The Gospel Partnerships invited me to share some the ways in which God has been at work in and through City Church Birmingham since we began to meet in 1999. The Gospel Partnership site contains a growing set of resources on training, multiplying congregations and evangelism. Well worth returning to the site on a regular basis for input from a whole range of churches.
In the last post we explored what a city-suburb church might look like and in particular thought about the role of small-groups as missional communities to reach impenetrable communities with the gospel. Now we take a brief look at preaching and expectations.
B. Preaching and City Suburbs
Look for bridges over which the gospel will travel and expose the idols that the gospel – Ed Stetzer
1. City-suburbs and bridges to the gospel
The suburbs are community killers. Many churches make the assumption that because people have moved to a setting that has back decks instead of front porches that they don’t want community. I have found that they do — they just do not know how to seek and receive it. Life transforming suburban churches can and must lead people to deeper community even when the culture pushes against it. - Ed Stetzer
Our preaching should therefore feature gospel applications that are corporate in nature and that celebrate the power of the gospel to establish, deepen and maintain community.
Established because true community comes not from a shared experience but from a shared identity of being in Christ.
Deepened because as those in Christ we are able to overcome the barriers to community. We learn to trust, commit, love and serve those who are family in Christ.
Maintained because through the gospel we are able to overcome the breakers of community. We are ready to forgive, to hold our tongue, to overcome the temptations to put ourselves first.
2. City suburbs and idols that need to be destroyed
Darrin Patrick suggests we ask the following questions to expose the community idols that function as alternative gods in our culture.
• What do people in this suburb worry about most?
• What, if they failed or lost it, would cause them to feel that they did not even want to live?
• What do they use to comfort themselves when things go bad or get difficult?
• What do they do to cope? What are their release valves? What do they do to feel better?
Some of the surface idols identified with city suburbs:
In affluent suburbs (middle-class?) they might include: Career, wealth, aspiration, status anxiety
In poorer suburbs (working-class?) they might include: Consumerism, close-knit family, amusement (TV, etc.)
In our preaching we need to return, repeatedly, to these idols and demonstrate how they are gods that fail and how everything they promise is found in Christ.
C. What to expect when planting in City suburbs?
City-suburb planting highlights a tension particular, although not unique, to planting in such situations: a tension between two truths.
1. Longer term opportunities – People tend to live a longer time in the suburbs (living in the same house for 20 years I can still remember every neighbour I’ve had by name) and that provides opportunity to build gospel-relationships over a longer-term.
2. A Cocooning Commuter culture – Theologian Robert Banks (quoted by Al Hsu) observes: One of the key victims of the automobile is the experience of local neighborhood. Since people drive to and from their homes, they do not see, greet or talk with each other much anymore; since they go greater distances to shop and relax, the corner store disappears, and the neighborhood park empties, so removing the chief hubs of local neighborhood life.
D. Could you plant in a City suburb?
Who might be suited to plant in suburbs? Is this the right suburb in which to plant?
1. Do you have a love for this particular community?
2. Can you demonstrate a commitment to this community eg. can you move in? are you willing to educate your kids in the community? etc.
3. Do you have a ‘gift-set’ that is a good match for the suburb. What skills or gifts are needed to connect to the culture of the suburb. Do you need to be a creative-type? a family-man? interest in sports?
4. When it comes to character how patient are you? Can you cope with the frustration of slow growth in the early years?
Cities are pitted against suburbs . . . Rather than contrasting cities against suburbs, it is more helpful to see cities and suburbs as part of a metropolitan whole. Our contemporary understanding of “the city” needs to include both city and suburb, and God needs Christians to have a presence throughout the entire metropolis. Al Hsu
I’m speaking at a workshop today at the Planting for Christ conference. My theme: Planting in a City Suburb. Here are my notes . . . part 1.
A. Cities and suburbs
Wikipedia defines it this way (highlighting how the term means something a little different in the US from the UK). A suburb is a residential area, either existing as part of a city or urban area (as in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city (as in the United States and Canada).
English Heritage goes for the following: In general terms, suburbs can perhaps be best described as outgrowths or dependencies of larger settlements – somewhere with a clear relationship with a city or town but with its own distinct character.
Maybe we can best say: a city suburb is a distinct, recognisable area within a city, often with an integrity and character that is valued by the local community.
2. What is the relationship between the city and the suburb?
For cities like Birmingham (perhaps to be contrasted with global cities) a typical pattern would be
Urban-core, inner city, inner suburbs, outer suburbs, rural
B. What does it mean to plant in a city-suburb?
Rather than appealing to a sector of society you are taking responsibility for a part of the mission field geographically – John James, Helier Chapel.
