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I wanted to share this from a breakout session I sat in this morning with Jeff Vanderstedlt and Caesar Kalinowski. Someone asked them what they would recommend to a church trying to move towards missional communities. I thought it was a great question since many people don’t have the luxury of starting from a clean slate and are operating with a structure that cannot easily turn in a new direction. I have tried to summarize what Jeff and Caesar mentioned below.
Reflections On Soma School
I spent the last week of January in Tacoma, Washington doing a week long immersion with Soma Communities. Going into the week I was fairly familiar with Soma and had borrowed much of what they do for our church plant. Heading into the week I hoped to nail down a few questions I had about their systems and solidify my understanding of what they are doing. I expected to enjoy my time but did not expect anything spectacular out of the week. That would happen to the dudes going who had no clue about Missional Communities and were hearing about it for the first time.
What happened over the course of the week was unexpected. I have still not completely unpacked it but I know the Holy Spirit was moving. I had expected to come back with a refined system and what I returned with was a renewed awareness of my need for the Spirits power. In fact, Soma was less impressive than I had imagined. They were ordinary people desperately in need of an extraordinary God to show up and move amongst them. The missional communities we visited were messy and full of real people with real problems. There were stories in process that didn’t yet have a clear cut beautiful ending.
I got to spend most of my time with the Ticas family. Sam and Dina Ticas hosted Jonathan Dodson and myself. From the first day we stepped into their home we were treated with hospitality and treated like family. They didn’t just provide us with a place to sleep, but a place to be at home for the week. Sam is a pastor at Soma and all throughout the week he let me pick his brain as he answered my numerous questions. Dina fed us with some amazing(healthy as well) meals. As the week went on I felt as though I had gained a new brother and sister. Their three kids (Katie, Mason, and Lazaro) were hospitable as well. They were shy at first but after a few days of having me in their home they went on as if I was a regular part of the family.
During the days we had long hours of classroom training. Each training allowed us to pop the hood of Soma and see what they are about. I picked up some valuable nuggets here, but overwhelming message that came through was a huge love of the Gospel and a desperate dependance on the Holy Spirit. It couldn’t have come at a more critical time for me.
The highlight of the weekly trainings was Friday. In the morning Jeff Vandersteldt unpacked Gospel Fluency (the ability to speak the gospel into everyday situations) and Abe Mysenburg closed out the day by taking us through the 4G’s (God is Great, God is Good, God is Glorious, God is Gracious). As Abe was unpacking the 4G’s I realized that it had been a few months since I had dug deep into my own heart and motives. The Spirit was pressing in on my heart and moving me towards repentance. I realized that I had been going so hard and fast with church planting that much of what I was doing was in my own power. My dependance was rooted in my reason, not in the Holy Spirit. This had manifested itself in the prior weeks as I found myself more and more easily frustrated and stressed. I had begun to carry the weight of church planting on my shoulders when only Jesus can bear it.
After Abe walked us through the 4G’s we broke up into groups of 3-4 (gender specific) and took turns confessing to one another. The Spirit was at work as every guy in our group very honestly confessed junk in their lives while the other guys pressed into the ugly reality of that sin and then proclaimed the truth of the Gospel in a way each guy needed to hear. For me it was a breath of fresh air. It had been several months since I had confessed sin this honestly or even considered the inner motives of my heart. Here I was with guys I barely knew freely confessing the junk in my heart. It was a much needed grace for me.
The day was capped off with a time of worship. During worship our group of 4 guys went and took communion together, proclaiming Christ’s provision to each other. It was the first time I have experienced communion in a way that felt like more than me and Jesus. It was a family around a table, all in need of Christ broken body and blood shed to sustain us.
By the end of the week the Soma school participants felt like family. We had shared a common experience and an undeniable move of the Holy Spirit. The last night we were all there we met at the Shakabra (Restaurant owned by some people from Soma) for a time of reflection. Each person went around the room and shared what God had taught them over the week. It was obvious that nearly every participant had been deeply impacted by the time they had spent there with the Soma family. After everyone had shared one of the Soma school participants asked if we could pray for Soma. For the next thirty minutes the entire room prayed together for Soma and a continued move of the Holy Spirit as people go back to their own cities.
