Total Church 07

Continuing discussion of Chester and Timmis Total Church: a radical reshaping around gospel and community

Chapter 5 is on Church Planting

This is another good chapter.

The authors begin this chapter by arguing that church planting is where mission and community intersect and represents the core missionary activity of the church.

Since we are in a missionary situation all we do must be missionary – and engaging in church planting is the best way to keep in missionary mode. Mission is to be done by a community of believers in their local context.

They quote Lesslie Newbigin here on how the local authentic believing community is a powerful hermeneutic of the gospel. It is not through evangelistic campaigns, programmes or techniques that mission will advance, but through local communities of Christians in which ‘the reality of the new creation is present, known and experienced.’

NT models of church planting are described by the authors as pointing to the sorts of ideas that inform the missional practice in The Crowded House:

–          Networks of reproducing communities

–          Meeting in homes, not purpose built buildings or with big budgets

–          Small communities facilitating discipleship and pastoral care, not one big group

–          A simplicity that protects against a maintenance mentality

–          A style that is participatory and inclusive

–          A strategy of reproduction by regular division

–          Keeping a ‘first generation’ freshness by ongoing low cost church planting

–          Where church planting is part and parcel of normal church life

I like a lot of this. I’m part of a church plant and it does give a whole new dimension to church compared to being part of a well-established church. It does give a great sense of community and of shared mission. It does foster a high level of participation and involvement. It is enjoyable – it’s hard to get people to go home after our meetings on Sundays!

However, it also differs from Chester & Timmis’ model. We are part of a large denomination. It cost a lot to set up with a leader, evangelist, two homes and so is expensive, although we don’t have the cost of a church building since we meet in a secondary school.

In terms of reproducibility I think the model used with us is pretty high cost.  This means few churches will be planted – so its not surprising that our church plant is one of the very few genuinely ‘fresh starts’ in the PCI in the last 100 years. IMHO what is needed is low cost, experimental and reproducable models of church planting something like what Chester and Timmis outline. These sorts of experiments need to be risked and not stifled in loads of bureaucracy.

What do you reckon, could such forms of new churches work within a bigger denomination?

What are the pros and cons of such networks of ‘low key’ house churches in an Irish context?

One things seems clear – as Christendom contracts and denominations decline, older models of institutional church are dying. The sorts of ideas Chester & Timmis are talking about will probably become more and more relevant.

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5 thoughts on “Total Church 07

  1. Patrick, I think Church in Ireland for too long has been a spectators sport. I think it is right do move the dominant picture of church from pews facing the front to chairs that face each other. People are not longing for “Church” but relationships. Among the conservative evangelical churches in Ireland, the small amount of growth that is had I think is through transfer growth, not conversion and I believe this is because we are stuck in our huddle and not deeply engaging in relationships with non-believers with gospel intent. Those who by the grace of God who are coming to know the Lord Jesus as King are being saved into a picture of Church that is inward focused and takes them from there non-believing communities where we could be working with them to engage with Gospel intent.

    I think a great starting point for Churches would be to move the focus of “Church” from the Sunday event to life lived during the week as Timmis and Chester suggest.

    If a church could start developing and investing in a powerful networks of community groups that were the heart of Church, living ordinary life together with gospel intent, then I think we would start to see growth spiritually and numerically.

    I think the total Church model for Church gives time for relationships and it gives time for mission together.

    I do still see a place for the Sunday service, but not as the focus or where everything happens but as a time to refocus and unit again, to be equipped and sent out again.

    It is time to focus on developing gospel communities in our Churches, that speak the gospel into each others lives and into the world that we are not hiding from.

    Not pro’s and con’s I know, but I would love to here everyone elses pro’s and con’s as I still have to think about it.

  2. Welcome Michael
    I agree – we need an ongoing rethink in how we imagine church. Christendom models that revolve around a one week event are very deeply ingrained in Ireland. I’m not sure of all of the details of Chester & Timmis model – would the community that people long for actually be disrupted by dividing small groups? Is it a model that can accommodate true diversity or one that suits singles and younger generation? I don’t know, but I do like their thinking and willingness to put ideas into practice.

  3. Its the reproduction bit i struggle with. Ive heard of this happening in two places, tim kellers network (where there is pleanty of moola) and 3rd world countries where sometimes churches are planted, pastored and divided into another church in less than a month. In the latter it seems that actual theological training is minimum but faith is rampant.. I just cant see any denomination getting behind the latter and as patrick has said the money aint flowing for the former. I think we may need to look to our brothers across the world to lead the way on this one. We will learn from their success and failures. Again i still long for the day when some chinese dude walks into the local at home and attempts some form of evangelism.:)

  4. In our wee church we are thinking together in a mission team what is means in practice to think of ourselves as a ‘community of missionaries’ – mission and church planting from the ‘bottom up’ rather than the ‘top down’. Seems to me that this sort of perspective will be key in a post – Christendom culture.

  5. I agree Patrick. As Ed Stetzer puts it, the “clergyfication” of churches is now I think hampering a more organic happening of mission and Church planting. Instead of those up front doing everything, those in Church leadership are to shift there role to an equipping of all the saints to go mission together.

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