You might identify the community by a post-code, a housing estate, political ward, but usually by a named area.
1. Contextualisation is essential
- Contextualisation is inevitable
- Contextualisation is biblical
- Contextualisation is necessary
- Contextualisation is complicated
2. When planting in the suburbs, community is key to contextualisation
a. Learn the culture – Ron Edmunson comments: Every city, every village, and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matters most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value?
b. Learn the market – Chip Weeler asks: Are schools an option for a building? Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What are the major problems, concerns, and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics?
c. Commit to the community. Planting in suburbs takes time and a great deal of patience.
3. Top Ways to Connect to Your Community
a. Be specific and strategic with your contacts
Very often this means starting with the families; mums and toddlers, kids & youth, messy church.
We’re five years in and we’ve seen very little fruit. We are still right at the start. But there is a whole community of people whose kids have been with us and we’re having conversations we wouldn’t have had three years ago – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
b. Build missional communities as a key strategy to reach the community
In City-suburb planting the church needs to engage the community.
Telling members of the plant simply to ‘go and be missional’ in an impenetrable community simply won’t work.
Missional small groups are a surer way in to the community and a training ground for plant members. The leader’s job is to create a context for mission within a community setting. For these groups to work at least the hosts and leaders need to live in or very near the community being reached.
- Small group bible-studies are open to the local community (ie a mixed group of Christians and non-Christians). All the questions are aimed at our belief system – Andy Weatherley. The danger is that you de-skill the Christians in their Bible-handling skills.
- Small groups are intentionally outward focused and look to draw in members of the community through a variety of social gatherings e.g. Eating food, celebrating national events such as Jubilee, Football World Cup, Christmas, Oscars Film night, . . . whatever your community is in to.
- Small groups are often the first point of contact with non-Christians.
Small group leaders need to be evangelists as well as Bible-study group leaders. A church-planter adopting this model needs to give a disproportionate amount of time and attention to training up leaders
Community group leaders are the key to the success of our church – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
c. Be a servant
- Street Associations
- Neighbourhood Watch Schemes
d. Use media to connect with your community
Chip Weeler suggests: Invest as much as you can in a Web site—a good Web site. Have the Web site up and running before the launch of the church, and use it as a tool for outreach. Post sermons, worship services, and areas of involvement. Make sure that the Web site clearly spells out where you meet, when you meet, how to dress, what to expect, and how the kids will be taken care of . . .take advantage of online communities such as MySpace and Facebook, as well as YouTube and other popular, free online sources.
Use photos from the community, landmarks from community, community events, etc. on your page. Give the casual viewer of your site links to the community they can identify with.
Produce a local newsletter; highlighting what’s going on in the community, featuring church-run or hosted events but not exclusively.
Follow Twitter feeds relevant to your community.
e. Join with community events (to use the language of Brad House ‘read the rhythms of your community’)
Have a presence at community events but be careful how you use it.
Case Study: Grace Church: Co-Co Mad (arty, drama, crafty festival)
Where are the places people like to be in your suburb? Build in visits into your ministry as a planter and team.
Schools, Library, Gym, shops,
g. Run your own church events & activities
• Curry club
• B-B-Q and family games day
• Clothes exchange party
• Gospel choir
• Football team
If you’re anything like me your natural temptation is to want to forget the mistakes you’ve made in ministry. Some are embarrassing because they highlight our immaturity or weaknesses, others are difficult to recall because we remember the impact they had on others. Bad news is for burying, isn’t that right? But maybe God wants to teach us through our mistakes (and our failures for that matter).
Ten most common mistakes made by new church starts is a book that aims to take our errors and put them to use. In their introduction Griffith and Easum write ‘Those of you who are already church planting will recognise yourself as we go along. If the pain gets too bad, take an aspirin or two.’
I think I probably made at least 6 of the mistakes they list. One of the mistakes I recognise was called ‘Failure of the Church to Act Its Age and Its Size.’ The key principle being that in a planting context decisions need to me made about what ministries should be started when. In other words there is the world of difference between knowing something is the right thing to do and knowing when is the right time to do it. When we started talking about buying a building as a one year old plant we certainly didn’t help ourselves or our congregation to ‘Act our age!’ Great idea, wrong timing. The same can be said of wanting to start a full-blown kids work from age 0-14 to draw in families to the plant at a time when our eldest child in the congregation was just 1.
Stepping out in faith is not the same as running ahead, unaware of the risks and at a pace that cannot be sustained by even the most servant-hearted, faith-filled congregation. Nor do plants begin ministries only to please guests. ‘It’s better to just let them walk away than to overextend and burn out. It’s also better than making promises you can’t keep.’
