If you have not grabbed a cup of coffee and clicked over to “Missional Church Planting” and read Gailyn Van Rheenen’s “Equipping Kingdom Communities On Mission with God” blog post, you should. It is robust, refreshing, and challenging. As a result, I have comprised “A Church Planter’s Response.” This response is fairly raw, and originally, I recorded it as a “voice recording” on my iPhone with the “QuickVoice” app.
I appreciate your willingness to share in my rough draft reflections. To read more of Gailyn’s work, also check out Missiology.org.
“A Church Planter’s Response” to GVR’s “Equipping Kingdom Communities On Mission with God”
“If equipping is basically about spiritual formation and skill, then what does that mean for me as a part of the Mission Alive fellowship or the Mission Alive network? One of the things that I think it means is that I am to be a person of prayer. Prayer becomes a necessity in the midst of my own spiritual formation, and also as a way of discerning and asking the Lord to reveal potential disciples. Part of my role is to be discipled by Jesus, and if I am to be like him, I am to be with him. One of the ways I am with him is in prayer. So then, prayer is transformational for myself and others as I listen to the Lord in discernment for myself and others. I’m reminded of John 17 where Jesus prays to the Father, but he also prays for his disciples for their own formation and he prays that they might be sent out.
Also, I need to be a person of the text. In the text, the living God reveals his Word…reveals his words, and I come to know him as I take the narrative journey in Him through the Spirit in the text. If I am to be discipled by Him, then I am in the text not just to prepare lessons, seminars, sermons, or even to engage in conversation with others; although all of those are extremely important and formative as I spend time in the text, but I’m in the text to know the text, to chew the text, to digest the text, to become the text as I spend time with Jesus getting to know Jesus…hearing, reading, and telling His stories…connecting to the overall narrative of God throughout the Scriptures…revealing deeper and deeper insights and a deeper and deeper relationship with God in the Spirit through the text. I’m a person of prayer, and I’m a person of the text if I am to be equipped in my own character. I am discipled by the Discipler.
There is a skill development piece in this as if spiritual formation and skill development can even be separated. What I find in my own journey is as I am attuned to the frequency of God and as the Holy Spirit transforms and awakens me to his ways, skill comes along with it. As I grow to listen to God, I am growing as a listener to other people for I am in search of God for and around other people. As I grow in prayer with the Lord, I am growing in an attunement to the needs and desires and brokenness and joy found in others. And so, as I am tuned to God’s frequency, I can’t help but be tuned to the frequency of those around me…especially those who are not following him. As I find peace and identity in my relationship with God, peace and identity flows in my relationship with others. And so, as my character…as the Lord forms my characters…as a son and as an embracer and proclaimer of King Jesus, I’m more comfortable (not in an apathetic, lackadaisical, or lazy way), but I’m more at peace in my relationships with others and in the opportunities God brings my way to initiate relationships with new people…I’m more confident, bold, and at-ease in those relationships, because I’m living out of and into the identity of a son of the King and as that relationship grows with the King, I can’t help but proclaim his Kingdom. As the Psalms say, he is slow to anger. He is abounding in love. He is not willing that any would be lost, and would not be a part of his kingdom. So, there is definitely…not just this synergy, but perhaps this interwoven tapestry formed through Christlike character development. As Hirsch says, we are growing into “Little Jesuses”, and as that happens, I can’t help but grow in skill. To include some Breen, It is the imitation piece that innovation flows out of…perhaps. That as I imitate more and more, I’m now innovating in step with the Spirit, and I can’t help but be more and more skillful in my equipping…or in the equipping the Lord leads me into. There is some John 10 here…some John 13 here…John 14, John 15, John 17…texts I can’t seem to get away from! In that equipping piece, the Christlikeness and the growing into the image of the King…looking and living more and more like the King…under his reign and rule…I can’t help but be like the King, and his skills are love, faithfulness, commitment, steadfastness, relationships, tenderness, forgiveness, leaving the 99 for the 1, peace, Fruits of the Spirit…ultimately laying down his life for his friends willing that none would perish but all would join his Kingdom and accept his sovereignty…resurrection!
And so, perhaps, as a Mission Alive network participant, that is my response to the “equipping/kingdom” piece. However, what are we equipping? We’re equipping “kingdom communities…communities…communities…” You know, unfortunately in some ways but not in others, this would be the piece that I have probably struggled with the most. We come into this with notions of ecclesiology that primarily have been…we’ve either experienced up to this point…mostly in our childhood, and even, some of the ecclesiology we’ve been taught but haven’t necessarily experienced…yet. It’s kind of a tough thing to navigate, and it’s really easy for me (and still is sometimes) to get lost in the structure of things or the non-structure of things, and to become an advocate, one way or another, and that’s fine. Structure is unavoidable. Even not having structure is a form of structure. However, I think we have a lot to learn from the text and folks like Hirsch, Breen, Frost, Cole, and others who have pointed us in the direction of this metaphor of the “family” and of the Greek, oikos, maybe even what we would call the “household.”
