Organising Church

Back in 1960, the President of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Dr. Nathan Baily, wrote:

God expects us to understand the meaning of our generation, the meaning of our age, and like David to serve our own generation by the will of God. Many people are an anachronism. They are out of joint with their times. They belong either to the past or to the future – more often they should have lived a hundred years ago. We cannot hold back the changes which come in human relationships and the varying cultures of nations from generation to generation. We must speak to our times or lose our opportunities for contact and witness by our very inability to minister.

This page is the place to explore what the emerging shape of the church for our generation will be.

6 Radical Decisions in the life of a church part 6: people see the gospel in action.. and that makes a difference!

It has been four years since my book 6 Radical Decisions was launched in Oxford. I have been reflecting on what I have learned in the effort to put what I had written about in the book into practise.

Over the last few reflections I have written about helping people find their individual callings, having a global perspective and loving their neighbours. These are the three main awarenesses we have been trying to build into our congregation.

Moving the church into mission, though, is not just about what we do individually. Our collective action matters too.

In chapter 7 of the book I wrote:

Once we have chosen our mission, we need to act. N.T. Wright, in the Challenge of Jesus, says “Your task is to find the symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human.”

When I first read Wright’s statement, I wanted to protest. Symbolic action sounded like futile action. I wanted my action to be significant. I have often fallen into the trap of thinking like the Zealots, that I had to fix all the world’s problems; that my job was done when everything was right with the world. Eventually the penny dropped. This world is broken and it is not my job to fix it, my job is to harmonise with God and work with my brothers and sisters in Christ to give a glimpse of a different, not so broken, way of doing life. Like Isaiah, we are called to be signs and symbols in the face of a world that is based on self interest and greed.

This "Symbolic Action" framework was big in my thinking when I was considering joining the church.  One of the things I appreciated about St. Albert Alliance church is that they hadn't moved to a trendy one word label like so many others. They were still branded first by their locality. They are a local church.

The other thing I loved about the church was what I saw on their website. In many ways they had been very intentional in acting symbolically for many years.

Share and Wear is a phenomenon

Share and Wear is a phenomenon

For sixteen years they had, twice a year, been transforming the building into the biggest free thrift shop in the city. Share and Wear  had become a local institution, with around 800 people lining up on a Saturday morning to get into the building.

As I arrived the team that had been making it happen were growing tired and were considering whether it would continue or not.  It didn't take a lot of effort on my part to build fresh momentum and encourage those who had faithfully been serving over many years.

Share and Wear is all about practical grace. I love that half the team aren't even from the church but come to serve because they see the value in what it does.

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6 Radical Decisions in the life of a church part 5: Wake up the Neighbourhood


The was birthed in St. Albert

As I approach the four year anniversary of the launch of my book 6 Radical Decisions, I am taking some time to reflect on the process of trying to implement what I was writing about in the context of a local church.

The central thesis of the book is that there are 6 core characteristics of the church whenever it is at its best, all of which are profound decisions to step out of the way that the world normally works.

The first decision is really the main one, that Jesus is central to everything. The second decision is the one that occupied the most of my attention in the book, and most of my attention in life. The second Radical Decision is the choice to step into the mission that God has specifically for you as an individual. In part three of this series of reflections, I wrote about how we have been building this understanding of vocational calling into our church.

In part four I acknowledged that mission is more than vocation, and in fact our Short school of mission course has a module on vocation, but also a module on cross-cultural engagement. We are called to engage with people who think, talk and act differently to us.

Mission, though, is greater still than simply vocation or cross cultural engagement. The third module of our Short School of Mission is called Waking up the Neighbourhood. 

This is probably not news, but when Jesus said "Love your Neighbour as yourself," he was not just talking about a religious metaphor. We actually have to learn to love our neighbours.

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6 Radical Decisions in the life of a church part 4: Change the World

I started work at St. Albert Alliance church with a clear sense that my major task in helping the church engage with mission was helping everyone discover they had a unique calling.

As we began focussing on releasing vocation in some of the ways I mentioned in the previous reflection, it quickly became clear that moving a church into mission involved more.