At our next 2020birmingham Planters meeting we will be sharing our mistakes and in turn I’ll try and share some on the blog.
God not only lets us make mistakes, he wants us to learn from them. He also wants us to teach others through our mistakes. The Bible is full of stories of those who failed from Abraham to Moses to David to Paul. Their examples are for our instruction. God has included their mistakes to teach us humility, patience, God-dependence and above all else that He is the one building His church sometimes because of us and sometimes despite us.
We live in a world where no-one will ever say they were wrong. As Christians we are free from the need to prove ourselves, our ministry successes and failures do not define us. But they do shape us and others. Let us put them to good use.
Jon Tyson is lead pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York City. I found a sermon he preached in December from Matthew 1:21-23 really enlightening, not to say a little disturbing. Tyson (about 19 minutes into the sermon) highlights a hidden danger inherent in the hearts of men and women driven by a noble desire – living for God.
What could be wrong with such a fine ambition? Essentially, Tyson points out, the danger comes from failing to recognise that our lives were never intended to be lived for God but with God. When our passion is not Christ but doing stuff for Christ we become vulnerable to that most subtle danger of ‘importing worldly ambition into Christian ministry’.
Tyson draws on a blog post written by Skye Jethani entitled Has mission become our idol to expand his point. Jethani writes
Sometimes the people who fear insignificance the most are driven to accomplish the greatest things. As a result they are highly praised for their good works which temporarily soothes their fear until the next goal can be achieved.
How easy it is for Christian ministers to believe that the worth of our life is determined by the achievements of our ministries. Jethani quotes Gordon McDonald who says of this condition (which he defines as missionalism);
Missionalism starts slowly and gains a foothold in the leader’s attitude before long the mission controls almost everything; time, relationships, health, spiritual depth, ethics and convictions.
How many Christian ministers are actually pursuing a worldly ambition –driven by a desire to prove themselves through their ministry – rather than joyfully living out their lives and fulfilling their ministries with Christ?
What might be tell-tales signs that your ministry has morphed into a self-serving idol?
Here are 5 symptoms I recognise in myself;
1) An aggressive self-promotion of our own ministries. Every conversation, blog-post or tweet is an opportunity to talk about ourselves through the vehicle of pushing of a ministry rather than an opportunity to bless others with the gospel.
2) A lack of interest (let alone joy) in the ministry of others. If my sense of self-worth is located in my ministry then the success of others disturbs and threatens me. They become a threat to my security and rob me of my joy.
3) When our ministry is an idol, and its success becomes our consuming goal, relationships suffer. When our focus is our ministry our relationships begin to be defined by the extent to which they can be useful to us in fulfilling our objectives. Family life suffers because they don’t advance our cause and instead slow us down by demanding time and energy we want to invest elsewhere. In essence the idol is seen to be at work when I am only interested in others to the extent to which they can assist in the completion of my projects and plans.
4) When we are defined by our ministry we find it next to impossible to rest from our work. The idol of worldly ambition enslaves us and we fear falling behind.
5) When ministerial success is essential to our identity what keeps us awake at night is not the fate of the lost, or the glory of God but a fear of personal failure.
Movements are marked by a compelling vision says Tim Keller in Center Church and that is what we are discovering in Birmingham. 2020birmingham is a church-planting movement for the UK’s second largest city. We’ve been building the work for the past 3 years.
So what’s our compelling vision? 20 church-planting churches by 2020. It’s as simple as that and maybe that’s why there is momentum for 2020birmingham. In three years we’ve seen 6 new churches started – 3 new churches, 2 new congregations and 1 replant.
We are not a denomination, we have no staff (apart from a terrific part-time administrator who’s been with us 3 months) and so far we’ve had no money to invest in planters or plants.
What we do have is a team of 8 planters who are committed to the gospel, to the city, to their congregations, to the lost and to each other.
This last Saturday we held our third conference and we were amazed to find we were going to be 100 people from 29 different churches and organisations. I counted just six who came from outside the city to look at what we were doing and three of those used to live in the city and are planning to come back to plant.Tim Keller again A movement says ‘If this is where you want to go, come along with us’ and so at our conference this year we made our theme partnership. Our message was come join us – because we can do far more together than we ever could on our own.
We reminded ourselves why our city needed a church-planting movement. Birmingham is Europe’s youngest city with 37% of the population under 25. That’s a lot of people who are highly secularised, highly diverse, and pretty suspicious about the church.
We celebrated what God had done in planting the six churches and seeing them established and growing.
We were inspired through stories of church planting movements in cities of the world from Al Barth & Martin de Jong.
