OUTPOSTS OF THE KINGDOM -- Life after Church-as-we-know-it | Aslan | Organic Foods

• What if you could no longer use your car in order to get to church?

What would you do?
• Are there some towns and cities where the Kingdom of God is more likely to
grow than others —where developing relationships is easier and more natural?

Outposts of the Kingdom is about being the Church without going to church.
We are approaching a future where the local church, or church-as-we-know-it, will
no longer be sustainable. The local church model of Christian activity, so revered for
hundreds of years, is likely on its way out. Two powerful ‘storm systems’ are about to
converge upon the local church, leaving it limping at best.

Jim Robbins

• What would happen if Christians lived their faith in small, organic fellowships
right where they lived, worked, and played—without “going to church?”

Something new and revolutionary is taking the place of the conventional local
church: organic Kingdom outposts. These smaller, yet powerful clusters of Jesusfollowers are cropping up in homes, the marketplace, micro-ministries, coffeehouses,
and any place where ‘two or three’ are gathered. They operate outside of the local
church and are powerful Kingdom communities, being the church right where
people live and work —without the need to ‘go to church.’

Thankfully, simple, walkable towns and cities are cropping up in many places
and are providing the ideal soil for simple church. You won't need your car for
endless errands; and you'll be able to develop community with others more easily.

Organic Kingdom outposts are the way into the future.

Outposts of the Kingdom

Jim Robbins is a former pastor who writes about organic
community, the life of the heart, and live-able towns and
cities. In 1998, Jim was invited by Leonard Sweet to
serve on a consulting team Sweet was forming. Jim loves
the mountains of New England and its spectacular
seasons. He is married to his wife Lynn, and they have
two children, Olivia and Nate.

Outposts the

Life After Church-As-We-Know-It

Jim robbins


Jim Robbins

Outposts of the
Life After Church-As-We-Know-It





Table of Contents





1. What is an Organic Kingdom Outpost?


2. Storm One: A Post-Local Church World


3. Who Are These Organic Outposts?


4. Turning Organic Outposts into Institutions


5. Collision Point: When “Storm One”
Meets “Storm Two”


6. Storm Two: The Out-of-Gas Church
in an Out-of-Gas World


7. A Better Place to Live


8. Simple Church in Simple Places


9. What Are Your Options in an Out-of-Gas World?


10. How Do I Find an Organic Kingdom Outpost?


11. Further Up and
Further Into the Kingdom


Resource Appendix







The Heroic Trinity for removing the veil of religion from my eyes.

John Eldredge and the Ransomed Heart Men’s Team, for giving me back
the Gospel and therefore, my heart.

Andy Havens, for our 38-year friendship, and your creative wisdom and
design work on the book blog and book.

Dan Burden (www.walkable.org) for the use of the pictures for the blog.

Paul Fertitta, for your great editing work and helpful perspective on the book.

James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, for writing so
compellingly about the out-of-gas future – an impetus for this book.

John Moorhead, for your sensitivity to God’s Spirit and your
kingly friendship.

Mike Boulware, for our many great talks, and for keeping the right
question in front of me while I wrote.

Elmer Colyer, for taking a young man under your wing years ago; and
reaching both his heart and mind with your friendship.

Tom Sine, for introducing me to organic forms of community like cohousing and new urban practices several years ago.

My wife, Lynn, a beautiful and noble companion for the journey.
You are my ‘Arwen.’ Thanks for lending your editing expertise on the

My daughter, Olivia, my Princess. I love how you worship with your beauty.

My son, Nate, my Tiger. I love your unfettered joy.






The World’s Worst Weather
Mount Washington, New Hampshire, is well-known for having the
“world’s worst weather;” and one of the highest death rates for
climbers of any mountain in the world, including mountains that are
much higher. (Mount Washington only has an elevation of 6,288 feet.
Everest has an elevation of 29, 029 feet.) The Mount Washington
Observatory’s website indicates that this “is the combination of
extreme cold, wet, high winds, icing conditions and low visibility
consistently found atop Mount Washington which earns it the title
‘Home of the World’s Worst Weather.’”
The following is an account of some of the inhuman weather
conditions the staff of Mount Washington Observatory at the summit
often face:
When observers venture outside during high winds and storms,
they need to be careful of several things. One is visibility.
Visibility can be so limited, that if observers become
disoriented, they may lose their bearings and have a difficult
time finding their way back to the building, and safely inside.
High winds can potentially hurl an observer into a wall, or onto
the ground, so they must be aware of their balance, and be
ready to catch themselves, or make a safe crash landing to the
ground if necessary. The wind can also toss large objects
around, such as ice chunks. A piece of ice weighing 80 pounds
could cause serious, possibly fatal, injury. Observers must
always be on their guard to avoid falling and flying missiles.
– From the FAQ’s page of Mt. Washington Observatory’s website:



What on earth could create such catastrophic conditions on a mountain
that is easily dwarfed by other mountains like McKinley in Alaska, or
Everest in the Himalayas? The problem is that the mountain sits at the
confluence of multiple storm tracks. Sitting at this dangerous
intersection, Mount Washington produces often deadly conditions
hikers can face. Climbers have even died during the summer season on
Mount Washington.

The Church’s Worst Weather
The Church is about to face its worst weather in a very long time. Like
Mount Washington, the Church sits at the confluence of multiple storm
tracks, two of which are the topic of this book. The victim this time is
the local church, once the most powerful force in culture; and about to
be hammered by two powerful storm systems.
Storm System One: A Post - Local Church World
Storm System Two: An Out- of -Gas World
When I say the “local church,” I mean the typically understood
organization that meets in buildings on church campuses, with paid
staff, and multiple programs. It’s a place you “go to” in order to
worship and participate in religious activities. The “local church”
model of Christian activity, so revered for hundreds of years, is likely
on its way out – It is no longer a sustainable form of ministry in a
world that views the Church as suspect, out of touch, and removed
from where people live. People are increasingly cynical of institutions,
including the local church.
Another indicator that the local church model may be on the road
towards obsolescence is that the world is about to run out of gas.
When I talk about a “world out of gas,” I’m speaking of a time
(perhaps within a decade) when you won’t likely be driving to church,
or perhaps anywhere for that matter. The precious liquid that makes
your SUV run is on a rapid decline towards scarcity – for good. We’ve
reached what experts call, “World Peak Oil Production,” and there’s
plenty of evidence that our hundred-year fossil fuel (oil, gas, coal)
bonanza is about to dry up. What’s worse is that the alternative fuels
proposed won’t be able to sustain the comfortable, high-octane level of


living we’re used to. Those in the path of the post-oil storm will find
themselves unprepared for what is about to take place in our lifetime.
Suburbia will go into crash-mode, and the Church will be forced to
reconfigure itself into more organic modes of ministry. Just because
you’re a person of faith does not mean you will escape these on-rushing
This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult,
apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society.
Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most
widely-respected geologists, physicists, and investment bankers
in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative
individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon
known as global “Peak Oil.”
– from website: Life After the Oil Crash,
Something new and revolutionary is taking the place of the
conventional local church –organic Kingdom outposts. These smaller,
yet powerful clusters of Jesus-followers are cropping up in homes, the
marketplace, micro-ministries, coffeehouses, and anyplace where ‘two
or three’ are gathered. They operate outside of the local church:
powerful kingdom communities being the church right where people
live. In fact, many of these believers have left the institutional church
(the ‘local church’) in order to rescue their faith.
Some of these outposts are not new and have been in existence for 1020 years! And the number of organic faith outposts is growing. These
Kingdom outposts will enable the Church (the organic and living Body
of Christ) to not only weather the storms, but to powerfully advance
the Kingdom of God in the decades to come. Organic ministry isn’t a
passing fad: God is doing something, and it’s becoming obvious to
those willing to see. As Wolfang Simpson indicates, “God is changing
the church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of
Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of
global proportions. They are saying, in effect: ‘Church as we know it is
preventing Church as God wants it.’ Amazingly, many are hearing God
say the same thing to them.”



Given our impending post-oil (post-commuting) and post-local church
realities, we need sustainable modes of church within more livable cities
and towns. This book addresses the question, “What happens when
you have simple church in simple places?”

What’s different about this book?
Two things: First, there is very little in the Christian literature that talks
about the coming post-oil (post-commuter) world, a reality that will
prove to have highly disruptive affects upon local churches. Christians
have a hard time taking these things seriously because it doesn’t sound
like a ‘spiritual issue.’ This is because we have created a false
dichotomy between spiritual and physical realities, living out some
amorphous faith that is disconnected from the real world, as if
Christians are a privileged lot that will avoid the hardships others must
Second, there is very little Christian literature being written about real
communities – cities and towns that are designed to create better
relationships between people; and how these sustainable places affect
our spiritual habits. However, I see a growing interest in creating more
sane places to live. This book is about simple church (organic faith
outposts) in simple places (sane towns and cities).

Organic outposts to the rescue
Organic outposts of the Kingdom will rescue the Church from
obscurity. This book is a resource for those interested in pursuing a
more organic whole-life faith in Jesus. It provides some solutions for
advancing the Kingdom in the coming decades of the Church’s worst
weather: life after church-as-we-know-it.






Chapter 1

What is an organic Kingdom
I decided to start eating organic foods this year because I was sick one out of
every two days last year.: Sinus infections, colds, viruses, constant trips to the
doctor, and one 36-hour trip to the Emergency Room. Half the year was given
over to sickness and its consequences.
Disease costs money and depletes us of life.
However, if you open my refrigerator today, you’ll find organic milk, yogurt and
cheeses, bottles of organic juices, organic peanut butter, organic apples and
grapes, and a container of organic green super-food mix. The next phase will
be introducing more organic, grass-fed meats into my diet.
The advantage of eating organic foods is that they’ve not been tampered with,
as are many traditional foods − foods that are laced with growth hormones,
antibiotics fed to cattle, or pesticides. Organic foods are therefore in a more
natural state: their capacity to nourish the life of the body hasn’t been
My interest in organic foods represents a larger desire of mine: I want to live
more simply, more organically in all areas of my life: truer to the way things
ought to be.

What makes something ‘organic?’
When I say “organic,” I mean simple, basic, alive. Without additives. In its
natural form; not contrived. Organic church is a more simple, natural context in
which Kingdom life more easily flourishes.
In an interview with George Fox Journal, Leonard Sweet indicates that “organic”
means incarnational: He says that “Christianity does not go through time like
water in a straw. It passes through cultural prisms and historical periods, which
means that Christianity is organic.” The Word became Flesh and dwelt among
us … as one of us. Therefore, Jesus had a supremely organic ministry. (He still
Organic church structures stand in contrast to bureaucratic, highly organized
and staffed structures. Organic community is more of a movement than a
structure, more organism than organization. It’s not that there is no
organization at all: It’s that disciples (or ‘apprentices’ as Dallas Willard suggests)
walk with God, getting directives from him rather than allowing assumptions
and scripts to dominate.
Organic church is more grass-roots/ bottom-up, than officially-sanctioned/ top
down. It is about bringing the Kingdom right where people live, rather than
expecting them to go to a specialized, sacred place with holy people, a holy cast
of characters, and holy language. It is church in its natural environment.

