Tensions in Church Planting

Six months into helping plant VOX City Church, in Cape Town, I realize that there are a number of tensions that must be negotiated in church planting.  Although I have written these as versus, in fact both sides are crucial to the functioning of a healthy church.

Organic vs Institutional:

Every church has a structure, whether you acknowledge it or not.  It is impossible to have a purely organic church.  Negotiating this tension means making sure your structure works to create the church culture you want.  The structure (institution) must facilitate not detract from an organic, relational life of the church.

People vs Programmes:

This one feeds off the previous one.  Some churches are so busy with programmes that even though they would hold up community as a high value (I mean who wouldn’t?), effectively people are so busy running the programmes that there is no time in invest significantly in the lives of others.

On the other hand, some more organic churches would almost seem to regard programmes as evil.  This is an over-reaction to the unhealth seen in the above situation.  At VOX City Church our aim is to have only a small number of programmes, to do them well and in such a way that we serve people rather than drain them.

Effectively this intentional programme-light model frees our people up to pursue significant relationship within our church community and within the wider communities in which we live.  I would guess if you had to ask the people in your church why they struggle to build significant relationships both within and without the church the number one reason would be lack of time.

Gathered vs Scattered

The very nature of church (ekklesia = public gathering) means we must gather.  We can debate the form but we must gather, to encourage, challenge and remind one another of the gospel.  However, many churches have failed to adequately embrace the scattered nature of the church.  We are great at gathering – for Sunday services, youth groups, women’s ministry, Bible studies, church socials.

But we have not been as good as scattering together into our cities and communities.  Scattering to serve the poor, love the hurting, pray for our streets and neighbours.  Scatter to live out our faith before the watching world – not in our buildings but in their pubs. Scatter to eat together, play together, serve together and invite the unbeliever to join with us.

Mission vs Community

This is perhaps one of the most felt tensions in our church.  We place a high emphasis on community and also on mission.  If community is that important to the gospel (our 3 dimensions of the gospel), someone will say, then surely we need to invest time and energy in FIRST building up our community before we try to reach out to others?

The logic seems sound but the problem is, as with most of these tensions, when are the desired acceptable levels of community reached?  The clue is not to see community and mission as two separate activities.  Rather we are to pursue community, spending time together, loving, serving and gospelling one another in front of the watching world.  So instead of doing all our community life separate from the world, we are called to be a community and engage in community life whilst engaging with the world – at pubs, festivals, sports events, community clean-ups etc.

We can together become regulars at pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, sports clubs.  We are called to live our life together in front of the unbelieving world.  That is what it means to be light to a dark world.  The problem is most of the light only ever hangs out around light.

The choice is not whether to pursue community or mission but to pursue community whilst engaging on mission.

~ by John on July 2, 2010.

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