Over 60 people packed in a room and all together in one Spirit asking God to continue the work he started. People desperate to see their cities transformed with the Gospel realizing their deep need for the Spirits empowering. It was an unexpected and yet fitting ending to the week. I went home changed by it. Not because Soma is special or because I learned some new strategy. In fact, I learned very little that I did not already know. I walked away changed because I witnessed and experienced a community where the Holy Spirit is alive and well. A community where everyday people are living ordinary lives with Gospel intentionality, trusting in the power of the Spirit.
*For a more detailed and better written review of Soma school you can check out Steve McCoy’s blog HERE.
One of the most important parts of our Gospel Community meeting is the meal. Meals have a sacred quality to them and have a way of bringing people together around the table (see Tim Chester’s book for a in depth exposition of this). Just consider how many important events throughout the bible took place around a meal. In our Gospel Communities, meals provide a simple way for people to start sharing the work of the group together. They connect people and provide a great environment to discuss the good news of Jesus.
Pulling off a meal in a Gospel Community setting takes effort and planning. Over the past few years my wife Lauren has often served as the hospitality leader for our group. She has become a pro at organizing and planning meals that work well for our groups. At Redeemer, the hospitality leader in each of our Gospel Communities is responsible for organizing the meal around a theme. Each week they communicate the needed meal components to the group and the group members signup to bring something for the meal. Even first time visitors want to contribute once they learn that the group is sharing a meal.
Coming up with with a meal theme is the first step of planning the meal. After a while it can become a struggle to come up with good ideas for the meal theme. So I decided to start putting down theme ideas to help our hospitality leaders get started. Here are my five favorite meals that we have had in our Gospel Communities over the past few years.
Other meals we have done that didn’t make the list:
*Each group uses the Table’s serve app to organize their meals.
How does your missional community organize their meals? What meals have you found to work well in this setting?
Every time I talk with someone interested in learning more about missional communities, I usually end up pointing them to the three resources I listed below. They have been extremely helpful for me and have influenced much of what we do at Redeemer. I hope you find them helpful as well.
1. Soma School Manual - This 32 page PDF was extremely helpful to me over the past two years as I hashed out what we wanted Redeemer to look like. Soma has been planting and multiplying missional communities for the last seven years. Just in case you need a little explanation to what your reading in the manual I put a link to the audio for the training sessions below the PDF link.
2. GCM Collective Website - The GCM website is loaded with resources for missional communities. You can also signup on the site to discuss missional communities with people trying to live it out all over the globe.
3. Total Church - Total Church is a book written by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. I read it a few years ago and it was foundational for what we are doing at Redeemer. Along with the book there are several other great resources that you can access for free. I recommend picking up the book as well as checking out the free resources online.
Here are a few other sites to check out:
As a church planter I quickly discovered that in the early stages of a church plant you wear nearly every hat in the church. Thankfully I have been able to find a few resources that have proved to be a huge help to me and our young church plant. I hope that other planters and pastors might find these helpful as well.
1.The Table Project – Just after we moved down to the Austin area to plant I came across the Table project. As a infant church plant we wanted to have some way to link our people together as they came into our community but couldn’t justify spending money on some of the other social tools for churches. The Table turned out to be a great solution. Early on it gave us a place where we could organize our people and keep track of what was going on. We use the table for prayer requests, discussions, service projects and meal planning for our missional communities. As we multiplied our missional communities it allowed us to create separate groups for each community while also having a larger group for the whole church. Just a few months ago the table came out with an iPhone app which was a great addition to already great software. The Table is continuing to expand and add new features. Did I mention it’s free? Check out The Table Project
2. Gmail – Email is unavoidable in church planting (or anything today). I have found gmail to make the pain of email a little lighter. Gmail has a host of great features including push to your Iphone/Android device, integration with other google products, and great spam filters. The two features that I have most recently grown to love are filters and canned responses.
