Tag Archives: Total Church

Whole family services

The usual method in churches in their family service is to split the children and youth away from the adults, except maybe for an intordutory “altogether time”. The thinking is that then each age group can receive age-appropriate content. Sounds fine.

The problem is that so many children do not keep going to church as a teenager, or if they do, they find the jump into adult services difficult. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis claim that as they have not had the ‘family of God’ modelled to them in the services, they are more likely to decide that they don’t need the version of the family of God that they have come to know when they grow up. This family should be inter-accountable, learning from one another, supporting each other etc regardless of age or background. On the one hand the church says it values family, on the other it splits families up at the door. This is about far more than just services, but how could we  this be done?

One church kept the children and adults together for the main teaching session and then had a specific group for children when the congregation broke into application groups. The children were led by an adult but were encouraged to take the teaching seriously and apply it to the specifics of their own hearts and issues.

It’s an interesting approach, but it ensures that the whole congregations hears the same thing, but that each group works to find appropriate applications for themselves.

The person who does the ‘altogether teaching’ would have to work hard at making the talk understandable, but that has the added bonus that the teaching would be understandable! However, of the all-age services I’ve been to, only a few have had much to say to the adults. A danger of this sort of setup would be that the altogehter time is reduced to so it says nothing of substance to the adults. I’d be interested to see it though.

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Spirituality

Chapter 9 of Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book, Total Church, talks about Biblical spirituality. They claim, rightly, that spirituality is word-based, and focussed on the person of Jesus.

“Union with Christ is not the goal of spirituality, it is the foundation on spirituality. It is not attained through disciplines or stages; it is given through childlike faith”

This, I agree with. As Christian’s we are not trying to be spritual in order to get to God, this path has been opened up to us through Jesus. Spirituality can therefore be seen as an engagement with the world rather than a detatchment from it. Timmis and Chester give an excellent example of a young Christian trying to do this, by remaining integrated with non-Christian friends and groups.

This is true, but at the same time, Chester an Timmis seem to see spending time in solitude and silence as and irrelevant part of spirituality. I certainly agree that it is not the entirety of spirituality, and it is also not a means by which to get to God, but surely by clearing our schedules and setting aside time, it enables us to focus our minds on God. I am also not suggesting that this quiet should be divorced from scripture, or that we go in search of an inner spiritual identity. Likewise, God will give us an extra revelation of himself to sit over and above scripture. But we do not have to choose between solitude and scripture.

But, the time to meditate on God’s words in the Bible, to clear our minds or preoccupations so that we can get to the heart of some issues and in short, engage with God. We clear our schedules so we can hear his voice speaking through scripture and through others. This is part of a biblical picture of spirituality. Didn’t God speak to Elijah through the stillness? Didn’t Jesus retreat away from the crowds on his own?

In this chapter, Chester and Timmis say a lot of good things, but I think they have missed a trick by dismissing stillness and solitude so easily.

Church Leadership

“The only demarkation amongst the people of God is that of function, not position. If my role is that of a leader in the local church, then I am a gospel minister using my gift to serve God’s people. But whatever my role, I am still a gospel minister using my gift to serve God’s people. A leader is not a ‘special’ case : he is a servant of the gospel among gospel servants; a brother among his brothers and sisters.” Steve Timmis and Tim Chester

Total Church (vi) – Mission

Chapter 6 of Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book, Total church talks about the church’s need to engage in world mission. Mission, they say, is an activity of God – it is right at the very centre of his actions, from his decision to choose a people for himself who would be a light to all nations, to the Great Commission given by Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel.

“The term mission, [Karl Barth] pointed out, was originally used of the sending of the Son by the Father and the sending of the Spirit by the Father and the Son. To this was added the sending of the Church by the Trinity. The Triune God is a missionary God. The church, then has a mission because God has a mission. The role of the church is to participate in the mission of God. The value of this perspective is the way it roots mission in the doctrine of God rather than relegating is to allied theology”

Mission should be part of a church’s DNA. In Romans 15:19, Paul says that “from Jerusalem all the way round to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ”. In what sense is that true? Paul preached extensively, and set up new churches, but by no means had the whole area been won for Christ! What Timmis and Chester suggest is that Paul has fully proclaimed Jesus to them. This is at the centre of mission. The rest of the work of growth, encouragement, preaching and planting was the responsibility of the local churches he left behind. Jesus was at the centre of their formation and consequently mission is part of their DNA. By no means should it be left to large mission organisations, as this simply distances the local church from the action of mission – which is part of their fundamental being. He cites the example of China – in 1945 all the mision agencies were expelled from the country, essentially leaving the task of mission to the local house-churches with no outside influence. Christianity boomed through their efforts, and because it is God’s mission.

