Death By Suburb

Some time ago I commented on a book called Death By Suburb.
I found this book last week in Adelaide and couldn’t resist, despite the ridiculous $45 price tag!
I must confess it was worth every dollar spent. A great read. And one that I feel connected deeply to something of the heart beat of many…(Some?) in our group here in Joondalup.

The premise behind this book is a captivating one. Is life in the suburbs detrimental to a living faith? Goetz claims it can be but, with the intentional approach he outlines in this book, it does not have to be. We understand what he means: superficiality and sterility are the suburbia stereotype. In the pleasant bedroom communities of America, it can seem as if people are more concerned with tidy flowerbeds than they are the things that nurture the soul.

Joondalup Thing Does Pentecost

We did our Pentecost celebration with a difference yesterday.
It was the 40th anniversary of the vote by 90% of white Aussies to include our indigenous people in the voting process. That is…they would no longer be counted as stock ie animals!
I can’t believe it was just 40 years ago, we have so much shame over our nation in the way we treat and have treated the owners of this land.

So we watched Rabbit Proof Fence with the kids as well, had some discussion followed by communion/lunch and then we dramatically read (with different people ‘playing’ the different parts) the story of the Holy Spirit coming in Acts 2 followed by Charlotte leading us in some Aboriginal style dot paintings of our own depictions of the Holy Spirit and His work.
Here are some – (Click on the images to see them full size)

So Much For Emerging Church

Truth Exposed.
The Joondalup Thing
moves to cult-like status with the mighty erection of a new ‘temple’.
Donations of $100 000 or more are tax deductible.
Make cheques out to “Church of Scot”!!
Donations to the model in the picture are welcome also…she tells me she has 14 hungry children! (She has a skinny looking husband who could do with beefing up a bit too!) They are members of TJT, they were accepted in a vote last week after donating their Yacht and beach house in the Greek Islands to our cause…things are looking up 🙂

The Joondalup Thing…The Next Chapter

Well things have been moving here at the Joondalup thing. If you are wondering what the Joondalup thing is, it may help if you read some of the posts listed there on the left hand column listed under “Categories” then “Surban Mission“.

But in short I would have to say that I think I am the most impatient guy I have ever met. For years I have been taught that if you want a job done well then do it yourself. Apply this to starting a new church or a suburban mission or anything that requires leadership and a team of people and I think you shoot yourself in the foot. Meaning; that if this idea of a Christian mission in the area in which we live was all about me, my vision and me telling the group what they should be and do to fulfill this vision of mine, then it would be all done by now and we would be on the road to looking like an organised church.
But instead, we have spent the best part of a year wandering around, having meals together, having some very in depth conversations together about our likes and dislikes, desires and dreams, not appearing to be going anywhere. As some know, it has been a tough road for me as I just want to pull it all together and tell everyone what will work best. But who am I? I am not appointed or recognised as THE or even A leader in this group.
So we pushed on together, each one sharing their thoughts and dreams for what could be, each one being a different thought and dream to the next person…no wonder churches just stick a senior pastor on, or select an eldership team to tell everyone where they are going to take them…and no wonder these same elders and senior pastors are forever crying; “I wish these people would get on board with this vision” as well as “We need to market this vision better, we need to get more ownership of where we are going”, “We need more stakeholders”, “If only people owned the vision of what we are doing then we would have more people involved in our ministries”.

Here is my last comment to Christine as I drifted off to sleep last night, “My goodness you are a beautiful woman…”
Oh, no the one before that comment sorry –
“I think that what we have is a group of people in which 90% of them honestly feel they have a vested interest in this group working well, whatever that means to them as individuals. I bet many churches in the world would kill for just that, a 90% buy in. That 90% of the people involved in their group actually feel they are a part of actually steering the direction and future of where they will go and what they will be”.

I wonder, is that better or worse than me having taken the reigns as a self appointed “leader” and telling everyone that we will be XYZ and do ABC and all who liked that come with me, and all who don’t then…bugger off? Honest question. Maybe it is not better. By some measurements we may we have had people getting saved, we may have had some great activities happening around our suburb, we may have started a bible study for our new believers and interested friends by now.
Instead we have a group of people with about 3 maybe 4 differing points of view as to what we should look like, what our purpose is and how we should act this purpose out, but about 90% of the group are desperate to make sure they are a part of the discussion, to make sure they are part of the solution, to make sure that this thing really happens.