What is a ‘Kingdom outpost?’
An outpost is an outlying or frontier settlement; a dispatched group setting up
camp in new territory. A Kingdom outpost is a missional launch point into the


surrounding region. The outpost carries the authority of the Sender into the
new territory.

What do these organic Kingdom outposts look like?

You’ll find organic kingdom activity when you see businessmen
and women meeting with coworkers for prayer and Scripture.

Or when you see ordinary people gathering in homes with friends
and neighbors, enjoying a simple meal and conversation. In the
course of the evening, the friends pray and Jesus heals one person
of a wound they’ve been carrying for years; or a neighbor begins to
open their heart to Christ because of the love and power he sees
operating in ordinary people.

Organic outposts meet wherever there are two or three, or small
clusters of Jesus-followers. You’ll find them gathering in homes,
coffeehouses, parks, businesses or just about anywhere. However,
the surprising thing is that these outpost activities are taking place
outside the walls and the authority of the local church (or churchas-we-know-it). Yet, this activity is clearly taking place under the
authority of Jesus.



Chapter 2

Storm one:
A post-local church world
I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you
downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?
(Psalm 42: 4-5)
“God is changing the church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions
of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global
proportions. They are saying, in effect: ‘Church as we know it is preventing
Church as God wants it.’ Amazingly, many are hearing God saying the
very same thing to them.”
(Wolfgang Simson, Houses that Change the World)
“I’ve met some folks who say that I’m a dreamer,
And I’ve no doubt there’s truth in what they say,
But sure a body’s bound to be a dreamer
When all the things he loves are far away.
And precious things are dreams unto an exile.”
(Lyrics from the Irish ballad The Isle of Innisfree, by Dick Farrelly)


For the last 11 years, I’ve been an exile of the local church, even while on the
inside. Both as a pastor and worship leader, the message was clear: “You don’t
belong here. We really don’t want what you think you have to offer. What we
want is someone to take up the slack, plug the holes in the dam, and keep the
institution running. We have a scripted role for you; and if you don’t abide by
it, then there’s something wrong with you.”
I left the pastoral ministry – actually, I was asked not to come back. I was more
than agreeable to that. As wounding as that experience was, the Author of my
call used it as a redemptive and catalyzing event. I learned that you don’t need
an institution to legitimize your calling. Calling is an outflow of identity; and
identity can only be bestowed by a Father. Jesus received his identity from his
Father: “You are my Beloved Son with whom I am so pleased.” Organizations
can never bestow identity.
I have always been an outsider, even while on the inside of the local church.
I’ve never accepted the status quo for its own sake, nor have I ever wished to
conform to an institution’s pre-fabbed roles for me. That posture cost me my
place in “professional” pastoral ministry: I was asked not to come back. Not
everyone belongs in the local church. Yet everyone belongs in the Body of
Christ, the family of Jesus.
Lesson: You will suffer as a revolutionary. “He [Jesus] came to his own, and
his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)
Lesson: You are needed. You’re not alone: There are always other


Movement at the edges
Significant change, revolutionary change, most always comes from the fringes,
the edges. The original Christ-followers were a subversive movement, a
revolution. Revolutionaries are mistrusted and usually considered suspect by
the establishment. A pastor asked a friend of mine, “What’s with you parachurch guys?” − a remark that confirmed a misguided view of the Body of
Christ. Not only was anything not sanctioned by the “local church” considered
suspect; it wasn’t really considered to be real Kingdom activity. It’s called,
“para-church” − alongside of the local church, as if it’s not the real church.
That’s the problem with making any one model (in this case, the local church
model) the sole expression of Christian Community.

A word about church leaders
I am a former pastor. I grew up in the Church and have many good memories
of that time. I also know many good people serving in local church leadership.
These folks have good hearts and good intentions. However, powerful
leadership requires an acute awareness of one’s rapidly changing context, and a
readiness to respond. Therefore, the messege of this book is not an indictment
of local church leaders’ good hearts: it is an exposure of entrenched beliefs and
practices that are restricting God’s Kingdom activity. If leaders refuse to follow
God into the future, instead reassuring themselves of their faithfulness to His
purposes by continuing to do what they are already doing, then their reluctance
becomes, as Jim Kunstler calls group collective denial, a “self-reinforcing
feedback loop of delusion.”


So, I don’t write to condemn persons. Faulty thinking is the culprit. I also
write to lead people to explore the alternatives. Each leader must walk this out
with God. Each Christ-apprentice must walk this out with God.

The revolution
Christian researcher and pollster George Barna is one of the most quoted
people in the Church today. He has been equipping church leaders with timely
and thought-provoking research for over 20 years. Though he is clearly not
anti-conventional church, Barna is drawing attention to a breed of believers he
calls, "revolutionaries." His new book is called, Revolution - Finding Vibrant Faith
Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary.
There is a growing dissatisfaction in the ranks. The local church is becoming a place
of frustration and alienation for many devoted Christ-followers. As Barna indicates:
In fact, many Revolutionaries have been active in good churches that
have biblical preaching, people coming to Christ and being baptized, a
full roster of interesting classes and programs, and a congregation
packed with nice people. There is nothing overtly wrong with anything
taking place at such churches. But Revolutionaries innately realize that
it is just not enough to go with the flow. The experience provided
through their church, although better than average, still seems flat.
We must acknowledge that there are many who have found redemption,
belonging, and healing in the local church; and this must not be downplayed.
Having said that, we must look at some disturbing trends without disregarding
those many positive experiences.


Is the local church (congregations that meet in facilities
with staff and programs) accomplishing what it hopes to?
Sadly, no. The dominant model for faith commitment and community simply
isn’t working. Of course there are always exceptions. However, the exceptions
don’t justify the norms: Barna’s research shows that only 9% of all Christian
adults have a biblical worldview. The other 91% have a hodge-podge of
spiritual views that rarely influence their daily decisions. If the Church isn’t
exerting any real influence on people, even its own, then who is? Barna
indicates that “The most significant influence on the choices of churched
believers is neither teachings from the pulpit nor advice gleaned from fellow
congregants; it is messages absorbed from the media, the law, and family
Wolfgang Simson, who writes on church history and house churches, echoes
Barna’s perceptions of local church effectiveness: “An analysis of the western
church shows that the congregational model is almost totally ineffective at
changing basic values and lifestyles. Many Christians end up with the same
lifestyle of people around them, and therefore become indistinguishable from
society and lose their prophetic edge.”

The future of the local church?
The future of the local church as a viable model looks bleak says Barna:
By the year 2025, the spiritual profile of the nation will be dramatically
different. Specifically, I expect that only about one-third of the
population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or
exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their faith; one-third

will do so through alternative forms of a faith-based community; and
one-third will realize their faith through the media, the arts, and other
cultural institutions.

How Americans Experience and Express Their Faith


Media, Arts,















(-- chart from Revolution, by George Barna)
Note: These figures from Barna’s research do not account for the coming oil/gasoline
depletion and it’s consequences for commuting. The numbers of those able to drive to a
local church and therefore contributing to its work may be much lower. More on this later.

Reggie McNeal, author of The Present Future, cites David Barrett, author of the
World Christian Encyclopedia: “Barrett…estimates that there are about 112
million ‘churchless Christians’ worldwide … but he projects that number will
double in the next twenty years!”
What I’m not saying: I am not saying that the Church (Capital “C”) is about to
tank, or that the Body of Christ is on its last legs. The Kingdom of God and his
people are eternal and ever-prevailing. However, I am suggesting that churchas-we-know-it (local congregations) is going to undergo a fierce struggle for
survival soon. Many won’t make it. However, there is great hope.

Barna notes the current development of ‘spiritual mini-movements’ taking place
outside of the local church context that include: “ ‘simple church’ fellowships
(i.e. house churches), biblical worldview groups, various marketplace ministries,
several spiritual discipline networks, the Christian creative arts guilds, and
others.” I am calling these simple faith movements “outposts of the
Kingdom.” For those church leaders who resist or ignore this movement, the
consequences are inevitable. Barna indicates that:
For those congregations whose leaders choose either to ignore or fight
the Revolution, the consequences are predictable:

A percentage of them will be seriously impaired by the exodus of

The United States will see a reduction in the number of churches,
as presently configured (i.e. congregational-formatted ministries).

Church service attendance will decline as Christians devote their
time to a wider array of spiritual events.

Donations to churches will drop because millions of believers will
invest their money in other ministry ventures.

Churches’ already limited political and cultural influence will
diminish even further at the same time that Christians will exert
greater influence through more disparate mechanisms.

Fewer church programs will be sustained in favor of more
communal experiences among Christians.

A declining number of professional clergy will receive a livable
salary from their churches. Denominations will go through
cutbacks, and executives will be relieved of their duties as their
boards attempt to understand and halt the hemorrhaging.

To some, this will sound like the Great Fall of the Church. To
Revolutionaries, it will be the Great Awakening of the Church.
(-- from Revolution, by George Barna)

Later in the book, we will look at the shrinking of the local church because of
another frightening reason − an out-of-gas world. Literally.

Disillusioned yet hopeful
In interviewing people for her book, Jaded – Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up
on Church but Not on God, A. J. Kiesling found that “Many, many people were
sick and tired of church. Some were downright weary of it. But here was the
catch: These were not ‘backsliders,’ people who had let faith take a backseat in
their lives. These were men and women with a vibrant faith – God-seekers all,
but souls with a deep thirst for more than the institutional church was offering.”
She goes on to say that, “Revolutions, whether social or spiritual, are always
preceded by a collective restlessness, a heart-cry for something more. Could it
be that God is stirring a divine discontent within the heart of his people,
preparing them for much more than the staid, program-centered state of
Western Christianity?”


The question we must ask is, “Is this ‘revolution’ simply the activity of a
disgruntled few, reacting out of their wounds and disillusionment?” Or, “Is
God up to something in the western world?” Because, if this is a move of
God, we’d better pay attention – and sooner rather than later.
In Houses that Change the World, Wolfgang Simson says that the Church is now
entering a Third Reformation. The First Reformation was a rebirth of theology
forged by Luther. The Second Reformation was one of spirituality and a
renewed intimacy with God in the Eighteenth Century. The current and Third
Reformation is one of structure, says Simson: “Now God is touching the
wineskins themselves ...”

