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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A Nip of Newbigin: Working as Kingdom Agents

…the preaching of the Church carries no weight if it does not come from a community in which the truth of what is preached is being validated (even though always imperfectly) in the life of the community…

L. NewbiginIn this article, we are covering the third of five points for what Lesslie Newbigin calls helpful points for the re-evangelization of Europe (read: secularized cultures).

Christian communities that live by the other story AND engage their cities around them have a big job to do, in that, they have to disciple and empower their members to be Kingdom Agents first — before members identify themselves as an employee of such-and-such company. Then, as KAs, they need to engage all of their work and the sectors of society as a people with this sacred identity.

Newbigin explains:

It will be a major part of the work of such congregations to train and enable members to act as agents of the Kingdom in the various sectors of public life where they work. This kind of ‘frontier’ work is very difficult… It must become a part of ordinary congregational life that members are enabled to think through and discuss the ways in which their Christian faith impinges on their daily life in their secular work.

Here is where there ought to be a discernible difference in behavior between those who live by the old story and those who live by the story the Bible tells. It ought at many points to lead to differences in behavior, to dissent from current practice, to questioning. And this, of course, will be the place where the counter questions arise. The Christian will be asked, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you behave like this?’ Here is where true evangelistic dialogue begins…  [Lesslie Newbigin: A Reader, p. 235]

Again, Newbigin is spot-on. My guess is that we engage with others at least 70% of our waking hours through the means of some type of work activity. However, we live by the Story 100% of the time. We need to remember that this story includes both a resurrected and ascended Lord. Since this Lord is alive and in authority, we engage each sector with this initial reality in mind. So, we can ask, How does a living and holy Lord impact the way that this job is done, the means of how we do this job, and the reasons and results of what we do?

As a church, we are not so much coming in to each place and telling Christians how they can do their jobs better or more efficiently. We may not have the technical expertise for that. However, we are seeking to tell them how their job is better when their true employer has changed. And, we are striving to align our approach to work to the cruciform story of the true King.

Here’s a real-world example: One of our members owns a hair salon. Recently, the member was sharing with me that a “division of life” was inculcated in their thinking years ago. They thought on one side they had their private, religious life. On the other side, they had their secular employment and means of making money, and neither the two should ever meet. Talk about work as much as you’d like at a “church setting” but don’t ever talk about God in a “work setting.”

Now, they are discovering the refreshing liberation from this heavy dualism of life. The member said to me, “For the first time, I’m realizing that God sent me right into this hair salon as his representative. It’s right here where I lovingly share that I have found one, true answer to the troubles I hear on these chairs. His name is Jesus.”

The people getting haircuts are not just clients. They are people Jesus loves. I guarantee that they are being introduced to his love in ways that they have never heard or thought of him before.