Where are we at?
If you click on the small picture there you will see my summary of a handful of different models of “Why We Exist“. Cole calls it our DNA. I have, as best as I can grouped them into what seems to be 3 common things that almost any church would agree are primary to their purpose. We all seemed to agree last night that something like; 1.Discipleship/Formation, 2. Nurture/Relationships/Community and 3. Mission/Outreach are the 3 main things on our scope, most of the ‘stuff’ we want to DO will come out of this WHO/WHY of our existence. In fact to this point we agree that we are not unique from any church any of us have been to.

It’s the next bit that we seem to be stuck on, but are starting to push through. (Although I have to confess I had to get up and walk out last night due to … well frustration that stems from the comments above. I just wanted to tell everyone what it should be called, what it should look like and when it was all going to happen. This has been the way I have been trained and taught in ministry. It ‘gets the job done’. But I knew it would steal from people the right of owning it from having worked it out and come to a consensus…even one different from the one I think is best…lets face it, who am I?

Do we keep meeting for a meal on Wednesdays, followed by conversation that is natural, intentional, deep, fun, relaxed, challenging…and so on? But that’s all.
Or do we we stop this and change it to a more strategic, planned, structured event in which we agree on a direction for some study and discussion?
Or do we do both alternating the Wednesday nights, one lose one tight. (side track – the use of words like lose, tight, structured unstructured, formal, informal, deep, shallow, heavy, light and so on, have caused more angst than almost anything…words…hmmm – end side trackk)
Or do we just start a different group on the same night?
Or do we start another gathering in the week so we can do both?
What do we do with kids, because if we had another gathering point in the week, it would become ‘church’ for many of us, (as in, replace the weekly Sunday meeting), which means what do we do with kids, and as they grow, what about teens? These things are ‘normally’ served up to us by the organised church.
Or maybe we should have alternate gatherings (I think this is accurate from last nights discussion..) alternate the more ‘planned’ Wednesdays with the more ‘planned’ Sundays. So every second Sunday there is a ‘planned’ ‘event’, kids can participate, and the next Wednesday is come as you are for a meal and see what happens. The following Sunday is unplanned, meal, hangout, chat nurture, love, share, care, swear…it’s an emerging church – JOKING!!
Then the next Wednesday is ‘planned’.
You get where I am going? (I didn’t get all this ‘detail’ last night!)

What exactly is meant when we say ‘planned’ and ‘unplanned’?
Well I think it has to have something to do with what we agree is the out working of our DNA, what we are on about has to be expressed in out practice (orthodoxy/praxy etc).

So I (personally) think that both planned and unplanned (and our day to day encounters) can include, even could include our DNA. Our conversation would be sprinkled with the word of God, with encouragement in our faith, with love, with challenge to mission and with prayer.
BUT – On the nights/days we have dedicated to be ‘planned’ (for want of a better word!!!:) ) we have some teaching or activity that involves us as a group (collectively) intentionally growing together. Now for me, (that is me, personally!) I am not hung up on these planned events (hate using that word) having to be a bible study/discussion every time. But I believe it would be difficult NOT to have the bible as part of our journey together at any given event if in fact it is a part of our DNA. I see someone sharing their story, a group night of prayer, a learning journey of some sort, an outing with a purpose of some sort, some kind of ‘missional activity’…whatever, it’s planned and it connects directly into our group DNA/purpose and it is lead by someone/s on that event/activity etc etc. But obviously the very fact that the bible would be a KEY in our DNA, most of these night would involve some good interaction with God’s word.

I think there were some who saw the ‘planned’ things always being about bible study/discussion, this is fair enough too, this may be where it goes.
I think some wonder about what happens if we do have a discussion on biblical application and some differ in their belief about the very nature of the bible itself, will this cause tension, too much disagreement over authority issues even before we get to what this passage of scripture means to our lives. These issues were dismissed by some and others wondered if they would feel accepted for bringing along ‘different’ beliefs to a ‘study/discussion’. Great questions to be wrestling with.

What of size?
Some discussion was had last night about the value of smaller groups. I mean smaller than our mega church of 30ish!! I mean 2 or 3.
There is great value and even biblical precedence for small groups of 2 or 3 gathering for prayer, study, bible reading, accountability, relationship.
We acknowledged the value in this, but I think, like many things in our group, these things will happen when the individuals interested make them happen. This may well go for evangelism to our suburb, social justice issues, community involvement and so on.

For too long we have been told what to do and when to do it regarding so much of our faith and related ecclesial activities. Leadership does have a part to play in encouragement, example etc but, the down side can be that no one does a thing until someone says, “This is an idea, we should all do it”.