Leavers: The Church’s back door
You won’t see these books on the Christian best-seller list, but there is a
growing interest in those who are leaving the local church:

Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People are Leaving the Church,
William Hendricks

The Sheep that Got Away: Why People Leave the Church, Michael

Gone but Not Forgotten: Church Leaving and Returning, Richter &

A Churchless Faith: Faith Journeys Beyond the Churches, Alan Jamieson

Jaded – Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up On Church but Not on
God, A.J Kiesling

Leaders are leaving
In a groundbreaking study with interviewees primarily in New Zealand but also
outside of that country, Alan Jamieson (A Churchless Faith) conducted extensive
personal interviews with 108 church leavers, 54 interviews with church leaders,
as well as conversations and discussions with over 500 others. The research
participants were all strongly committed members of EPC (Evangelical,
Pentecostal, or Charismatic) churches. Of these “leavers,” a majority of them
had served in key leadership roles in their churches:

54% were leaders

70% were home group leaders

94% held at least one key leadership position within their former

40% were either involved in full-time Christian work or study

Jamieson’s research challenged typical ‘back-slider’ stereotypes of leavers.
Jamieson indicates:

The interviewees were not leaving ‘mainline’ or ‘traditional’
churches but were leaving EPC [Evangelical, Pentecostal, or
Charismatic] churches.

The interviewees were not leaving in the process of entering
adulthood or even early adulthood but were predominantly leaving
between 30 and 45 years of age.


The interviewees were not on the fringe on the church, but formed
its very core.

The interviewees were not involved in the church for short periods
of time. In fact the sample of interviewees involved in this
research had been adult participants in EPC churches for an
average of 15.8 years.

These leavers are not moving to a position of apostasy (i.e. no
longer holding to the Christian faith, but… are retaining their faith
while leaving the church. They are also unlikely to return to an
EPC church.

The fallacy of incremental change
Is the Church better thought of as an aircraft carrier or a Coast Guard Cutter?
It depends upon your sense of urgency. I heard one ministry colleague declare
that the Church is like an aircraft carrier, able to change its course of direction
only slowly, in incremental degrees. This is o.k. if you minister within a culture
where people generally think well of the Church. We don’t live in such a
context. The aircraft carrier metaphor is also acceptable if you live in a neutral
world in which evil doesn’t exist. We don’t live in such a world.
As Aragorn says to reluctant King Theoden in The Lord of the Rings - The Two
Towers: “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.” The
Church is not an aircraft carrier. It is an amphibious assault vehicle,
transporting Navy Seals ready to be dropped behind Enemy lines; or a Coast
Guard cutter, nimble and quick to respond when every second counts.


In the movie Tears of the Sun, Bruce Willis plays a commander of an elite military
unit. Before being air-dropped into the jungle, he is reminded by his superior,
“Your presence on the ground will be considered hostile.” C.S. Lewis reminds
us that we were, “born into a world at war,” a clash of two kingdoms. We have
been dropped into the middle of an ongoing coup against the High King;
initiated when Lucifer mistrusted his King’s heart, launched a massive betrayal,
and was hurled down from the heavens. No, the Church is not a slow-turning
aircraft carrier. Incremental change will get you killed in battle. Or at the least,
render you obsolete. As Tom Peters says, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like
irrelevance even less.”
We need rapid-response teams, dispatched from Kingdom outposts, sent on
rescue missions behind enemy lines: Rescue squads who are small enough and
nimble enough to act quickly. By the way, we are the dangerous ones – though
most of us haven’t been told this. The Enemy fears you, for he knows who you
really are: He does not underestimate you. As John Eldredge reminds us, “The
only one who underestimates who you really are is you. God doesn’t, nor does
your Enemy.” Revolutionaries are always considered suspect. Unfettered,
heroic Christ-lovers are those who are most needed now. They are the “ones
we most need to lead in times of war,” says Erwin McManus.

The wrong question
The Church today is asking the wrong questions, suggests Reggie McNeal,
author of The Present Future. The wrong question says McNeal, is “How do we
do church better?” McNeal indicates the following problematic thinking:
A spate of program fixes have consistently overpromised and
underdelivered. The suggestions are plentiful: offer small groups,

contemporize your worship, market your services, focus on customer
service, create a spiritual experience, become seeker-friendly, create a
high-expectation member culture, purify the church from bad doctrine,
return the church to the basics… Church activity is a poor substitute for
genuine spiritual vitality… None of this seems to be making much of a
Many church leaders and members alike find themselves disillusioned by the
loss of meaningful and enduring results.
Once again, there are always exceptions. Yet the problem occurs precisely
when we see apparent successes resulting from our attempts to improve church:
more people showing up at worship, more members circulating through our
discipleship programs, bigger budgets, and more Family Life Centers being
built. Our preoccupation with numerical successes is more an expectation of
consumerism than genuine spiritual potency. It makes us feel as if we’re doing
something right because we can quantify our results by how many we’re
attracting and matriculating. However, the life of the heart can never be
expressed through numerical indicators. That’s like trying to reduce the brilliant
mystery of a Van Gogh or a Monet to paint-by-numbers: Such reductions are
wholly inapplicable.

If you build it, they still won’t come.
As McNeal points out, “You can build the perfect church – and they
still won’t come.”
Simply tweaking the system, without questioning the system itself is a selfdefeating exercise. “The age in which institutional religion holds appeal is
passing away – and in a hurry,” says McNeal. He suggests that the right

question for the Church is, “How do we deconvert from churchianity to
Christianity:” In other words, “disentangling” ourselves from the conventional
understanding of church, and embracing Jesus rather than converting people to
church. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life – not the church. In fact, those
outside the Church are incredibly open to the spiritual (though not in strictly
Christian categories) and are increasingly attracted to Jesus, and often do not
connect Jesus with the Church. They often have a positive impression of Jesus,
but not of his followers or the religious organizations they’re a part of. Our
mission is to connect people to Jesus, not a religious organization – no matter
how spectacular the product.

Building the Kingdom without buildings
In fact, the mission of Jesus doesn’t require a single building. As Howard
Snyder indicates:
Theologically, the church does not need temples. Church buildings are
not essential to the true nature of the church; for the meaning of the
tabernacle is God's habitation, and God already dwells within the human
community of Christian believers. The people are the temple and the
tabernacle... Thus, theologically church buildings are superfluous. They
are not needed for priestly functions because all believers are priests and
all have direct access, at whatever time and place, to the one great high
priest. A church building cannot properly be "the Lord's house" because
in the new covenant this title is reserved for the church as people (Eph.
2; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 10:21). A church building cannot be a "holy place"
in any special sense, for holy places no longer exist. Christianity has no
holy places, only holy people.
(Howard A. Snyder, The


Problem of Wineskins, Chapter 4)

It wasn’t until the third century that buildings regrettably became a part of
church life. Until that time, the early church managed fine without formal
Robert Banks, an authority on the early Church tells us that:
Whether we are considering the smaller gatherings of only some
Christians in a city, or the larger meetings involving the whole Christian
population, it is in the home of one of the members that the 'ekklesia' is
held  for example in the 'upper room.' Not until the third century do we
have evidence of special buildings being constructed for Christian
(Robert Banks, Paul's

Idea of Community)

An unhealthy dependence upon buildings
Ernest Loosley, author of When the Church Was Young, reminds us that the
Church doesn’t require buildings:
When the church was very young, it had no buildings. Let us begin with
that striking fact. That the church had no buildings is the most noticeable
of the points of difference between the church of the early days and the
church of today. In the minds of most people today, "church" means first
a building, probably something else second; but seldom does "the church"
stand for anything other than a building. Yet here is the fact with which
we start: the early church possessed no buildings and carried on its work
for a great many years without erecting any.


Further digging…

The Present Future – Six Tough Questions for the Church, Reggie McNeal

Revolution, George Barna

The Shape of Things to Come – Innovation and Mission for the 21st –
Century Church, Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch

Jaded – Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up On Church but Not On
God, A. J. Kiesling


Chapter 3

Who are these organic outposts?
“God is Community in motion.”

The imminent demise under discussion is the collapse of the unique culture in
North America that has come to be called ‘church.’
(Reggie McNeal)

"Jesus calls men, not to a new religion, but to life."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Small is smart
As I watched the movie, The Patriot, with Mel Gibson, I was struck by how each side
in the Revolutionary War engaged the other in battle. The colonial militias of the
American Revolution were cunning. They were guerilla warriors, hiding behind
stone walls, tucked within tall reeds. They could move quickly and engage the


enemy with covert effectiveness. The British regiments, on the other hand, refused
to get out of formation. They were sitting ducks for the colonial militia.
The British regiments allowed their rigid structure to control their purpose.
Refusing to re-think their formation led to their demise. Small and nimble won
the war.
Here's a quick table that contrasts organic Kingdom outposts with what much
of the Church today has become:

Organic Outposts


Today's Church

Small bands of Jesusfollowers

Larger-church mentality:
growth by stuffing

Divides when group reaches
12-15 people

Attract more people, build
bigger facilities

Not dependent upon

Shackled by asset debt and
maintenance. Ties up resources
that could go directly to those
in need.



Fluid, flexible, loosely

Highly-structured, rigid

Led by non-professionals

Led by professionals

Flat structure

Hierarchical layers

Rescued by an organic Kingdom outpost
One particular organic outpost has advanced my spiritual life more in the last 5
years than in the previous 35 years. This more rapid transformation is directly
linked to my participation in the ministry of this outpost.
Five years ago, after reading John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart, I went to one
of his “Wild at Heart Boot Camps” for men out in the wilderness of Colorado.
Designed to help a man get his heart back, these events are like nothing I’ve
ever experienced within the walls of the local church. What made them
First, the message, though grounded in Scripture, is one most men rarely hear.
The Wild at Heart messege, based on the book, Wild at Heart, takes men on a
journey of the masculine heart. A redeemed man’s heart is good because it is
wholly new (Ezekiel 36). Therefore, because his heart is now good, a man can
rightly ask, “What makes my heart come alive?” At the Boot Camp and in the
book, Eldredge suggests that three core things make all men come alive by
design: an adventure to live, a battle to fight, and a beauty to fight for. Most
men are frankly bored to tears in church. If you offer men the journey to
pursue their heart in these three areas, they will come into a heroic identity they
never knew they had.
Secondly, the setting was different than local churches provide. Most churches,
as well as corporate spaces, suffocate men. You must get men outdoors, or at
least away from big box, closed in, and cloistered environs. In the wilderness of
Colorado, the ranch where we stayed was dwarfed by the 12,000 foot peaks of
the Collegiate Range. The “sanctuary” in which we met was constructed of log23

style timbers, complete with two fully-preserved local residents flanking the
front sides: a mountain lion and a black bear.
However, the journey towards greater depth-of-heart didn’t stop there. As
Barna suggests, many of these “mini-movements” such as Ransomed Heart
Ministries (Eldredge and his team) offer narrow entry points such as a men’s
event or a women’s event. Some outpost ministries offer a conference on a
particular theme, or a worship gathering. However, these entry-point events
are often the door to a broader and more holistic spiritual offering. As the
participant continues the journey, he or she ends up receiving much more than
the initial offering.
For example, after entering the Wild at Heart door (the entry-point event) for
men, I read subsequent books written by Eldredge, then attended the Advanced
event for men. That event immersed me in the ministries of healing, spiritual
warfare, hearing the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and walking with God. Though
core aspects of Jesus’ own ministry, these life-giving practices were simply
ignored, understated, or mired in religious trappings in my local church
Ransomed Heart Ministries also provides online resources such as books, audio
CD’s, and forums for continuing the journey of the heart – for men and
Ransomed Heart’s goal is not to keep people dependent upon them, but rather
to send the participants back to their own communities, establishing their own
unique local outposts, right where they live.
Through immersion in the offerings of an organic kingdom outpost like
Ransomed Heart, I’m able to hear from God more, have a much more biblical

perspective on reality, and have come into a strength that was dormant for most
of my life. And, I discovered that I’m not alone.

