Log Off of YouTube and Read Something: Reimagining Church

Last year, I read Frank Viola’s joint effort with research guru George Barna, “Pagan Christianity?”  “Reimagining Church” is the sequel, and is a positive spin on what was presented in “Pagan Christianity?”.  The first book presented case for where the church has drifted away from some biblical stuff (mainly structure).  This book now reimagines what the church could look like if some drastic changes were made.

This book is a huge advocate of organic (simple) churches–small churches that meet in homes, are open and participatory, and don’t have one appointed leader (apostolic workers plant the church, leaves, and leaders then emerge over time, and are then recognized by the church and the apostolic worker).  For most of us, this sounds absolutely crazy and absurd, but it’s so much closer to the church that we find in the New Testament.

Viola fleshes out what it means to reimaging leadership in the church, the Lord’s Supper, gatherings, ministry, just about anything you can think of.  For guys like me, its a refreshing read.  For guys in more traditionally structured churches, this will be met with skepticism and may even be perceived as a threat.

Read it anyway.

Viola does advocate a complete demolition of the paid pastor, church building, denominational paradigm and rebuilding from the ground up.  While I’m inclined to now agree with that, I also know that it will take a long time to happen.  It may never happen in the United States, unless severe persecution rises up against the church.  Viola does, however, graciously state that God does use structures to His glory that He does not approve of.  I think he’s on to something there.

So, go ahead and read this book.  It’s worth your time.  It may piss you off royally, or it may give you some hope.  Either way, being challenged to rething things isn’t going to hurt you.  It’ll sharpen you.

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About Aaron

Aaron is a follower of Jesus. He's married to his smokin' hot wife Laura and is the father of three adorable girls. He enjoys a robust cigar, a complex root beer, a good movie, writing, football, thought-provoking books, and rousing discussions about subjects you're not supposed to talk about (like theology and politics). Religious people irritate him (because he once was one). He's on a quest to find the perfect dry rub and sauce for ribs.
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6 Responses to Log Off of YouTube and Read Something: Reimagining Church

  1. justin dunn says:

    so…i have a few thoughts on this. i havent read it, i would like to but i probably wont get around to it. i sort of like the thought of what you wrote about the book, and i sort of dont. first, our church plant is done completely the wrong way. which for us is the right way. what i mean by the wrong way is that we have seen success and growth and God moving without any advertising or any fund raising. we sort of did everything opposite of what we learned at CPAC. i am not saying that is how it should be done, but its just what works for who we are. i would say that CPAC is pretty anti a more organic looking church, they dont like the fact that we have two lead pastors, they dont like the fact that we are ONLY a community church and not a city wide church, but those things are what we naturally became. so that part of me really resonates with what seems to be the themes of this book. however, i really dont like the idea of getting back to the way the NT did things. i mean, its not like they had it right. its not like their model worked that well. AND we are not first century people, so why would our church look like theirs? right?

    • Aaron says:

      Hey Justin,
      Some good thoughts. Let me start just by saying this–I’m not one of those guys who is “house church” and nothing else (Viola tends to be this way). I am inclinded to agree with him on a lot of stuff, but I’m not nearly as “hard core” as he seems to be on this. My big thing is that church planters don’t put the cart before the horse–to put together their plans and strategies and then ask God to bless them (it happens a lot, and it happened to me). It needs to be the other way around–figuring out what God’s plan and vision is, and jumping on His bandwagon. We’re way too focused on models here in the States, and our definition of success needs to change from nickels and noses on Sundays to life transformation (which it looks like it is in many places).

      I do disagree with your thoughts about the NT church. Of course there are things that got goofed up–dealing with sinful people is very, very messy. Sometimes doctrinal error sneaks in and must be dealt with (it looks like, to me, that’s the chronology of what happened. Immorality worked its way into the church first, and then the doctrinal stuff later on, especially by the time Paul finished up and John was writing his letters). But having looked at this stuff over and over and over, and having transitioned our church from a more traditional model to a microchurch network, I’m starting to see from experience why and how the church in the NT functioned–without buildings, Sunday worship services as we know them, and other things. People can be fake for a long time in a big Sunday service. They can’t in a microchurch setting. People can get lost or settle into a “serve me” passive rut in a big Sunday setting. It’s much more difficult for that to happen in a microchurch setting.

      If by “their model [didn’t] work that well,” you mean in terms of actual people coming to faith in Jesus, there may be an argument there… but I don’t think so. It’s estimated that there were 25,000 Christians at the end of the first century. Where the growth really came was from the persecutions of guys like Trajan and Domatian. It exploded in the millions by the time Constantine legalized Christianity. The existing churches at that time were using the “NT model”. But if by “their model [didn’t] work that well”, you mean the quality of disciples that were made, I totally disagree with that. Yeah, it was messy, and it took time. There were casualties (and there always will be), but they produced some tremendous followers of Jesus, most of whom we won’t know about on this side of eternity.

