A Bit of the Flavour

"Modern society was a culture that consumed its own past. In contrast, post-modern pilgrims honour the bones of the dead and make those bones live."

"To live faithfully in the 21st century, we must live out of the full 2000 year history of the Christian church, and not lobotomize the last nineteen centuries to get back to the first century." - Leonard Sweet

Rob and Wendy McAlpine are church planters in Winnipeg, Maniboba in Canada. Rob asks, "What does it mean to be the church in this culture? In this article Rob shares the journey, some of the questions and the learnings they have gathered along the way....

A little background...

In 1989, as Rob was finishing his studies at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, we were involved in a home group made up mainly of staff members from the prison ministry where Rob worked, and a group of musicians and artists that didn't feel at home in more traditional churches. Our work schedules prevented us from attending church services except once every six weeks, so the home group became "church" by default.

At the time, Rob was being encouraged by some of the seminary professors to create a loose network out of house churches that were already in existence in the Kitchener/Waterloo area. But somehow the timing didn't seem right, although we met as a house church until moving to Victoria in 1990 where we pastored for seven years. But the beginning of the question "what makes a church, a church?" was already becoming entrenched in our thinking.

During the "GodRock" days of the early to mid-1990šs in Victoria, we again wrestled with "what is church?" because people were pressuring us to "get those youth into Sunday morning services so they can 'really' be part of 'the church'". Even at the time, it was clear to us that everything that you would want to happen in "church" (ie. worship, teaching, ministry, etc.) was happening quite powerfully in the GodRock youth church.

There were many street youth becoming followers of Jesus through GodRock, and a typical gathering lasted about seven hours (if you count the set-up time in the rec centre we met in AND the after-gathering gathering at Boston Pizza down the road). Yet they didn't feel any need to connect with the Sunday morning congregation at our Vineyard, and we couldnšt honestly bring ourselves to try and convince them that they should be there.

And one of the constants of ministry that we've noticed over the past 20 years is that, whatever else God might be initiating or blessing, He has always given us incredible home groups.

And yet -- following the "traditional" Vineyard model of ministry we were trained in -- when we attempted to "grow" the ministry out of it's home group phase and into a larger context, something was invariably lost in the dynamic of community, and eventually, in the context of worship and Spirit-empowered ministry as well.

The ongoing wrestle of "what IS the church, anyway?" was only heightened by our time ministering in the Vineyard in Santa Monica. During this time, we were blessed to develop a good friendship with Todd Hunter, who has been and is coaching us from Southern California as we embark on this venture.

Part of the wrestle has been the theology of the church -- of "ecclesiology" as we called it in seminary -- and part of the wrestle has been to recognize who we are as followers of Jesus, and who we feel gifted and called by God to minister to and among.

We have become increasingly convinced that, for Rob & Wendy McAlpine, the model of church ministry that most fits who we are, the values we hold, and the people that have always felt drawn to us, is to de-structure church as wešve known it to it's simplest expression: the house church.

In developing these ideas, we wanted to also take into account that whatever we build, we're building out of the rich legacy of twenty centuries of Christendom. Wešre not so amazingly clever that we think wešre creating something "totally new". If God opposes the proud, then we never want to presume that somehow we've got "church" figured out perfectly like no-one else in over 2000 years has been able to.

What we are attempting to do is LEARN from church history, and apply different pieces from different expressions to create something that fits where it seems that God is leading us into this next season.

It has been said that the language of the postmodern society that we have become is in pictures and metaphors. In keeping with that perception, here is a brief outline of some of the values of our church planting project, along with some verbal pictures that will hopefully be helpful in communicating our vision.


Venice Beach Drum Circle & Worship Jams

While we were in California, every Sunday afternoon from about 2 until sundown, Rob would take his djembe down to Venice Beach and join the drum circle there. One of many fascinating things about the VBDC was that it was perhaps the only truly spontaneous and multi-ethnic, trans- generational event in all of the greater Los Angles area. Even more fascinating was the reality that on Venice Beach, (to use the classic Vineyard phrase) "everybody gets to play".

Imagine the wonderful, harmonious chaos of seven to ten guitars, eight djembes, 2 keyboards, 2 saxophones, a bass, various percussion instruments, dancers, painters, singers, readers of poetry and scripture, a digeridoo, no set lists, and a minimum of four worship leaders with no rehearsal -- you get the picture. We loved it and it appeared that God was enjoying Himself too.

And we began to wonder "why canšt church be just like this?"

We took the same approach and applied it to our monthly "worship jams", where the various youth and young adult home groups would come together for a night of feasting and spending several hours in worship.

Imagine the wonderful, harmonious chaos of seven to ten guitars, eight djembes, 2 keyboards, 2 saxophones, a bass, various percussion instruments, dancers, painters, singers, readers of poetry and scripture, a digerido, no set lists, and a minimum of four worship leaders with no rehearsal -- you get the picture. We loved it and it appeared that God was enjoying Himself too.

And we began to wonder "why canšt church be just like this?" (I Cor. 14:26). Where literally, everyone gets to play, regardless of their skill level? Where we are forced to learn to listen to what the Spirit is saying, deferring to one another as worship leaders, and seeing "where will it go this time"?

St. Francis of Assisi

Wendy had a dream a couple of years ago that has stuck with us ever since. In the dream, we were walking down a long, medieval corridor with a group of our friends. We knew we were meeting Jesus at the end of the corridor, and as a group, we were bringing Him a large bowl full of a strange golden liquid. All of us were dressed in the coarse robes of the monks of old, and as we walked, Wendy heard a voice say "you are called to walk with those in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi".

