The church plant

Many stories have been shared about Jesus’ time among his disciples. In John’s book he mentioned that many were never recorded. The following was not recorded and almost certainly never happened.

Jesus invited the disciples to his house for a meal. It was the weekend and he said that it was important we ‘did life’ together. Andrew pointed out we ‘did life’ quite a lot already but Jesus said that wasn’t authentic enough. He said, “we must do more life”. I didn’t really get what that meant, but then it wasn’t unusual for Jesus to say random things.

So, on the Sunday night we all piled in to Jesus’ living room. Peter said he’d be along later because he had to get the kids to bed. But everyone else was there apart from Judas who was watching the end of the football.

‘Jesus had made his speciality, spaghetti bolognese. ‘Speciality’ might be stretching it a little, the sauce was from a jar and the pasta was soggy. I always thought it strange that a man who could create bread and fish from thin air, couldn’t cook pasta.

After dinner Jesus spoke. “So guys, I’ve got this new idea and I wondered if you’d be interested?” We all leaned in a little. “I’m in” said Peter, and scanned the room expecting others to follow. “You’ll need to give us a little more than that Lord” I replied. “Always a cynic Thomas, but I’m glad you asked” said Jesus smiling at me.

“As you know, we’ve all become fed up with the synagogue. It’s getting harder to persuade some of you to get out of bed on Sabbath mornings. So I’ve been doing a little research and some people online are suggesting that we start our own service. It wouldn’t have to be on the Sabbath; we could have it any day we like. And we wouldn’t have to sing Psalms.” We all looked round nodding in agreement. “They call it a Fresh Expression! It’s a bit like synagogue plant, but you don’t have to talk about God or sing, in fact it’s kind of frowned upon, at least, in the first few months.”

“Brilliant!” shouted Andrew. Although John looked a little sad that there might not be music. He’d been practicing guitar loads since becoming the praise band leader at the Capernaum synagogue. “When do we start?” said Peter. “Well most people do a community audit and work out the needs of local people. I don’t know if you’ve noticed there are a lot of sick and hungry people around. Not to mention the leppers. But personally I think we should focus on Millennials like us.”

“And we could apply to the Temple for funding. They’re offering funding for work with 20-40’s and there’s also separate Sanhedrin funding for rural areas like Galilee.

“So Lord, where do we start?” Asked one of the twelve.

“Well, we probably need to do a course.”

“What kind of course Jesus?”

“I was thinking about the miracles course at Galilee Bible Synagogue. It seems a good mix of practical and spiritual. And you can study part-time. That’s important because it said online that we need to be bi-vocational church planters. We can’t expect other people to fund us, and getting jobs will help us stay grounded.”

“Aw, but you said we had to leave the fishing”, said Andrew. “We’ve already sold the boat!”

Lonely places

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

(Luke 5.16)

…or at least this was his practice in the beginning.

But eventually the weight of leadership and ministry took their toll. He had every intention to pray regularly, yet so many other things got in the way.

Not least, he was concerned that people would think he wasn’t working hard enough. And they might compare him to other Rabbis that always seemed to get more done. So, little by little the wilderness wandering dwindled until it was limited to an annual retreat to the desert.

Thankfully this is not true. Jesus prioritised a vibrant spiritual life, in close relationship with his Father. He was not distracted as so many pastors can be.

Keller’s dichotomy?

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves,

“What is he saying? This is blasphemy”

They murmured together. “How dare he!”

“Jesus should have healed the man”.

“If he could move, then he could work and then he could escape poverty.”

“He’s ignoring structural sin, and denying the Kingdom’s concern with this man’s exclusion from employment.”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,

“Gosh, you’re right. I didn’t mean to suggest that the forgiveness of sins is more important. Or, that one day this man might die and find himself excluded from an actual eternal reality.”

He turned to the man on the mat,

“Can we pretend that never happened? I should have said, get up and walk!”

The man looked dazed. He stood up, and seemed momentarily pleased. But then he hesitated looking concerned.

“Lord, thanks for letting me walk. But am I forgiven or not? I mean, I don’t want to find myself one day outside the Kingdom.”

“Oh don’t worry about abstract things like that” replied Jesus. “Just go and enjoy your new mobility. You need to focus on the here and now!”

For the real text see: Mark 2

Last Supper Prep for Presbyterians

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” (Mark 14.12-15)

 

… Jesus went on, “then go to the supermarket and get some of the bread that Thomas likes, but make sure there’s also a gluten free option for Matthew. And get wine, preferably decent stuff, you know how James and John are about wine. And of course non-alcoholic grape juice for me I don’t want to cause any offence in the future.”

