A Common Starting Point
We all bring our own understanding of language and culture to the table, so we want to be sure that we have a common starting point. We believe it’s important that we clarify our language and share our background assumptions.
In Dynamic Adventure, we use certain words that have different meanings in different contexts. We want to be clear from the beginning what we mean by these words:
We can hardly talk about church planting without also creating room for understanding how we’re defining the word. We’re going to take a bit more space to unpack what we mean by this, since the mission of Communitas is to follow Jesus in establishing these local bodies we call churches.
So what is “church” at its most basic level? A.W. Tozer began his book “The Knowledge of the Holy” with the words, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” By those words he meant that our unique experiences, circumstances, and information combine to form our perception of The Almighty. It’s the same way with our definitions of church. What we have individually experienced, learned from Bible study, what our culture has shaped us to think, and many more factors unique to each of us – all converge to form in us a perception of what church ought to be.
In many cases the word church brings to mind a site or place where regular worship services, classes, and spiritual events are conducted. Our minds also go to various words like simple, multi-site, house church, mega-church, contemporary, liturgical, seeker-sensitive – and yes, even missional – among many others. We believe that God uses many different forms of church as well as many different approaches to church to achieve His purposes in the world. But neither form nor approach are what we want to focus on in our definition of church.
Instead, we’d like to zoom in on the elemental functions we believe comprise church. We believe that at its core, an expression of church exists when three basic functions are present: communion, community, and mission. Get a group of people experiencing God, engaging in redemptive community, and partnering with Jesus in His kingdom work, and that is an expression of church. The beauty of this framework is that it encompasses every kind of church, from the organic home-based group in Madrid, Spain impacting the artist community, to the 2,000 member international church with three big services in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It fits the community in St. Paul, USA, who by serving the neediest of their city, are bringing people into Christ-centered communion and community, just as it fits a group in Sao Paulo, Brazil, gathering around Bible teaching videos, sharing life, and serving together.
We have found that staying focused on the functions of communion, community, and mission and allowing form to develop organically from context is incredibly freeing to church planters around the world. Teams can focus on practicing the elements of communion, community, and mission, and these activities set the stage for expressions of church to be birthed. Of course, like every living thing, churches have life stages. From conception to birth, infancy to adolescence and beyond, churches grow and change, too.
Nonetheless, our belief is that community, communion, and mission ought to be at the core of any healthy church, regardless of life stage. What will likely change is how these functions are expressed at any given stage, not whether they are present. In chapters four and five, we take a closer look at how teams and churches might express these three vital functions in ways that uniquely suit them.
We use the word missionary. This is not a popular word in many cultures, and for good reason. At times the Church has united with the State to send missionaries who have delivered a confusing mix of religion, Jesus, and Western culture. At its worst this has led to exploiting foreign peoples rather than finding God at work within them. We go back to the original meaning of the word: “a sent one.” Not ones sent to a distant land or to a far off people, but simply ones sent from God, in Jesus’s name, to announce God’s good news, both in word and deed. When using this guidebook, leave room for the word missionary to carry a positive meaning; think like the Apostle Paul, who echoed the ancient phrase, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” (Romans 10:15)
This is a team-based effort in a city that intentionally seeds the ground to grow communities that could become new churches or expressions of church. In Communitas we believe that missional initiatives and similar projects perform a vital role in preparing the ground for church planting.
Author Ken Blanchard defines leadership as the capacity to influence people (Ken Blanchard, Leading at a Higher Level, xvi). We cover this subject in greater depth in chapter six; however, we want to clearly state up front that we believe everyone can exert influence in some way. Leading is not an elite function. Good leadership actually gives permission to each person to bring healthy voice and influence to the team. In this book, when we mention leadership, we are talking about people who are exerting influence and making decisions*.
*As Communitas enters a given city for church planting, we don’t insist that a “team leader” come onto the scene to get things started; rather, we encourage missionary teams to engage their context and start learning as much as they can about their local environment. An appropriately gifted team leader will most often be required as a missional initiative gains momentum. However, Communitas believes the expression of Christ’s Kingdom on earth is not dependent on superstars. We applaud any step of faith a team takes to set the stage for the emergence of local churches – you never know what Jesus will do through faithful men and women engaging their context!
Throughout the guidebook we will be referring to a team. This might be a small group, an elder board, a church planting team, or a group of people with a similar hope. You can choose to define team however you want, but we assume you are working through this book with others who have similar hopes and dreams.