Filters allow you to block certain types of emails and neatly store them in folders that you check on a much less frequent basis. I have setup my filters to only receive important and personal emails on my iPhone. A couple of times a week I will go through and check the bulk mail folders I have the filters route my non-important emails to. This has cut my email checking at least by 75%. Helpful Article on Filters for Gmail
Canned responses are a Google Labs feature that you have to turn on inside of Gmail. This feature allows you to create email templates inside of Gmail. When you’re sending out weekly updates that typically follow the same structure, this tool works great. It is also good for those regular emails in which I am frequently asked about the church. I can write the email once, save it as a canned response, and then slightly tweak it the next time I get a general info request about our church plant. This has given me a simple solution for creating email templates within gmail and not having to log into another service. Read more about canned responses for Gmail
3. Evernote – Evernote is a great notes app that syncs across multiple platforms and has very well done mobile apps for a variety of devices. Evernote has a variety of potential uses but I use it primarily for three things; Meeting Agendas/Notes, Scripture memory flashcards, and expense receipts. Each time I have a meeting I create an agenda in Evernote that automatically syncs to my phone. Evernote allows you to attach important documents, record voice notes, and photos to every note. I have also used Evernote for scripture memory. I created a notebook within Evernote that I copy verses into each week. Evernote has an Ipad app called Evernote Peek which allows you to use your Ipad as a big flash card. My third notebook in Evernote is for expense receipts (I tend to lose receipts). As soon as I use the church card to make a purchase, I snap a picture of the receipt and leave necessary info in the notes section. I can then share this folder with our finance team so they get real time tracking of my receipts. Check Out Evernote
4. Vanco Services – Financially this has been one of the best tools we could have invested in. Your financial supporters can setup an account and give one time or reoccurring gifts that come directly from their bank account (no credit card fees). The cost comes out to roughly $25/month and .25 cents per transaction. I highly recommend checking them out if you are looking for a simple and effective online giving solution. They also customize your give page to match your website (preview our page here). Check Out Vanco Services
5. Church Plant Media – I am somewhat familiar with technology but would by no means consider myself an expert. I knew I wanted a decent looking website when we planted but wanted something I could quickly update and change without any coding or frustration. Our church had used a private vendor in the past and while the design was cool, it was like pulling teeth to get information changed. With a church plant things are constantly changing. It is very likely that in the early stages the first impression people will have of your church is from your website. With church plant media we were able to get a professional quality website up and running within a few weeks. They had excellent customer support, clearly communicated pricing, and gave a discount to church planters. I think they have recently lowered their prices and upped their features. This is money well spent for any church planter. Check out Church Plant Media
Lastly, here are a few other resources I don’t have time to explain but wanted to throw out there.
Goodreader – Excellent Ipad app that I use for reading PDF studies and sermon delivery.
GroupMe – Great iOS/Android group texting app for quick communication to a group.
Google Calendar – Schedule Meetings & plan out the work week (syncs across multiple devices)
What technology resources have you found helpful for church planters/pastors?
I am constantly reminding our people that Gospel Community is not a meeting, just as the church is not an event on Sunday mornings. Nevertheless, every Gospel Community at Redeemer meets on a weekly basis. The meeting is an important part of the community life, and for many it is the starting point for understanding what exactly Gospel Community (GC here after) is. So let me give you a brief snapshot of what we typically do with our Sunday night meetings.
Key Components Of Our Gospel Community Meetings
Shared Meal (45 Minutes) – This could easily be overlooked or brushed aside, but I have seen people get connected time and time again through the meal time. It is a valuable part of our meeting. It provides a warm welcoming environment where guests are welcome and regulars get to see hospitality modeled right before their eyes. Everyone in the group chips in bringing food for the night. The week before our hospitality leader sets a meal theme that we use to coordinate what type of food to bring. We use the Table to organize the meal. The meal typically lasts around 45 minutes, and is sometimes chaotic with kids running around and people sitting everywhere- but it creates a great space for our people to grow as family over good food. Check out Tim Chester’s book, “A Meal With Jesus”, for more on the importance of shared meals.
Discussion (45-60 minutes) – After we finish eating the younger kids go upstairs for a kids lesson and play time (led by a rotation of people in our Gospel Community). The adults then transition into the living room bringing unfinished food and drink with them as we move to our discussion time.
Prayer (15-25 minutes) – At the close of our discussion we break up into groups of 3-4 and pray for the needs in the group, for our city, and for the nations. The prayer leader is responsible for leading and organizing this time. We try to integrate the kids into this time occasionally we bring them in to participate and pray with their parents.
Hang Out Time – We encourage people to hang out and visit if they want after our prayer time concludes. At our home, the rule is out by 9pm. It is always a good sign when you have to kick people out because they want to stay and spend time together.
This gives you a good idea of what a typical Gospel Community meeting night looks like for us at Redeemer. Once every 4-5 weeks we will have a party night where we hang out and invite neighbors to join in. Another occasional thing we are starting to do is have “Family Discussion Nights”. These are nights that we devote to refocusing as a group as we revisit our Gospel Community Focus and discuss how our community is functioning together.
