Thursday, November 03, 2005

Three Sides To Every Story

I had been invited to speak at a local Bible College yesterday, and, as all we are doing out here is, essentially, responding to whatever occasions we are invited to, I agreed and we went. One of the staff team there knew of me, and had heard that we had come from a church context that had flown in the face of both the massive decline in church attendance across the UK in general and the more specific almost total absence of the 20- and 30-somethings from the UK church scene. She wondered whether I would share with them how we had done it; I would have about twenty minutes to talk to them…Given the constraints set me, I gave it a go. Here are my notes:

  • It would appear that God has created humanity in such a way as to relate to each other in communities of different sizes. Biblical examples would include the family/clan/tribe structure (Old Testament) and the home/synagogue/temple structure (New Testament). But we see the same essential structure in almost all cultures that have existed – except Western Modernity (and by extension whatever is now coming out of the other side of the breaking-down process of individualism…)
  • The different sizes have different purposes: the family provides intimacy and security; the extended family or clan provides communitas (see recent post) (e.g. when an Amish community comes together to build in a day a barn that will last a generation); and the tribe is ideally suited for war (e.g. when the West Coast Eagles tribe and the Sydney Swans tribe clashed recently, through their chosen champions) and celebration (often following, or on the anniversary of, a victory)
  • In re-building community in a post-community context, the church must recognise the above
  • The church must also recognise that the expression of life at all these sizes must involve relating to God (UP e.g. Jesus teaching his disciples to pray); relating o each other (IN e.g. Jesus building community with his disciples); and relating to outsiders (OUT e.g. Jesus’ community was initially sent to look for the lost sheep of Israel; later to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth)

I then went on to describe three churches I have known personally, in terms of these three relational dimensions:

  • Church a. UP: out-sourced to a professional (the minister, who prayed and preached – the only active involvement of the congregation was to sing hymns); IN: non-existent; OUT: out-sourced to professionals (missionaries – out-sourcing expressed through prayer- and financial-support). (At this point I pointed out that Bible Colleges produce the professionals churches out-source to…)
  • Church b. UP: owned by the people; IN: owned by the people (when our family moved there, we had more invitations to people’s homes in one month than we had had in twelve years at church a.) OUT: out-sourced, but including individuals within the community engaging in ‘home mission’; occaisionally owned (e.g. several men came to, or grew in, faith through a weekly volleyball game, for a season), but not as primary OUT expression across the church.
  • Church c. UP: owned; IN: owned; OUT: owned (as community activity; as opposed to [just] something we support each other to do on an individual basis, a concept definitely owned in church b.) note: Church c. is not perfect by any means, including struggling with the weight of inherited church practice. Examples of owned OUT, specifically pertaining to young adults, included football teams (7 or 8, playing in local league; 30% Christians/70% friends they are discipling; also praying for each other’s circumstances before matches – UP – and eating together – IN); also, involvement in the planning and servicing (e.g. stewards) of local community festivals, including prophecy tents next to the tarot/horoscope tents, and healing ministry tents next to the crystal healing energy tents…
  • Essentially, the lesson we learnt in Sheffield was to build extended-family communities each with a clear OUTward vision, that were large/small enough to engage with their vision (but also related to smaller and larger expressions of community within the church)
  • I closed by noting that an interesting property of the triangle is the fact that it is infinitely reducible within itself; to do so infinitely isn’t helpful as a diagnostic tool, but to do so once is helpful: i.e. there is an UP-IN-OUT triangle within the OUT corner of the triangle. The UP of OUT would include things such as signs and wonders; the IN of OUT is the understanding that we engage in mission more effectively when we do so together, not alone; the OUT of OUT would be expressed by finding the one individual who opens up their whole community to you (such as Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, which results in the whole village coming to him and asking him to stay with them for several days…)

Okay, I may have gone a little over my 20 minutes…but this is, in my opinion, pretty fundamental stuff. It’s not rocket science (though the final point probably requires a bit more thought than the rest). But it isn’t the common-knowledge it ought to be. And I couldn’t think of anything more important to tell them, in answer to their question…


  1. Nice summary Andrew. All makes good sense to me. I look forward to what you and Jo will have to say to our church leaders next weekend when you have a few hours!

  2. Brian1:09 am

    Agreed, a good summary. For those of us who are blessed/challenged to be part of church c it's a continuing evolutionary process to find an effective balance between those three aspects. But then life/church/church life were never meant to be boring. (I'm sure that's mis-quoting someone, but can't remember who!)