(SANCTUS SUMMER UPDATE BELOW THIS BLOG ENTRY)
Like all good art, sometimes you need to go back a few decades and bring to light some relevant truth. As Jesus’ Church we were built to be the most personally dynamic, invasive, spontaneous force on the planet. Yet there have always been a few common fears that hinder this organic growth of Jesus’ Kingdom.
“Gremlins”, yes I concur it is good art, is a 1984 cult classic comedy film directed by Joe Dante, about a young man who receives a strange creature called a Mogwai as a pet, which then spawns other creatures who transform into small, destructive, evil monsters. Searching for an unusual Christmas present for his 21-year-old son, struggling inventor Randall Peltzer discovers a small, furry creature called a “Mogwai” in a Chinese antique store.
The owner refuses to sell the Mogwai, saying that owning one is a great responsibility. However, as Randall is leaving the store, the owner’s grandson sells Randall the creature, explaining that his family needs the money. There are three specific instructions for looking after Mogwai; Never expose it to bright light (especially sunlight, which will kill it), never let it touch water (that will cause it to multiply), and most importantly: no matter how much it cries or begs, never feed it after midnight (which turns a good Mogwai into a bad Gremlin). And by Gremlin, no we are not referring to the 1970’s era hatchback hippie car.
Today, in our own experience of churches and Christian ministry, we have often run into these same three common hindrances to expanding Jesus Kingdom in the way of his early followers and early churches. Like Mogwai, churches are typically afraid to shine the light of God’s truth onto their own ways of doing things or afraid to be completely honest about leadership decisions, etc. Jesus Himself says “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17. When God does expose sin, corruption, greed, anger, racism, etc… you can almost hear Gizmo’s little voice crying out wailing in pain, “Bright light! Bright light!”.
Could there be a day when we all would allow the light of God’s Word, the light of Jesus Himself, simply do His work to bring us to repent and trust Him daily? Until then, we will not be the dynamic people He has called us to be. It is in being honest about our weakness, when we are the strongest. (2 Cor 12:9)
Also common to our furry little creature, Gizmo, many churches and ministry leaders will not admit they are at least a little (maybe a lot) afraid of losing control of a true multiplicational people movement that His Kingdom was designed to be. Just the sight of a glass of water sent Gizmo into a panic attack, with every single white and brown hair quivering in sheer terror. Afraid of the water, or afraid of what would happen? Gizmo knew tiny other Mogwai would violently shoot out from his own body, rocketing across the room without his control, the whole time Gizmo is clutched over waiting for the chaos to stop. Could this be what some ministry leaders and well-intentioned churches have in mind when they hear “healthy churches multiply” or “disciple-makers multiply disciple-makers” or “if you’re not multiplying, you’re dying!”.
Instead of a beautiful picture of reproducing a child with your own DNA, making disciples of Jesus and multiplying churches has many leaders in sheer terror of what would happen if we allowed that kind of chaos in our lives? What would happen if that new group of disciples decided to not attend our Sunday morning service? What would happen if that new group of disciples decided to do church in a completely different way and still in our own city? What would happen if that group decided to send out other leaders to do different ministry? Who would guide them, teach them proper doctrine, keep them accountable? And now every hair on their bodies is shivering just thinking about it. Perhaps multiplying new believers and churches has always been part of the plan (Acts 6:7, 9:31), and we can learn to lose control to the Holy Spirit, who has controlled His Church from the book of Acts onward. Now’s a good time for some Roland Allen;
By spontaneous expansion I mean something which we cannot control. And if we cannot control it, we ought, as I think, to rejoice that we cannot control it. For if we cannot control it, it is because it is too great not because it is too small for us. The great things of God are beyond our control. Therein lies a vast hope. Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ: our control cannot reach as far as that. We constantly bewail our limitations: open doors unentered; doors closed to us as foreign missionaries; fields white to the harvest which we cannot reap. Spontaneous expansion could enter open doors, force closed ones, and reap those white fields. Our control cannot: it can only appeal pitifully for more men to maintain control.
There is always something terrifying in the feeling that we are letting loose a force which we cannot control; and when we think of spontaneous expansion in this way, instinctively we begin to be afraid. Whether we consider our doctrine, or our civilization, or our morals, or our organization, in relation to a spontaneous expansion of the Church, we are seized with terror, terror lest spontaneous expansion should lead to disorder. We are quite ready to talk of self-supporting, self-extending and self-governing Churches in the abstract as ideals; but the moment that we think of ourselves as establishing self-supporting, self-governing Churches in the Biblical sense we are met by this fear, a terrible, deadly fear. Suppose they really were self-supporting, and depended no longer on our support, where should we be? Suppose self-extension were really self-extension, and we could not control it, what would happen? Suppose they were really self-governing, how would they govern? We instinctively think of something which we cannot control as tending to disorder. -The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes That Hinder It, Chapter 2, Section 4.
The third instruction for Gizmo’s new owners are to never feed him after midnight. As the movie unfolds the multiple version of mogwai get the munchies, eat tons of stuff, and then end up cocooning until they emerge from said cocoons as mutated evil-version Mogwai called ‘Gremlins’. These guys end up destroying the town, causing all kinds of mischief, murder, and mayhem. Not to drag out the analogy any more than needed, but many ministry-minded people today feel that there is a strangle hold on the resources or ‘food’ that many larger churches and ministries have. The real fear is that if we let some of these resources go into more experimental forms of ecclesia or church networks, organic expressions of disciple-making, then what’s keeping them from mutating into crazy cultic offshoots of some off-brand pseudo-Christian organization?
