(Image copyright: David Joshua Ford)
It is a simple thing to start up a simple church. But establishing healthy, positive, Godly, missional and sustainable micro-culture is a greater challenge. If you want to make the paradigm-shifting journey with a group of people, my book THE NEW MONASTIC includes a fourteen week study-guide is designed to help groups make that very transition in a way that is balanced and grounded.
This page includes the nuts and bolts of it. But for the full, immersive experience, I strongly recommend using the guide alongside the book itself. This is because the drama of the story of THE NEW MONASTIC is designed specifically to help engage people’s hearts as well as heads as you go through the 14 weeks.
SOME TIPS FOR A TRANSFORMATIONAL STUDY GROUP
1) Let each session be done around a full meal around a table. I can’t fully explain it but there is something unique about sharing meals together for bonding and building friendships. If people are comfortable with it let me also recommend that you include a breaking of bread and a sharing of wine together as an expression of the Lord’s Supper and our communion with Christ.
2) Take some quiet time each week to actually read through all the Scriptures listed. That’s the real food here!
3) In your praying from week to week be sure to forgive people and ways of church your people have moved away from. People may be rightly critical of wrong patterns in their previous church experience, they may be hurt or burned by what they’ve known before. Take the time to forgive and let go because it is important that your connection with the Body of Christ as a whole be one of love. (Ephesians 4.16)
I am available on email@example.com if you want to touch base along the way. May the Lord Bless you as you do this. And may the Holy Spirit of God lead you on new journeys and into new ventures.
This study relates to the content of chapter one in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“Priorities & Priestcraft”.
When Jesus gave the apostolic commission to the Twelve and the Seventy-Two, there was no mention made of setting up programs of services. He taught his ambassadors to do exactly as he had been doing; gracing peoples’ homes, eating and drinking with them, healing them of their ills, and teaching them about the Kingdom of God. A new generation of believers is seeking to emulate Jesus’ pattern of ministry; with the goal of changing lives, not getting people into church services.
Is this a switch you have made? Talk about what it would mean for you to prioritize a Luke 10 pattern of life.
Ask for the Lord to give new light to your priorities.
This study relates to the content of chapter two in THE NEW MONASTIC – “The Unwilling Hermit”
Around the world there is a new breed of pastors, planters, and regular Christians who have no interest in replicating the busy programs often popular in the mainstream churches, instead placing a high value on their members’ actual lives and on their day-to-day engagement with the world during the week.
Questions of how we treat people – especially the most vulnerable – weigh more than any issues of churchmanship or style in worship. It is our engagement with people – both in and outside the church – that best reflects the genuineness of our encounter with God in prayer.
Talk about the practicalities of enjoying greater reclusion with God and greater engagement with people.
Ask for the Lord to re-order your values.
This study relates to the content of chapter three in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“The Great Cloud”.
Hebrews 11.1-12.3, II Corinthians 1.3-7, Philippians 1.29,30
A new generation of believers is learning to look for inspiration to the teaching and practice of Christians at other times and in other places. Throughout Europe in particular, the structures and values of the Celtic churches, for instance have inspired many new groups in their own structures, values and forms of prayer. Others have looked for an example to the disciplines and forms of church adopted by our persecuted brethren in parts of the world where religious organizations are suppressed.
With such a mindset it is wise to look to the great cloud of witnesses, contemporary and past, for teaching and guidance in the present – since, as Ecclesiastes says – everything has happened before. There is nothing new under the sun. The separation of time and space is not an issue for believers who are hungry to find authentic forms of faith, when the forms of the familiar, the mainstream and conventional no longer satisfy. Talk about historic exemplars you find inspiring. What does the fact that you resonate with their stories tell you about yourself?
Ask the Lord for fresh sources of inspiration.
This study relates to the content of chapter four in THE NEW MONASTIC – “Spirituality & Gluttony”
In our churches we have often tended to a stage-oriented pattern of meeting, and to spoken and musical presentations oriented around elevating the emotions of those gathered. By contrast a growing number of believers around the world are choosing to gather in ways centred on enabling real relationships to form and have a strong distaste for ‘unreality’ or atmosphere-centred ‘worship meetings’.