Wešve included this dream in the "worship" section because giving to the Lord is considered to be part of our worship. We have become fascinated by the question: "What if the greater good of an 'offering' is to help people learn to hear Godšs direction for where THEY should be giving?". If that is true, then we plan to NOT take up offerings in our house church. We will teach on giving in conjunction with teaching on hearing the voice of God.

Could this actually help us all grow up a little bit in our recognition of the spirituality of tithing? Where we are put in a position where God is going to speak to us directly as individuals, couples, and families about where He wants each one to invest in the Kingdom?


Marc Dupont

While Rob was playing bass for Andrew Smith during a tour of the Maritimes in 1999, Andrew remarked one day that hešs heard a prophecy from Marc Dupont to the effect of: "It's time to teach people to dig their own wells". The interpretation being that itšs better to teach people how to feed themselves spiritually than it is to spoonfeed the flock. Our goal is not to have great teaching (in the tradition talking-head sense) but to inspire great learners.


Francis Schaeffer started the ministry of L'Abri during the social revolution of the 1960's, as a place of peace for young people who wanted to ask the "tough questions" about the Christian faith. L'Abri also makes a regular practice of having their instruction/discussion times over a shared meal.

We'd like to make our church plant the kind of place where it's okay to ask the tough questions, and to do our teaching over a shared meal.

Benedictine Monks

On the subject of meditation, the Benedictine monks had a habit of reading and re-reading a passage until something "shimmered" for them (meaning that it challenged, comforted, confused or otherwise "called out" to them), and this was what they would meditate on. Wendy introduced this to our home group in California as we were spending a couple of months working through the Epistle to the Galatians, and it was amazing to see people begin to connect (many for the first time) with God through reading and meditating on His Word. Meditating isn't difficult once something "shimmers" -- you usually CAN'T get it out of your head!

This all part of the "teaching people to dig their own wells". Our desire is to get past knowledge for it's own sake and to see people as a community of disciples, each learning and experiencing more of God at their own pace and sharing that within the context of community.

Community Ministry

Vineyard Model of Equipping

The Vineyard as a movement has always had a core value of equipping and releasing people into ministry. Over the years, we have thoroughly enjoyed seeing people discover and begin to move in their spiritual gifts, and to learn in the context of community has to exercise these gifts for the good of the Body.

Disclaimer Cards

Our home group at Winnipeg Centre Vineyard was so careful to not prophesy presumptuously that every prophetic word (it seemed) came with a three-minute disclaimer. We joked about creating "disclaimer cards" to allow people to give a disclaimer and shorten the overall time required to deliver a prophetic word. Our desire in this area again, is that there be a safe place for people to be encouraged in the exercise and development of the gifts that the Holy Spirit is giving.

Plymouth Brethren

The original Plymouth Brethren groups had as a core value "every member is a minister", and we want to approach this church plant with the same value.

Role of Leadership

II Timothy 2:2

The Bible is pretty clear that there are defined leaders in any grouping. Reality itself can show you that in any group, somebody is the leader, whether they have an official title or not. Often those who protest the loudest that they have no leaders are the ones who are the functional leaders.

To us, therešs no question as to whether there SHOULD be leaders, but only how those leaders are to function.

In the rabbinical tradition, a "leader" (teacher, rabbi, whatever) was not expected to be an information guru or a dispenser of religious goods and services. Rather, everyone was viewed as a co-pilgrim on the journey to knowing and experiencing more of God.

Jewish Rabbinical Model

In the rabbinical tradition, a "leader" (teacher, rabbi, whatever) was not expected to be an information guru or a dispenser of religious goods and services. Rather, everyone was viewed as a co-pilgrim on the journey to knowing and experiencing more of God. The question "well, then how would it look?" should perhaps be set aside in favour of asking "how will it feel?". Leonard Sweet notes in "Aqua Church": "leadership is less about control and more about releasing. Air traffic 'controllers' clear people for take-off".


Celtic Way of Evangelism

St. Patrick was so instrumental in bring the gospel to the island of Ireland, he is known as their patron saint. Hudson Taylor adopted the dress, culture, and mannerisms of the Chinese to whom he was called. Bruce Olson (author of "Bruchko") joined the Motilone tribe in South America, where he lived for years as a member of the tribe in order to evangelize.

Becoming All Things...

Our observation of many evangelistic methods and approaches over the past 20 years is that many of them left us frustrated, feeling ineffectual, and because of that, like many other Christians that we knew, we tended to keep busy in any area BUT evangelism.

In retrospect, perhaps the greatest problem with all the various approaches that we attempted, was that it came from a desire to "do evangelism" rather than a heart to "be evangelists". We would read the verse in I Timothy which said clearly "DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST" and this would usher in another season of striving to be obedient, yet with little or no fruit except greater frustration now compounded by guilt.

Simply put, our desire is to be "normal people full of Jesus", much like the description of the disciples in Acts 4:13. To be faithful in the relationships that God has placed us in, to be salt and light.


Obviously, there is much more to be discovered and communicated as the process of planting a church unfolds. While this was never intended to answer any and all questions about the direction of the plant, we hope that this has been helpful in giving a bit of the "flavour" that we are hoping to instill in the genetics of this church plant.

Go to Adding Spice. You can write to Rob at Rob McAlpine

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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on May 31, 2001