For the longest, I tried to develop a community that…I guess…primarily was strong on attendance. Buildings could fluctuate, because I felt like we could meet anywhere, and cash…well…we never really had a lot of it, so it was always a struggle, but attendance really seemed to be my main area of focus in the “ABCs.” And so, if we had 40 people, that was okay, but I was really upset with myself, because we didn’t have 60. And if we had 60 people, that was better than 40, but it wasn’t 80. And if we had 100…wow…that’s 3 digits, but what about 125. What about my buddy’s church who’s pushing 200? What about the Sunday when we had 116, and the very next week had 35. And so, attendance (and specifically Sunday worship attendance) really became an identifying marker for me as to whether or not I was doing a good job…whether or not I was being successful and it took its toll. It took its toll on my personality. It took its toll on my mood. It took its toll on my work ethic. It took its toll on my identity.
So then, we transitioned that structure into house churches. It was fine. We were focusing on smaller groupings of people, so there was some more intimacy…more relational development…more confession…eating together…sharing together…communing together…meaningful and good times together. But we were still structurally focused, and what we found was even though we met in a home, the meeting was still the primary ecclesiological definition. In other words, even though it was in a house, the meeting was still our working definition of “church.” And along with that, “attendance” still held too much sway for me.
I remember times when we were struggling to pay the rent, and we would meet at my in-laws house (in particular)…large enough living room to accommodate everybody, and we would eat lunch and we would make a morning/early afternoon of it, and those times, as I look back on them, are very special to me, and I am very thankful for those times. I kick myself, because I wish I wasn’t so focused on attendance that I felt like those times weren’t “good enough.” Now, I look back on those times with deep fondness, because the oikos was together. Even though I still struggled with “attendance” during those times, more often than not, I lived into some joy. I wasn’t so worried about whether the sermon came off like I’d planned, the songs sounded good, and the service flowed. I’m not sure, in and of themselves, that those things are bad or wrong, but we were enjoying ourselves as a family…kids participating…meal involved…talking and praying around Communion. The family was really learning to live together under the rule of the King.
I think back to our baptism time in July of ’05…just in a home singing, praying, talking, laughing, crying, worshipping, barbecuing, swimming, baptizing. It was the oikos living together, serving together, caring for one another, praying for neighbors, inviting neighbors. Man, it was rich…rich times, and I’m wondering if when we talk about “equipping kingdom communities…” that’s what it looks like.
It starts with a few. It really does. As we are being equipped by the Lord and by mentors…by people who are discipling us…as we are pushing deeper into prayer and as God is revealing who those folks are in our lives who might be discipled by us, it just starts with a few. It starts with 3…maybe 12 (biblical numbers…lol!), but from those few, an oikos of Jesus develops by the Spirit…by the Spirit, because an oikos going after Christ for the sake of the world can’t help but be attractive. It can’t help but be attractive and draw folks into it and into the One who resides as King over it…who participates as King in it. And so, I long for the oikos. I pray that the Lord would use us as he grows an oikos…a family…a household of brothers and sisters in Christ in which all colors, situations, and life stages of the rainbow come together under the lordship and kingship of Jesus and live for Him, for each other, and for the world. Equipping. Kingdom. Communities…who are on Mission.
These kingdom communities are on mission, because the kingdom is ever-expanding, ever-breaking in, ever-moving forward, because this is an offensive kingdom…a “the gates of Hell CANNOT prevail against us” kingdom…because the King is on the offensive…because the King while we were yet sinners died for us…because the King has shown us what it looks like to be human…because the King is redeeming all of humanity back into how he intended from the very beginning…because the King and his love for all of creation CANNOT be contained, held back, or controlled, because the King reigns…because the King rules…because the King has and continues to overwhelm us…lavish us (and by us, I mean the world) in his love!
I’m also a person of mission. I’m a person of mission, because the Lord is discipling me to then disciple others…the Lord is forming me to then form others through me…with me. This is not a personal, solo endeavor or transaction, but this is always for the sake of others; and so, as I am equipped in character…growing in Christlikeness, I am equipped so that I may be sent out as an equipper to join God in his work of connecting with, growing, and bringing the ‘Tiffanys‘ into his Kingdom reign and sovereign rule…into life with and for the King. So, I am a representative…not just a representative…I’m a son of the King in search of and proclaiming this Kingdom so that others might embrace his lordship, his kingship, and kingdom.
And so, we are on mission for the sake of our neighborhoods…for the sake of our neighbors…for the sake of our schools…for the sake of our cities…for the sake of the world. So, we willingly venture into dark places. We love unlovables. We touch lepers. We cure sick. We heal broken-hearted. We open blind eyes. We live that Luke 4 life. We live that Matthew 11 life. You tell me: The blind see. The deaf hear. The mute speak. The dead are raised. What do you think? We are on mission: out and deep…out and deep!
So, as a participant in this network of equippers…kingdom community on-mission starters or maybe…discover-ers. This would be my response. Peace.”