A Network of Allies
By participating in an outpost ministry’s gatherings, you may discover others
who have similar stories, or with whom you can develop significant friendships.
Because you’ve met them through that particular ministry outpost, there is an
assumed commonality and desire for similar things. You were looking for
similar things from life, Church, God – that’s why you went. God can use those
outpost gatherings to bring you allies.
Through the organic outpost called Ransomed Heart Ministries, I myself have
experienced more rapid growth and deeper spirituality than I had experienced in
the previous 35 years.

Thousands of other men (and women) from across the

globe have also gotten their hearts back through this outpost. And the numbers
are growing. Ransomed Heart is just one of God’s thousands of outposts
across the country. (For more about Ransomed Heart’s work, see

Connecting that brings life
I was sitting with my good friend, John, in a local breakfast place. John is an
ally, oddly enough, who has also attended the same men’s events I did, though a
couple years prior. On an airplane, John “happened” to be sitting next to a
man who had attended one of my events. That man gave John my contact
information and when John called me, I discovered he had also been to a Wild
at Heart Advanced event. God loves orchestrating such encounters. Here’s the
point: God will bring you allies.

Many months later, John and I met at our favorite breakfast place. During
breakfast, I had been telling John about a heavy sense of discouragement and
hopelessness I was under. I was feeling stuck, immobilized; wanting a sense of
direction, but not getting any answers from God. I was wondering if I would
ever move into some things I had wanted to for the last five years.
As John and I were talking, the coffee I had been drinking all morning was
beginning to catch up with me. In the time it took me to go to the bathroom,
John had received an actual revelation from God. Now, you must know that
John is not a man who quickly says, “I have a word from God for you.” He is
careful and discerning in such matters. When I sat down again, he said, “Jim,
how stuck have you been feeling lately?” I was a little bewildered and answered,
“About 75 percent.” He said, “God gave me a vision for you:
I see Aslan.” [the Great Lion of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia].
Tears started coming. John continued, “He is in a cage, pacing. He is
losing patience. But the cage does not limit Aslan. He is still Aslan,
even in the cage.”
That did it. Tears. Relief. As God himself continued to unpack the meaning
of the vision, I realized he was saying, “I understand your restlessness. I don’t
condemn you for it. You are my ‘Aslan’ and the cage can place no limits on
your identity or strength, Jim.” Humbling and encouraging, to say the least.
All this happened because two allies, two spiritual friends, were meeting in a
local breakfast place, going deeper into their stories. Because John knew my
story and was sensitive to God’s voice, he was able to offer me exactly what was
needed that day.


The Media is Taking Note
“There’s No Pulpit Like Home,” reads the article’s header from Time Magazine
(March 6, 2006). Covering the rapidly-growing house church movement, the
article describes a meeting of Christ-followers in a Denver home. One
participant, “two years ago abandoned a large congregation for the burgeoning
movement known in evangelical circles as ‘house churching,’ ‘home churching’
or ‘simple church.’” She says, “I’d never go back to a traditional church. I love
what we’re doing.”
House churches and other organic configurations don’t have a large percentage
of their combined resources tied up in building maintenance, staff salaries, and
program budgets. More funds are immediately available for ministry
opportunities to those beyond the group. Decisions can be made more quickly
and resources mobilized without a lot of red tape and internal politics.

Outpost Story: Uncommon Grounds Coffee House
Jacksonville, Florida
I decided to try a new coffee place today, called Uncommon Grounds. It was
clearly an alternative to …well, you know, S_ _ _b _ c k ’s. As I walked in, I
saw an eclectic mix of couches, tables, bookshelves, and wall hangings. There
was a guy in his 20’s playing acoustic guitar, seemingly for no one but himself.
An unlikely mix of books sat in the bookcase: Catcher in the Rye was nestled up
against Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation.
Uncommon Grounds uses predominantly organic, fair-trade coffees, locally roasted
– indicating a clear concern for environmental impact and wages for farmers; as
well as coffee-freshness. Their passion is coffee.

While speaking with the young-thirties proprietor, the conversation eventually
turned to the “So what do you do?” question. I told him I was writing a book
about organic church in simple places. His response surprised me. I was
expecting a polite, but disinterested, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” Rather, he
said, “That is exactly what this place is trying to be.”
There’s nothing to suggest that the place is a “Christian” establishment: no
signs or Christian symbols; no Ichthus fish on their business card. That’s the
way they want it. In fact, the owners took a lot of flack from a local church
complaining that they weren’t calling it a “Christian” coffee house. What
makes something “Christian” anyway − the fact that you label it so? Surely that
can’t be an adequate indicator of Kingdom activity.
At Uncommon Grounds, they are reaching the community one conversation, “one
cup of coffee at a time.” Right where people live and work.
As I talked with Diane, Uncommon Ground’s owner, it became obvious how
seriously she took Jesus. He had made her free, and she was taking him at his
word. There wasn’t the usual sense that her Christianity was tied to good moral
behavior or doing the “right” things. Instead, there was a living, breathing

How do you grow if you don’t ‘go to church?’
Contrary to the suspicions of many in conventional churches, those who leave
the local church model are not running from God. In fact, they are deeply
committed to Jesus and his Kingdom – often more so than their conventional
counterparts, as the research indicates. Many of them leave the four walls in
order to rescue their faith. These pioneers are also deeply committed to
gathering together with other Christ-followers – but not within the walls of the

local church. Instead, people like myself have developed a network of spiritual
allies – some of them are local, some not. In my case, through this small
network of allies, I have grown more, lived from my deep heart, and come alive
more in the last three years than in decades of “fellowship” or “small groups”
offered by the local church.
The simple fact is that many who attend local churches, or have been deeply
involved in them for years, are not growing as they hoped to. They know
there’s more: More to life, more to the Gospel, more to their own hearts. It
becomes deeply problematic when we assume that biblical, spiritual growth
must entail going “to church.”

Power Houses
It is quite essential that we commit ourselves to biblical community, to the
fellowship of Jesus’ followers. However, it is not essential that it look like
church-as-we-know it, conventional congregations and church programs. The
local church model is but one of any number of kingdom-life configurations.
For example, house churches (or church in the home) are a vital form of
Kingdom-community that is rising up in Western culture. The idea is as old as
the New Testament Church.
Home churches, for example, are fully-functioning Christ-communities that do
not require connections to local churches. House churches often connect with
each other into networks within a region, allowing for larger celebration
gatherings among those home churches.


The following Kingdom communities in Scripture took place in homes:

Acts 5:42: ‘Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to
house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news
that Jesus is the Christ.’

Acts 20:20: ‘You know that I have not hesitated to preach
anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly
and from house to house.’

Romans 16:5: ‘Greet also the church that meets at their house.’

I Cor. 16:19: ‘The churches in the province of Asia send you
greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so
does the church that meets at their house.’

Col 4:15: ‘Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea and to
Nympha and the church in her house.’

Acts 2:2: ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind
came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were
sitting.’ (Pentecost took place in a house.)

For more on house churches, see Houses that Change the World, by Wolfgang Simson.

What do house churches do?
1. Meals: Food is central to house church gatherings, as it was to the ministry
of Jesus. Table fellowship is critical to spiritual growth. Simson calls this
“meating.” He indicates:

Typically, the teaching of Jesus was done right at the table, over a meal,
not just after a meal…The Hebrew tradition of eating was to break
bread first to start the meal, then have the main course, and then have a
toast of wine to end the meal.
The teaching was not a long sermon, but short and much more interactive, with
questions and answers, than today’s lecture-style sermons, Simson says. The
word that is often translated ‘preaching’ in the New Testament (dialogizomai)
indicates a dialogue between people, not a monologue.
2. Lead by elders: Elders are spiritual fathers and mothers. These leaders do
not have to be professional clergy or seminary grads. They do need to be more
mature in the faith, able to bring wisdom to the house church family. “No
where in the New Testament do we find references to a pastor leading a
congregation,” says Barney Coombes. Elders, with the combined giftedness of
those in the house church, support the life of the church. Typically, 15-20
people met in New Testament house churches. Once they grew beyond this,
another house church would be started in the area.
3. Sharing possessions: Here’s what early Christ-followers did, in contrast to
the “affluenza” − stricken culture of today: “There were no needy persons
among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold
them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it
was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:34-35) This common-pot
lifestyle can be most fully enjoyed when you can walk to your neighbor’s house.
Only then can you share lawn mowers, meals, babysitting, and financial
assistance among actual neighbors.
4. Prayer: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) Walking with

God means listening to what he has for our hearts, not simply requesting our
blessings. It is a mutual conversation in which intimacy grows.
5. No rigid agenda: We walk with God, not liturgies or agendas. As Simson
indicates, “So, if a house church did not know what to do next, they could
simply pray and prophesy [one of God’s means of talking to the community], so
that God might reveal what He wanted them to do next, or what He wanted
them to pray about next.” It is critical that we give up our scripts and not
assume we know what needs to be done or said. We ask God: “What do you
have for us tonight? Where would you take us, Father?”
6. Equipped not by professionals, but by a five-fold ministry team: This is
standard scriptural practice and not simply the way house-churches have
functioned. God “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be
evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for
works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians
4:11-13) Note that pastors are not the sole or even dominant leaders. This
would take a lot of pressure off of pastors, allowing them to do what they love,
rather than covering an impossible variety of roles. Wolfgang Simson describes
the five members of the equipping ministry in the following ways:
Apostles: The apostle is a missionary at heart, founding new
communities of faith. They tend to move about as they see new fields
ripe for the harvest. Apostles, with prophets lay the foundations for the
Christian movement − church planting. They want to saturate whole
regions with Christian communities, not just one church. Apostles, with
prophets, are the glue of a city-wide house church network. The
apostles, along with the prophets are available to individual house
churches as they need them.