      Are we first century people? In terms of certain cultural things, time frame, and geography, no. But in terms of cultural climate, I think we’re pretty close here in the States. It’s a loose parallel that isn’t perfect, but look at how so many people see our current President in terms of hope. Very much like the emperors of old (not that Obama has claimed to be a god, but in terms of how many people view him–a savior of sorts). Our culture is a religous quagmire of beliefs, much as in first century Rome. Again, not 100% like it, but there are similarities. I’m just seeing (and have been guilty) a lot of guys–good hearted, well-intentioned, Jesus loving guys–who still seem to want to be the next Southeast, Mars Hill, or Willow Creek. And they structure their churches accordingly. Having been there, man, it’s totally the wrong place to be.

      Dude, as long as guys and churches are chasing God’s vision–including what their church is structured like (which it sounds like you guys have)–it’s good. And it sounds like things are going well for you guys. What’s your church’s website? I haven’t seen it yet.

      Keep kickin’ ass in Jesus’ name. Send me that link!

  2. Koffijah says:

    I have this book and will be reading it soon. A couple comments…

    One… The whole NT model thing. I agree that just because there is a model in the NT it doesn’t mean that we are required to follow it. I do think it is helpful to look at those models and, many times, follow them. But I don’t think we should ever be dogmatic about it.

    Two… Orangic church thing. I find one of the biggest obstacles to peoples understanding of what the church is is how we do church. We don’t want people to think of the building as a temple, but we have a dedicated building for worship. We don’t want people to believe in a clergy/laity distinction, but we still only have Bible college-trained ordained pastors. We don’t want people to believe the church is entertainment, but the only time we gather as a body are for “services”.

    So, I think the organic model is good not because its following some prescribed method in the NT, but it helps us to immediately deconstruct some of the widespread misconceptions about what the church is.

    There are two reasons I believe people will reject the idea outright. One… It probably won’t make us famous or popular. Being the leader of a big organized church always gives us that opportunity. Two… People are already involved and invested in organized church structures. To refuse that would mean to cut themselves off from not only their own salary, but from a sense of “we’re doing the right thing”–and most people are not willing to take that leap just yet. People tend to want to justify their position and approach.

  3. Aaron says:

    Hey Koffijah,

    Really cool thoughts (and some really good stuff on your own blog, which looks pretty new–welcome to the blogosphere).

    I’m with you on the model thing. Like I said in a previous comment (which was really long-winded), I’m not super hard core on the model thing. It isn’t about the model–it’s about following Jesus. And I have several friends who are church planters that love Jesus who are using different models than us. I do think that Viola is onto something when he talks about how things like buildings, paid staff, clergy/laity distinction, and “services” where hardly anyone but who is on stage serves are doing a disservice to the church and the priesthood of all believers. Long story short, the model thing isn’t worth investing the time in arguing about (and I don’t think you are, but some do). We’ve got much bigger fish to fry.

    I think the organic model is good because it is precisely the model of the NT. Do we have all of the details? No. But I do think there is something to looking at apostolic method and tradition as well as apostolic doctrine. They didn’t have to deal with our 21st century misconceptions because they hadn’t developed yet, and wouldn’t for several hundred years.

    And you are DEAD on right about guys like you and I rejecting the idea because it doesn’t make us famous or popular. Organic churches, at first, are hard to find. The only way they’re noticed is by the life transformation of the people in those churches out in the world.

    And many people are already involved in traditional church structures. So… should they be the ones we seek to reach in the first place? In my opinion, no. Our churches that I’m leading are seeing growth, not from transfers, but from unchurched people, which is what we should be doing anyway. Christians are welcome, but they see that they’ll pay a big price–no “children’s ministry” because we all do it, no programs because we’re serving each other, etc. In other words, they see that they can no longer be passive.

    And you’re right about cutting ourselves off from salary and the sense of leaving “the right thing.” At the current time, our churches graciously pay me… but that will be ending soon. My family and I are moving, and will hopefully be starting a new network of organic churches in the city we’re moving to. I’ll have to get a “secular” job. And, having done church the way we have for the last two years, I know it’s the right thing. It’s what God has called us to. I know there are other guys who feel the same way, but are feeling trapped. I pray they have the courage to step out.

    Thanks for stopping by. Some really good thoughts!

  4. Koffijah says:

    Hey, thanks! I’m with you there. Yes, I did just start this new blog. I added your blog to my list of “blogs I follow”… you are the first one. I’ll probably add a couple more later.

    It is good for me to see what you are doing. Let me ask you… are you involved with doing any businesses along with your ministry?

  5. Aaron says:

    Not at the present time. We transitioned our church from a traditionally structured church to a more organic model two years ago, so I’m still kind of in that “paid professional” role, but will be transitioning out of that soon when I move to start another network in another state.

    I’ve got a buddy in Las Vegas who is prepping a plant on the Strip, and part of that is starting a non-profit community service based business. I have another ministry buddy who started a business beside the place his church rents–it’s a coffee shop/kids play place (they do their kids stuff on Sundays in that space).

    When we move, I’ll be getting a “secular” job, and I’m thinking that anything we do business wise would be partnering with existing non-profits, or getting to know owners of, say, bars and coffee shops and look to start churches in those places (organic, definitely not traditional).

    What are your thoughts? And where are you at? If you can’t tell that info, send me an email at asaufley@gmail.com

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