“Also pick up some chocolate cake, my future disciples will be less concerned about gluttony. And napkins; we must have napkins, and they need to match the table cloth!”

“eh… another thing Andrew, could you pick up my suit from the dry cleaners, and give my shoes a quick clean, it’s important to get dressed up for this.”

“Oh, and one last thing, give the rest of the disciples a call, you know, the ones that only come for passover.”

 

For the true story see; Mark 14.12-26

 

 

The Bus from Emmaus

Many people will know the story of the road to Emmaus, where the risen Jesus surprised some woebegone followers. But few know the story of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem*

After breaking bread, Jesus vanished. Cleopas and his friend quickly washed the dishes and set off to tell the others what had happened.

Jesus also wanted to head back to Jerusalem. But it had been a long day, and rather than walking back, he decided to take the bus.

Calling it a bus is an exaggeration. It was more a cart pulled by donkeys.

Jesus climbed on board, and sat on the bench next to a young woman. She grumpily shifted along, lifting her bag onto her lap. And proceeded to ignore him as the cart jolted on.

But later in the journey he caught her glancing at him. “Sorry,” she said, “but has anyone told you, you look like that prophet from Galilee. You know, the one they just crucified.”

Jesus smiled; “really” he replied.

“What a shame that was”, she said. “He was clearly a little crazy, but it was still a shame.”

Jesus was still smiling.

She went on “I don’t believe in religion myself.”

“Are you some kind of evangelical?” said Jesus. “What do you have against smells and bells?”

“Oh no”, she replied, looking a little disgusted. “I’m not ‘evangelical’. I’m just not into organised religion. I don’t need some priest or religious council telling me what to do.”

“I’m not religious, I’m more…”

“Spiritual?” said Jesus.

“Spiritual”, exactly, she said. “I’m spiritual. I don’t need organised, intolerant religion. I don’t need ancient, irrational traditions to help me live my life. I prefer to do my own thing.”

“So, I practice yoga, and I’m into new age.”

“Interesting” said Jesus.

“Ah, this is my stop.”

*This story of course is entirely fictional, but for the story of Emmaus see: Luke 24

All the believers?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… (Acts 2.42-46)

…Except for James, the brother of Jesus. He wanted to “do church” differently. And so he started a fresh expression in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. He preferred to “sing a new song” not to just the old Psalms. His venture was a great success, although it mainly attracted disenchanted Christians. 

And then there was Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. She grew disillusioned with “organised religion.” It began with a disagreement about cleaning the church fridge. She soon began trying different house churches; she even tried James’ fresh expression. But eventually she drifted away. She still believed but said, “I don’t need to ‘go to church’ to follow Jesus, I can read my bible and pray anywhere.”

Then there was Andrew and his family. He was an elder, but they were just worn out at the end of the week. And church was becoming difficult because of their older son’s behavioural issues. After Mary started back at work, combined with the need to visit granny at the weekend, it became unrealistic for them to get to the regular gathering. 

And lastly there’s me, Luke. After Paul sent me to complete postgrad studies, I found my faith becoming dry. When reading the Torah, I was bugged by critical questions of sources and authorship. And there was James’ constant nagging about the need for a more missional approach. So, between us, I grew less passionate. Eventually I only went to church if I was preaching. 

Matthew and Mission

Matthew sat among a group of disciples eagerly listening to his story of Jesus. 

“Jesus said, ‘all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore as you go make disciples, baptising them and teaching them all I have taught you…’”

“In other words”, continued Matthew, “life is about sharing the Gospel; as you go about your business, make disciples.”

“That almost sounds too simple” said one of the group.

“Quite right” said Matthew, that’s exactly what we thought. And so we invented ‘mission’. Matthew now had a glint in his eye.

“Mission” replied the questioner, “what does that mean?” 

“Precisely,” said Matthew, “what does it mean? It means everything and nothing at the same time. It means whatever you want it to mean.”

“Mission means; courses and books, research and consultancy, workshops, webinars, conferences and lectures.”

“Mission means; experts and advisors, specialists and coaches. It means having little time to talk to anyone that isn’t a Christian because you’re too busy teaching Christians about mission.”

“But doesn’t the Church need to know that Jesus wanted them to get on with life, sharing the Gospel as they went? Wouldn’t it make things much simpler?”

Matthew looked aghast. “Of course the Church doesn’t need to know that Jesus left them a clear and simple task”, he shrieked. “That would ruin everything. Imagine how quickly they’d stop investing in our programmes and conferences. The whole mission industry would implode!” 

For the real text: Matthew 28.16-20