Prophets: A prophet is likely to be misunderstood because he holds
more dearly the voice of God than the admiration of the people. He is
visionary, often seeing what others don’t. He hears from God and
questions everything, often discomforting others who like things the
way they are. The prophet often disrupts the status quo and wonders
why others aren’t ready to move forward … now! This is a biblical role
that brings needed tension to the community.
Pastors: He/she is a caring shepherd, not a CEO. He has a heart for
relationships more than anything. He is approachable and loves people,
and can create a family atmosphere. I would add that people feel safe
exposing their wounds to this shepherd.
Teachers: He loves teaching and invests himself more in the details
than in the big picture and is a defender of truth. He offers more than
information. He offers his heart.
Evangelists: Her heart is for those who don’t yet know Jesus, helping
to keep the church outwardly focused. She often spends time teaching
believers the gospel itself, and works with the apostles and prophets at
extending the church.
As we know, there are other gifts operating within the body of Christ. (Romans
12: 4-8; I Corinthians 12:1-30.)

However, these five functions (apostles,

prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) are the equipping functions of the
Body. They equip and apprentice others, rather than doing ministry for them.
These five ministries function together, not in opposition to each other. Each
of the five-fold ministries may or may not be operating in each house church.
Simson tells us that,


Those [five-fold] ministries are equipping ministries, going beyond the
scope of a local house church, and function translocally, affecting the
whole area or, especially in the case of apostles and prophets, even
beyond that.
Deacons often assist elders of a house church, or the apostolic leaders of the
local churches; enabling them to carry out the functions of their ministries.
There is no stacked hierarchy of ministries. The Body of Christ is a flat, organic
family in which each gift is critical to the health of the body.
Outpost Story: Coffee Roasters
Jacksonville, Florida
Scott used to be “in the ministry.” It wasn’t enough for his heart. He also
used to run a local coffee house back in the early 1990’s and had a passion for
excellent, freshly-roasted coffee. After some time spent in professional college
ministry, Scott needed a change.
Like many others, he too felt he didn’t fit in the professional ministry context.
He’s missed rubbing shoulders with local citizens as he did while in the coffee
house business; so he’s started a new coffee house where he gets to be among
the people again.
Scott and his wife batch-roast their coffees on-site at the coffee house. After
sipping an extraordinary cup of freshly roasted coffee and receiving friendly
service, you’ll know that Scott is there to serve − It just doesn’t look like typical
church activity with sermons, programs and professional clergy. Rather, it looks
like the Kingdom of God spreading leaven into the community. One customer
at a time. One conversation at a time. Like other kingdom outposts, they

don’t call it a “Christian” coffee house. Rather, as Scott says, it’s a coffee house
run by Christians who want to serve their community.
Scott’s long-term vision is to develop a relationship with indigenous coffee
farmers, not only to help them develop sustainable coffee practices for their
families’ livelihood, but to affect the needs of their hearts with the restoring life
of Jesus.
Once again, an organic outpost like Coffee Roasters is moving the Church away
from holy meetings in holy buildings to where it has always belonged – among
the people. No longer should we expect the world to come to us. The
command is clear: “Go into all the world …” Jesus’ mission is a sending
ministry, a going-into mission, not a ‘ya’ll come’ expectation.
Scott simply wants his customers to feel the weight of his life as he lives it out
before them. He’s not offering them “church” – he’s offering them himself.
After all, when God offers us something, he simply gives himself.


founding verse for the coffee house is “Let your light shine before men, that
they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew
5:16) Scott’s back where he belongs … among the people.

How do you stay “accountable” in an organic outpost?
There are those who would ask, “What about accountability and the likelihood
of straying from biblical doctrine when you’re not connected to a supervising
Let it be said that the possibility for these errors is just as likely in the local
church as in any other configuration, despite the fact that many pastors and
church leaders are connected to an ‘accountability’ structure within a

denomination or other oversight body! I hear unintentional heresy from
pulpits all the time, often affecting much larger groups of believers than you’d
find in a home church. (Nobody gets it right 100% of the time).
Let it also be said that ‘accountability,’ typically understood, is not a New
Covenant value. Conventional and mistaken ideas of accountability suggest that
the believer’s heart is bad, or at least a mixture of bad and good; and therefore
cannot be trusted. Scripture says quite the opposite. For the believer, his heart
is pure, circumcised, clean – as a direct result of conversion: “I will cleanse you
from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and
put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you
a heart of flesh.” (a living heart, energized by the life of Christ.)” See: Ezekiel
36: 25-26.
Sadly, a person that rejects Christ’s death and life also rejects the possibility of a
new heart, as tragic and irrational as that decision is. A Christ-follower’s new
heart is a direct result of the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf, and
is often called “regeneration” or “new birth.”

A new way of relating
Therefore, a New Covenant (new way of relating) friendship is one in which
both parties focus obsessively on the other’s new heart; for that now, is the
deepest reality about them. As Larry Crabb says, the Gospel is not about fixing,
but releasing: Releasing and living from the new heart.
Do my good friends tell me things I sometimes don’t want to hear? Yes.
However, the manner in which that word is delivered assumes my heart is now
good, and no longer under condemnation. In essence, they “hold me
accountable” to my new heart!

Having said this, I do believe that organic Kingdom outposts need to connect
with other outposts on a regular basis for celebration, coordinated outreach to
the community, and for a healthy “iron-sharpens-iron” exchange of ideas. The
possibility for theological error exists anywhere, and organic ministries aren’t
exempt. Because life flows out of belief, we need to rub shoulders enough with
others as a legitimate means of checks-and-balances. As Paul instructed
Timothy, “Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them,
because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (I Timothy
4:16) This is not an invitation to dogmatism and theological arrogance. It is an
invitation to humility and community.



Chapter 4

Turning organic outposts into
It’s possible to turn these fresh organic forms of Church into the same
institutional deathtraps you tried to leave behind. Here’s how to ruin a perfectly
good new wineskin:
By importing old wine (the old way of relating to God) into a new wineskin
(structure). The old wine was the Old Covenant code of proper behavior and
cannot bring about life, says Paul. More on this below.
By offering a partial gospel – i.e., the gospel reduced to “You’re forgiven and
get to go to heaven. “Now be good and try hard to be spiritual until you get
heaven.” The Gospel gets reduced to the Cross alone, without any real
experience of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus on our behalf. The
resulting message deteriorates into exhortation without restoration; which
frankly is cruel. If a ship has run up against the rocks, it will suffer damage. If
the ship’s hull is full of holes, you don’t push it out into open waters. You
mend the holes and tend to its crew. Only then can you expect great sailing
again. Restoration must accompany forgiveness.
By importing tightly scheduled worship or other events into the new
wineskin that allow no room for the Holy Spirit to lead, speak, or heal.

By living in the small stories of Christian principles, tips, and techniques
(“Five steps to a better marriage, three ways to share your faith,” etc.). In
contrast, God offers a much more dangerous and breathtaking Story − an
ancient and unfolding heroic drama that He invites us up into. (Go to
www.epicreality.com to find out more.) For, as the movie trailer for Lord of the
Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring told us, "Fate has chosen him. A fellowship will
protect him. Evil will hunt him."

Story and parable engage the heart in a way

that principles cannot. Story conveys truth because story is our native tongue.
By assuming you need professional clergy to lead the group. The Church
never started that way, nor did Jesus sanction it. Furthermore, positional
authority no longer guarantees influence or trust in a post-Christendom world.
By over-programming everything: − which assumes that the informationdissemination model of discipleship is still effective. Thom Black reminded a
National House Church gathering (one of the groups he and Barna call
‘revolutionaries’): “You know that the death of what you’re doing is programs.
You do not want to touch programs. There’s not a single one of you folks who
started this thing the first five years who had a script…You did it on the
strength of your gift.” To wean ourselves off of the ministry scripts, Thom
goes on to point out that when it’s time to worship, don’t assume you have to
go looking for your acoustic guitar, or that it requires a praise band. We’ve
become so addicted to the scripts that we’ve assumed the method is the gospel
itself. Even churches with contemporary worship can end up being tightly
By engaging in excessive verbal flatulence when teaching or communicating
(in the past, we’ve called this ‘preaching.’) In other words, know when to stop
talking. Dialogue over monologue. This doesn’t mean teachers don’t teach. It

simply means we must become conversational. It also means that our kerygma
(proclamation) can be fleshed out in multiple forms: art, film, guided dialogue,
beauty, nature. Anything God creates can ‘teach.’
By over-spiritualizing ‘religious’ activities (officially sanctioned events) and
assuming God can’t bring new life into the mundane (like meeting for coffee,
sharing table fellowship, bumping into neighbors, or taking a walk in the woods
with your spouse.)
By following biblical principles about God without actually walking with
God. (You know you’re being offered principles when you see fill-in-the-blank
outlines, and 3-point messages.) What happens when you get into a situation
where the principles don’t help? Or, your choice is between two good options?
You must walk with Someone who knows where the landmines are buried, and
sees the road ahead. How will you travel the dark lands of Middle Earth
without Stryder the Ranger? Or without Gandalf’s ancient wisdom? Or
Morpheaus’ training? The Church today has replaced apprenticeship under
Jesus (discipleship) with programs and principles about Him. John Eldredge
invites us to, “Approach the Scriptures not so much as a manual of Christian
principles but as the testimony of God’s friends on what it means to walk with
him through a thousand different episodes.”
One of the most powerful phrases in Scripture is, “So David inquired of the
Lord.” He didn’t assume what worked in one situation would work in another.
There was no formula, only his friendship with God. See how this operates in
the following situation:
The Philistines had gathered an army to come against King David, so
David asks the Lord how to approach the situation:


… so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines?
Will you hand them over to me?”
The LORD answered him, “Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines
over to you.”
Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of
Rephaim; so David inquired of the LORD, and he answered, “Do not
go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front
of the balsam trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the
tops of the balsam trees [angel armies approaching], move quickly,
because that will mean the LORD has gone out in front of you to strike
the Philistine army.”
(2 Samuel 5:18-24)
We walk with God, inquiring of him situation by situation, without assuming we
know the appropriate strategy for any given occasion. This doesn’t mean we
ask God whether we should mow the lawn on Tuesday rather than Saturday, or
approach God like over-analytical obsessive-compulsives. (I’m one of them.)
Often, when inquiring of the Lord, I’ve simply heard him say, “I trust you, Jim.
I know your heart. Step out.”
By emphasizing duty, to the exclusion of desire. (The Church today calls
this distortion “servanthood.”)

