It’s about 8 years since Molong and I began our conversation about organic ways of being church. After several years of serving in congregational settings, Molong struck out to make a living through building small businesses and bringing young people into those businesses who were being discipled through a web of friendships. It is a fruitful web of friends that has grown into a wider web of family. Gospelling, Baptising, Discipling and sharing life all happen in as organic a way as I have yet seen.
We caught up this morning and he shared this window onto his activities:
MOLONG: Our ways of gathering always just look like a big family – or like any healthy one. The gifts that we have, generosity, helps, mercy, administration etc, are all incorporated in our everyday life – as we live daily from house to house. Two things that anyone will notice here – i) You’ll see no “religious” activity ii) You’ll just see us living our faith.
PAUL: I know in the past you have led program-based, congregation-shaped churches as a pastor. How does teaching and discipleship work in the more organic model you’re working with now?
MOLONG: With regard to teaching; I have seen a kind of teaching that separates and systematizes all types of teachings – creating patterns of ‘discipleship classes’ – that unless you finish them, you are not ‘discipled.’ That way Jesus gets downgraded into a program.
Instead, we decided to treat each other as members of our own family (extending our family through making disciples). And because we make disciples through our friends, relationship is in place already.
PAUL: I think a lot of Christians are anxious about a more organic approach. I often hear people appeal to the text in Hebrews 10:25 that says, “Do not neglect meeting together as some do.” Of course they read that as, “Don’t stop putting on programs of meetings and attending services.” I sometimes think it would help people to understand the instruction of Hebrews as “Don’t miss out on the blessing of meeting up with each other – anywhere and everywhere to give each other encouragement from day to day.” We need to see it as an addition rather than a subtraction to let the stuff of our fellowship burst the banks of services-based thinking.
MOLONG: Here spontaneous meetings or meet-ups happen naturally among friends. [That is our fellowship. That is our] basis of meeting, not creating a new schedule of meetings for the purpose of spirituality. Of course change the ‘topics’ of our ‘discussions’ and gear them toward our faith.
Another Baptism in Molong’s wider spiritual family
PAUL: Molong, I love how you really have broken out of a meetings-based paradigm.
MOLONG: Of course there are many expressions of meetings. Some friends live far from each other. So what does that look like? For us the key is do a lot of meeting-up, without thinking in terms of a schedule. You know families don’t do “meetings” but they meet a lot, don’t they!
So questions about spiritual growth become normal – family questions first – because we are a family-based church, not a church-based family.
We know the names of our children and spouses – where people are, what they do etc. We may not know our birthdays and middle names but surely we know each other.
Along the way we share testimonies of our lives, but we don’t call it ‘testimony’ or name it that way or mention that word at all, never. We just share it normally. For instance:
One says, “I had a dream last night of a twister that caught the whole house and transferred to an other place.”
Then someone else exclaims, “Alright, that’s it! We are going to move house next door to you. That’s just what we have been thinking and praying and asking God if that’s His will for us to live next door to you.”
Or, “I’ve visited a widow today and saw her having a hard time cleaning her house. Oh, I just jumped in and mopped her floor.”
It is not, “Good evening everyone (grumpy smile). Today I visited a widow and helped clean her house and mop her floor. Praise the Lord, I give back all the glory to him. Amen.” And everyone claps their hands.
That’s ‘testimony’ the religious way!!
PAUL: And Molong I know that clustered housing has been significant in making things work more organically for you. When I was running JGen our gathered life was centered on three group houses and all the natural and social networks of those house-sharing this way. In one mansion of a house we had three couples, three single people a dog and some chickens. So you can imagine that their house was a meeting place and social hub for a great number of of people – will the potential that comes from that.
When I was working in London and Portsmouth in the UK the student scene in which I was pastoring was a really fluid and organic environment for organic ministry. And that was in large part because everyone lived close, within walking distance of one another. Molong, I know that lot of your people when they have come to a move have chosen to live closer to each other and that has really enhanced what you are achieving in terms of close community/
MOLONG: Yes, we have gatherings like a very, very, very close family because they are living next door to each other. That way we easily function in our giftings and one-anothering.
A Bible Study Group scheduled at 7 in the evening is nonsense to our people because they can just talk and discuss what they have been learning and reading in the morning coffee under the tree.
PAUL: Molong that sounds awesome. The difference and the great challenge we struggle with in this part of the world is the busy-ness of Australians. Often we don’t live close to our spiritual family. We don’t work close to one another either. So if we want to meet up with our spiritual family – or anyone really – we generally have to schedule it. The spontaneity you enjoy isn’t there for us.
On top of that, financial and time pressures on working people in Australia often force us into patterns of living that are really too busy for our own families – let alone allowing us the energy to build up a wider spiritual family. I know I need to model the slower, local life far better than I do – and teach it better for us to find the time and energy for connecting.
MOLONG: Nobody is too busy for connection in this set up [in Cebu] because families do the busy things together – read together, coffee together, carpentry together, clean up together, go to the market together, cook together, taxi-ride children together etc….
PAUL: At present Ruth and I are very focused on shopping in the shops that we can walk to, and taking the time to befriend people on our street and in our local businesses. There are enough people who move around our town centre slowly enough to allow conversation and relationships to build. It’s one of the advantages of living outside the suburbs. And we have befriended people simply through talking to them at the local shops. We’re also getting into a rhythm with our next door neighbours – another Christian family – of hosting gatherings for our little street when Christmas and Easter come around.
In the town where we live there are two families we are beginning to connect with, family to family, just through having got into conversation with them at the shops. We see them in other contexts and have eaten in each other’s homes. There is a third family who we have met at the pool who we are getting to know, inviting them into our home. There’s also a couple of local business owners who I’m at the point of asking out for a beer (this is Australia remember!)
Organizing ourselves and prioritizing being unhurried enough when we’re in town is a key lifestyle thing for us. Shaping our way of living so as to have enough spare social energy is a challenge but we know it is vital – both to our own health and well-being and to our fruitfulness for the Kingdom. Same goes for befriending the people on our street. Everything is built on that time and energy to connect.
MOLONG: Yes. And along the way we talk about people, and things, and Bible and God, sexuality, and marriage, and war and peace and hate and love.
PAUL: Molong, what would you say is the secret to this closer degree of family and intimacy. How has your spiritual family achieved it?
MOLONG: The people who decided to be like this are all deniers of themselves. That’s why they say things like: “I want to love you and care for you so to make that easier for me I will move house next door to you.”
“I have a TV that I could sell to help you in your need, because you are more important than my TV.”
Our people have changed their priorities.
PAUL: So you have made changes which then alter the kind of relationship you have with one another?
MOLONG: Yes. There’s transparency with each other. If anyone takes advantage he’ll be rebuked. We don’t live as ‘commune’ but share our lives from house to house. All take care of their own families and needs, but all are willing to give up themselves for the sake of the other. Not communism, but commonism!
Your things and money are yours, and mine is mine. We own what we own. But we are just so willing to give it up if you and I need to help each other. We do this because we love one another. And this creates security among us. Our insurance system is found in this way of life. We are hundreds of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters!!
I have to write a lot because it’s just hard to explain it in religious terminology for you!