We were challenged by the need to reach new communities in our cities and the complexity of third culture communities growing up around us. How do we plant highly contextualised churches to reach every community?But most of all we wanted to be generous. We wanted to invite others to join us. We said you don’t need to be a church-planting church to join a church-planting movement – although be careful because that’s just maybe what you’ll become. We said why not become a 2020 Partner Church? Partner churches are established churches in our city willing and available to partner with a new church plant in their area; ready to pray, share wisdom, coach, mentor and train core-team members. The synergy created between plant and partner church ensures that the partner in turn is blessed not least in being motivated to keep an outward focus for themselves too. Who knows how many partner churches may in turn plant for themselves inspired by the example of the new churches they have partnered to create.
We also let the gospel of our God motivate this movement.
A church-planting Bishop from the Church of England shared his experience of planting in London (Rev. Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Aston). He described the powerful synergy only experienced when we choose to work together in planting and he reminded us that the God who is trinity is a God of partnership in his very being. It was something special to be reminded by the Bishop that we are at our most god-like when we are in partnership too.
The apostle Paul told us from Romans 13:12 that we have an on-going obligation to love each other. There is never a time when I can say ‘I have loved you enough.’ The church may have a mission, a mandate, and a motivation that forms a movement but more than anything else it needs the love of Christ pulsing through its veins.
On Saturday 100 people from across the city of Birmingham are gathering together to think, pray and plan to reach our city for Christ. It’s the third time we have done this in the past 3 years. Our conference is called How to win a million.
We represent a variety of evangelicals (Anglican, FIEC, Independent, New Frontiers, etc.) and the reason we keep meeting is that we recognise that it will take many more new churches to reach our city for Christ and that collaboration in planting is the way to best achieve this.
Let me offer you five reasons why our city, and almost certainly yours, needs not just for your church to plant but churches to work together to plant so that we can reach a city more quickly and more effectively for Christ.
1. We need new churches to reach a growing population
The population of England and Wales has grown by 3.7 million people in just the past 10 years. Such a population increase, at 7.1%, represents the greatest increase in a single 10 year period in over one hundred years.
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 37% of the population under the age of 25.
2. We need new churches to replace the many churches that are closing
The total number of churches in the UK fell from 50,231 in 1980 to 47,635 in 2005 a drop of 5.16%, when in the same period the UK population grew from 56.3 Million to 60.2 Million a rise of 6.7%.
3. We need new churches to reach out to our ever more secular cities
A recent study of 64,303 adults in the UK found that of the younger generation: only 38% of the 18-34′s defined themselves as being Christian whilst 53% preferred to describe themselves as having no religion. Whilst the gospel doesn’t change and the message of Christ crucified is our only message we need to find innovative, creative and flexible models of church that best reach a secular culture. New churches have always led the way.
4. We need new churches to reach our religiously diverse cities
In the 2001 census 16.8% of the Birmingham population identified themselves as Muslim. The average for England and Wales is 3.0%. The challenge is obvious and the statistics demonstrate the direction of travel: ever-more diversity! Birmingham had a 30% ethnic minorities population in 2001 and that figure is set to grow.
New communities have entered our cities and reaching them for Christ presents fantastic opportunities!
5. We need new churches that will love and serve our cities rather than retreat from them
In that same study of over 60,000 UK adults
- 79% agreed that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today
- 72% agreed that religion is used as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance
- 78% agreed that religion should be a private matter
When 4 in 5 people are deeply suspicious of the presence of religion in their society there is much that the church must do to demonstrate a commitment to serve and bless our cities.
The challenges are so great and the need so urgent that it compels us to work together under Christ to make his name known.
Sheri Thomas spoke at the City to City Network Leaders Conference yesterday on church planters and their spouses. Here are a number of key points that really struck me from what was said.
1) Planters need to understand the pressure on their spouses.
That means planters need to spend time communicating deeply with their spouses on how planting or planning to plant is impacting their marriage – both positively and negatively.
It also means planters need to be aware, up-front, of the most common causes of pressure that face spouses and to factor into both church and marriage ways of recognising them and overcoming them.
2) Ministry will always win out over family unless deliberate steps are taken to prevent it.
Ministry will always be here. Family will grow up and leave. Make family a priority for their sake and for the sake of the church. Prioritise eating together, taking good holiday, celebrating together eg birthdays, etc.
3) Plan a retreat for church planters in your network so that planters and spouses can be refreshed and encouraged together or if that is not possible try and get together as a church planting couple with another church planting couple.
4) Boundary Ambiguity is a cause of stress and tension. What is the spouses role and responsibility in a plant? Is it clear and has it been communicated to the plant? What protection of boundaries are in place with regard to space especially when it comes to using the home a lot.
