The Crowded House Day 4

We began the day with a prayer meeting at Andy and Judith’s place.  And I really enjoyed it – it was simple, highly missional and yet also deeply caring – when we prayed for people, we prayed for real people not items on a list.  I think this is what happens when people who are on mission together pray together.  I have always noticed how much deeper our prayers have been on short term mission trips.  This was similar just without the intensity of a short-term mission.

I then had a fish and chips lunch (huge piece of  fish!) with Steve Timmis.  We got it from the Green Steps Fish Shop (run by Steve’s son Joel) – really good chips – make sure you get some if you are in the Sheffield area.  After lunch Steve and I had a long walk through a really beautiful park (forgot the name) up to  good vantage point where we could see a good deal of Sheffield.  I feel I must say it again, Sheffield as a city is a lot more beautiful than I imagined.  Interesting fact: there are more trees per person in Sheffield than in any other European city.  No that shatters my image of a dirty industrial city!

We spent most of the way discussing the validity of a large group gathering.  Steve was very patient and thoughtful in answering my many objections and fears.  The 215 network of which Steve is a part, is run by a slightly different model to the network I am spending time with.  The 215 network has a regular, once weekly Sunday gathering in a building which is the culmination of everything that happens in the gospel communities.  Rather than the main event from which everything else works out from. (Micheal have I said that correctly?) Most things happen in the smaller gospel community gatherings but there is a monologue teaching which happens on the Sunday and which is then worked out the rest of the week.

(My reflections on all these discussions are coming in my next post.)

After the walk we returned to Steve’s house where I finally and actually met Micheal Tinker.  I have been talking with Micheal between blogs and e-mails for about a year now.  So it was strange to actually meet in person someone with whom you have already had so much interaction with but never met.  I have to say it was a huge disappointment – Micheal was nothing at all like the mix of Brad Pitt and Albert Einstein that he describes himself as… but a nice guy nevertheless.  He has promised to show me some real ales sometime… I would be insulted if I even thought SA beers were anything to be proud of.

After the 215 elders meeting, I went up to the Manor to spent some time with Adam and Amy who lead the gospel community up there.  Apparently it is one of the worst estates in Britain no matter what rating system they use.  Lots of family issues, substance abuse issues etc.  I really enjoyed my evening with them.

Whilst I was there I got to meet Mark who is a convert of the ministry of the gospel community on the Manor.  Mark told us his story and some of his struggles.  This is probably one of the highlights of my time so far – just hanging out and encouraging one another with the gospel story as it becomes and is becoming our story.  I was trying to encourage Mark as he shared how he struggles sometimes to feel close to God, but somehow I think it him who encouraged me most!

What was really great was to hear Mark talk about the life and ministry of the gospel community without any of the technical and theological jargon we often use.   This is a guy who is not university educated, does not have a polished ideas about the doctrine of the church and has probably never attended a church planting conference but yet he gets what church is all about, because that is his story…  I could not help feeling that we need more Mark’s in our gospel communities.

I went to sleep praising God for his goodness and buzzing with ideas about church in Cape Town…


~ by John on July 15, 2009.

11 Responses to “The Crowded House Day 4”

  1. John I asked Steve to take you on ‘the walk’ and to see how your bladder holds out! We were driven out to a pub on the hills overlooking Sheffield (and I agree – what a beautiful city). We had lunch and an Ale and then walked back to town … no toilets!! In the end I was desperate and asked some old men at a bowls club if I could go there … then our conversation was a little more relaxed and I changed back to pale yellow from apple red!

    Thanks Steve

  2. Yes, what I love about missional gospel communities as the main expression of church is that those who are converted through this community, already have built into their new identity, an understanding of Church which is healthy. They immediately see their new ID as corporate and missional.

    I was also greatly encouraged in Sheffield to see the quality of the guys, mostly young, who were leading these communities – they were basically doing their theological training ‘on the road’. They were more equipped, in my mind, than most who have had standard theological training and a number of years of experience in ‘conventional’ church ministry. Just my impression.

  3. Sorry Col,
    Don’t think we went on the same walk – we did not go out of town, no ales, and no bladder problems.

  4. As for comment #2 – there definitely is a real quality here in guys who are elders and Gospel Community leaders. And I agree with you that on the whole they are better equipped than many who have had standard theological training. Because they are thinking mission…

    But one of the real struggles TCH has is that of finding leadership (what church does not). And this is a major part of their experimenting with the concept of a gathering. As I understand it this has influenced the thinking of both the 215 networks regular Sunday gatherings. And the Edge’s new approach of once fortnightly gatherings in which there is more indepth teaching by a few recognised elders. Some of the Gospel Communities are then able to be run by those who are not recognised as elders but who are able to run a GC overseen by elders…

    A bit of a different take but a real attempt to develop young leaders and give them a go. And from what I can see it is working and a wise way to go with these young guys.

  5. Hey John. I’m quite curious about how the whole large group gathering vs small group gathering works out. In reading Total Church, I thought it sounded like a great idea for a small group model, but a bit of an attack against medium to large churches with small groups. There seemed to be a lot of anti-institutionalism in there which muddied the waters.

    Perhaps you could shed sem light?

  6. Hi Clint

    John asked me to nip on here and write a quick reply. I’m one of the elders at the same church as Steve Timmis.

    It comes as a shock to most people, but Steve has actually be involved in what I would call at least a ‘medium sized church’ (although compared to some its probably quite large!) of about 170 people for a few years now. So he was writing Total Church while involved in such a church. So I as far as I’m aware its not an attack on medium/large churches with small groups per se.

