“A New Mode of Ministry”? More Thoughts on Being Post-Congregational


You know how once you start thinking about something, all of a sudden you start noticing that thing everywhere you look? Yeah, this week has been like that in my Internet travels. Here are just a few of the stops I’ve visited along the way …

Starving Ecclesial Artists Unite!
Mark Van Steenwyk gives an excellent around-the-room of a fascinating blogologue going on about the issue of ecclesial “sustainability.” Usually that word is applied to the environment, but in this case it is being used to discuss the financial and sociological viability of the American church. Mark writes, “The mainstream church has all of its vast resources tied up in maintaining the status quo (even if they are innovating their practices, they are largely doing so in a way that reinforces the dominant Christendom paradigm). As a result, these subversive pioneers are doing a LOT with very little. …

“The mainstream church is looking for practitioners who can maintain the status quo. These starving ecclesial artists are looking for ways of being faithful in the future.

“Our task isn’t to keep Christianity going as usual. Instead, we need to find ways of equipping and enpowering the next generation to do ministry in a way that is sustainable, even if we are currently struggling with doing sustainable ministry.”

I love Mark (even if I don’t agree with his politics – wink, wink) and this language of ecclesia as art! It’s interesting to me to note, BTW, that the annual “Evangelism Round Table” going on this week at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College is entitled “Imagination and the Gospel: Harnessing the Imagination to Engage Contemporary Culture and Communicate the Life-changing Gospel.”

Mark concludes with three implications of this:

  1. “We have to resist the temptation to ‘compromise’ or ‘sell out’ by doing ministry in a way that might work for the mainstream now, but will just pass things on to the next generation. In other words, we can’t secure our own sustainability at the expense of the sustainability of the next generation.”
  2. “We need to be faithful to equip young leaders for the emerging reality … not for success within Christendom. … few viable approaches exist for in depth, powerful training. … in under-resourced churches how do we meaningfully train leaders? [Because] if equipped the right way, the next generation can get ‘real’ jobs without being burdened with debt, yet still highly trained by alternative methods to lead a marginal church.” (and by “marginal,” I think he means “a church in the margins of society”)
  3. “In the meantime, we need to survive … and without giving into the consumer system that seduces starving ecclesial artists into mass producing Thomas-Kincade-esque prints. … We will feel a lot better and actually achieve more sustainability, I think, if the starving ecclesial artists would encourage one another and help each other out … as many of them already do … rather than trying to break into church celebrity status.”

Amen and amen, Brother Mark!

Besides Mark’s fantastic thoughts, he points to Aaron Klinefelter’s personal story that factors into this creative ecclesial mix …

How Then Shall We Live
Aaron Klineflelter is a young married would-be “church planter” in Cincinnati. He shares in this post the very intimate details of where he and his wife are at presently in their journey from “doing church” to “being the Church” in their community. I found so much in Aaron’s story that resonated with my own story of seeking to be faithful to God’s calling on my life to be the Church in my community. I left him a comment and a friend request on Facebook. I hope I get to connect with him soon. Anyway, here’s some of what he shares in his post:

  1. “the present way in which we ‘do ministry’ is less and less effective and not sustainable given the increasingly complex, pluralistic, and shifting society in which we live.”
  2. “the current funding approach for ministry and ministers is beholden to a system that is built on a modernism (industrial, mechanistic, ‘cog in the wheel’) that is increasingly non-functional or a postmodernism that is highly consumerist (‘what have you done for me lately’, ‘have it your way’).”
  3. “the expectations placed (internally or externally) on leaders is often unhealthy in the current system (whether that system is accommodated primarily to modern or postmodern sensibilities).”

Aaron goes on, “If I am correct in these assumption (and I may not be) then I am caused to wonder if perhaps God is leading some into a new mode of ministry. A ministry that is born out of a relationship and Relationship rather than a program established in order to produce relationships (human or divine). Certainly such a ministry would be more sustainable in the long run, because you already have the final product of the ministry — the relationship — when you begin. …

“What if ministry was defined as beginning and ending with the relationships that already exist in our lives? Of course, we would begin new relationships — some intentionally so — but they are not a means to an end. We take on the role of friend as opposed to director, parent or mentor as opposed to expert, brother or sister as opposed to business partner.

“Such a ministry would necessitate a different understanding of finances. Since the intent is not to build a mechanism by which to get Jesus (or get people to Jesus) or a commercial by which to promote Jesus, then we are freed to use our funds for community growth and development.”

Finally, he states: “What I’m growing to believe (or what is growing within me) is the conviction that starting a thing (a church) is not my job. It might be somebody’s job somewhere (I’m not making an absolute statement), but for our present context and the mission to which God is calling our family, I’m convinced that we are to tend and attend to the relationships we are cultivating. I would not at all be surprised if a church forms in the process, but the intent is Kingdom-mission. In other words, we don’t have a mission to plant a church so that the church can have a mission, rather we are part of God’s Kingdom mission (missio dei) that births communities of mission. The financial off-shoot of this is that we are not bound by our amount or mode of income. We don’t have to do fund-raising for this ministry. We already have what we need. …

“For me [this] implies not being noticed as ‘legitimate’ in the world’s eyes, being small and seemingly insignificant, being slow and painful (because we’re dealing with real people and real life), and being tossed into uncharted waters.”

Wow. I’m right there with Aaron on all of this. And that is already a lot to digest. I’m tempted to say (in true TV informercial-style), “But wait! There’s more!” and keep going. But I think I’ll save a few of these other excerpts for a separate post. And besides, I need to go to bed now … So, until next time, America … Let me know what you think. Post a comment or a question or whatever.



Posted on 04-26-2008


  1. andrew jones (tallskinnykiwi) says:

    April 27th, 2008 at 3:04 am

    fantastic. it was some of these thoughts that made me change direction ten years ago into more sustainable church planting outside the box.

  2. Aaron says:

    April 27th, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Thanks, Steve for the affirmation. I look forward to further dialog… I’d love to hear more of your story. I’ll poke around on your blog, but feel free to shoot me a link if you’ve written something of the sort already.

  3. erico says:

    April 27th, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Much of what you’re talking about resonates interestingly with my small discussions with Carlos Espin. I’ve been chatting with him about the Area15 model of ecclesial engagement. With a few tweaks, it can be a self-sustaining community (that is artist driven) that can integrate community development as a mechanism for generating sustainable practices of community life in a wholistic engagement — environmentally, culturally, economically and socially. Artists have many incredible untapped (if not latent) sub-commercial economic powers they many not be aware of. Bloc90, across the street from Area15, is taking advantage of Area15’s sweat equity. If artists are empowered to harness and understand the “soft assets” of their sustainability practices and resource sharing…they will have a replicable model of engagement at all levels and all facets of life. Artists make bridges between different economic groups…This is an incredible and potent asset in political and economic terms. Not just Ecclesial!

  4. Aaron says:

    April 28th, 2008 at 8:29 am

    erico – that reminds me a bit of what some friends of mine are doing here in Cincinnati. St. Elizabeth’s Art Foundation – http://www.stelizabetharts.com/

    and, un-surprisingly, this is congruent with our community, Vineyard Central – http://www.vineyardcentral.com. But I think, though correct me if I’m mistaken, you are leaning into the economic feasibility of it all which I find refreshing and intriguing.

    i’ve often envisioned a community that (like monasteries) have a common vocation which result in a common occupation that generates common income. I think there is space for this within the ecclesial landscape, but outside Catholic orders I don’t know of any attempts as of yet.

  5. Ongoing Conversation>> church, money, and the future « aaron klinefelter says:

    April 30th, 2008 at 1:11 pm

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