Post Modern Church: Are We There Yet?

Andrew Jones - The Boaz Project

A deep ecclesiology, from what I have seen, is still around the corner. The challenge of postmodernity has influenced our apologetics, our worship and our methods of communication. But when it comes to the way we build and structure our churches, not a whole lot has changed so far. But there are some exciting new models of church emerging that resonate with the postmodern experience of time and space. Are we there yet? Of course not. But there are hopeful signs that make me think we are well on the way.

I am writing this in Budapest, Hungary at a conference called Hope 21. A thousand people are here representing what God is doing in 36 countries. My area is Church Planting and yesterday I spoke to about 60 missionaries and church planters on what doing church was looking like in the postmodern world.

For my presentation, I wrote a song. A few songs actually. Enough for a whole album. None of it had any music - just song titles. Let's play it now.

The Church in the Postmodern World: The Budapest Album

Track 1. The Party in their House

The Kingdom of God is like a party. According to Jesus and his Kingdom parables, the Kingdom is like a house full of poor people partying. Churches in the postmodern world look more like parties.

They are often in houses, there are multiple rooms, food flowing out of the kitchen, people chatting, celebrating (like a birthday), grieving (like a funeral), dancing (like a dance party). This is all very good. But more and more, the party is in THEIR HOUSE and not in OUR HOUSE.

Instead of bringing new believers into our houses/churches/parties, we are sending people to THEIR house to help them throw the party and build the community. Matthew the Tax Collector, when he decided to follow Jesus, threw the party in his house. Lydia's heart was opened to the gospel and the church met in Lydia's house. Church needs to be missionary as well as missional.

We need to act out our "being sent" by actually going out to THEIR HOUSE and bringing church with us as we go. This track in my album is one of the key tracks so I have opened with it, although in my performance I started with some different tracks.

Track 2. The Tree and the River

This could mean the universal motifs that connect with almost any culture - the tree of life and the river of life. I often end up here when I talk with people into eastern religions. But this is not what I mean. I am talking about the apostle and the prophet. New churches and movements are built on them and their ministry. The apostle is like a tree. He or she gives roots, stability, growth, and covering.

The Prophet is like a river. Rivers flow, trees grow. Prophets see the city with God's eyes. They tap into the prayers and promises for the city. They dig into deep wells to release whatever God has stored up for the place. They enable God's purposes to be visible and acted on by the apostle. Prophets hear from God and Apostles move resources into place to give God what He wants. The combination of these two giftings is often the initial thrust in birthing something new. And their return trips are often the way the growing churches stay healthy and connected.

Track 3. The Baptist Monk

This is my favorite track title on the album. It carries great shock value with its juxtaposition of the evangelical and the Catholic, the active and the reflective, the city and the desert. I can't say that I actually know any Baptist monks, even though I have suggested that the Baptists should create some monastic orders.

There are some Baptist communities that are on the journey - Lower Greenville Baptist in Dallas, for example, has a Celtic prayer room and has Taize nights on Tuesday. St. Thomas Crookes in Sheffield, a Baptist/Anglican mix, is on the way to becoming an order rather than a church. They have prayer three times daily. 24-7 Prayer are starting up monastic structures they call Boiler Rooms.

I have met Vineyard monks from Ohio who take vows and share a common purse. It is a growing trend that postmodern spiritual seekers would rather be a part of a small, committed order or team on a journey than be an attendee in a large, impersonal worship service.

Postmodern churches will increasingly include the monastic model as well as the ecclesiastic. Patrick Johnstone, in his book "The Church is Bigger Than You Think" argues that church has always existed in 3 forms

  1. the gathering (ecclesiastic),
  2. The community in training (I call it the monastic)
  3. The sending/traveling band (or the (apostolic).

Modernity divided the church into CHURCH (the ecclesiastic) and PARACHURCH (the seminaries, missions, youth ministries, etc). What we are seeing now is intentional communities and traveling teams that not only support the church - THEY ARE CHURCH.

Track 4. The Couch and the Pilgrim Trails

Pilgrimage is becoming the way of missions for postmodern young people. Pilgrimage is a two-way experience - giving your gift and receiving a gift from the culture.

Celtic pilgrims went to get books and they told the story of Jesus on the way. A pilgrimage is an open-ended journey that God could change at any moment, like He did with the Apostle Paul.

Pilgrimage often involves working and studying along the way. What we are seeing is an increasing amount of pilgrims traveling around the world in a Spirit led adventure with God. Rising up also is the support system to assist them - houses of hospitality, well-worn trails where people have gone ahead, festivals where they gather as a large group.

There are pilgrim points of interest and learning, and available couches in the homes of believers around the world for a new generation of couch-surfing apostles and prophets.

Track 5. The Return of Eucharist

Churches in the postmodern world usually end up with an increased respect and focus on the Lord's Supper. Services often give primacy to the Eucharist over the sermon. The Eucharist is an experience of community and intimacy with God. It is a statement of faith, a proclamation of our hope, a reenactment of the narrative, the story that undergirds our existence and gives meaning to our lives.

