Recontextualizing Church

Many churches do a good job of making converts, but if you were to listen to Gen Xers and Millennials you would hear the voice of those crying out for discipleship and authenticity in community.  People want relationship, and disciples are made through long term relationship.

The problem I see in many attractional-event and program-driven churches in the West is their system does a good job of producing converts, but not necessarily of producing disciples who are equipped to make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Many churches in our country seem to have drifted from the biblical concept of “church” and have redefined it as the place, a building, where ministry happens. Hence, many evangelicals have built large centralized institutions using what seems like marketing as a formula for success: utilize attractional events to draw a crowd, and then develop programs and depend on professional clergy to keep people coming back. While this may have worked to build large communities of worship in the mid-to-late twentieth century, it has also consumed many of the smaller churches like a Wal-Mart monopoly putting out of business the mom-and-pop shops. And often when the pastor of a program-driven church leaves the ministry, that church tends to lose sight of the vision as it struggles to pull together in unity, and the congregation shrinks as people transfer to the new, next, and better program-driven church that meets their family’s needs. I would argue this doesn’t build biblical community; this fractures community among local churches as the competitive mindset takes over and as church leadership begins to use marketing techniques to promote their brand to attract church shoppers, and thus congregants shuffle from church to church.

This book explores the challenges church leaders and congregants face in shepherding a program-driven church to begin to reach out to the community outside of the four walls of a church building. Take this journey with me as I evaluate Jesus’ and the Apostles’ method of outreach and discipleship and seek to find ways to apply their methodology in today’s context. We will explore various small group models throughout history and in today’s contemporary Western context. We will look at the necessity of corporate worship and small groups to stimulate spiritual growth. I have interviewed Jeff Vanderstelt, Steve Timmis, Joel Comiskey, and Dan Braga to glean wisdom from these leaders in how to successfully shepherded churches through this kind of recontexualization of the local church. In the end I have mapped out a strategy for how church leaders can lead their churches through this transition from attractional events and programs to the missional home community and cell-driven model, which resonates with this generation disenfranchised with church.

I believe there are many methods of ministry that can work to make converts, but in order to make disciples that multiply requires an authentic faith community. This is what an unbelieving world is longing to see, a church that has closed the gap between their rhetoric and reality.

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This book is a result of a Thesis Project for Gordon-Conwell Seminary Doctorate Program in Outreach and Discipleship.



What is church?

Is it a building? Is it an event on Sunday mornings? Is it a group of people who gather to listen to some guy talk about the bible and then for us to sing songs we don’t know that well and then for us to go our separate ways without thinking about what we have learned?

There was a lady who grew up in England in the early 1900s and church was a part of her everyday life.  There were only about a hundred people who attended the church and about fifty of those people were children.  The church building was the center of community activity.  There were essentially two options in town for places to hang out with friends – the church or the pub.  As this dear woman grew older and the culture began to change, less and less children came through the front doors.  Eventually the church was only filled with a dozen or so people who were all over the age of fifty.

So begins the book “EVERYDAY CHURCH” by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester.

These two authors go on to talk about the cultural shift resulting in people finding other things to do and ultimately the church became irrelevant to them.

The solution of the Baby Boomers was to create big events with entertainment and programs done with excellence.  The result has been many large mega churches being built, which depend on the personality of the pastor or the attractional / entertainment value of the program.  But most churches can’t afford to hire enough quality pastors, musicians, artists, etc. to create a church with this kind of excellence.  And so the average church finds itself competing against Xbox, NFL Sunday football, sleep, a weekend away, or the mega church down the street.

The problem with the above is that the point of church is lost.  When church becomes about the attractional event, then discipleship on a person-to-person level doesn’t happen like it should; and so people learn more from the world and their friends about how to live and deal with problems than they do from Scripture or the pastor or a godly mentor.

Everyday church points us to be just that – a community committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, living it out, and working together within a community of committed believers who are committed to Christ and committed to one another in such a way:

  1. That they are willing to serve one another.
  2. That they are willing to lay down personal preferences.
  3. That they are willing to sacrifice for one another.
  4. That they are willing to spend time praying with one another.
  5. That they are willing to spend time confessing sins to one another.
  6. That they are willing to call each other to obey Scripture.
  7. That they are willing together to be on mission, sharing the gospel with the world.

These seven points (and many more) are what it means to be a church.  You can’t do these seven things without committing to one another and seeing each other more than one day a week.  And it is near impossible to do this with more than about a dozen people.

The early church in the time of the Apostles meet in homes.  Each house church had a leader called an elder who was responsible for shepherding the people.  As each church grew, the elders would reproduce and grow up new elders who would take on shepherding responsibilities and multiple the church.

The early church also had deacons, men and women who had the time and would serve and care for the needs of those who needed nurturing care.  They also assisted the elders by doing what the elders didn’t have time to do so that the elders could focus their time on prayer and preaching.

The early church also was a communal affair.  Everyone in each house church daily cared for each others needs, daily were involved together in prayer, daily were involved in evangelism.  Daily had a deep love for one another like a family.

As the church became institutionalized, this daily care stopped.  The professionals took over (in the Roman Catholic Church) and started making lots of money off the people manipulating them into giving money for forgiveness of sins.  The average person became an attendee rather than a participate in the life of the church.  And so the average person was turned off and many stopped coming to church.