I had lived so long with the truth that the church had missed the core understanding that mission is tightly connected to vocation that I was in danger of doing exactly what I criticized others for doing: over-simplifying what it truly means for a church to engage with mission.

There were three dominant perspectives on what mission is that were shaping the Western church as I started work, and while it was easy to pick holes in them, it was wrong to ignore them.

The first major paradigm of mission that has shaped the church is that it is what missionaries do overseas. Mission was always international and cross cultural. While this paradigm served well in the early part of the 20th century when it was possible to talk about "Christian countries" and we thought the main job was to reach all the different nationalities, it started to break down as we realized our own countries were mission fields and that we all, not just the missionaries, are called to mission.

The second major paradigm of mission that has shaped the church more recently has been the talk about "missional church." The missional church crew talk a lot about neighbourhood and culture, and most expressions of missional church end up looking quite homogenous and staying fairly small and insular.

The third major paradigm of mission that has been shaping the church has been a renewed emphasis on church planting, with the purpose of mission being to produce more churches. This has been a natural progression of the thinking of Donald McGavran, and has worked in some places, but again leaves ordinary people on the fringes as the preachers and worship leaders become the stars.

While these three paradigms of mission are, in my view, missing key parts of what God's heart for mission truly is,  there are elements of truth in each of them that I needed to engage with and help our church engage with.

The idea that mission is always cross-cultural is overly simplistic, however as I engaged with our church as someone from a different culture (albeit still a Western culture), it didn't take long to realise that there was a real need for people from St. Albert to make friends with people who didn't look or sound like them.

St. Albert is a majority white community with relatively high incomes, and I could see how easy it is to start thinking this way of life was "normal". I could also see that if there is racism in Canada, then a signficant percentage of it is directed towards First Nations people.

It became clear that moving our church into mission meant helping our people engage across cultures. So far we have been working towards this in four main ways.

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6 Radical Decisions in the life of a church part three: Being truly missional

There has been a lot of talk about what it means to be a "missional" church. A lot of people have written books, and a case could be put that 6 Radical Decisions was just another in that same vein.

This photo was taken in my first week at the church. I was adjusting to a lot

This photo was taken in my first week at the church. I was adjusting to a lot

As I handed the book to Jeremy and the two other guys, I knew that what God was asking of me was to show how it might actually work.  That  didn't mean the shift to being a pastor was an easy one. It was a real identity crisis. (I wrote a little about it here.)

The Second Radical Decision is the truth that we all have a mission, not just the pastors and missionaries. We are all called to be ambassadors of the Kingdom and for each one of us the way this is worked out is different. We all have a unique calling.

I remember sitting down with the Associate Pastor, Nathan, in my first week of work and starting the wrestle with how that would actually look.

The church had started "discover partnerships" which sounded a lot like what I was writing about and calling "Kingdom Cells" except that they were not focussed around vocation as much as fellowship. We chatted for a while as to what it might look like to encourage vocational fellowships and the conversation reminded me that vocation is not something that can be programmed, managed or controlled by a church structure.

Ephesians 4 talks about the role of church leadership being to equip people so that they might become mature and more fully grow up into Jesus. Structure is about control and control won't help us get to where we need to go. I needed to trust that Jesus was already at work and that it was my task to help the congregation see what He was already up to rather than trying to whip up enthusiasm for anything new. That realization helped shape a four part strategy.

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6 Radical Decisions in the life of a church part two: The Functional Head

Jeremy giving leadership to one of our Prayer Summits

Jeremy giving leadership to one of our Prayer Summits

This is the second of a series of reflections about what I have learned in the process of trying to implement the insights from my book 6 Radical Decisions in the life of a local church.

The first radical decision is really the main one... That Jesus is first in everything. As I wrote yesterday, I actually had a lot to learn about what this meant in practise from the lead pastor of our church, Jeremy Peters.

As I have already mentioned, although Jeremy felt called to church leadership, he doesn't fit the archetype of a North American Pastor. He is much more interested in people's personal relationship with Jesus than how many bums are on seats on a Sunday morning. That is a good thing.