Let me be honest. My wife and I currently serve on a team of one of those crazy cultic offshoots called Sanctus Missional Communities. Even though we are an officially recognized church of the Evangelical Free Church of America, often times we are not understood by most of our closer ministry friends and family members. We ask everyone to invest in a group of 3-4 friends for deeper friendships and deeper learning about the ways of Jesus. We spend at least three days a week together, just because we love being together doing stuff and having fun, not because we need to be together. We gather for worship and the Lords Supper in our homes, inviting complete strangers in to experience God’s love in tangible ways. Some of us work together in the same jobs, and some of us live together in the same apartment buildings. We are a peculiar people. Just today one of our leaders told me a neighbor asked “Oh you guys are the house where people are meeting for church.” Btw, it was actually a positive compliment, which is nice.
To help calm the fears of churches and ministry leaders, we first must be ok with weird-looking groups of people out there, with a different mission than yours might be, or with a different philosophy of ministry than yours might be. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they will cause all kinds of mischief, mayhem or murder. Okay, I guess we have been known to cause some mischief, especially our three boys. Instead of fearing new expressions of ecclesia, perhaps we can see Jesus saying to us, the same thing he told to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Perhaps we could see that all of these forms of ecclesia, or expressions of church, spontaneously expanding Jesus’ kingdom in every sphere of our cities and societies, are actually the Lord Himself building His Church, the way He sees fit to do so. Perhaps churches and ministries with the money to do so, would be generous and feed those kinds of Mogwai. Anna and I have seen countless churches and individuals see the vision of a bigger Kingdom-mindset, working in gospel ministry with all kinds of groups and denominations, and wonderful financial and personal resources being shared with us. We trust them, they trust us, we all trust Jesus to build it!
As an interesting side note, lets close the analogy down with a simple fact; Gizmo, the original Mogwai was given as a Christmas gift. It is a Christmas story! Steven Spielberg reminds us, yet again, that any great movie has the Gospel as its grand narrative. Let us cherish those crazy little ‘Mogwais’ that God has given us. Lets shine the light of Jesus into all of our hearts to expose what doesn’t belong. Let us multiply new disciples of Jesus that would go out and multiply new churches in new cultural places. Let us feed those new expressions of church with the resources and tools they need to expand Jesus’ Kingdom to every tribe, tongue, and nation. Yes, it’s going to be scary. It should be! But let’s not fear, but hear, what Jesus tells us;
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34 ESV)
SANCTUS UPDATE: SUMMER 2015
Anna, the kids and I are in a summer mode of traveling, playing, preaching, leading a network of missional communities in both St Cloud and St Paul, MN! This month we will begin training with other families in both cities, called “Missional Community Fast Track” training, which will help these two cities identify, equip, and empower new servant-leaders who would make disciples and multiply churches in their own neck of the woods. Many communities in St Cloud and St Paul simply have no expression of gospel-centered families, or followers of Jesus living in community with others. Even if people do attend a Sunday morning worship service, they are often living lonely and isolated lives without meaningful connections with other Jesus-followers. In both cities, we are finding that most people are starving for real friendships and an authentic ‘family’ they can count on through life’s ups and down.
Sanctus Missional Communities is spending the summer going through our Daily Rhythms, a tool we have used from Soma in Tacoma, WA. The teaching and application help us live in expectation and intentionality with the people we speak with every day, gas station clerks to our next door neighbors. It highlights for us that every day God’s Spirit is sending us out as missionaries to our jobs, schools, community spaces, etc. We are also continuing to develop our own servant leaders to make and multiply disciples in DNA groups. DNA groups have always been the heartbeat, or core, of what we do in the city. It is in those small groups of 3-4 that we learn how to bless our city practically, and bless one another personally. As a result, we learn how to live as disciples of Jesus and his first followers.
One quick story is about Adam, who we met last November and invited into a discipling relationship. He was addicted to meth and alcohol and thus went to treatment where a few of us visited him. He completed treatment, and realized God the Father speaking to him all along, encouraging him, inviting him to trust Him. Through a series of relationships Adam placed his trust in Jesus, and is working through a lot of family pain he caused, and also family pain caused by others who wounded him. We have been talking about being a Christ-centered dad for a while now, and this month he has been able to reconnect with his daughter and allowed to spend time with her and our family at one of the city parks yesterday. His daughters grandma was there and we were able to vouch for Adam to this grandma who is obviously looking to protect the little girls heart. She commented how thankful she is for Adam’s ‘new church group’ and the guys in his DNA. Adam now wants to be baptized but wants to wait for his own dad to get out of prison so he can be there to see him. Many more stories like this, but too little time!
In our city we have been able to develop strong ties with our City government doing downtown clean up projects, with some service organizations in the city like Promise Neighborhoods and their health faith, community garden, and family and youth services, and also connections with our city network of other churches and missional communities meeting together once a month for a worship concert, and also weekly for a city-wide prayer and vision coffee. It has been truly wonderful to see new relationships forged across our city, inside of Sanctus and outside of Sanctus with other groups, families, and organizations. Next week we plan on gathering at “Summertime by George” in the heart of St Cloud, handing out free water bottles to people there, asking them if we could pray for them, and inviting them to join us for a little ‘story time and jam session’ in a corner of the park.
Please pray for the remainder of our summer, to use it wisely as a family, to have some amazing memory-building times with Anna and our three boys, and for Sanctus to continue to seek Jesus together, being His hands and feet in our city alongside other churches and ministries. Pray for our Servant Team, and a trip we will be taking end of August to do some sabbath rest and hearing the Lord’s voice in our lives individually and as a ministry team. We hope to have a clear vision of the fall and what He is asking us to do in the city as we expand His Kingdom in whatever ways we can with whatever resources he provides.
We love you all and hope to connect in person soon! Continue being a light for Jesus in your daily lives.