Their aim is to get right away from a consumerist attitude to the gathering of the church, and aim instead at a spirituality of reality and action. This mentality is neatly expressed by orthodox writer Theophan the Recluse: “Do not ask yourself how deep your emotions were…Ask yourself: ‘Am I doing God’s will better than I did before?’”
Are you doing God’s will better than before?
Ask God to purify your motivations.
This study relates to the content of chapter five in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“Cabals and Pyramids.”
Matthew 20.25-28, 23.8, Philemon 8-17, I Timothy 4.12 & 5.1,2, I Peter 5.1-6, 13
The denomination is a structure absent from the New Testament. Even a recent Archbishop’s report for the Church of England on “episcopal ministry” concluded that the episcopal authority pyramid is “not a New Testament pattern”.
According to Jesus “gentiles” (non-Jewish cultures) have a way of doing leadership and politics – a pattern of chains of command – which must not be brought into church-life. For balance he also held up the Jewish model of Rabbi plus pupil as a wrong template for church-life. Christian leadership is to be marked not by assertions of authority but by servanthood. In a post-modern era with a healthy skepticism of authority-claims, believers take these words of Jesus seriously enough to build it into their way of being church and seek to develop real brotherhood and sisterhood among the believers. The more I see new grassroots churches forming, and the more I work with them the more I understand that a new generation of churches is acting on this knowledge, content to relate to each other on the basis of friendship as sister churches, understanding that their legitimacy lies in love towards the wider Body of Christ, and obedience to the direct unmediated Lordship of Jesus – the true captain of every local church.
New expressions of church – like my own network Jesus Generation – believe strongly in the gifts and ministries of teachers, pastors, evangelists etc. Such churches do not reject authority or leadership within the body, but seek accountability through relationship rather than through creating new hierarchy, but they do not seek to create authority pyramids, or regional super-structures. Talk about where you each are in this picture.
Ask the Lord through his word and by the Holy Spirit to re-script your ideas of leadership and authority and for the Lord to strengthen your love for the whole body of Christ in all its forms, shapes and sizes.
This study relates to the content of chapter six in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“Pride and Prejudice”.
Matthew 5:11-13, John 5.44, Luke 12.2-5, I Peter 4.12-17
To do something new often means to do something that is not yet popular or understood. Like the Reformers in the fifteen-hundreds, the Puritans in the sixteen-hundreds, and every radical, innovator or church-planter since, Christians in new expressions of church often have to extend that grace to their fellow Christians and learn to weigh humbly and carefully the counsel of brothers and sisters following other traditions. A new generation of Christians is learning that affirmation by the mainstream is not necessarily the same as Divine approval.
Talk about how to distinguish between those things that mark the boundaries of the Christian Church and those things which we ought not to regard as “shibboleths”.
Ask for love and grace between Christians that we might learn to bless each other’s differences.
This study relates to the content of chapter seven in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“The Offer of Gold.”
Matthew 3.1-3, 13.31-32, 18.19-20, 28.18-20
Isaiah 43.18,19, Acts 16.13-15, 18.5-8, Ephesians 3.7-8
“Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn. Look to Abraham your father and Sarah your mother. When I called him, he was but one. But I blessed him and made him many.”(Isaiah 51.1-2) From humble, small, hidden beginnings undeniably great things emerge. So often this is God’s way. He loves the dark horse.
In the past church-planters often had their eye on setting up something big, noticeable and attractive, with its totemic building and meetings. In reality Scripture holds not one command to “plant a church”. Jesus Christ’s commission is to make disciples. Church is the result. And if that resulting church is small it can rejoice in conforming to the way of God displayed in his faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah. It can rejoice also in the benefits of a promise made by Jesus himself which is uniquely for just such groups. If church is the by-product of discipleship talk about how that thought might re-order your week.
