Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 4 in the Ekklesialogical Octagon

There is something much more exciting than MMA.

"In this corner, with a seminary degree from Trinity, 8 years of overseas experience- give it up for the humble, hospitable, Jesus loving... Brian T..."
"In the other corner, with some sketchy church based training, 4 days (3 1/2 really) of experience in Turkey, with a big mouth, and just enough knowledge of Greek to be dangerous- put your hands together for the proud and arrogant...Mark Arant" (the crowd goes wild!!)

Okay, so it's not Ultimate Fighting, but watching me cage fight with the workers here about how to go about church planting has to at least be mildly entertaining. Last night I had Brian tapping out with the 1 Corinthians 14:22-26 hold. Tonight I got him with a practical example of another church that is working here (to which I was accused of being a pragmatist.)

If you are just browsing for one of Leatha's recipes or a family pic, please stop here.
If Mark has had you fooled into thinking he is a humble person and you want to keep that image of him. Please stop here.
If you want to hear a rant about church planting overseas. Read on.

The hip trend in overseas work is the house church movement. This involves contextualization (making church as normal as possible for the people group you're working with) and reproducability (don't help the locals out in any way financially). So, we can't do buildings, we can't have traditional church services and we can't pay their rent or salaries with foreign money.

So the solution to planting a church where there is no church is to share JC, disciple new followers for 6 months, then put the handful of people together and hope they figure out how to do church. Here's the problem: it's not working.

Here's the other problem: the traditional model (rent a building- worship through song and teach the Bible) is working. The Vineyard dudes blow into town, set up some drums, crank up their amps, teach them how to interpret the Bible, dreams, etc- and there are churches to show for it. The Presbyterians (the kind who believe in Jesus) say some chants, say the Lord's prayer (good for them!) teach the Bible, get some charisma from the Florida revival (I'm not even joking)- and boom the church is rockin'.

Granted, planting a church in Turkey isn't as easy as "just add water" but...

Of course the Turks don't know how to do church- they won't know unless we show them body life and what church even looks like. The workers here refuse to let the Turks be apart of their fellowships. They say, "church is for believers, not unbelievers." That's when I dropped the 1 Cor. 14:22-ff bomb.

It's this ecclesiological (beliefs about church) haze that bothers me. Or maybe it's an opinion (they need to do church this way) that is not working. I know we've had a few disagreements about how to do church over the years, but when I think the Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Vineyard brothers (ok, that's not such a stretch) are leading the way in fulfilling the Great Commission, shouldn't we humble ourselves and do it the way we do it in America (GASP!)

How many stories do we have in Cstone of people driving into the parking lot and saying, "God is here" or weeping through the service? Hundreds. (that's not exageration)

Here are some findings I have unearthed in 4 days:
- Turks think going to a house meeting is wack. That's what the communists did.
- A building makes the meeting/church service feel legit.
-Turks want a place to visit and see church firsthand (the only 3 Turkish testimonies I heard involved observing the church in action and being compelled by it. One even saw a vision of the Vineyard church building that God would lead him to weeks later).
- When our student was asked by a Turk, "Can I visit your church?" our student had to say, "Sorry you can't come." Isn't there something wrong with that?

Are you kidding me?!!! It's 1:21 am?

Brian, I know you're reading. You have been an awesome host to me this week and an example of Christ in flesh.

Now get back into the cage and let the readers hear your side (Fair warning- this blog is not a level playing field, as I will delete any comments I don't like or think will give you the upperhand) :)


Eric Crawford said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I think it is unfortunate when a particular model of engaging a culture with the gospel in all aspect works amazingly well in one country, and therefore is assumed to be the best model in all cultures. The church planting movement of small groups worked amazingly well in China, and now the rest of the world should follow that model as well, while we ignore the fact that that particular model was a necessity in China because of the persecution of the church in that country.

The logical conclusion to this method is that we in America are doing church incorrectly and should all drop the whole large church congregation thing for the small house group meeting such as the ones similar to what Steve Burgeson has started. An outside point of view would show that it isn't reproducing. So why should we continue doing church in a way that isn't reproducing?

An unfortunate thing that happens is when the context of scripture is ignored and taken as something that should be applied to the church at large as to not be disobedient to scripture. Such is the argument for the small house church movement. Sure New Testament followers of Christ seemed to generally prefer to meet in homes in smaller groups. However, Paul reasoned in the Hall of Tyranus where through that, the whole of Asia heard the gospel. Simply because scripture shows a particular model that seemed to work at that time, should not mean that we must follow the same method. What happened to becoming all things to all people so that the gospel would take root in a culturally relevant way?

I do think it is time for the not only the missions community at large, but the church at large rethinking how the church can be done in a way that does reproduce. Reproduction of the church should not simply be a game of how many churches can we plant. But how many lost people need to follow Christ, and how can we introduce the to Jesus. I honestly don't care how many churches there are in Turkey. But I do care about how many people have chosen to follow Christ in Turkey.