Locally, the church engages in mission by being the community of grace and embodying the gospel of grace in the local society. On a more global scale, Chester and Timmis give examples of many local churches partnering with others around the world, or sending mission partners to various places to plant churches. All done in straight-forward ways by very ordinary people.

Total church (v) – church planting

Continuing the series going through the book, Total Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

Chapter 5 of Total church talks about church planting. Chester and Timmis claim that at the centre of the apostolic vision of mission was church planting – this is what Paul and his companions were doing all throughout the New Testament. The church is the agent of mission and as such, church planting is the primary form of mission.

Of course, by church, Chester and Timmis are not talking about the church as an institution of as the universal church. They are talking about the church as a loving and close knit family – as the early church congregations were. The early churches met in households, running a church was compared to running a family. Once this family of the church had outgrown the size of the household that they could meet in, they split into two smaller congregations. (Timmis and Chester giver references for this from Acts).

Local church congregations therefore are to look out and care for each other, to have the gospel at the centre, and are deeply integrated in their local community. Mission and evangelism, then, are part of the DNA of the church as they care for each other and for the community.

Why doesn’t this happen in most churches today? Total church claims there are a number of factors. One is that the church slips into ‘maintenance mode’. As a church gets bigger it starts providing programs and courses and so on, all of these create jobs that need to be filled in the church. The focus of the church then becomes keeping these programs going, rather than reaching out in new ways to the local community.

I guess the main focus of the chapter is simple: that the mission of God involves engaging with the surrounding community and planting communities (church groups) where God’s grace can be lived out and witnessed in the community. Quite simple really.

Total Church (iv) – social involvement

The 4th chapter of Total church concentrates on social involvement. How much should a church be socially involved. Often in the past, doing good works has been seen as an either/or with evangelism.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis point out that Jesus not only went to the poor and marginalised, he considered them equally worthy to have community with him as anyone else. By sitting and eating with, say, Zacchaeus the tax collected Jesus invited him into him community. The poor don’t just need their lived improved, they need the gospel. Cleaning up someone’s house, for example, is a great example of how communities can love the poor, but this act needs to point to something. Without the gospel of grace it would equally point to a gospel of works or social betterment. This is not the gospel that Jesus taught. All need to hear his words and respond to him in repentance and receive grace. The poor are poor for all sorts of reasons, and very few of them have to do with lack of resources. By introduction to and welcome into an authentic Christian community, they will have the support they need.

However, Christian community has not always been welcoming to the poor. Timmis and Chester are also critical of how churches in the UK (particularly evangelical churches) have traditionally neglected problem areas. The successful ones are full of middle class, upwardly mobile, wealthy people – people just like each other. For some reason, the working classes have not been welcomed or have not felt able to go there. The Christian community was lacking. This, they claim, is not only doing the poor a dis-service, but the rich too, as it communicates a message that Jesus wasn’t teaching – one where status and wealth do matter (even if this is unspoken). The gospel of grace is a gospel for all, rich and poor, and I can’t help thinking we are lacking something of authentic Christian community if we neglect either group.

Total Church (iii) – whole community evangelism

Continuing on their discussion of church being a place where gospel ad community meet, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis move on to talk about evangelism in their book Total Church.

Too often evangelism is seen as something difficult, for individuals to engage in, and as something else that a Christian needs to slot into their life. They argue that if the church took the call to be a radical loving community seriously, this needn’t be the case. People become Christians and start asking questions, they claim, when they see the intersection between faith and the community of faith.

They see a three-strand approach to evangelism: Building relationships, sharing the gospel, and introducing to the community. And, they claim, it doesn’t matter which one comes first. This makes evangelism a role of the whole community, not just of the individual who first meets the seeker.

Some people are simply not good at speaking to strangers and forming new friendships. One of the practical benefits of the three strand model of evangelism is that it gives a role to all of God’s people. By making evangelism a community project, it also takes seriously the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in distributing a variety of gifts among his people. Everyone has a part to play: the new Christian, the introvert, the extravert, the eloquent, the stuttering, the intelligent, the awkward. I may be the one who has begun to build a relationship with my neighbour, but by introducing him to community, it is someone else who shares the gospel with him. That is not only legitimate; it is positively thrilling!

If this is the model, evangelism does not become an extra thing that an individual needs to do, but it is a gospel intention in the way a community lives out its life. As it goes about what it usually does, inviting people into the community should become second nature.