Church Planting in a Chaordic Age

“We need to watch the margins of our society - the inner cities and the rural areas where creative approaches are emerging, often born in despair. And so when desperation forces us to let go of the old ways, God can bring new life.” Anne Wilkerson-Hayes. "New Ways of Being the Church." GOCN Vol.13, No.2, June, 2001, 7

Most of us are familiar with the terms modality and sodality. Ralph Winter used those terms to talk about two different manifestations of the Church…

Modality is more generalized, sodality more specialized. They are like the two phases of water.. liquid and solid.. Solid is more reliable.. liquid is more flexible and dynamic… but both are water.. both are the Church.

In these days we are in a place where sodality is becoming more critical. Our experience, and the experience of others (Robbymac for instance) has been that we birthed a group that had a short (2 years), flexible and strong life.. It was definitely church for us and for others…


Because it was not set in stone .. was not founded within permanent structures.. and because it was missional.. it included believers and unbelievers. Ralph Winter would describe it as sodality...a temporary missional structure. It was church. We had no other focus for our "church" experience, though we have relationship with other believers in the larger network, both local and non-local.

What works better for me is metaphor.. like the mushroom. A mushroom is a temporary manifestation of a hidden network.. it appears suddenly.. then disappears as suddenly and mysteriously.

Yet the hidden network remains… and may even be growing and expanding.

The disappearance of the mushroom does not mean the network is unhealthy. The short life of a “mushroom” church doesn’t mean it was not significant in the economy of the kingdom. In reality, if we had attempted to preserve the group life beyond its time, we would have become controlling and manipulative and territorial. In an interview at Next-Wave in November Neil Cole comments,

"The numbers of people can be deceptive. You can have many people and not be fruitful. You might just be putting on a better show than the guy around the corner. What we are looking for is fruitfulness.

"For instance we don't care if our churches live a year, twenty years, or a hundred years. We care that while they live, they give birth. We may start a church that lasts a year, but while it lives, it births two daughter churches. That is a success. We think that if every church reproduces in that way, then the Kingdom of God will continue and grow.

"But if we think that every church has to last forever, we will try to do everything we can to keep it alive artificially, and that's not good. We find fruitfulness most often in the small, not the large. Growing larger does not seem to be the key."

Success is so often defined by things we can measure: the ABC's (attendance, buildings, cash). How do we measure transformation? How do we measure belonging? Networks are about belonging. Joel Myers writes,

"Spontaneity is difficult to measure, so many organizations do not measure it. And since they cannot measure it, it loses its importance. Yet people "count" the spontaneity in their lives all the time. They do not measure numerically, saying "I've had five spontaneous experiences today." Instead, they tell the story of the encounter:

+ "I met someone very interesting in the deli today."
+ "I had a great time at the concert. The crowd was really into it. We had such a good time."
+ "It was as if we had known each other all our lives."

"Stories are the measuring tools of spontaneity, of community, and of belonging. Organizationally, we can measure the spontaneous experiences of community by listening for the stories people share. Then it is our responsibility to tell and retell the stories to create an organizational climate of belonging." (The Search to Belong)

We have to find ways to validate temporal manifestations of hidden life. If we do not find ways to validate them, we won't resource them, and they will not grow and thrive and appear as often as they should. And those involved in the ones that do appear will feel like second class citizens.. they will wonder if they have done something wrong. They will wonder if they were not quick enough, caring enough, smart enough or spiritual enough to create something permanent. When the mushroom disappears, they will feel they have failed.