    In my experience the problem comes in the direction of things. So to put it positively what we’re seeking to do is to see our primary identity as being in the ‘gospel community’ (the small group) – that’s where mission/discipleship (which flow in and out of each other), teaching through the week (Deut 6 style, plus some more formal get togethers if appropriate), baptism, lords supper happen. We then have a larger identity as we gather those GC’s together on a Sunday. But we see that meeting (or ‘gathering’) as a get together of those GC’s rather than the other way round (GC is splitting down the sunday meeting or church).

    It really is about the way round you look at it, but in experiencing both the traditional evangelical model (in SA as well as the UK) and what we’re doing here, I feel it is that that makes all the difference…

    In terms of ‘anti-institutionalism’ I guess it depends how you look at it. We’re committed to everything being up for grabs except the gospel. There may be particular ways we choose to express things at the moment, for instance having a large gathering rather than simply household churches, which we had previously. But all those decisions will hopefully be informed by mission, rather than ‘that’s the way we do things’.

    So if by institutionalism you mean an organisation that has some things not up for grabs other than the gospel, then speaking for myself at least I would have a problem with it…



  7. Thanks Micheal! Clint let me add my few thoughts in here.

    The point is really about re-thinking what is the most effective way to be church. That is the key idea – church is an identity not a building, an institution or a meeting. Church is who we are. Most evangelicals would agree with this but in reality our structures preach a different message. Our structures say that church is all about the gathering. And for most of us – the big gathering. That is what our practice says, no matter we claim is our theology.

    What is that identity – a community on mission together. If that is true then we have to ask that question – what structure best enables us to do that? For some reason evangelicals are convinced that getting as many people in the same room, facing the same way on a Sunday morning is the best way to express that we are a community on mission together.

    I am not convinced. I agree with TCH, that the best way to be a community on mission together is in the small. Where you
    a) are able to be a community together,

    b) you are flexible enough to be in the community – actually getting to know your neighbours, involved in schools, sports clubs etc,

    c) you are not so busy/burdened with church programmes that you actually are able to invest in relationships together in one anothers homes and invite the community into your home. Most evangelicals are too busy running the church to know their neighbours, on a mission to serve and bless their communities, through long-term, low-key shared life together, and yes proclamation wherever possible.

    d) you are able to be a community on mission and do mission through community. In other words the gospel is not an individual thing – we invite them to come and be a part of a community, to see our lives lived together, to see that the gospel is good news because of our community which is one of grace, love and serving one another.

    I am not saying you cannot do any of this in a big church setting. But I am convinced you just make things more difficult for yourself. I have actually become more skeptical of the value of big gatherings than either Steve Timmis or Micheal. Perhaps I have experienced too many of the dangers of big gathering to really be a fan…

    And for the record I am anti most institutionalism that I have found and experienced in the evangelical church. Because I think it has entrenched traditions, is inflexible to respond to opportunities to serve and bless the community, is very concerned to make sure its system/denomination/organisation is working well/growing etc. We expend all our energy running a church and seldom make an impact on the dying world around us.

    What I want to see is small communities of light scattered throughout the community, who are there to serve the community, without the burden of holding up an institution, without the drain that excessive church programming often is. A community who lives as a family in and for the community around them.

    Ok, I am getting carried away… not surprising that really.
    Do you want to come back to me on any of that?

  8. Hey guys, thanks for the feedback. I’ll admit I’m still more certain of the big church gathering on Sunday, primarily so that the word may be preached, and then small groups gathering afterwards to pray, encourage, hold to account, discuss and debate the word, and plan and strategize mission.

    However, you have given me some great stuff to think about, because I do believe we do spend too much time running a church (read: organisation) and too little time doing church (read: worship God with our lives).

    I must say that my best experiences of gospel community have been the large gathering where the only aim is to make Christ known by preaching God’s word simply and clearly. What happened though, in this case, is that ‘programmes’ and small groups and other ministries developed naturally as Jesus became the complete focus of the church, so that everything was done so that Jesus Christ might be more fully known, which I am sure is what you mean by ‘mission’.

    Interestingly, our pastor has just returned from South Korea. That country has experienced revival in the last 20 years. In Seoul, there are 12-15 churches of 50 000+ (and that’s just members), and God seems to have used these mammoth gospel communities to sway a nation. But these churches also build their ministry on small groups of 6-8 max, where pray is paramount, and sharing in each other’s lives as Christian people is all important.

    Keep up thinking Biblically about church!

  9. Hey Clint, you must have posted just as I logged on, so here is a nippy reply.

    Who says the Word cannot be preached in smaller groups? What is preaching – we cannot read monologue every time we see preach in the Bible – often it is in fact dialogue or when we do see monologue it is often to unbelievers… The monologue has its place but it is not the sacrosanct entity it is often made out to be.

    The goal is not gospel teaching but gospel living – I think that the large group does not facilitate that as well as a small group. And I have seen more gospel living here than anywhere else, people here are genuinely on mission together, serving their community and loving one another, because of the gospel.

    So if you can preach in smaller groups (assuming you will agree with me) then why do we need the larger group? One of my big issues with large group meeting is that people will always defer to the “big show” no matter what we say, because bigger is better and more legit. Where I think TCH is right in that in order to reach the goals of being a biblical community smaller is better. And bigger gatherings must always be secondary to that…

    By the way I think Micheal and Steve’s side of the Network have been able to get bigger gathering right so far because they have such a strong culture of small, before they went big. But in SA we have such a strong culture of big, I do not think we will ever get small right as long as there is such a strong big gathering in the life of the church…

  10. by the way… an interesting thing we’ve observed is that attendance at the gathering isn’t as much as it could be… we may need to actually be encouraging people to treat the sunday gathering as a bit more important! Sign of people’s primary identity?…

  11. […] 9. The Crowded House Day 4 […]

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