Planting Ecclesiology as a way of life

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.

Embedding Believersplanting ecclesiology

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.

“Church Work”

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 unholyIt 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).

“Home Work”

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?
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Our Roman Leadership Problem

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,…” Matthew 20:25-26

statue of NeroItalia is in the news quite a bit these days from the papal resignation to the sorting of the political system where an angry, non-elected comedian may set the tone and agenda of the country over the next couple years. Oh, but he has no agenda. In fact, he ran other people for office on “no agenda”. It’s comical + sad = bizarre.

These are symbolic of the leadership problems that the church is also facing throughout southern Europe (and in many cases, around the western world). Putting it succinctly, there is an abnormal dearth of servant eldership in Italia to both guide existing churches and plant new ones. We have our work cut out for us. I believe a great cause of the abnormal dearth is the Roman ideal and model of leadership imported and imposed upon the life of the church itself.

Now, please stay with me because I’m striving to write something for everyone utilizing an Italian cultural example…

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Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 1 – The Gifts and the Gospel

[Note: I took a break from writing for 6 weeks due to travel and suffering from a kidney stone. I realized it’s harder to think and write when a stone is eating your brain to stay alive. However, the Lord really blessed and healed me. You can laugh, cry, and rejoice with me through the story that I wrote here called “My 4mm Miracle.” Thanks for praying through it all with me and also for really missing these articles 😉 ]spiritual gifts logo-image

Zest

What a great word to describe the flavor and gusto of a splendid minestrone. Zest literally means an agreeable or piquant flavor imparted to something; anything added to impart flavor, 
enhance one’s appreciation, etc. Notice two key words in this definition — impart & enhanceContinuing with the Italian simile of the Lord’s church being like a wonderful minestra, so the Holy Spirit’s work through his imparted gifts enhance the life and vigor of his people and signify his active presence. Zest does not make a soup, but it does demonstrate that there is something different and wonderful about what is in the bowl. In this series, I would like to briefly add (if possible) one flavor at a time to magnify our appreciation of what the Lord is doing through his church while understanding that there is still a great deal for all of us to taste and learn from the Holy Spirit as we see him working.

 

The Gifts are not the Gospel

This is such an easy thing to confuse in different church circles. It’s an issue of priority. The Gospel is primary, the gifts are secondary, and both are necessary. The most magnificent part of the Gospel is that God gave himself for us in love on the cross and then gives himself to us in life through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the first thing that needs to be clearly emphasized is that the very Spirit of God is both given and then the giver — as he is pleased and finds pleasure to operate for his glory. The one gift that I receive is the Spirit, and he has the gifts that he imparts when he desires to do so.

There are two awkward claims that Christians often make.  The first claim begins with, “I have this-or-that gift…” And what we generally mean is that we’ve experienced the Spirit’s blessing and enabling at specific occasions and in certain ways. However, the awkward part of that phrase is that it makes us sound like we are the new owners of the gift to release at will. In the Gospel, I have Christ and he has me. Therefore, my identity is built in Jesus and is not found in a grace-gift that I might use or one that I think might correspond with my personality. If I find my identity in a gift, I miss the Spirit. It is common to find Christians spending a good amount of time wondering, debating, and even arguing whether a person “has” a certain gift or not. Take the pressure off. Make sure you or the person in question has Christ and is fulfilling his royal law. You know, the law that says love God fully and your neighbor as yourself. The Spirit has the gifts. He is the owner and he wants to give them, but remember, those gifts represent him and the Truth so he will be very careful, strategic, and sometimes surprising in how he imparts them.

The second awkward (and I believe, incorrect) phrase that I’ve heard at times is, “Unless that gift (whatever one the Christian has in mind) is manifested, the Holy Spirit isn’t there.” Now, I know that the phrase isn’t spoken exactly in that way, but it goes something like that depending on the context. I’ve heard it recently and also through the years in ministry in different forms — but that’s the gist of it. Usually, the person has a pet-gift that has grown into an agenda where they would like to see an entire church formed around it. They have equated much if not all of the Holy Spirit, doctrine, and the work of God with that one gift. It becomes the litmus test for all service and fellowship.

Again, the problem is one of  identity. The Apostle Paul corrected the Corinthian believers strongly saying, “One Spirit, many gifts.” Their error was an inordinate focus on one particular gift and therefore an abuse of the Spirit himself. So, the temptation we face is to identify so strongly with the expression of a gift that we build the Gospel around it. In effect, we make the gift and our experience dogmatic by saying, “Manifest this gift and then you’re really in God’s family.” No, the Gospel tells us to manifest repentance. We should be more concerned about what kind of vessel we are than what kind of gift we are manifesting.

Please understand that I’m not picking on any specific church. There is the tendency for Christian communities to gravitate to a one or two-gift-only practice. Some churches concentrate on a couple of sign-gifts while others think that the only two gifts in operation are preaching and listening with an optional third gift of rear-end endurance & comfort depending on your persuasion. I’m writing principally to assist our church to be Gospel-centered and Spirit-guided. We’ll talk more about how the gifts are Gospel-guided in the next article.

I Don’t Go to Church

Vision_and_decision

I’ve struggled with this language and idea that we “go to church.” Have you thought about this too?

Authentic “church” is not something I go to; it’s something I am. Even the word “church” speaks of a people who are called out by God. They are the people of God as a state of being. 

We need to watch and renew our language. We’ve reduced the whole concept of church to something very event-centric; like church is a sports event or concert thing held in a stadium environment or a trip to the mall. Jesus didn’t die to make something so cheap, so plastic. He died and rose again for his bride and his family.

So, instead of saying, “I (singularly) go to church,” we could more accurately say, “we live in this church, together.” And this state of being and living comes from the special identity that’s given to us in the Gospel. We live through our identity in Christ. Therefore, we gospel one-another (a term I have shamelessly borrowed from Steve Timmis 🙂

My emphasis is more about a paradigm shift than a nuance of words. If I just go to a church then it’s very easy for me to just go away from a church too. It starts to treat other people (our holy-family members) as a weekly task to be accomplished and checked-off on a personal agenda. It also sounds very consumeristic. So, I think it would be a good thing for us to struggle with this kind of language until we nail-down who we really exist-to-be in this holy minestra of the church.