In reality, they did exactly what they were asked to do. They did it imperfectly, but they did it by the grace and call of God. And when the purpose for the group no longer existed, it dissolved back into the soil from which it came. Rosemary Neave writes that, "This is where networks as a structure come into their own. They reflect a commitment to connect rather than to control; to share information rather than to ration it; to disperse power rather than gather it into the center..." ("Reimagining Church," New Zealand, 2001)

It's not going to be easy to convince denominational leaders that this kind of kingdom experiment can actually be a valid expression of "church planting," particularly if the leaders/planters are bi-vocational and non-ordained. But these kingdom initiatives, led more by the Holy Spirit than by a committee, may be some of the most powerful expressions of the life of Christ we will see in coming years. In a letter on the ANZAC list last year, Doug Orton wrote,

"We are hell-bent on salvation through "praxis"! There has to be a system, a process, a strategy, someone or something we can import to knock the socks off our city... We are eaten up with praxis – ‘Are you purpose driven? Or seeker sensitive? What model or method are you using? G-12 for your groups? Or some other model?’ I am not opposed to more effective praxis - but what we have ignored is "ethos" - that is, the texture, the intangible, that element which is almost indefinable, that which is difficult to quantify, but arguably impacting. It has to do with "how" to do "praxis" - the atmosphere, the attitude, the interior."

Typically the top-down, committee driven approach to church planting is management oriented and heavily into organization and structure. It is concerned with scientific measures of success: ie. cash, buildings, and numbers. Unfortunately, what is birthed in bureaucracy tends to remain leader driven. As any gardener knows.. if you start by using a lot of fertilizer, you have to keep increasing the amount. Leader-centric cultures do not encourage ownership and participation; instead, leaders do it all and eventually burn out. Capra asks, "How does one facilitate emergence? You will facilitate emergence by creating a learning culture, by encouraging continual questioning and rewarding innovation. In other words, leadership means creating conditions, rather than giving directions." The organic process is bottom-up, and self-organizing.. springing up from below like the mushroom. But this only happens in the right environment. Capra asks,

"How does one facilitate emergence? You facilitate emergence by creating a learning culture, by encouraging continual questioning and rewarding innovation. In other words, leadership means creating conditions, rather than giving directions." (The Hidden Connections)

If our goal is to build a congregation, an audience, we only need a few leaders, who will foster dependence in order to maintain the system or soon burn out with the impossible task of holding it together. Instead, leaders need to know how to support, as leadership coach Margaret Wheatley put it,

".. self-organizing responses. People do not need the intricate directions, time lines, plans, and organization charts that we thought we had to give them. These are not how people accomplish good work; they are what impede contributions. But people do need a lot from their leaders. They need information, access, resources, trust, and follow-through. Leaders are necessary to foster experimentation, to help create connections across the organization, to feed the system with rich information from multiple sources-all while helping everyone stay clear on what we agreed we wanted to accomplish and who we wanted to be." (A Simpler Way, 1996)

Gerard Kelly in Retrofuture writes to remind us that the seeds of the future can seem tiny and insignificant (rather like mustard seeds)... It is going to be difficult to find resources for these new initiatives so long as money continues to be poured into buildings and mortgages. But they are small and light and dont need much (exceptions being those groups which anchor their communities in public spaces) and as the institutional loyalists die off, a shift will occur.

"Experimental groups seeking to engage the Christian faith in a postmodern context will often lack the resources, profile or success record of the Boomer congregations. By definition, they are new, untried, relatively disorganized and fearful of self-promotion. They reject the corporate model of their Boomer forebears, and thus do not appear, according to existing paradigms, to be significant. But don’t be fooled. Somewhere in the genesis and genius of these diverse groups is hidden the future of Western Christianity. To dismiss them is to throw away the seeds of our survival." Retrofuture

2 Weeks Later...

Scot writes at Jesus Creed that, "the gospel comes to create the order designed by God — a kingdom order, an ecclesial order, a practicing Pentecost order. The gospel is more than the resolution of judicial bankruptcy, though it is that. It is designed to restore Eikons to their former and intended glory so they will be in union with God and communion with others, for the good of others and the world."

Having just read James Fowler "Union with Christ," I was struck by that quote this morning. We have so spiritualized the concept of union that we have almost completely obliterated its original meaning. Fowler does some fine work in unpacking our history of language and interpretation around the phrase.