That is size down (groups of 2/3) what of size up?
When is it time for us to start hiring the local hall…NEVER, in my humble opinion! I think house size will be the crunch for us. When everyone turns up at the same time (almost like last night!) we may be in trouble already!
We did not talk too much about this last night, but we will need to do something!
I don’t intend to keep looking for a bigger location. I would like to nail what our DNA is so that no matter how many locations we meet in, we are essentially about the same stuff.

For me…I want to see organic style churches where ever people are curious about knowing what it means to follow Jesus…anywhere….everywhere! Interested? You got a house?

The Group

First official night of “The Group” tonight, was a great night, good food, nice beer, oh did I mention fantastic people, I already love these guys, but a few newies to me are coming around and I already feel a part of their lives. Tonight was easy, flowed well, had some formality, some structure, but also plenty of casual chat and laughter. Not concerned with who was and was not there, we have given people the freedom of ‘drop in rights’ and ‘we wont badger you’ promises. Also – wanting to avoid counting numbers, I can’t count well!!

Another Closure

Well that’s it, the end of my ‘Life Group’ that didn’t ‘do life together’. Tonight we had BBQ and chat.
It seemed kinda sad. i did none of the official closure exercises from the small group manuals. We didn’t pray, we just said ‘thanks and goodbye’ to each couple as they got up to leave. I don’t think any one will be worse off, I think a few couples will miss the relaxed atmoshere and the relationship we formed, we will miss that too, to a degree.

I still don’t ‘see’ the new group well. It’s not clear. Something in me wants a plan, a shedulle for the year, a goal and vision statement. Part of me wants to structure this lack of structure…”We have this intentionally unstructured group, this is how it will look…”
We don’t know how it will look…that’s the idea.

Who will be in it? Some have said “we don’t want to put our names on the group list but we want to come and drop in for a meal, a chat, hang out for a while then move on”
This is cool.
What do we report back to the mother ship*? We wont have a roll, but we could say who visited on a given evening I guess.

Should be fun.

*Ironically the mother ship is a system I created when I was on staff, now I serve that system and I have some reservations about the way the wheels turn. I have the strangest feelings about it. It has nothing to do with any real person. It’s almost like the small group system is personified and I know it’s watching me…waiting for me to burst in and challenge it’s existence!

‘Life’ Group To Finish in Two Weeks

I have a group that meets in my house from Church. In one way or another, it’s been together for about four years. I’m ready to say goodbye. It’s called a life group, a group that ‘does life together’. In fact what we do together is have a meeting every two weeks in my lounge room. Don’t get me wrong these guys are great…on the whole, it just that we really don’t do life together. We have another meeting together, I do this twice, I have another group that meets on the other fortnight that’s also called a life group. We don’t ‘do life together’ either. In fact on the first night this year the leader said, ‘I’ve got plenty of friends, so I don’t plan to ‘do life with you’ so lets all agree just to meet here as a small group for leaders in the church’.
I do have a group of people that I ‘do life with’, but only sometimes, they are mostly busy trying to run small groups. So next year I am going to be a bit more intentional. Matt and I have chatted…actually it was on his intitiative, about a group that genuinly has people in it that have some life connection, are friends, will do some intentional community together.

Some concerns.

  • I am consious of the fact that I don’t just want to create a group of ‘me’. A group that is hand picked to suit me, no conflict, happy people all saying yes to everything we talk about. I know that wont happen with this group, but the danger is that we don’t invite others, maybe from just around the corner because they are too old, or not quite on the same track or have a personality that rubs people up the wrong way.
  • Also I want this group to be different, experimental in a way. I really want to have two distinct things. These two things in some respects seem opposed to each other. One of them is that I desire the group to be relaxed in nature. A meal, chatting in places around the house, some nights will be more formal some nights no format at all, just hanging and having juicy conversations in some spots and for those who don’t desire connection at that place – small talk. BUT part two is quite startegic and intentional, I desire a specific thrust that smells of deep missional community influence. Not nec as a group, all holding hands and going to mow someones lawn (although I’m sure as a group we could do group activity etc) but rather that we hold each other accountable for being yeast outside of the group and outside of the church, real accountability, that our conversations each time we meet include a level of discussion of exactly what it is we are doing to discover what Christ is really up to ‘out there’ in the real world and joining him!

Well I’m sure you will hear more either here or on Matt’s blogg.
Stay tuned.