As I wrote in my book, Jesus being the centre is the central, and in many ways, the only core question of the health of a church. The fact that Jeremy was wired this way meant that there was a strong foundation at St. Albert Alliance church. The foundation though, took intentional and strategic effort.

One of the phrases that Jeremy would say repeatedly about the church is that "We don't want Jesus to be the figurehead of this church, we want Him to be the functional head of this church." At I was to learn, this was much more than just a motto.

Jeremy has recounted the journey of stepping into what was initially an acting leadership role after the previous senior leader left suddenly following a marriage split.  He spoke both about the sense of calling associated with the moment and the sense of fear. He, and a few of the elders who were present at the meeting, relate the experience of discovering what we have come to call "listening prayer". 

As Dallas Willard writes:

Being close to God means communicating with him, which is almost always a two-way street. In our ongoing friendship with God we tell him what is on our hearts in prayer and learn to perceive what he is saying to us.

At a moment when the elders board was looking to Jeremy for an answer, he led them in prayer. His assumption was that, although he wasn't sure personally, he was sure that Jesus had an answer so they needed to stop and ask him what it was. My interpretation of the story of that meeting was that there was almost a sense of awe as they went around the table and asked each person present what they thought they heard Jesus saying. There was resonance and harmony in each answer. As Jeremy became fond of saying "Jesus knows stuff".

This journey had started well before I arrived at the church, and was part of the reason I ended up with a job. Jeremy and Nathan (the Associate Pastor) had prayed through what they believed the church needed from the position that would ultimately become mine.

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6 Radical Decisions in the Life of a church part one: Jesus First


Sunrise outside the church building

Last week I wrote that it has been four years since my book 6 Radical Decisions was launched in the U.K.

The last four years have been some of the biggest of my life. I have moved countries, left the organisation I had worked with for 20 years, completed a Masters in Theological Studies and become a Pastor. Of all the changes that last one has been the biggest.

I never saw myself working in a church, but as I reflect on the experience of the last (almost) three years, I am grateful for the opportunity.

As I wrote last week, the starting point of my journey with the church was to hand Jeremy and the team my book and indicate that was where I would want to be heading.

I just pulled up the email that Jeremy sent me in response to our initial meeting. He had just landed in Israel with his wife Lisa, and it was clear that he resonated with what I had written. He wrote:

I have been reading your book again in these wee hours of the morning (just about finished it) and continually find my heart racing as I read it. So much of the language you use is such a reflection of who we are seeking to become (many times over the course of reading the book, I’ve read a section to my wife and she has exclaimed ‘that is completely us!’).

While I felt that my twenty years of experience with Fusion had equipped me well to lead a church into mission, I hadn’t really anticipated the level of learning that was in front of me personally as I started to serve under Jeremy's leadership.

Over the next couple of weeks I am keen to write some reflections on what it has meant to attempt to bed the 6 Radical Decisions into the D.N.A. of a church. However the first of the decisions, Jesus being first in everything, is more about what I have learned from Jeremy and the team rather than being about anything I brought to the table.

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Four years on and the 6 Radical Decisions still shape my life

The official book launch in August 2012

The official book launch in August 2012

As the Olympics approach I am reminded that it was this time four years ago that my book 6 Radical Decisions was launched in London.

The book was really an attempt to name what I was committed to after a few very disorientating years of trying to help Fusion hold together after my Dad, the founder, stepped down from leadership.

While I didn’t know that this would be my last time working as a Fusion leader, there was a deep grief that pervaded the background of my experience of 2012. It was increasingly becoming clear to Leeanne and I, that in order for Fusion to move forward, the son of the founder needed to step away from the organization.

For two decades I had felt as though I was doing something very important, shoulder to shoulder with people I loved. I believed in what I understood Fusion to be about and now, as I worked with these people one last time, I sensed that I was in a process of letting go.