If what we see around us is congregations rather than communities.. if we see organizations which mostly limit the earthly expression of the movement Jesus died to birth... then we are witnessing the natural outcome of a gospel that is not the Gospel.

The true Gospel produces what God intended - authentic and faithful communities of Jesus apprentices who are impacting their world. If what we see around us is not that.. then it is an expression of a gospel that is not the Gospel. We have McChurch because we have been eating McGospel.. the low nutrition, high fat version for popular consumption.

This past year I have mentioned Walsh and Keesmaat's book many times, because it is simply outstanding at unpacking the Gospel of the Kingdom.. in opposition to the version that we live in light of the Empire. (See an excerpt from their targum on Colossians).

After writing yesterday on ekklesia, I found myself remembering the nature of the hologram.

"To make a hologram, the object to be photographed is first bathed in the light of a laser beam. Then a second laser beam is bounced off the reflected light of the first and the resulting interference pattern (the area where the two laser beams comingle) is captured on film. When the film is developed, it looks like a meaningless swirl of light and dark lines. But as soon as the developed film is illuminated by another laser beam, a three-dimensional image of the original object appears.

"The three-dimensionality of such images is not the only remarkable characteristic of holograms. If a hologram of a rose is cut in half and then illuminated by a laser, each half will still be found to contain the entire image of the rose. Indeed, even if the halves are divided again, each snippet of film will always be found to contain a smaller but intact version of the original image. Unlike normal photographs, every part of a hologram contains all the information possessed by the whole."

But while the whole image can be found in the individual parts, only the entire image contains depth. Place one image component of the hologram under a microscope and there is the whole image.. but no longer 3d, now it is flat. It no longer exists in 3d space. Similarly, together we make up the body of Christ. Similarly.. we need the broader community.. historical, and worldwide.. to perceive clearly. What we have in many nations and in small groups is group-think. In order to recover the gospel we need to hear from Nigeria, Brazil, Romania, France.. from Methodists, Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics, Orthodox.. you get the picture.

What is Church?

“The church exists where the word is preached, the sacraments are administered, and believers are discipled in the way of Jesus.” I’ve been to gatherings where all these things were happening, with the possible exception of the last one.. which wasn’t in the Reformers definition anyway.. and there was no ekklesia present.. because there was no one in the gathering who was in love with Jesus. “Where two or three are gathered in My name” can be a place of death as easily as a place of life. That is the paradox of the shadow world we live in.

Or perhaps it is only a reflection of the deeper truth, as St. Exupery phrased it, that, “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Or perhaps any time we use a single lens to view a spiritual truth, we see a flat image, lacking depth. We need a three dimensional perspective. Lacking that perspective, mostly what we see in the smooth glass is our own reflection, projected out onto the fabric of truth .. truth made digestable, manageable..

Walking with a friend the other day, he quoted parts of John 17 from memory. Here it is..

" As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." 18-23

ekklesia is the Presence of Jesus in the world, and we are the carriers of the Presence; bearers of the Incarnation. United to Him, we carry the living Presence of Christ.

A working description of the church includes for me this mystery -- that we are united with God in love. Where we are present in Him, and attending to the Holy Spirit, God is Present.

What does it mean to be fully present to another? How are we present to God and at the same time present to another? What does it mean to live with this duality of attention? How do we carry an inner conversation into the living dynamic of every external conversation? This is a Trinitarian call.

Where Jesus is sent, we are sent. In the way Jesus was sent, we are sent. James Brownson writes, "To be fully united to God’s mission is to be fully united to God. And it is this unity in mission to which the disciples are also invited." (GOCN, "The God Who Sent Jesus"). Where the Body is, the new future is already breaking into the world. The Presence of the age to come is manifest in the power of the Holy Spirit.. the force that moves us to mission in the first place.

Note... another moniker for these temporary (mushroom) manifestations of ekklesia is "quantum" church. See also Postmodern Mission

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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2005