Throughout this time there were different leaders who turned people back to the way of the early church as we read in Scripture.  St. Patrick developed a missional community, which worked together to reach the Celtic people of Ireland.  John Wesley learned from him and used his method to create congregations (societies), home communities (classes), and accountability groups (bands).  The Celtic way and the Methodist way is a biblical way because it does not focus on creating attractional events, but rather attractional and biblical communities.

Here at Grace Church we (the elders and staff) are intentionally trying to become a missional, biblical, gospel community.  The sermon series beginning this Sunday is based off of 1 Peter and the book “EVERYDAY CHURCH” by Chester and Timmis.

We (the church) on Sundays are purposing to come together to learn how to become an everyday church.

We (Home Communities) are purposing to come together in a more intimate way to actually live out everyday church principles.

Please join us this fall to learn how to do this will us onto the glory of God.


Jesus’ Plan of Evangelism / Discipleship – Selection

Jesus’ method of ministry is all about influence.  Jesus came to earth and didn’t have a public ministry for the first thirty some years of His life, and then after His baptism He started to call to Himself disciples who would make disciples who would impact the world in Jesus’ name.

In John 1 we read that John the Baptist said of his cousin Jesus when He was walking by, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36).  Essentially John was prophesying Jesus’ death as a sacrifice of atonement for the world to bring the world into fellowship with God.  When two of John’s disciples heard this they began to follow Jesus and they spent the day with him.  Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two and after spending time with Jesus he was influenced enough by Jesus’ character to go grab his brother and say, “We have found the Messiah (the Christ).  And then he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:41-42).  Jesus influenced people by His teaching and ethos enough to excite people to grab friends and family bringing them to Jesus to become His followers (John 1:43-51).

Do we have the character and persona to draw people to ourselves to point people to Jesus?

If not, what aspect of my character to I need to lay before the Lord and pray that the Spirit of God would change in myself so that I become more like Jesus and less like the world?

People of this world like to cut each other down and one-up one another in most conversations so that we can prop ourselves up as someone to be admired.  But the negative tone that goes with this way of being causes pain in others and even in ourselves when we sit alone and really think about how we engage people.  With this type of communication comes manipulative behavior and soon we can find ourselves driving people or being driven by the more powerful.  This is not the way of Christ.

Dr. Robert E. Coleman, who walked with Billy Graham, said this about ministry influence:

“Sheep, they wander without a shepherd.  The difference between sheep and cattle is you don’t drive sheep…you drive cattle.  You lead sheep.”

Robert Coleman is talking about influence.  Jesus earned the right to lead by His character influence and people wanted to be around Him so much so that when He called Peter and Andrew, James and John to “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men” they dropped their nets and left everything behind to be disciples of Jesus (Matthew 4).

Notice the number of disciples Jesus called to Himself – twelve.  There were many other people who wanted to follow Jesus and who would for a time, but Jesus focused on “the Twelve.”  Within this group of men He focused His leadership influence primarily on three men – James, John, and Peter.  These are the three men who essentially led the Church soon after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

Jesus’ method needs to be our method.  Pastors should focus on influencing 8, 10, or 12 guys and after these potential leaders have been trained they should focus on 8, 10, or 12 people in the church replicating what they have learned from the Pastor.  If leadership of churches focused on leading churches this way, it might start out slowly but within 5 years or so the majority of the church will be shepherded and influenced to minister to one another and to new comers within the church.

I was reading a book a couple nights ago called “Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission.”  The authors, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, state that the church should break down into smaller, manageable groups called “gospel” or “missional” communities.  Within these groups every Christian should realize we are called to be priests and shepherd one another.  No individual is above another.  Pastors, even, need to be shepherded.  In other words, “We should encourage 360-degree pastoring rather than top-down pastoring.  We should be ready for mess and indeed welcome it… The message of grace in the cross must be at the heart of our pastoral care… Our aim is for people to experience joy in Christ.” (pp. 72-73).

Living out of the grace and the joy of Christ will increase our influence.  Speaking truth with grace and forgiveness will draw people to Christ and to a tight-knit community in which the love of God is the glue that binds.  This way of living needs to begin with leadership and as the leaders live this way, more people will be drawn into this Christ-centered community called “the Church.”

When people don’t want to be influenced by you, one of two things might be going on: (1) the person might see flaws in you and might feel like you are beginning to drive them; or (2) the person might not want to be influenced.  In these situations take a step back and ask someone close to you, “Am I legalistic or domineering? Is there some aspect of my character that needs to be refined? Do I try to over-pastor people?” And then go seek the Lord in the Scriptures to cleanse your soul and pray the Spirit of God helps you overcome this character flaw.

When people don’t want to be influenced by you, sometimes it is just them.  Let it go, move on to the next person (I don’t mean don’t be friends or don’t love the previous person who rejected you.  Still love them and reach out to them – but if they don’t want you to influence them then it is okay to stop or you might burn a bridge).  Don’t take it personally, but look for someone who connects with you and wants to learn from you.  Role with those who want to role with you and together seek the Lord and how to honor Him.

May God work in you this week to seek to be pastored and to learn to pastor others.  Pastoring a church is the role of every Christian in the Church, this is a calling of laymen and women, not of professionals only (see 1 Peter 2:9-10).  This is something we all should be doing, so turn to the Holy Spirit and to Scripture and to your pastor to equip you to learn how to shepherd each other in community.  The more we do this, the healthier the church will become and the watching world will look in and see our tight-knit-deep-love for one another and desire what we have and they will start asking questions (1 Peter 3:15).