The 18 months of conceiving, writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing and finally proofing the book had been important for me. As I was increasingly finding myself moving to the outside of Fusion, I found my commitment to the core things that originally drove Fusion unshaken. The book was my attempt to name those core things.

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The world has changed, how the church engages with it also needs to change

images-1If it is true that the missiological strategy at the heart of the New Testament is the establishment of cells of followers, who by the way they live their lives demonstrate the coming Kingdom of God, then we need to examine what that means for us now.

For this cell based strategy to work, three things must happen:

  • Firstly those who are part of the cell must actually be living their lives in a way that is different to the normal.
  • Secondly, the way they live their lives must be able to be seen by those who are not part of the cells which means that they need to be connected to a the broader community of non believers.
  • Finally the cell must be connected to other cells, recognising it’s part in the broader body of Christ.


If the strategy to engage a nation or a whole community in mission is through a network of cells of followers, living their faith in such a way that it impacts those around them, I would argue that those cells need to be active in the world and not primarily focussed around the form of the local congregation. It could be reasonably argued that this is not the case today.

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Mission is about who we are more than what we say or do

Unknown-1One of the understandings implicit in much of the New Testament, and which we are beginning to understand is that mission is not so much about what we do, but who we are. J Ross Wagner writes:

While redemption is from first to last the work of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, it is a work that nonetheless establishes reconciled human beings as active co-laborers with God. In union with Christ, we find our lives increasingly conformed to the pattern of Jesus' own self-giving love, as in the power of the Spirit and under the tutelage of the Scriptures we participate in the on-going mission of the triune God to the world.[1]

N.T. Wright believes that this picure, of reconciled human beings as active co-laborers with God, is actually the heart of Jesus’ strategy:

“The evidence points, I suggest, towards Jesus intending to establish, and indeed succeeded in establishing, what we might call cells of followers, mostly continuing to live in their towns and villages, who by their adoption of his praxis, his way of being Israel, would be distinctive in their local communities.”[2]

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This bloke knew how to live faith... 1700 years ago.

A few days ago I wrote about a man who I believe you should have heard about, but for some reason you haven't.

At a time when people are sick of ideology, I think we need to rediscover someone like Basil who not only talked about a different way... he lived it.

Basil “believed that Christians neglect their role if theology is pursued in academic, monastic, or ecclesiastical isolation from social existence.”[1] One of the most profound aspects of Basil’s example was simply the way he lived his life. He not only wrote about the challenges facing the poor and marginalized, “he actually incarnated the life-style of the poor.”[2]

Constantelos asserts that “For Basil, doctrine and canon, worship and ethics, word and behavior were inextricably woven. The Greek concept of philanthropia and the Christian understanding of agape blended into a powerful ethic which determined his moral philosophy and social involvement.”[3]

The “Basiliad” or “New City” was the outworking of Basil’s social vision, as Schroder says “the fruit of his efforts to develop a more just and humane social order within the region of Caesarea”.[4]

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The church of the future will be network and hierarchy in relationship

One  understanding that helps point to the kind of leadership needed in the emerging era of the church is the assertion by John Kotter, in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World, that the most effective organizations will be those who can manage two complementary organizational modes: the traditional hierarchy and the network, which exist in a symbiotic relationship.[1]

Kotter believes that all organizations start as networks and evolve into the traditional hierarchy. Most movements of the spirit of God also start as networks, or more properly movements (which are networks with common values and goals). This is certainly true of the Alliance, which started as a fellowship and became a denomination. Moving towards institution is not necessarily wrong, as Bosch points out, “Every religious group that started out as a movement and managed to survive, did so because it was gradually institutionalized.”[2]

According to Kotter, on the journey from network to hierarchy there is a period where the two structures exist in creative tension, side by side. He argues that this creative tension is, in fact, the most effective organizational structure for the 21st century, and that organizations that have lost the network have to find ways to rebuild that more informal structure.

