dominates the meeting. There is rarely a pre-planned format; we just go as the Spirit leads. We have seen great fruit from allowing the Spirit to control the agenda.

Our Sunday meeting is primarily geared towards Bible teaching. We call it "TAC", which stands for "This Ain't Church". We eat together and have musical worship at both Friday and Sunday gatherings.

Q: Are you against the "Institutional Church?

A: We don't spend our time taking pot-shots at the "IC". Our focus is on faithfully walking out what the Holy Spirit has put in front of us. Many (but not all) of us have come to a place of questioning the usefulness and biblical authenticity of many "traditional" church practices (I recommend Frank Viola's books if you want to explore this further - ). Our intent, however, is not to react against the "IC" but to explore, what are to us, new ways of being the church (based on very old models).

Q: Since you meet in homes, does that mean you're against church growth?

A: We are very interested in church growth, but our goal is to have many interconnected home churches that also come together for corporate teaching and worship gatherings. In other words, we hope to grow by dividing and multiplying; encouraging home churches to grow and split into new home churches. The eventual goal is that home-based fellowships are focused on reaching their immediate surrounding communities through relational evangelism. It has been shown over and over, throughout the world, that the most effective form of evangelism is church planting.

Q: If you don't have a Pastor, how do you keep from falling into doctrinal error?

A: Having multiple elders, being in submission to one-another and allowing dialog all act as a "check and balance" system. If you think about it, pretty much every cult has centered around a charismatic individual who demanded unquestioning allegiance from his or her followers (examples: Jim Jones, David Koresh, Herbert W. Armstrong, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, etc.)

Q: Who's your covering?

A: We can find no scriptural basis for the currently popular "covering" doctrine and so do not subscribe to it. Generally, what this question is really asking is "Whose authority are you under?" We can find nothing in the New Testament that teaches that believers should be under the authority of other believers in the church (here's a link to a more detailed teaching I've done on this: Biblical Leadership, Part 1). We would posit that we are all submitted to the authority of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to the scriptures and are also in submission to one-another. This is something we would be happy to discuss in detail.

Q: How do you do outreach/evangelism?

A: We view outreach as who we are, not what we do. In other words, we don't do evangelism programs. Instead, we are learning to become more a part of the culture around us (" the world, but not of the world") and to seek after relationships with unbelievers. So far, we've found it to be easier and more effective to invite a non-believer to a home than to a "church".

Q: What do you do with children and teenagers?

A: On the Friday "TIC" gatherings, our youth (12 and over) meet in a separate room and have their own fellowship. They are provided with an interactive Bible-based outline that guides them through a time of sharing and study. The youth take the responsibility to lead their own group. We do not currently have anything established for children under 12, but we're exploring ideas. On the Sunday "TAC" gatherings, we all (adults, youth and children) participate in the teaching and discussion. Additionally, our teens meet every other Saturday night.

Q: Do you accept tithes?

A: We don't teach tithing as a principle, but we do teach giving, as each is led by the Holy Spirit. Our intent is for as much of the money given as possible to go to those in need. When a need arises, we make it known to the community so anyone can contribute as the Spirit leads. Much of the giving in our community is done directly from the giver to the recipient. We also have a general benevolence fund. No one at this time takes a salary and we hope to keep it that way unless and until it is absolutely necessary to do otherwise.

Q: What's your view on the End Times/Revelation?

A: Members of our community hold different views on eschatology (the end times). We do not require adherence to a particular interpretation of non-essential issues such as this and we welcome the interchange of various views.

Q: What's your view on women in ministry?

A: Most, if not all, of our members fully support women in any ministry function. We would be happy to provide supporting information about this. If you are opposed to
women functioning in certain ministry roles (such as teaching) then you may be uncomfortable with what transpires at our meetings.