Immediately apparent when commencing to plant ministries in Italy is that all people use the word church, but rarely anyone uses it biblically. The very idea of church here is something ‘private, cold, judgmental, obligatory, an event, passive, traditional, cultural, heavy, & Roman’. Therefore, we have a great crisis when it comes to the understanding of what actually constitutes a church.
This is one of our major concerns, in that, if we enter a city and open a traditional church structure, it will be viewed through the cultural lens and automatically disregarded. Similar to the seasonal circus that comes to town, people in the general culture will ask, “What’s that?” And others will naturally respond, “Oh, I think that’s one of those foreign churches, evangelista or something…” Instantly, a perceived level of distance and safety is established.
However, if there are people who they know and have had experience with, the conversation might go a bit differently,
“Who are those people?” they might ask.
“Oh, that is the group that Daniele is a part of… you know Daniele, the mechanic that helps a lot of people with their cars over on Viale Venezia… His wife teaches some language classes and they run activities in the park with the kids.”
“Ya, that’s right — a classmate I went to school with works for him. It’s a bit surprising they opened a business in this crisis!”
We are not seeking to plant more institutions in post-catholic Europe, but rather, we emphasize planting people who are energized, holy, and evidentially part of the New City and the Christ culture. If the people of our Italian cities will find a refuge in Jesus, then, it will most likely come from people who have lived in their city with them through all of its positives, negatives, ups, and downs. These embedded believers do familiar-looking things, but they do them with an entirely different set of motives and attitudes.
Embedded believers approach their lives and cities in an integral and theological way. Like an under-current that courses through their actions, they show gracious respect to local authorities but they reject that their sustenance comes from the state as their sovereign provider. Embedded believers are not getting all they can but giving all they can. In a suffocating economic market, demonstrating that you are not “on the take” but “living to serve” speaks loudly into people’s lives.
Furthermore, embedded believers are not demanding jobs, instead, they are developing them in the full realization that the “Earth is the Lord’s and all of its fullness.” With health, creativity, holy determination, persevering faith, and youth (life is said to begin at 40 in Italia) – their mission is pan-vocational because their theology is integral to all of life; impacting every aspect.
The Reformers of the 1500’s (especially Luther & Calvin) rediscovered this in their theology of work. One of their main emphasis was on the subject of consecration. They moved the emphasis off of the job or the talent and rested it upon the worker’s devotion to God. You could be a joyful, contented farmer or a deceptive, adulterous religious leader. The issue was not whether one was called as a religious leader versus called to farm. Rather, it was what kind of farmer or religious leader you actually were that made all the difference. To this day in Italia, the mindset lingers that work is unholy. It is a necessary evil and not a gift from God. Work should be avoided or oppressive and therefore, cheating others is rampant. Yet on the other hand, a person is more holy or powerful by the garments he wears or the buildings he enters. Life is divided into two categories: what to show (pride) and what to hide (pleasure).
It is at this point where a marginalized, periphery church begins to touch the fabric of the city when she helps holy farmers, devoted teachers, and Christocentric entrepreneurs. Not only does the church assist these believers to establish their livelihoods, but she is also training them to grow up into the city through opening their homes for ministry as a regular rhythm of life. It is their gospel character on display throughout the city that makes them a community of light.
Embedded believers are not hidden behind their jobs where people cannot determine if they are truly kind or just trying to earn money through quality customer service. Their home is a refuge for seekers to come and find peace, and in turn, embedded believers are seekers who reach out to their cities in peace. I believe this balance of a ministering home coupled with a ministering business is critical to planting churches. It is a salty model because it does not stay confined to four walls of a comfortable structure. Integral home-life and work-life stimulate missional-life.
If you have read this far in the article, I am voicing some of our developing ministry philosophy as we face a church and market crisis here in southern Europe. I am not saying that this is a formula, but rather, an approach to life and work as missional theologians.
- Have you experienced Life-work in this way?
- As you read this, would you have any helpful suggestions or comments?
- How do you think an approach like this would impact where you live?
Enjoyed the article Rob. Thanks for the good work you continue to do over there. May the good Lord continue to bless your family’s labor.
Thanks bro. As we’ve spoken many times, you can see how this integral, theological approach involves many different kinds of people. It is not reserved only to the fields of “professional clergy” and “wild-men church planters” … looking forward to sharing in some of it with you – in this lifetime, eh?!
Great article and is helpful to think culturally no matter where we are. Being blessed to work from home has made opening our home to ministry easier. I am encourage by our fellow brothers and sisters who sacrifice so much to open their homes while both working outside the home. I am challenged to aid these families more. Thanks Rob.
You’re welcome, Melissa. I appreciate that you took the time to read the article and engage with it in your context.
Often people utilize their homes as hideaways; places to avoid people. I think Christians can tell a different story by opening their homes and their businesses. Ministry should happen everywhere and intentionally every day. This helps us to avoid a castle-mentality by adopting a kingdom-mentality. Risky? sure.
Pastor I loved reading this and picturing you walking through the streets of Sacile with an American, showing them the ropes as you are stopped at every corner by an Italian, African, etc. who knows you or knows of your work/God’s work and love for all people. What a beautiful picture!! I am joyful to say we are somewhat a joke here in San Antonio to friends and family who want to hang a bed and breakfast sign on our house. Though we feel limited at times by the disabilities Elly faces, there isn’t anyone we know who doesn’t feel welcome into our lives here. Thank you for your amazing teaching and praying for servants across the world whom you have invested so much in!!
Hi Heather, thank you for the very nice comment. I am glad that you liked the article. The beautiful thing is that I’m not the only guy trying to live as an “embedded believer” now. In fact, I’d like us to be a channel for other men in cities all around us that are ready to do this. We have 3 cities now where this more integral approach is taking shape.
Also, your hospitality and discipleship of others is exactly the idea of being embedded believers; on mission where everything is theological — even the care and suffering that you endure through precious Elly. God loves that beautiful, sacrificial incense.
I believe Psalm 37:4 speaks directly to this — a faithful life in a fallen world… “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.”
The word “befriend” in that verse is synonymous with the word “cultivate” … and that’s what you’re doing more and more in S.A. … staying in the land and cultivating faithful lives.
blessings to you guys,