Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Incarnational Church Planting

Vision for Church Plant
in Newton Abbot
Joe Haward
Theological Principles
Incarnation – Future Fulfillment
The Incarnation[1] is a fundamental and foundational doctrine within the Christian faith whereby it is recognized that God has acted in a unique and distinctive way with the eternal Son of God coming in flesh to the world that was made through him.[2] The Incarnation is not merely about God identifying himself with us (although it undoubtedly is about that), but that God becomes one of us and embraces the fullness of our humanity in order that he might fully restore humanity and all of creation. Creation, therefore, has a goal, an ‘eschatological direction’, to become what God always intended it to become. Not merely a returning to something previous, but an intention to become something it has yet to be, something it never has been; something better. It is in light of this that the Incarnation can be seen to be so vital to humanity and all of creation; Christ has become one of us so that we might reach the goal to which God has called us.[3] This goal therefore, is for all of creation to participate in the communion of the triune God,[4] to ‘participate in the divine nature’[5] and escape the consequences of sin. For that reason the Incarnation reveals to us a God who desires us to become something more than we are at this moment and therefore truly incarnational mission must ‘in-flesh’ this concept of future fulfillment, of people and communities becoming something more than they are now, something they have never been before; something better. A church plant (alternative community)[6] in Newton Abbot would seek to enable the local community to journey towards a better future.
Incarnation – Identification
The Incarnation as identification is not about God resembling us and taking upon himself an ‘outer garment, like a beggar-cloak of a king who dresses up in order to seek out the love of a beggar-girl’,[7]it is about God stepping into our humanity and journeying with us through that humanity. From his birth in a cattle-shed to his death on the cross, Jesus fully identifies with the humanity that he created taking upon himself the limitations, conditions, temptations and struggles of humankind.[8] Yet in Christ identifying himself with us he reveals to us our condition, both good and bad; for in the humanity of the Son we see the goal of all humanity and also recognize how far we have wandered away from the goal that had been intended.[9] He reveals our need for salvation, not simply in terms of ‘getting to heaven’, but salvation in terms of complete and total healing from our ‘sin-sick’ state.[10] Sin has utterly contaminated all of creation and therefore humanity is in need of renewal and healing from our sin-sickness. That Christ fully identifies himself with humanity means that through him humanity may be fully healed and restored from its disorientated and contaminated condition; sin-sickness has a cure. Consequently, incarnational mission embraces this concept of identification, healing and future fulfillment and seeks to bring about healing and hope within the places it is being worked out in. Because Jesus fully identified with humanity, a church plant in Newton Abbot would seek to fully embrace the concept and practice of identifying with the local people. The church would find its missional focus in the ‘third place’ ensuring that we were a part of the society, meeting people where they were and ‘dwelling among them’. By identifying with the community the church has a valid and valuable voice into that community.
Love and Mission
This alternative community in Newton Abbot will seek to have at its core the Greatest Commandments to love God and love each other, with mission flowing in and out of this desire. For these commandments (worship and discipleship) to flourish and the church plant to grow and find expression, a number of practical and spiritual principles that are outlined below, would be embraced and lived out.
Practical Outworking
Practical and Spiritual Principles
  • Forgiveness – Forgiveness means that we are not forever bound by the consequences of our actions. We can be set free. This new church plant would practically seek means of facilitating ‘forgiveness’ within the local community whilst also seeking to model it. Working with local groups such as the police, Transition Newton Abbot, the town councils’ Community Officer and schools, the alternative community would search for ways in which local people can work together and find unity in their diversity and also know the love and forgiveness of God. When Jesus told ‘sinners’ they were forgiven he released them from the labels that the powerful had given them and enabled them to embrace their God-given identity. This church will seek to never label people or sideline people, but look to help people embrace their God-given identity.
  • Taxes and Debts – A church plant would desire people to become free from the burden of debt. Cooperative economic discipleship is one way in which this could happen (prophetic community). Consumerism is poisoning our society and so this church would hope to model another way of life helping people out of debt and finding fulfillment in God, not money.
  • Third Place – An alternative community would meet where those who don’t know Christ regularly meet in order that they may become a part of the community and share Jesus with that community. Local pubs, coffee bars and supermarkets are all places where we would seek to meet regularly.
  • Discipleship – The goal of the Church is make disciples, not converts, therefore small groups would be encouraged to meet together in order that they may break bread together, study the Scriptures and support each other, looking for ways in which they may grow in Christ and be a blessing to those around them. At the heart of discipleship will be mission, a focus to go and share the gospel with the community. Discipleship is best worked out in the nitty gritty reality of every day life and mission.
  • Table Fellowship – Jesus dismantled the ideas of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ by eating and partying with ‘sinners’ and those rejected by society. An alternative community would seek to welcome all people and eat with them. Meals and breaking bread would be a significant part of the church’s life, seeking to invite those with whom ‘inherited’ church is not able to reach or identify with. Not only that, but in a society that is increasingly dependant on ‘social networking’, this alternative community would develop and nurture the beauty of physically meeting together over a meal (inclusive community). ‘Crash’, a mission initiative I began, is a means through which the exploration of faith would happen over a meal.[11]
  • Sabbath – The culture we live in has become a 24/7 movement with people busier than ever. An alternative community would model the beauty of Sabbath. It would encourage people to rest and spend time with God and with those whom we love. Individuals and communities need to rest to fully become what God has created them to become. In resting we find food for our souls and bodies.
  • Healing – An alternative community would explore how to bring holistic healing within itself and into the Newton Abbot community. This church plant must notice the pain within Newton Abbot and seek to address it. Who are the marginalized? Who are the oppressed? An alternative community would be a voice to the voiceless and to stand with those who are hurting (sacrificial community).
Transition Newton Abbot
Transition Newton Abbot is part of Transition Town, a global network that began in Totnes, Devon. The concept and idea behind Transition Town is that communities come together in order that they may adequately respond to issues of climate change and Peak Oil. The hope is that local communities can become resilient, self-sufficient and thrive in the key areas of life, such as food, energy, transport, heart and soul, economics, livelihoods and health (amongst other things). Through local people working together for the good of the community, real and valuable change can happen enabling local communities to thrive leading to better way of life for all.[12]
The local council are supporting the initiative of Transition Newton Abbot and see it has a part of the picture to regenerate the area. I have also spoken to the Steering Group who have launched Transition Newton Abbot and they have spoken to me about where they are in their progress and their hopes to further it in 2010 as it is still in its early stages. They would welcome any support and experience that others were able to bring. I believe this could be a part of the bigger picture into which a church plant could make an impact in order that Newton Abbot may indeed see regeneration both physically and spiritually.
Hopes
Here is what we hope will happen as time progresses with this church plant. However, we understand that the Wind of the Spirit blows where He pleases and things very often turn out differently to what we expect. Indeed, we hope it will be above and beyond all we ask or imagine!
6 months
  • To have a good support group in place in order that my family and myself have a group of people around us that we can pray, talk and discuss things through.
  • To have laid a solid foundation of prayer into this church plant by spending time praying in and around Newton Abbot on a daily basis.
  • To have found local Christians within Newton Abbot who we can work with to establish this church plant. People who share the vision and understand the need for an alternative community within the area.
  • To have begun in earnest exploring and being in the ‘third places’ of Newton Abbot and begun building relationships within the local community.
  • To establish good and positive relationships with the local churches in the Newton Abbot community in order that over time we may work together to be a blessing to the local community. It will also be to assure the local churches that a new church plant will not be seeking to ‘poach’ church members, but to be a blessing to the whole community.
  • To be involved within Transition Newton Abbot.
  • To have begun building relationships with the local council, police and local groups.
1st Year
  • To have established good and solid relationships within the community of Newton Abbot (identification). This will happen through a committed approach to the local people, spending time in the places where they are. It will also be, through those established relationships, to help build bridges between the community and introduce different people to one another with the hope of enabling positive change to happen in Newton Abbot (future fulfillment).
  • To grapple with and ground the church’s principles in the reality of everyday existence (Sabbath, Healing, Taxes and Debts, Table Fellowship, Forgiveness, Third Place, Discipleship).
  • To have begun to identify and have further clarity as to what particular group/s and need/s the alternative community will seek to be involved with and focus on.
  • To see people being baptised and discipled within this new church plant.
2nd Year
  • To build on the relationships that have been established and look for ways in which people can further explore the Gospel.
  • To introduce and discover relevant and contextual ways to share the Gospel in the light of the kind of people with whom relationships have been built.
  • To ensure that proper discipleship of whoever is in the alternative community is happening.
  • To maintain a missional, incarnational outlook.
3rd Year
  • To access where the community is and explore what the wind of the Spirit may be saying.
  • To see practical results of the alternative community working with the local community. By this I mean local people working together for the better of Newton Abbot in terms of healing, debt help and ‘forgiveness’.
  • To see a continued growth in the contact made with the local community and to see these contacts introduced to the Gospel.
  • To see the fruit of people taking responsibility within the alternative community and leading relevant initiatives that seek to share the Gospel with those whom the alternative community is in touch with.
  • To continue to see this worshipping community exploring how mission is a vital part of what it means to love God and love others.
Self-Financing?
It would be the hope that this alternative community would grow in such a way that it would become self-financing. It is the hope that those who are a part of this community would give into the community ensuring that it could be self-sufficient. A part of this happening would be that the community would meet in each other’s homes and in the ‘third places’. However, some of this depends upon the type of community that is formed and whether people have any money. Without doubt I will pray into ‘tent making’ as a possibility for this ministry.
My heart has always been and continues to be a desire to lead people into a living relationship with God and my hope is that this church plant will see many people become disciples of Jesus Christ.
Joe Haward