5. Role ambiguity. Just how involved does she have to be and how might that role change over time and if children are involved.
6. Isolation is an issue. Groups of church-planting spouses need the opportunity of meeting together and talking about their roles and situations
7. The greatest fear for a church planting spouse is often the fear that she cannot do it all and yet all is expected of her.
8. The marriage is the biggest thing as to whether the plant will make it or not. Therefore assessing a church planter must involve assessing the church planter spouse. The person most likely to want to pull the plug on planting is probably an overburdened spouse.
So in order to protect the marriage in a church planting situation we need to ask:
How is the marriage functioning ?
When it comes to boundary ambiguity does she fight (ie take issue with the plant and how its impacting her in negative ways eg. gossip or even undermining her husband publically) or flight (by becoming withdrawn and isolated)? Does she recognise and want to respond to these temptations in a godly way?
What does she do with problems as they arise in church? Does she have the level of maturity to cope with this?
Is she supportive – does she believe in her church-planting husband? If she doesn’t it’s going to be very hard for them both and the plant.
Who are the people she is going to open up with? Different subjects, different depths.
6 marks of an ageing church
Here’s his definition of a healthy vibrant and probably young church plant: ’It has vision and energy and a heart to reach the community around them.’
In a really helpful section of his closing talk Al highlighted some of the signs that a church or church-plant is growing old. Essentially he said ‘churches age as people age’.
8 marks of an ageing church
1) Loss of vision. As you get older you find it harder to see clearly – you lose your vision. So to an ageing church in which vision for reaching out is lost and contentment to be a church that cares for it’s members is suffiicient.
2) Loss of flexibility. Just as when we age physically we find it harder to touch toes, etc. so in ageing churches leadership demonstrate a lack of ability to flex and change.
Every church says it wants to grow but Stewart reminded us that very few want to change.
3) Comfort. As the body begins to creak comfort becomes a necessity and a priority. In ageing churches we are more and more concerned about the comfort of our members than anything else. A church can be slowly declining for decades and be comfortable
4) A loss of urgency. As you get older you get slower. Older churches take decades to make decisions!
5) Harder to make new friends. Ageing churches are not good at welcoming new people. When you’re young you love making new friends and you are excited about meeting new people. Older in life and you have all the friends you’re looking for. Churches reaching retirement are churches in which everyone has all the friends they want or need and new people are not going to find their way in.
6) Loss of hunger. Just as older people lose their appetite for food so an ageing church loses its appetite for challenge and growth. Decline is inevitable once the hunger has gone.
Al had two further points that I didn’t fully get down at the time but I’m working on that and will add those in due course. If you were there and you know what they were feel free to let me know!
What would you like to ask the man whos church baptised 1392 people in 2011 in one of the most secular, least churched, cities of the United States of America?
I had the privilege of gathering a small number of people, including a Bishop, to have dinner with Pastor Mark in Birmingham last May. He gave us two hours of his time to listen to the challenges that face our city in how we get the gospel out to a lost generation. Not one of us had any connect with Acts29. He neither asked for, nor took, any of our money. We did a lot of listening and learning.
A number of people including some good friends of mine argue Driscoll goes too far. I don’t doubt it for a moment but he’s right to say that he does it in a church culture where hardly anybody goes far enough.
I live on a council estate in Birmingham and the one thing I know for sure is that men where I live are not going to church and there is no church I could think of many of them would want to go to including my own. Millions of people are going to hell and the church is not ready or able to do something. I’ll take all the help I can get from a guy who is helping me see how to get working class, blue-collar workers to hear about Jesus. Driscoll preaches expository sermons, over an hour in length, promises no-one wealth or health, talks honestly and openly about the reality of heaven and hell, calls upon people to live radically holy, self-denying lives and above all else talks about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus AND people are converted. It’s time to listen.
Whatever we think Driscoll has got wrong it pales into comparison with what he’s got right and for that I praise God. If I had to choose, I would rather he continued to go too far than not far enough provided that his basic conclusions are sound. The trouble for British evangelicalism, as it seems to me, is that we don’t like it.
The decision of Christianity Magazine to pre-lease a web article with highly edited and potentially misleading quotations from a Driscoll interview on his views on the British church can hardly be considered responsible publishing, and Mark Driscoll has a point when he questions the motives of the magazine in choosing to do so. I for one would not appreciate such a pre-release.
Whatever Mark Driscoll may have got wrong he’s got a whole lot more right. So come on British evangelicals – let’s take the medicine – and learn.
If you want to know Pastor Mark’s views on the British church at greater length in his own words then this might be a place to start A Word for all seasons.
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