Ask for the courage to act if necessary when you are only small in number.
This study relates to the content of chapter eight in THE NEW MONASTIC – “The Cult.”
Galatians 2, I Peter 4.12-17, Luke 6.26, II Corinthians 11.26
History is generally written from the perspective of the most powerful. Similarly church-history is often penned by writers for the larger, mainstream structures. Today radical Christians are learning to read history, with a more questioning attitude.
The great evangelical preacher Martin Lloyd Jones spoke of the evangelical’s interest in moments of schism in church history. He pointed out that these moments usually signaled the rediscovery of an important Gospel or New Testament principle. The discovery was usually made by the group breaking away. For those reasons, a new generation of Christians is learning to view “anathematized” groups of the past with a more gracious and inquiring attitude, wanting not to miss the good in the testimony of Christians whose radical expression of faith won them persecution and hatred.
Are there voices which you have disregarded; people, groups or traditions to which you could give a second hearing?
Ask for the grace to listen again to people you may have wrongly dismissed.
This study relates to the content of chapter nine in THE NEW MONASTIC –
Luke 4.38-41, 5.27-32, 9.1-6. 14.1-14, 15.1-7, 19.1-10
Some of Jesus’ ministry was conducted in synagogues, but much of it happened out and about in public places, in the streets, at the hospital, in the outer courts of the Temple, at parties, in the homes of friends and strangers. As a result of this gregarious, outward, disciple-making ministry,
groups of believers began to form. It was that way round. In my fellowship with today’s radical generation of church-planters and other Christian workers, I find that their great priority is for what they do when scattered out in the world and among the people of their natural networks.
Talk about the network of family, friends, neighbours, casual acquaintances, colleagues and associates whom God has put in your life. What would it mean for you to make your natural network your place of ministry?
Ask for everyday opportunities and the grace to strengthen friendships, acquaintances and family ties, and to make yourself a chaplain and servant to this God-given network.
This study relates to the content of chapter ten in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“Not for money or for fame”.
I Timothy 6.11-16, I Corinthians 2.9-10, 8.2,3, 13.8-12, Ephesians 3.16-21, Philippians 3.7-15
In recent years churches have often stressed about how to reach the post-modern mind. With some relief we have learned that in a post-modern culture people love to learn and reflect through stories. How relevant therefore, that out of a deep knowledge of the human psyche, the Bible gives a huge proportion of its teaching through stories. Christians need to appropriate this story-telling aspect of our faith because the churches, especially in the west, have liked to teach in assertions. In doing this we have sometimes lost the emotional, imaginative and spiritual content of God’s word, and of his very appeal to human beings. In preaching too much on what we know and understand, we have scaled our ultimately unknowable and glorious God down to something with altogether less power to inspire. In my travels I have found that believers in our post-modern culture love the mysterious charisma of the God who told Moses “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”, and who reminds us in Scripture that his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and his ways higher than our ways. Such believers appreciate that we know “in part” and love the invitation to journey made by the paradox of God’s hiddenness and self-revelation. Talk about ways in which your language could better reflect the awe-inspiring mystery of God.
Ask that the Lord might help us to take on greater humility of mind and heart and a fresh awe at his greatness.
This study relates to the content of chapter eleven in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“Recluses and Beggars.”
John 1.19-28, Matthew 3.1-12, 5.11-12, 6.1-18, I Corinthians 1.25-31, Luke 6.26
When John the Baptist began to minister he did it away from the population centre and in the obscurity of the desert. Doing nothing to ingratiate himself with the religious authorities of his day, receiving from them neither authority nor pay, he was free to speak his God-given message. When asked who he was, he replied that he was a voice. Monastics and hermits have always looked to John the Baptist for inspiration, seeing themselves as belonging to his tradition. They emulate his hiddenness and differentness to the prevailing religious and social culture. His disinvestment from the world, his strength in solitude and his prophetic witness remain a profound challenge to every church, and provides an inspiring call to be the kind of nobody to whom others will come to confess their sins and find a renewed life in the love and fear of God.