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, the

arch-demon, Uncle Screwtape, gives his nephew and young demon,
Wormwood, the following counsel: “But do remember, Wormwood, that duty
comes before pleasure.” .
By over-emphasizing spirit over form, to the point where all ritual and
ceremony is considered suspect. My fear is that many well-meaning

congregations have done this in their attempt to shake off meaningless and
institutionalized ritual. Surely we don’t desire empty religion. However, the
answer is not to leave behind all ritual or ceremony (‘Contemporary’ worship
has become ritualized in many senses already and left us bereft of mystery).
Rather, we must create fresh ritual and meaningful ceremony. The rituals are
never the point: the relationship is the point; yet all families need meaningful
traditions. The questions to ask are, “Which rituals and ceremonies best serve
our relationships?” “Which traditions express our rooted-ness in God’s

What kind of wine are we serving?
"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the
patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither
do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will
burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they
pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."
(Matthew 9:16-17)
Much of what is offered in Christianity today is old wine − more specifically, the
Old Covenant that Jesus died to abolish. It is primarily a Gospel of behavior
and ‘sin management’ as Dallas Willard puts it; an attempt to rehabilitate the
believer’s flesh (old self) rather than release their new heart. Why tinker with
something that is dead (our old selves)? The old self has been crucified and
buried with Christ. God is interested in what is now alive.
Much of what we have today’s church is a religion of behavior modification.
The following is a revealing direct quote from one of my relatives: "The whole
New Testament, other than the four gospels, is about how you behave."

Is that what you signed up for when you said ‘yes’ to Jesus? − to learn how to
behave? Is that the fullness of life you were looking for?!
What’s even worse is that the theology behind my relative’s perspective is
shared by many, many Christians. Why? Because they've been given a distorted
version of the gospel.
Most Christians believe that God is primarily interested in shaping them up.
It’s as if God is preoccupied with our good behavior: whether that’s to stop
doing something or to start doing something. Many believe that God’s top
priority is to get them to stop sinning.

Too many Christian messages are about

making us good, moral, more spiritual, more committed, more … something. It
is a pressured spirituality. "You must be fixed," is the underlying false
Here’s the problem: This kind of thinking is dangerous because it is only
partially true. God is interested in making us good like Christ, yet God’s way of
doing this is quite surprising. He is not interested in tinkering with our sinful
behavior in order to improve it. (You can’t get good fruit from a bad tree, Jesus
said. It’s impossible.) Dallas Willard calls this approach "sin management:" Get
people’s sin under control, is the thinking. Get them to stop behaving and
thinking badly. By the way, this is Old Covenant thinking, and much of the
Church is still living in an Old Covenant approach to spirituality. We are
keeping people in their grave clothes. Lazarus is out of the tomb, but he’s still
bound tightly in his burial cloths.
However, God does not try to fix anything about us. (Read that slowly.) It’s not
about fixing, as Larry Crabb suggests: It’s about releasing something.


Let me explain. Most Christians believe that salvation = forgiveness; that Jesus
died primarily to forgive your sins. This is true, but it’s only part of the truth
Scripture presents. Jesus not only did something for you (forgave), he did
something to you:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove
from you your heart of stone [dead heart] and give you a heart of flesh
[alive, living heart]. - Ezekial 36:26
You have undergone radical heart surgery. Jesus has literally given you a new,
good heart, a heart that is fully alive. He has removed your diseased, corrupt
heart. Removed it (in other words, dethroned the bad heart or old self). That
new heart comes with new desires, new tendencies, and a new power from
Jesus. God is not interested in tinkering with your old nature (yes it’s still
present, but it is not the most central thing about you any longer). God is
desperately interested in releasing your new, good heart! It’s not about fixing,
it’s about releasing. It’s not about shaping up, it’s about releasing. God is not a
behavior-modification therapist. As Erwin McManus says, “It’s hard to imagine
that Jesus would endure the agony of the Cross just to keep us in line.”
You have been made good. Already.
Jesus has changed the model for spirituality: from pressure to be good, to
releasing a goodness already present (given at conversion). The Christian life is
about living out of that good, deep heart. Discipleship is about releasing your
new heart.
Why don’t we hear this truly good news much? It would set so many people
free who suffer from a religion of spiritual pressure and moralism. We don’t
need pressure to be good.

We’ve already been made good. Now, our prayer

is to ask Jesus to release that good heart he has given us. As Larry Crabb
points out, sin is not the deepest thing about you any longer: Your new heart is
the true you. Of course we still sin, yet that comes not from our new heart, but
from our old nature, which simply isn't the most important thing about us any
more. The old self has been dethroned, knocked out of center.
Five years ago, I decided to start listening again to the voice of Jesus,
and my life hasn’t been the same since. He has not been telling me what
to do, He has been telling me how much He loves me. He has not
corrected my behavior, He has been leading me into His arms.
- Mike Yaconelli,

A Dangerous Wonder

The Suffocating spirit of religion
One of the most dangerous forces at work in the Church today is the Religious
Spirit. (Notice I didn't say a holy spirit.) It appears religious, appears holy; but
in fact, is not the Gospel. The religious spirit generates a confusing spiritual fog
that is heart-killing and suffocating. This spirit can enter an organic church
structure as much as it can seep into sanctuaries and Sunday School classes.
Note: Many good Christians (and Christian leaders) are only half aware of the
Gospel, or have a version of the gospel that has been perverted and altered by
the religious spirit.
Here's what the religious/suffocating spirit looks like and what the true Gospel
looks like in Scripture:


The religious spirit

The Gospel

Sees the Christian as a forgiven
sinner. (Forgiven, but not
essentially changed. The
believer is still "prone to
wander." )

Sees the Christian as a saint who
happens to struggle with sin. The
believer is no longer defined by his sin
- his essential nature/heart has changed.

Focuses on exterior conduct
and maintaining standards of

Focuses on living from our new and
good heart. (Ezekiel. 36:25-27)

Old Covenant (old way)
of relating

New Covenant relating

Ignorance about what the New
Covenant actually offers,
causing one to remain under
the law.

"For if a law had been given that
could impart life, then righteousness
would certainly have come by the
law." -(Galatians 3:21)
"Now that faith has come, we are no
longer under the supervision of the
law." -(Galatians 3:25)

Right behavior

Walking in the Spirit


Freedom ("If the Son makes you free,
you shall be free indeed." - Jesus)

Considers morality and good
behavior as the centerpiece of
the Gospel.

Sees morality and good behavior as
important, but not the core of the
Gospel. Rather, they are after-effects
of receiving a new heart.
The new heart/Christ in you/new
creation are now defining realities.
The Christ-follower is now good at the


The religious spirit

The Gospel (cont…)


Believes that discipleship is about
good behavior and "right living." In
practice, still believes that sin is the
most powerful force at work in a
person - even a Christian person;
or at minimum, that sin is as strong a
force as the new heart is in a

Believes discipleship is about releasing
something already present as a result of
conversion - the new heart and its new
desires and power.

Pressured spirituality

Resting in Christ

Joyless moral striving

Allowing Jesus to live in me, as me:
resting from spiritual striving.

Focus on becoming: Assumption is
that you aren't the person you want
to be, and must strive to get there.

Focus on releasing what's already present:
Assumption: At conversion, you have
been made good…already. We have
[already] become the righteousness of
Christ. That goodness simply needs to be
released - not conjured.

Hyper-righteousness that's soulkilling

The offer is life: "I have come that you
might have life." -Jesus

Preoccupation with controlling
people's sin. (Dallas Willard calls
this 'sin management.')

Preoccupied with creating an
environment for releasing the actual life
and resources of Christ already present
within the believer.

Sees the Gospel as forgiveness of
sins almost exclusively. Gives lip
service to healing, freedom, and

Sees the Gospel as forgiveness, but so
much more - including restoration,
healing, freedom- and lives those

False Gospel



Believes that the Christian person is a
new creation − right now; that sin is no
longer the deepest thing about a person.
(Sin is a problem, but is no longer a
person's deepest inclination.) --"From now
on, we no longer regard anyone according to the
flesh [old, sinful nature]..If anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation." -Paul

Further Resources:

The Rest of the Gospel - When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out, by
Dan Stone & Greg Smith

Revolution Within, by Dwight Edwards

Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge

Galatians; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Romans; Jesus' indictment of the

Connecting, Larry Crabb

Offering an emaciated Gospel
The Church today is largely missing two-thirds of the Gospel – reducing the
good news to the Cross … only. What about the daily benefits of the
Resurrection and the substantial restoration of heart and life that it brings.
What about the Ascension of Christ to his throne and the resulting shared
authority Jesus has bestowed upon his followers?
As the book and movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the
Wardrobe effectively point out, the children in the story were meant to rule:
restored to their full identity as kings (small ‘k’) and queens (small ‘q’), as John
Eldredge puts it.

So it is true with us: “And they [we] will reign forever and

ever.” (Revelation 22:5)
When the King returns, we will be handed a kingdom (a domain) on a restored
New Earth. I, myself, hope to be handed a small part of the Northeast
“kingdom” with its Green Mountains, White Mountains, spectacular autumns,

and quaint country roads. In the meantime, God is teaching us to rule – for
that is our divine appointment.
The “Gospel” being offered today is an anemic, partial gospel at best – a
sparkling grape juice substitute. How do you know when you’re seeing the real
thing? In vivid contrast to our consumerized version of pop Christianity, the
Scriptures offer this description of vital Christianity:
“Who through faith:

conquered kingdoms,

administered justice, and gained what was promised;

who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames,

and escaped the edge of the sword;

whose weakness was turned to strength;

and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

Women received back their dead, raised to life again.”

(Hebrews 11:33-35)
The events you have just read about describe normal Christianity. James Rutz,
in his book, Mega Shift, reminds us what normal Christianity looks like:
A leper is healed in the marketplace. A paralyzed man leaps from his
bed. A small bit of food feeds a large group. Storm clouds turn on a
dime. The gospel is preached in one language, but heard in another. The
sound of a mighty, rushing wind is heard during a meeting of believer

… yet there is no wind. Withered limbs are restored. A girl is raised
from the dead. And Jesus appears in a vision to one of His chief
Rutz goes on to say that these events are “Great historic events by any measure.
And all have happened in the last twelve years.” Yes. You read that correctly.
I must admit, my initial reaction upon hearing of such events is fear. Not
disbelief, however. But fear. But why should we fear what the Scriptures
describe as normal? Don’t we secretly want God to operate in supernatural
ways on our behalf – or for those we love? Don’t we wish to experience the
power of God the way the disciples or early Church did?
Rutz’s exciting book, Mega Shift, documents God’s recent explosive and
subversive activity through ordinary people; indicating a “mega-shift” in power
from those who are professional clergy to those simply willing to obey the One
who cannot be tamed. Does this mean that God has dismissed current church
leaders and is no longer working through them? No. He may wish to redirect
their ministries or their gifts, though. However, God is changing the wineskins
and releasing everyday folks into extraordinary kingdom activity.