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This is how the church can organize itself into the future

This emerging era in the history of the church will see the focus move from the performers to the audience, as the audience discovers that it was meant to be on the stage from the very beginning. Gordon Smith puts it this way:

The church is a people together in service, in active joint participation in the inbreaking of Christ’s reign. Fundamentally, this means that the members of the church are equipped and empowered to make a difference through their respective vocations: nurses are empowered by life in the church to be faithfully engaged in their work, along with their sisters and brothers who are similarly empowered in their vocations, whether they be in business, the arts, education, or religious ministry. This is a reminder that what marks the church as a great church is not its size, not its numbers, but rather its impact through its members in its community. We ask each church, are these people empowered and equipped for the work to which each of them is individually called? [1]

Lesslie Newbigin believed that we “need to create, above all, possibilities in every congregation for laypeople to share with one another the actual experience of their weekday work and so seek illumination from the Gospel for their daily secular duty.”[2]

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This is the change that must happen for the church.

Despite the energy put into discussions about missional and emerging church over the last 20 years, the churches that have succeeded numerically are those that took  Donald McGavran’s advice. Generally they deliver a high quality and consistent product that meets the felt needs of a (usually) homogeneous social segment.

However these “mega-churches” are increasingly becoming whole social eco-systems in their own right, bubbles of a Christian culture that is increasingly separate from the day-to- day realities faced by most people who attend these churches, as evidenced by the growing sacred-secular divide highlighted earlier.

This movement away from the world, rather than engaging with the world, runs counter to what N.T. Wright believes was at the heart of Jesus’ strategy for the church:

“The evidence points, I suggest, towards Jesus intending to establish, and indeed succeeded in establishing, what we might call cells of followers, mostly continuing to live in their towns and villages, who by their adoption of his praxis, his way of being Israel, would be distinctive in their local communities.”[1]

It seems clear a significant shift is needed, and part of it is shifting our understanding of what the mission of the church actually is. 

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There is a paradigm that has been shaping your church that needs to change.

Since 1950 the dominant paradigm shaping the Christian Church has been labelled "church growth" and is best captured by author Donald McGavran in his early 1970's book Understanding Church Growth.

Most of us who have grown up in the church assume that this way of doing things is how things are meant to be, however there are three major challenges with the church growth paradigm that has shaped us for the last 60 years.

First is the notion that, if you aren’t a pastor or involved in evangelism, you can express your faith only by being a faithful church member. As Mark Greene wrote, “Ninety-five percent of Christians are neither envisioned or equipped for mission in 95 percent of their waking lives.”[1] This exacerbates what has come to be called the “sacred-secular divide”.[2]

Mark Greene, in his 2010 monograph The Great Divide, quotes one teacher as saying, “I spend an hour a week teaching Sunday school and they haul me up in front of the church to pray for me. The rest of the week I’m a full-time teacher and the church has never prayed for me. That says it all.”[3]

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The emerging organizational model asks questions for the church

Here at we will be sharing resources and practical tools for people who are wanting to wrestle with what leadership in the the next phase of the church's life might look like.

As the church moves forward in new ways, the way people organize themselves is also moving forward.

This article, which was the most popular of the year for strategy+business, unpacks the future of organizational leadership, and it turns out that it looks a lot like a network of Kingdom Cells.

Read it here:


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The Next Reformation

In the late nineties a German church-growth researcher, Christian Schwarz, put forward the idea that we are in the era of a third reformation. He asserted that the first reformation took place in the 16th century when Martin Luther fought for the rediscovery of salvation by faith, the centrality of grace and of Scripture. He said the second reformation was around the 18th century when personal intimacy with God was rediscovered. In his view the third reformation is a reformation of structure, or how we actually do church.[1]

I believe Schwarz got it wrong.

Many different books have been published about how to “do church” in a bigger, healthier or more missional way, and many models from successful churches have been studied and copied. So far this conversation has been largely focused on the shape and form of the local congregation. I would like to humbly suggest that in focusing on the form and structure of church we have been asking the wrong questions.

If the first reformation was the rediscovery of the priesthood of all believers, and the second was the rediscovery of intimacy with God and that each of us can have gifts of the spirit, I believe the third reformation is about the rediscovery that each one of us has a ministry.

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