I would love to have your feedback on this to help clarify and further illuminate this subject.
When I speak of “stages” I do NOT speak of progressive steps. I am not suggesting that one stage is better than the previous nor that this is about a plan to follow. I am simply seeking to describe some aspects of the journey itself. However, since the journey is one of change and transformation, I thought it might be helpful to try to describe some of the experiences in that journey that may be common to most.
Also, these “stages” typically refer to those who are transitioning from traditional church to simple/house church NOT to people who are discovering church-life for the first time in their life.
1. Letting go of old paradigms of church life. This stage is described in a variety of ways from “taking the red pill,” to frustration with old wineskins to discovering what the Bible teaches about church life to… It is sometimes accompanied with periods of disorientation, wandering through valleys of confusion, or (alternatively) great relief and a new sense of freedom. People discover that they no longer want to “go” to church, rather they want to learn what it really means to “be” the church.
2. Exploring New Testament gatherings. Since our old paradigm of church life has often revolved around the Sunday morning gathering, we often find ourselves on a quest to discover what “New Testament” simple/house church gatherings might look like and feel like. In this stage, “the gathering” often remains the focus of our church-life as we seek to explore and experience small, Spirit-led, participatory, Christ-filled gatherings. Our freedom continues to grow and we become more and more enamored with the reality that we really are 24/7, kingdom-living, Spirit-directed believers. The dividing walls between secular and sacred continue to come down and we become excited about integrating our spiritual life with our “everyday” life.
3. Re-boot to Jesus. Using Frost & Hirsch’s term (from ReJesus), part of the overall transformation we walk through is the re-centering of Jesus in our life. This takes place as we find ourselves removing pieces of our religious life that have sometimes taken center stage alongside of Jesus or as mediators between us and Jesus: our church, our pastor, certain leaders, certain teachers, doctrine, our church’s culture (fitting in to the culture), religious rules for church life or behavior, etc, etc. The result is often a personal renewal of our own relationship with Jesus, a greater longing to understand what it is to be an uncompromising follower, to hear his voice, to respond to him, and to live out of a deep intimacy and love relationship with him that is truly center stage in our life.
4. A new missional heart and longing. It is inevitable that the process of re-booting to Jesus stirs in us a fresh desire to see his kingdom, his love, his power known and experienced by others. However, this stage is sometimes fraught with severe challenges because our background around “missional” has sometimes been so pre-packaged and programmed that we are challenged to grasp the unique and fresh ways that Jesus wants to make himself known through us. This is especially true for those whose spiritual gifts do not seem to fit into the “missional” spectrum. However, for those who are more apostolic and evangelistic in gifting, this stage often leads to an entirely new excitement and fervor for taking the “real Jesus” into the streets, neighborhoods, and unreached segments of the world. For those who have NOT seen themselves as “missional,” (in our previous church experiences) this stage can lead to some exciting discoveries of how God wants to embody himself uniquely through each of us (see stage #5).
(Side-note: It has been my experience that each of these stages may lead to changes in one’s own worship community and gathering. For example, stage 4 may literally lead to someone moving geographically in order to better fulfill his/her calling. Or, we may find that our own transformation draws us to connect with different people than when we started—or even NO people for a season as we become re-oriented.)
5. Fresh discovery of our own passions, spiritual gifts, and calling. As we are freed up from church/religious boxes, we are able to more thoroughly discover our uniqueness in the way that God shaped us (passions, gifts, and calling) leading to a new understanding of how he wants to work in and through our lives. I believe that, in some ways, this stage may lead to the most significant impact on the world as Christ’s church is renewed to walk in all of her splendor according to the unique way that each person is shaped. This may be considered a “convergent stage,” a coming together of several stages at once: our experience of re-booting to Jesus, our missional excitement about seeing the “real Jesus” shared among our neighbors, friends, and world, and our discovery of how we are uniquely created and gifted to serve and embody Jesus.
(A second side-note: transformational journeys are perilous in that they may lead to new directions in our life that we never imagined. My wife and I are spending much of our time traveling to developing countries which has come directly out of these converging stages. Of course, this process will lead in different directions for different people, but it should be noted that transformation always asks us to let go of our own life and allow Jesus to re-shape it.)
6. Integration of an organic, fruitful lifestyle with organic gatherings that support it. This is simply to re-iterate that gatherings may change as our life and lifestyle shift and that they ultimately support, synergistically, what God is doing through us as we experience stage #7
7. Our kingdom influence spreads and even becomes reproductive in its impact. Since organic life grows and reproduces, we will discover the life that God has shaped in us not only influences others but becomes a living, reproducing influence. For apostolic workers in unreached segments, this can lead to church planting movements. Although our callings and influence may differ from this (and from one another) I do believe that similar types of reproductive fruitfulness can and will occur as we walk out this process of re-discovery of life in Jesus. Ultimately, it is a transformational process that we are on. As we are fully renewed in Jesus and he draws out of us who we really are, the Spirit’s influence through us becomes more and more dynamic, natural, compelling, and living (i.e. reproductive in influence).