Preventing the institutionalization of new wineskins
As John Eldredge reminded the attendees at the 2004 National House Church
Conference, organic fellowships – whether house churches, or cell
multiplication movements, or other fresh forms – can easily become vehicles
for a false or distorted gospel. You can create an institutionalized house church
just as easily as you can institutionalize a local church congregation – simply
import old wine into the new wineskin.

That is why it is critical to ask ourselves, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?
To do what?” Your new context for living out biblical community is useless if
you don’t understand the what. All you’d be doing is simply changing the box’s
packaging and not its contents.
The ‘what’ is answered in many passages throughout scripture. However, we’ve
largely forgotten the ministry of Jesus foretold in Isaiah 61:
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for
the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort all
who mourn…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the
oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a
spirit of despair.
Notice what Jesus does: He comes for our hearts – to heal them, set us free, to
restore. I used to think this passage referred only to society’s marginalized and
oppressed, the down-and-out. Yet the offer of Jesus is for everyone – because
he comes for everyone. There are places where our hearts are pinned down,
broken and despairing. It is for freedom that we have been set free.
The Church today, however, has focused almost exclusively on the pardoning
ministry of Jesus and largely forgotten the restoring ministry of Jesus. Though
the following passage refers to the restoration of physical places, the restoring
work of Jesus extends to hearts, minds and bodies:
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long
devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have long been
devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61:4)


Gary Barkalow, of Ransomed Heart Ministries, reminds us that Jesus’ ministry,
and therefore ours, is about rebuilding, restoring, and renewing lives– not
simply a ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.

There are no neutral ministry structures:
Are some structures better than others for living as Jesus lived, for offering what
he offered? For rebuilding, renewing, and restoring? The answer, of course, is
yes. There’s no such thing as a neutral ministry context – as if the context or
structure had no shaping power upon those within it. There are some contexts
in which life naturally flourishes … and others that are an impediment to that life.
There are pro-biotic (life-giving) contexts and anti-biotic (destructive) structures.
(Antibiotics kill even healthy bacteria in your gut.)
Here’s the offer of Jesus:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his likeness with an ever-increasing glory, which
comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(Corinthians: 17-18)
If Christianity (and our ministry structures) doesn’t do that for people −
restoring them with ever-increasing radiance and splendor – then you have to
wonder whether it’s really Christianity at all.
In fact for over 30 years, I lived with a sense of guilt because I didn’t want to
share my faith. What the Gospel had become simply wasn’t breathtaking –
until I discovered that Jesus offers so much more than pardon (as glorious as
that is). As Paul says, we are saved by his life as much as by his death. “…

how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.”
(Romans 5:10) It is his life that restores us, and restores our wholeness. Saved
by his death … and his life.

Structural bondage
If a local church (as we typically understand them) offers this restoration of life
and heart, then it is being true to Jesus’ ministry. The sad truth is that the
research shows that most local churches are not. If the local church is the ‘hope
of the world,’ then we’re in trouble, Barna says. Actually, as Neal Cole reminds
us in Organic Church, Jesus alone is the hope of the world and he will use any
number of forms and structures to accomplish his purposes.


mistakenly identified a particular structure, the “local church,” with the Body of
Christ itself. We are in structural bondage, assuming that our structures and the
Gospel are the same thing.
There is nothing sacred about structures. Structures are something we invent to
carry out the mission. The local church as we’ve understood it with its church
campuses, paid staff, programs and worship events simply can’t be found in
Scripture as a universal mandate. The commands for worship, gathering
together, and mission are clear; but commands for any specific methodology are
a bit fuzzy in Scripture.
Even house churches aren’t sacred structures for ministry. Though the church
in Acts met in homes, they also gathered daily in the temple courts (Acts 2: 4647). However, they now had a radically new reason to gather at the temple –
the resurrection of Jesus, rather than the religion of Judaism, was now the
energizing force of their lives.


Having said that, I’m convinced that house churches provide one of the best
organic contexts for ministry. There is a certain intimacy engendered when
someone invites you into their home, their private space. Additionally, a deeply
broken person will feel safer revealing their pain in someone’s living room
rather than in the middle of Starbuck’s. Meeting in homes also makes sense for
neighbors who live within easy walking distance of one another. Wolfgang
Simson, in his book Houses that Change the World, wants the Church to come
home: “Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own
spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred
buildings far from the atmosphere of real life.”

House churches vs. churches with small groups
Simson, an authority on house churches, indicates that house churches were the
backbone of the early church, with two other gatherings supporting it: a
celebratory gathering that took place in the temple courts, and governmental/
decision-making gatherings (councils) that consisted of apostles and elders.
So, what if a local church today provides both celebration events and small
groups for greater intimacy? Isn’t that the same thing? Yes and no. Though
the aspects of celebration, cell and governance are there in today’s local
churches, the structures themselves are often restrictive: requiring paid staff,
multiple programs, and facilities to be maintained.

In contrast, houses are not

institutions (with paid staff, multiple programs and church campuses). In
today’s post-Christendom culture, institutions will appear suspect and out of
touch with daily life; whereas houses will always be situated quite literally where
we live. Everyone lives in some kind of home. It is basic and natural to us.
Going ‘to church’ (rather than being the church) requires us leaving everyday
life and entering a somewhat contrived environment with sacred buildings,

sacred leaders, and sacred rituals – whether ‘contemporary’ or not. House
churches, on the other hand, are more natural to daily life, and more fluid in
mission responsiveness. (Large portions of offerings don’t need to go towards
building campaigns, and staff and program costs, and can more quickly be
offered for community needs and outreach.)

‘Why’ is more important than ‘where’ …
Though there are some contexts better than others for gathering and for
offering the restoring ministry of Jesus, any location can become fertile ground
for Kingdom activity. That Kingdom energy is none other than “Christ in you,
the hope of glory.” The Kingdom of God isn’t an abstraction. As Dallas
Willard points out, it quite literally saturates our world and the air around us is
thick with its reality. ( I do not take a panentheistic view of creation suggesting
that God lives in trees and is one substance with them. Rather, I want to
provide a corrective to a worldview that has long separated the presence of God
and his Kingdom from the realities of our world, somehow locating God “up
there,” away from earthly activity.)
As friends of Jesus, we help remove the veil for others so that they can see the
true Kingdom. In the truest sense of the word, the “local church” is any
gathering of Christ followers who live from the resurrection energy of Jesus on
a daily basis – regardless of where they gather. As Jesus indicated to the
Samaritan woman, where you worship isn’t as critical as worshipping in ‘spirit
and truth;’ and that can be done anywhere.
The local church, as a ministry context, simply hasn’t produced the
transformation it hoped to. It’s not because of bad hearts or poor intentions.
Method and structure are the culprits here. Many churched Christians don’t

even have a biblical framework. We’re simply ‘doing church’ without producing
any significant fruit in people’s lives. (Again, there certainly are exceptions.)
By ‘fruit,’ I don’t simply mean good behavior. I mean a vibrancy only the
Gospel can bring. Jesus comes to offer “alive-ness.” Everything else, including
good character, is a byproduct of being truly alive. The Gospel is about the life
lived from a new heart (Ezek. 36:25-27) – not a manual on correct behavior or
principles for more faithful living – as important as those are. What we’re
finding, however, is that the small, revolutionary, organic fellowships God is
raising up are doing a better job of transforming lives than their ‘local church’

Maintaining the institution
A friend of ours told us today about a rather funny, yet telling series of events at
their local church. The church had an older interim pastor who fell ill and
needed surgery – essentially taken out of commission. Our friend’s husband,
the youth pastor there, had to fill in for preaching duties (while also trying to
complete his doctoral thesis.)
The church was able to find another interim to replace the former interim.
However, the interim-interim started having chest pains just 20 minutes prior to
last Sunday’s worship services. Once, again, our friend the youth pastor’s cell
phone rang, asking him to substitute preach that weekend. (He’s preached half
as much in the last two months as he has over his entire ministry.)
What a ridiculous state of affairs. No one ever asked the question, “Do we
need a sermon this Sunday?” No one ever imagined that they could have done
things differently; or even that you didn’t need a professional clergy person to
lead the congregation; or that there were other ways of being the Body of Christ

together. It’s clear that a lot of sacred cows would have needed to be
slaughtered in order to entertain those possibilities.
The danger in this kind of ministry context is that it becomes all about keeping
the institution running. And, the institution is kept running by assumptions.
Organized religion has a lot of preconceived notions about “church” and what
it ought to look like: Our highly scripted, clergy-led, evangelical-subculture
worship is something we made up. As part of a speech that led to his death,
Stephen declared, “However, the Most High does not live in houses made my
men. As the prophet says: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my
footstool.” (Acts 7:48-49) Today’s “local church” model sadly reflects a
rehashing of the Old Covenant Temple and synagogue model, not a living
organism called the Body of Christ. I can’t count the number of times I’ve
heard church leaders say, “Isn’t it great to be in God’s House today?”
As Barna points out in his book , Revolution, the commands to worship, to
gather together, receive the Body and Blood, and to receive Jesus’ and the
Apostles’ teaching are all clear in scripture. The forms or methods by which we
carry out the commands are not as clear. Perhaps the loss of definitive
methodological descriptions in Scripture are an indication … or better an
invitation … to live from the Holy Spirit and follow his creative lead.

Church - as outposts of incarnation:
Rather than centralized places where the faithful go to ‘do Church,’ Stanley
Hauerwas and William H. Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens, describe the
Church as “a colony … a beachhead, an outpost, an island of one culture in the
middle of another…”


“Part of our problem …” says Tom sine, in his book, Mustard Seed v.s. Mcworld,
“is that we tend to see it [church] more as a place to which we go than as an
alien community of which we are a part.” The Church Community of the
Book of Acts was much “much more a living, breathing community that was
‘breaking bread from house to house,’ sharing life, sharing resources, all
centered in the worship of the living God,” says Sine.
Community outposts are not about hunker-and-bunker cocooning, a retreating
from reality; but rather a “doing church where life happens,” as Neil Cole says.
Sine goes on to point out that the Church is not primarily about evangelism or
social action, as important as those are; but primarily about incarnation –
community “fleshed out.” This gives the Church its legitimacy before a
watching world. Our problem today is that we have the Word without Flesh –
a disembodied Word. For those in organic neighborhood faith-outposts, doing
church and doing life is the same thing – because they occur in the same
context. There is no dichotomy of place or practice.



