From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister for Congregation Futures
Maybe you have decided that you would like to gather with a small group of people (online for the time being) all of whom want to go further with the five habits of highly missional people that Michael Frost sets out in his handy little book “Surprise the World”. That is fantastic! A great first step is to encourage some people you know to read the book, and from that group find those who want to go further.
In the early stages of reading the book and trying to figure out where this all fits in with the life of your congregation, you may be tempted to think that these habits are simply a tool to eventually boost the number of people attending your existing regular weekly worship gatherings. That is a temptation to be resisted, especially if you think it is the only option. It is better to imagine the possibility of multiple new and distinct Christian gatherings finally emerging from the habits. It will probably take a decent amount of time, but as you form relationships from the missional habits with “not yet churched” people, don’t be surprised if you end up in meaningful faith related conversations that lead to your network of relationships wanting to meet together with you to go further.
At this point the temptation might be to simply invite them to your congregation’s existing regular weekly worship gatherings. This might be an attractive option because then you can rely on the regular roster of preachers to give the “proper teaching” to disciple them.
A concern for people getting the “proper teaching” is one of the leading objections to the growth of multiple new and distinct Christian gatherings arising from living out the missional habits. Frost in his recent blog “Bible teaching can happen at the table not just the pulpit” is aware of the criticism that such gatherings do not do Bible teaching very well. He writes: “I’ve heard it said that their emphasis on conversational sharing is a kind of groupthink that just results in a pooling of existing knowledge”. This leads to Bible teaching that generally is not that great.
On the other hand, when this kind of multi-voice church is done well (compared with the mono-voice church typical of our existing worship gatherings), Frost notes that people grow into better disciples of Jesus Christ. One of the keys to forming a new Christian gathering arising from living out the missional habits is to figure out how to be a well-functioning multi-voice church in which each part does its work to build each other up in love (Ephesians 4:12-16). Frost has some suggestions for this.
First, he suggests that teaching should happen in a conversational context. By this he means that the teaching should not just happen at the weekly (or however regular) gathering, but should be an ongoing conversation – teachers should “be involved in relationships where conversations about the gospel are central all week long.”
His next suggestion is that teaching should be conducted in conversational format: “Teachers need to foster a form of progressional dialogue, where they host the discussion and keep the group on topic and in the scriptures, but allow all voices to make a contribution. They shepherd the learning experience.”
Third, Frost suggests that teachers should adopt a conversational tone. This is helped if it is not the same teacher all the time, rather have a variety of people taking the teacher role. It is further helped by the language the teacher uses. Using introductory phrasing like “It seems to me” or “from this I understand” instead of telling people how things are or ought to be.
Frost’s final suggestion is that teaching should promote a conversational hermeneutic. This means that our interpretation of the life of Christ is to come through the communal conversation – “learning Christ is a communal activity … all teaching in this mode should be designed to build up the congregation (gathered and dispersed) as a disciple of Jesus in its own right.”
Frost’s contributions here are important. For the sake of people who you connect with through living out the missional habits we need to figure out how to do multi-voice church well, otherwise the objections to Bible teaching that is not that great will keep forcing us back into models that prevent church in new ways, in new places for new people. That will be a huge loss for the church, because as Sian and Stuart Murray point out (quoted by Frost):
“Active participants in healthy multi-voiced churches are much more likely to be confident in sharing their faith with others, ready to engage in social action, hospitable to their neighbours, alert to pastoral opportunities beyond the church, and able to participate in gracious dialogue with people of other faiths or none.”
You can read Frost’s full blog at: https://mikefrost.net/bible-teaching-can-happen-at-the-table-not-just-the-pulpit/