One Church, Multiple Communities
Moses understood that Israel were a people on pilgrimage. The God who dwelt in a tabernacle rather than a temple led them, and this meant they lived perpetually on mission, following the cloud by day and the fire by night. Their mission was not simply to go to a place. It was to place God’s glory and grace on display to the surrounding nations. Dwelling with the Tabernacle God meant they kept moving on.
Every community has seasons of camping out and seasons where God calls us to break camp and advance. Miss the call to break camp and we risk settling into a pleasant convenience and being left behind by the Tabernacle God. For Southlands, it’s a ‘break camp’ kind of season as we move toward becoming “One Church, Multiple Communities.” I realize this is not a unique phenomenon, but I want to give some reasons for why we have felt this is God’s way forward for us at this time.
1) Dwelling in diversity
A wise friend once said to me, “LA/OC is not a melting pot. It’s a TV dinner.” There are over 50 cities, which exist, in separate pockets of demography, culture, mood and aesthetic. Multiple communities allow us to go and flesh out the timeless message of Jesus in timely ways that suit a distinct context. When John 1 talks about Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling among us, the word there is literally ‘tabernacle‘. “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Jesus pitched His tent in a particular body, family, trade, culture and town – what we call the Incarnation. He calls us to do the same, as His body the church, for the sake of the Gospel.
2) Together we can do more
There are ways of administrating the grace of God which are more economical than others. ‘One church, multiple communities’ allows us to share the resources of a common name, track record, staff, ministry team, administrative system, sermon series and website. We believe that we can do more together than apart.
3) Common DNA
We are invested in building unity between different churches in our region, honoring the diverse expressions of the Body of Christ, while at the same time carrying a conviction that there is a great need for more Gospel Centered Communities on Mission.
4. Engaging the Priesthood.
We recognize the richness of ministry gifting that God has entrusted us with, and new communities present opportunities for new people to serve in new ways. In short, it is probably the most effective way of engaging the priesthood of all believers – galvanizing all of God’s people to live on mission together whether they go or stay.
IN THE CONTEXT OF MULTIPLE COMMUNITIES WE HAVE SOME STRONG VALUES:
1. A High Commitment to a common DNA and a common Mission.
The belief that we have a common DNA worth sharing and that we can do more together than we can do apart, is what holds us together. This exceeds the desire for complete visionary autonomy. This common DNA and Mission are stronger than a mere Common Bond, or desire to be together. Our common DNA would in essence be “Gospel-centered, Spirit-led Communities on Mission.” This DNA includes a Complementarian approach to leadership that understands governance in the local church to be by a team of pastor-elders in plurality, with a first among equals. This leadership team is autonomous, yet seeks out relationships of relationship and accountability with men with recognized Ephesians 4 gifts.
2. High levels of autonomy within community
The community pastor and his leadership team would enjoy high levels of autonomy in the way they flesh out the same message and DNA in their city. This would include doing the bulk of the preaching, expressing their own style of worship gathering, working out how best to do mission in their context, the structuring of community groups, children’s ministry, and membership process. He and his team submit to community firstly by being willing to fall under the oversight of a broader eldership team, while he and his team lead the community. This includes a willingness to collaborate around sermon series, have other preachers fill the pulpit from time to time, gather weekly with the other elders on staff from other communities, and co-operation around common administration.
In order for multiple communities to thrive together requires that we maintain a healthy, Trinitarian tension between unity and diversity.