Curtis said...

You've had some cool posts lately (i.e. Augustine, the Holy Spirit, Sabino, etc.) but this one is a fun one because it merits so much discussion. And there has been plenty of discussion amongst people (as this post is a part of)...

Contextualization is a tough thing especially with regard to how we do chrch. A lot of it depends on the culture. Since I saw you with Hakan, I can safely assume where you are. In that part of Turkiye, it's in Europe and Asia so they are a wide mix of influences. It is interesting to note that the Communists used small house meetings thus small house meetings carry a bad connotation. So it seems the American approach can work and is good. The thing to mindful of is that it is not THE only approach. You could probably use a wide of variety of models within that city (I think that's one of the few benefits of post-modernism's effects on the younger generation today: a more open-mindedness when it comes to things like this).

Reproduction is a big deal which is why the debate of building vs. house stuff comes up. I think the problem though within this is that this question does not have to be either/or. The main thing is raising up leadership to be able to lead others which hopefully leads to people movements. But in the M context especially, it could be thru a Mosque but that's a debate for another day : )

In conclusion, when it comes to issues like this; (as was alluded to in the original post) love, humility, pryer, etc. need to reign out because division is Satan's best strategy and it is devastating. So unity must win out unless it's a non-negotiable (i.e. Jsus did not die) then there must be excommunication. So yep, hope you're doing well in such a bastion and wealth of history...

Darlene said...

Ahhhhhh, Mark. It's nice to see someone else swept up in the fodder of many Tim/Dar coffee-time conversations. It's confirming to read another brother's insights. I have long felt that house church is the embryonic form of church growth. It may be where we start, but it is certainly not where I feel we should stop. In Revelation the Church stands together as an entire body singing before the throne of God. THAT is the ideal. That is sanctification and glorification of the church. Now, I realize that as long as we live on this earth there will be differences in doctrine, etc. and I am not calling for all demoninations to be done away with. But why not unite with others of one mind and heart to offer up collective praises before God? Why limit that group to the number that can fit in a living room?

It bothers me when workers aren't consistent with their stated philosophy. If house church is really the only way to do church, then these same people should only be involved in house church in the states. If they are not, why not? Why would they propose an ideology to a people group that they themselves don't keep? Is it because the American church is too far gone to be brought back to such a "pure" state? If that is true, they should be working toward that end by example while they are stateside. They should only accept donations and help from people who are engaged in house-church only. Their children should go to one house-church VBS or youth group. If they don't, why not? And if they participate in a "traditional" church setting for certain benefits that can't be replicated as well in a home setting, then why deny those benefits to others?

I echo Curtis's sentiments that call for many methods. Some things will work at one time in one place and won't be applicable somewhere else. Workers cannot prescribe one size fits all. We can look at other places for ideas and analysis, but to say, "This is the way, the only way to do church worldwide" is to put shackles around the very work we long to see set free and reproduce.

Jeff Dodge said...

That country will be won by the time Mark gets home! I actually agree with your quick (let's call it "marginally informed") opinion, Mark. God was vague about the "mode" of His church intentionally. Let's adhere closely to His clear directives, but then let's use Spirit-empowered (yes, Mark that's me talking about "Spirit-empowered") freedom and creativity in getting the job done. Can't wait to have you home to talk this one through. There is NO ONE more fun to be overseas with than Mark Arant!!!

Jeff Dodge said...

For a great ancillary read on your issue of Christianity finding appropriate cultural expression, read Tim Keller's "The Reason for God," chapter 3. Fantastic.

J and J Masson said...

1. I have no cool theological type big words to use in my comment.
2. Gotta agree with Darlene-it's nice to see someone saying what you said.
3. Most workers aren't from Cstone, so . . . . :)
4. Scott Rank IS really funny. And I've had quite a few laughs from your blog too surprisingly . .
5. I love seeing Kayla there. That girl has more depth than myself.
6. I did think you were humble. I guess I'll change my opinion now :)
7. You need to come to Europe and see what awesome work is being done here amongst our PG and others like it. For real.

Dude said...

Is it even a little bit possible that different folks call for different strokes? Why would we think that ministering in a pioneer context should be exactly like ministering in a non-pioneer context and vice-versa? In other words, could it be that what is required in a non-pioneer context like America may not "work" (a term that needs lengthy & biblical definition) as well in a pioneer context, just as house churches would be unnecessarily spartan in America?

Why do we in America look at pioneer contexts and assume we've got all the answers for what is ailing those there who are working really hard to faithfully persevere in all good things -- and, oh, the problem, as we can so clearly see in a brief trip, is them and their methods? Problem solved.

I agree with Curtis -- love and humility and unity are needed first -- I'm pretty sure if we are lacking in that we don't have ANY church...

...but what do I know?