The last thing I will mention is that our GC’s do not have seasons that they take “off” nor do the terms of the GC’s expire. We have built into our GC meeting schedule a few nights spread throughout the year that they do not meet, but we try to avoid consecutive weeks without meeting. Once again the meeting night is not the Gospel Community, but it plays a vital role in focusing each Gospel Community on Jesus and his mission.
Life has a variety of contexts. Contexts are the surroundings or environments in which we all live. We believe that Jesus is Lord over all contexts of life. To help us see how Jesus transforms each context of life, we speak of everyday contexts. Everyday contexts include a variety of settings in which we hope to distinguish and define what it would look like for Jesus to redeem each context. Traditionally, it seems as though churches have focused on a “sacred” or “gathered” context and relegated Jesus to the sidelines in the other (secular). We want to be a church that recognizes Jesus authority in all of life. The gospel changes everything.
To help our people get a grasp on the different places we live out life as Christians, we started using the two categories of gathering and sending. We want to gather together as well as be sent out. We found it helpful to break this down into the contexts of the church gathered, and the church sent.
The Church Gathered
Traditionally it seems that most people connect the context of the gathered church as the only context of the church. We want to preserve this idea of gathering together as the church, but place it in the proper context of being sent out. We break this into four general contexts of the church gathered.
The Church Sent
While the church is constantly gathering together, it is also called to be sent out. At Redeemer, we want to be a church that is constantly gathering and sending. This gathering and sending starts with our city, and extends to the most unreached peoples groups of the world. Just as we gather, we are also sent out as the people of God to a variety of cultures. For many the call to send will be to your workplace and other parts of the city. For some, we pray that God would send you across cultural boundaries to take the Gospel to the nations. Wherever we are as Christians, we are sent people. We summarize the context of the church sent into four main categories.
A few weeks ago I posted some very practical ideas for engaging your neighborhood with the Gospel. To follow that up I have compiled 30 ideas for engaging people in your workplace. The workplace is an everyday context where many people spend the majority of their time. It is important for us to know what it looks like to bring gospel intentionality to our jobs. Hopefully this will help spark a few ideas for connecting with and blessing your coworkers.
1. Instead of eating lunch alone, intentionally eat with other co-workers and learn their story.
2. Get to work early so you can spend some time praying for your co-workers and the day ahead.
3. Make it a daily priority to speak or write encouragement when someone does good work.
4. Bring extra snacks when you make your lunch to give away to others.
5. Bring breakfast (donuts, burritos, cereal, etc.) once a month for everyone in your department.
6. Organize a running/walking group in the before or after work.
7. Have your missional community/small group bring lunch to your workplace once a month.
8. Create a regular time to invite coworkers over or out for drinks.
9. Make a list of your co-workers birthdays and find a way to bless everyone on their birthday.
10. Organize and throw office parties as appropriate to your job.
11. Make every effort to avoid gossip in the office. Be a voice of thanksgiving not complaining.
12. Find others that live near you and create a car pool.
13. Offer to throw a shower for a co-worker who is having a baby.
14. Offer to cover for a co-worker who needs off for something.
15. Start a regular lunch out with co-workers (don’t be selective on the invites).
16. Organize a weekly/monthly pot luck to make lunch a bit more exciting.
17. Ask someone who others typically ignore if you can grab them a soda/coffee while you’re out.
18. Be the first person to greet and welcome new people.
19. Make every effort to know the names of co-workers and clients along with their families.
20. Visit coworkers when they are in the hospital.
21. Bring sodas or work appropriate drinks to keep in your break room for coworkers to enjoy. Know what your co-workers like.
22. Go out of your way to talk to your janitors and cleaning people who most people overlook.
23. Find out your co-workers favorite music and make a playlist that includes as much as you can (if suitable for work).
24. Invite your co-workers in to the service projects you are already involved in.
25. Start/join a city league team with your co-workers.
26. Organize a weekly co-working group for local entrepreneurs at a local coffee shop.
27. Start a small business that will bless your community and create space for mission.
28. Work hard to reconcile co-workers who are fighting with one another.
29. Keep small candy, gum, or little snacks around to offer to others during a long day.
30. Lead the charge in organizing others to help co-workers in need.
Would love to hear other ways you have connected with the people you work with.