• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

What Do We Mean When We Say “Church”?

The following short story is another way to open a discussion among us about what we mean when we say “church”:

Jared & Jenna were able to attend one of the last WIN conferences (World Team Institute of Church Planting) that was held.  They learned a great deal about (and experienced) WT values such as community and the gospel.  However, they left WIN with a feeling that something was missing. No one had taught them what it meant to do the job that they were being asked to do (i.e., establish communities of believers).  To their surprise when they arrived on the field, they experienced some dissonance between what they heard at WIN and the values that were actually being lived out.  Again and again, Joel & Jenna probed the team to help them understand what it was they were supposed to be doing with their time.  The answers they received were nebulous and confusing at best. They struggled to get a handle on the definition of the “church” and the elements that constituted a “community of believers”.  They began to realize that there was no common definition of the church among their co-workers, let alone in WT.  As the years past, Joel & Jenna made decisions about what was a church for them.  To their surprise, their field director expressed disagreement with their conclusions.

This story is for the most part fictional, but represents some of the struggle I have heard from different members of our WT community around the globe.  

How do we begin to describe what we mean by “church” so that it provides a common base for all from which to work and which allows the functions of the church to take appropriate cultural forms where the church is being established?

2 Responses

  1. I think the problem starts with our existing paradigms which are based on how we “do church” and consequently the assumptions about what constitutes “church”: church services on Sunday morning; a time of “worship” consisting of hymns and choruses and maybe a prayer and maybe even a Bible reading–though quite rare nowadays; then of course, an offering; announcements, and a sermon of some kind.

    Where do we get all that from?

    Viola and Barna in “Pagan Christianity” suggest the origins lie in adopted or syncretized pagan practices. They may over-state the case; but there is something to the argument!

    I think we need to think about the task of making disciples as the key to understanding what the church is meant to be and do.

    But coming back to Viola and Barna’s book. Maybe we should do more to encourage contextualization including adopting local (pagan) concepts and practices, even at the risk of syncretism. It would be better than impose our own syncretism embedded in the forms we pass on.

    Or would it?

  2. To tangibly address David’s concluding question – I can recommend the practical lessons from CHURCH track in Omega Course (manuals 1 & 2). http://tinyurl.com/9pm6e This also includes very helpful distinctions between Form & Function. John WIlson’s comment rightly points to the power of context to sway practices. CPers can help preclude this by owning the biblical functions …and pursuing appropriate forms.
    I can also recommend (and provide, upon request) a two-page discussion and resource guide prepared by a WT-Europe task force last year. It’s part of an Innovation Plan (not yet implemented). It guides a team & mentor that are humbly willing to do early wrestling with Church Structure.

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