[1] ‘What is the meaning of the incarnation? A tear of divine pity.’ Barth, Karl, Theology and Church p 225
[2] John 1:10-11, Colossians 1:15-17
[3] Philippians 3:14
[4] See Volf, M., After Our Likeness, p 129
[5] 2 Peter 1:4 NIV
[6] Alternative Community is the term I will use sporadically for church plant.
[7] Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, p 36
[8] Hebrews 4:15
[9] ‘This particular man Jesus Christ, therefore, is not to be considered and judged on the basis of some general preconception about human reality. Rather, every man, and the universal truth concerning man, is to be understood from this particular man.’ Barth, Karl, God Here and Now p 6
[10] This is a term Stanley Hauerwas uses to understand humanity as sinners and this sin disorientates our nature and us. See Hauerwas, S., ‘Sinsick’ p 192 cf. Colwell, J., Promise and Presence p 199-201
[11] 'Crash brings together 8-10 people from a variety of word-views and belief systems who meet to chat and discuss various issues while enjoying good food together. A guest speaker joins us and shares for 10 minutes about an issue that then enables conversations to begin. Then, over the meal, we talk, discuss, ask questions and see where the conversation takes us with the hope of finding common ground. It is called ‘Crash’ because so often in life two opposing views come crashing together and we try to salvage answers from among the wreckage. Crash seeks to be different and looks to enable different views to come together in such a way that enriches us all rather than tearing us apart.’
'Crash - We're so disconnected that we crash into each other just so we can feel something'
[12] For more on Transition Town go to http://transitiontowns.org

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