In the traditional churches, the Eucharist becomes the central point of the service. In house churches, the love feast or meal becomes the main event and the backdrop to everything else that happens. A related track that didn't make it to my album was entitled "THE REVENGE OF THE KITCHEN". I may add it later and talk about the ministry of the chef and the role of cuisine.

Track 6. The Shrinking Stage and the Expanding Entryway

The stages are shrinking because believers are no longer under compulsion to perform the gospel. The community of God becomes a better apologetic for God than the stage ever was.

The stage also shrinks because multi-media happens in multi-spaces, on multi-walls, in multi-rooms, by multi-people. Entryways, hallways and sidewalks become stages for art and expression.

Entryways grow for another reason - post modern people who choose to attend a traditional church do not want to be made captive to a service where they are not allowed to move or talk or drink their coffee. They can do all those things in the entryway and listen in to the message at the same time.

The entryway is a place of interaction and relation building. It will increase in size and importance. How do they do all those things at the same time? Its called multi-tasking and if you want to know more about it then ask your wife.

Track 7. The Settled Exodus

There are many Jesus followers who have decided that it is healthier for them to journey with God OUTSIDE the institutional church. They are the exodus from the Pyramids of Modern Church. They were abused (the servants) or not welcomed (the "Others") or stifled in their spirituality (the spiritual high-achievers) or they were valued only by what they contributed to the growth of the Pyramid (the artists).

Now they are the believers who do not belong, the Church without a church, the wildflowers in the Garden of God. The evangelicals used to be in this place, ever since the Roman Catholic Church treated them as 'separated brethren'. Now the evangelicals are becoming the institution who insists that all believers attend one of their worship services to be part of the "IN" group that we call Church.

Sam Williams is a few feet away from me as I write this. When he was at Bay Marin Community Church in California, he announced that there was a spiritual revival going on around us - but the church was not really a part of it. He saw it coming. What is going on now is that many of these believers are finding ways to connect and share life with each other.

These connection points and celebration events look like house churches but they are different. Whatever they are, they are part of the postmodern church landscape.

Track 8. The Church and their Businesses

This track did not make it to yesterday's performance due to lack of time. But I do want to include it on the Budapest album. Postmodernity has a lot to do with integrating elements of life that were separated in the Enlightenment.

One of the happy remarriages is church and business. Nothing new under the sun, of course - the early church and mission had a lot to do each others businesses and were often defined by their having all things in common. The word for fellowship "Koinonia" has financial connotations. So does "fellowship", coming from an old English term from which we get the word "fee".

Kiwi Viv Grigg told me that. He is a missionary to the poor who has helped in the formation of evangelical monastic orders (play TRACK 3. of this album) Anyway, I came across a very postmodern church in USA in which the shared businesses of the believers were the key to connecting the believers together. And the businesses also formed the platform for their ministry outside their church and their country. Heeelllllooooo, future!

Supplemental Tracks

I am including a few tracks that were inspired by the speakers before me and performed yesterday.

Track 9. The Sperming of the Planet

On a large piece of paper, Oivind Augland of Norway drew his country as a sperm and told us that they were sending out young people around the world to... how shall I say it... spiritually 'fertilize' the world with the gospel. It reminded me of a quote that I played in my performance, from Roland Allen, a famous English missionary to China. In 1933, in response to a request from his mission society for stories of success, he said... "I do not trust spectacular things. Give me the seed growing secretly every time."

Track. 10 The Ministers and their Parents

Another happy thing going on in postmodern churches is the integration of young and old, children speaking into the movement and the older teaching the younger. The modern world saw church get sliced and diced into sub-groups and more sub-groups of sub-groups that ministered to sub-groups. The postmodern world is a good opportunity to integrate the ages, as well as letting people minister as a family rather than an individual. I know for myself, there are a lot of times when my kids minister better than I do and say things that show a unique and innocent understanding of God. I need to let them speak, or the stones will cry out.

Track 11. The Honoring of the Women

This is from Roland Van Der Molen of Netherlands, who has created a Tolkein-esque fantasy game to train young people in spirituality and ministry. He reminds us that we cannot move ahead without the women. I was told about this years ago by a mentor, Pastor Paul Jackson. "Half of my audience is women", he told me, "which is why I try and read books written by women."

It is the women who will teach us much about how to function in a postmodern world. They are already overtaking the men on the front line. Out of the 1 million church planting evangelists in China, I have heard, 80% are women. If the house churches are structured around hospitality, conversational evangelism, interactive teaching and relationships of trust, then there is no doubt that women will play a major role.


Ross Rhode spoke before me. I took over his job as an Outreach Pastor in Oregon in 1988 - small world! Ross is the author of some excellent articles on churches in the postmodern world. He believes that the first wave of postmodern churches was the seeker-sensitive/targeted churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek.

The second wave of postmodern churches was the Gen-X and missional churches like Mars Hill in Seattle.

Over breakfast this morning, he told me that when he re-writes his article, he will say that the third wave of postmodern churches is the current house churches, since they have taken the elements of postmodernity beyond the cognitive and into the structure and leadership. I agreed but suggested that house church teachers who present their strategies as a meta-narrative and the only way to do church are coming from a modern worldview and not postmodern. Same page. Say no more.

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