We all want to be liked and admired. Talk about what you can do to avoid being controlled more by that desire than the desire to please and obey Jesus Christ – no matter how “different” that may make you.
Ask for the willingness to serve uncelebrated and to value the freedoms that low profile brings.
This study relates to the content of chapter twelve in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“The End of the Beginning.”
Hebrews 13.7, Colossians 3.9-17, I Thessalonians 2.1-12
“Remember your leaders who have spoken the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”(Hebrews 13.7)
Real accountability is based on mutual trust and mutual knowledge. Only in the more developed relationships of smaller-sized groups does the believer have the opportunity to “consider” those in pastoral roles in the way Hebrews teaches. Similarly it is only with the transparency of small-group life that church members can grow sufficiently in friendship and trust to be able to follow up on what they know and “speak the truth to one another in love.” A new generation of Christians has learned not to confuse accountability with authority or pastoral care with control.
Talk about ways you could gather a few (3-5) trusted friends to build this kind of accountable, loving, truth-speaking fellowship.
Ask God to help you develop a circle of honest, loving, and healthy relationships.
This study relates to the content of chapter thirteen in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“The Desert Path.”
Isaiah 43.18-19, Romans 12.9-21, 16.1-24, Hebrews 10.24-25, 13.1
(Psalm 133 NIV) “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
The promise of this Psalm is made with rich images of the life-giving and refreshing power of the Holy Spirit. The oil on Aaron’s head represents his priestly anointing. The dew of Mount Hermon stands for the melted mountain snows flowing through fields which would otherwise wither in the dry summer-season. But is that first sentence – the condition for this blessing – imagery only? Christians often spiritualize this “living together in unity” to mean agreement or conformity of opinion or policy. In church circles we sometimes use the language of unity to strengthen a congregation’s commitment to particular strategies or structures. However, what if we were to read the first sentence more literally? What if these assurances of refreshment and anointing belong in a special way to those who actually “live together”, meaning that they reside together – be that in a village, a family or a household? Talk about what it would mean for you to pursue more concretely the special blessing of Psalm 133.
Ask for God to lead you into a New Testament experience of Close Community
This study relates to the content of chapter fourteen in THE NEW MONASTIC –
“The New Monastic.”
Romans 12.5-18, Hebrews 10.24,25, Matthew 7.24-27, James1.22-27
In John 13.17 Jesus said: “Now that you know these things you will be blessed when you do them”. “Blessed in the doing” is how some translators put it. At the heart of the Christian life is the heart of obedience; obedience to the word of God and the call of Christ. When you know what it is you need to do as a disciple of Christ don’t wait for someone else to push you into the waters of faith, obedience, action and experiment. Jump! The believer should not be a maverick, for as believers we belong to one another. Rather find brothers and sisters to work and serve with, and to make an agreement as to what you will do together – for Biblical Christianity is always corporate and Biblical church is always marked by the order and warmth of a devoted brotherhood and sisterhood.
Pray and Do
Make an agreement together to define the flavor and direction of the journey you want to share. You are very welcome to use THE SIMPLE WAY along with the SIMPLE WAY TOOLKIT (toolkit available by email request.) The focus and shythm of the Simple Way neutralises the negative dynamic of people turning away from ways they dislike, and embeds a heart move to a dynamic that positively pursues the good, seeking and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That is the purpose of this paradigm-shifting course. I believe that as you ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and courage, you will (as Jesus said) be blessed “in the doing”.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to make contact with you, pray for you personally and offer whatever support, encouragement and resourcing I can to help your missional venture start up well and stay healthy. A lot of groups hit turbulence at around the 18 month mark. I am happy to be a sounding board for you to help you through those first choppy waters. (One thing I would like to offer your group is a wonderful tool for group-decision making which is time-tested and very effective both at reaching decisions and finding the group’s mind. It is a good way of keeping the group together under the lordship of Christ.)
May the Lord Bless you and Guide you on your journey.