Chapter 5

Collision point: when “Storm
One” meets “Storm Two”
The Church is about to face its worst weather in a very long time. Like Mount
Washington, the Church sits at the confluence of hazardous storm tracks,
making conditions extremely dangerous. Not only does the local church face
obscurity in the face of Storm One (a post-institutional/ post-local church
world) the Church is about to be hammered by another powerful storm system:
An out-of-gas Church in an out-of-gas World
The results? Rather than a 1 + 1= 2 additive effect of “Storm One” plus
“Storm Two,” it may be more of a geometric progression, yielding a 1+1 = 4
effect. Because we have not yet lived through this coming confluence of
powerful storms, we can’t be sure exactly the toll they will take. Preparation will
be critical.
The organic kingdom outposts we’ve been speaking of are the way through the
storms. I am very hopeful that because of these outposts, the Church not only
will survive the storms, it will advance the Kingdom perhaps more powerfully
because of them!
Let’s take a look at the unnerving threat an out-of-gas world (and therefore a
Church out-of-gas) presents.


Chapter 6

Storm Two: The out-of-gas
church in an out-of-gas world
“The skylines lit up at dead of night, the air-conditioning systems cooling empty
hotels in the desert, and artificial light in the middle of the day all have
something both demented and admirable about them: the mindless luxury of a
rich civilization, and yet of a civilization perhaps as scared to see the lights go
out as was the hunter in his primitive night.”
(Jean Baudrillard)

“There is no substitute for energy. The whole edifice of modern society is built
upon it … It is not ‘just another commodity’ but the precondition of all
commodities …”
(E.F. Schumacher)

“Sooner or later, we sit down to a banquet of consequences.”
(Robert Louis Stevenson)


Why you may not be driving to church…
or driving much at all
The world is about to run out of gas, literally. We have used up one-half the
world’s oil reserves. World oil production has peaked, and the remaining fossil
fuel reserves are going to be much more difficult to extract: It will take more
effort and cost to extract the remaining oil than the energy obtained from that
oil. It’s the law of diminishing returns and there isn’t an energy company on the
planet that can make a profit based upon that scenario. Though there may still
be oil left in the ground, extracting it will be physically impossible or financially
prohibitive. After peak (the high-point of production), oil production drops
and costs go up. Oil and gas are non-renewables: you simply can’t get anymore
out of the ground after a certain point.
The cheap oil glut over the last century, and the lifestyle it built for us, was a
one-time ride; an unusually prosperous blip on the world history timeline. The
Church, as we will see, has enjoyed this ride just like everyone else.
The ride is over.
This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse Bible
prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific
conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists,
and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional,
conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon
known as global “Peak Oil.”
–from website: Life After the Oil Crash, www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net.



Because of population explosions (more and more people using oil), increasing
dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, and the increasing difficulty of
extracting remaining oil reserves, we are about to face a frightening new world.
World-wide demand for oil will soon outstrip world-wide production of oil
(natural gas is following a similar decline), causing prices to go through the roof
and oil-dependent societies to come to a screeching halt.
It only takes slight disruptions in supply to trigger economic avalanches. Matt
Savinar (Life After the Oil Crash.net) says it’s similar to dehydration of the
human body:
The human body is 70 percent water. The body of a 200 pound man
thus holds 140 pounds of water. Because water is so crucial to
everything the human body does, the man doesn’t need to lose all 140
pounds of water weight before collapsing from dehydration. A loss of
as little as 10-15 pounds of water may be enough to kill him.


A conservative estimate puts yearly oil production decline at 3%. Estimates of
8% to 10%-13% have been predicted. You’ll recall the 1970’s oil crisis? Oil
prices nearly quadrupled from a mere 5% decline in production. Andrew
Gould, CEO of the mammoth oil services firm Schlumberger, says that a yearly
production drop of 8% is not unreasonable. If a 5% decline caused a tripling of
prices during 1970’s crisis, what will an 8%, or 10% drop do to prices –
especially since world population and oil consumption has increased
significantly since the 1970’s. How we will be able to fill our car’s fuel tanks will
be only one of an entire package of concerns we will soon be facing.

What cheap oil has made possible:

Sprawling suburban communities dependent upon automobile
commuting: driving to work, driving to school, driving to big-box
supermarkets, driving to church.

Air travel.

A generally stable economy. Energy and financial markets are
directly linked.

Transportation and trucking industries that bring produce to
supermarket shelves.

Online purchases brought to your doorstep. Amazon and FedEx
owe their existence to cheap and plentiful oil.


Multiple daily car trips across town to shuttle kids and run errands.

Energy (electricity) to heat and cool homes and businesseselectricity production is generated through oil and natural gas –
both declining.

Brutal realities about world oil supply:
(The following statistics are adapted from The Long Emergency, by James Howard

We’ve already consumed one-half of the world’s liquid oil supply.
The other half is the hardest to extract and of lower quality. We
are at world “peak oil production” – the top of the bell curve –
and it’s all downhill from here. We are at the tipping point.

We are at, or very near, peak oil capacity – right now. “The best
information we have is that we will have passed the point of world
peak oil production sometime between the years 2000 and 2008.”

It is very unlikely that the full remaining half of oil reserves can be

The remaining oil supplies may be so hard to recover that the cost
of extracting them will be more than they can be sold for – making
recovery efforts financially untenable.

More than 60% of the world’s remaining oil is in the Middle East.
Can you see the problem there? As nations struggle to obtain oil
for their citizens, oil wars may likely ignite an already volatile
situation. If you think world peace is fragile now, just wait. I don’t


believe these dire changes signify the end of the world; however,
our world is about to change for the worse … dramatically so.

After peak, oil supplies won’t meet demand. We’re simply used to
guzzling oil as if there was an endless supply.

Can’t we just speed up exploration
and look for other oil reserves?
That, too, is problematic. As Princeton professor and consultant for the
petroleum industry Kenneth Deffeyes indicates, “It takes a minimum of 10
years to go from a cold start on a new province to delivery of the first oil…
Nothing we initiate now will produce significant oil before the 2004-2008
shortage begins.” (Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage) Deffeyes, a
former oil-man himself, believes that world oil production will have peaked
before 2004.

The shrinking of everything we know…
and the end of suburbia
Suburbia doesn’t work without cheap oil. How will you operate your car
without cheap gas, or no gas, at some point? (We’ll talk about fuel alternatives
and their inadequacies later.) How will you get to work? You’ll have to live
much closer to your children’s schools – that is, if schools can afford to heat
and cool their cavern-ness buildings. If you’re used to driving to church, how
will that change? Remember the oil crises of the 1970’s? In our present-future,
the crisis won’t end; and in fact, will unravel our consumptive way of life as we
know it.

We are about to enter a post-industrial age. As Richard Heinberg tells us in his
book, The Party’s Over, “Industrial civilization is based on the consumption of
energy resources that are inherently limited in quantity, and that are about to
become scarce. When they do, competition for what remains will trigger
dramatic economic and geopolitical events; in the end, it may be impossible for
even a single nation to sustain industrialism as we have known it during the
twentieth century.”
Jim Kunstler (The Long Emergency) reveals a soon-coming reality: “This [carcrazed culture] will change radically. There will be far less motoring. The
future will be more about staying where you are than traveling incessantly from
place to place, as we do now.” Life will become increasingly hyper-local – lived
right where you are.
Much of suburbia won’t be live-able in the post-oil reality. Kunstler envisions a
bleak future for our sprawling suburban landscapes: “Instead, this suburban
real estate, including the chipboard vinyl McHouses, the strip malls, the office
parks, and all the other components, will enter a phase of rapid and cruel
devaluation. Many of the suburban subdivisions will become the slums of the
Oil allowed us to live in a dangerously short-lived fantasy: auto and plane
travel, heating oil, plastics, pharmaceuticals. “Our investment in an oil- addicted
way of life – specifically the American Dream of suburbia and all its trappings –
is now so inordinately large that it is too late to salvage all the national wealth
wasted on building it, or to continue that way of life more than a decade or so
into the future.” (Kunstler, The Long Emergency)


Do you know how to farm?
Large supermarket chains, or any big box chains like Sam’s Club won’t survive.
They depend upon cheap oil to run their distribution fleets. And, we won’t be
able to get our coffee from Ethiopia any longer or bananas from across the
country: Who would be able to afford the prohibitive costs of transporting
them to us? As a result, most everything will have to be grown locally.
Prices for just about every consumer good will rise because companies will have
to charge higher prices to compensate for their rising fuel costs. It will send
tremors throughout the world: every country, every state, every city, every
company, every family. Do you really think the company you work for will be
able to give you adequate cost of living wage increases when their own backs are
up against the wall? Do you think they’ll even be able to keep you around at all?
(Self-employment will be an increasingly viable option in the future.)
Farming will be a critical ‘life-skill’ in the near future. Organic (without
pesticide, without growth hormones, and without antibiotic-laced cattle feed)
farming will be the best. It’s easier on an already decimated landscape, and far
healthier for consumption. We and our immediate neighbors will have to learn
to grow our own food. The Church will have to learn organic principles in
every sense. Rather than running from this new reality, small Christian outposts
and their networks could provide a valuable service to the community by being
prepared; by creating community farming co-ops in their neighborhood. Christfollowers will become the new “Green” Berets.


Why we will need our neighbors
In the decades to come, suburban housing will be the worst place to live, with
its requisite disconnectedness from local businesses, meaningful town centers,
and food sources. I actually recommend living in a walk-able town with a real
town center run by local businesses. (You’ll want to be able to walk everywhere
in the long energy emergency. See Appendix to learn more about walk-able
We will have to increasingly rely upon our neighbors and do life cooperatively.
Perhaps your neighbor will know more about local farming. Perhaps you will
have skills in home-schooling you can share with your neighbors and their
children. Neighbors will be valued increasingly for the skills, craftsmanship or
insight they can bring to the community. This might be the best thing for
Christianity yet. The increasing opportunity for meaningful connection with
neighbors – as a way of life – will bring fresh Kingdom possibilities.

The problem with alternative fuels
There are of course, energy alternatives to oil, gas, and coal – options like
nuclear power; and renewables such as solar, biomass (plant material, including
ethanol), geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind. However, there is no magic
bullet, no cure-all for our situation:
Based on everything we know right now, no combination of so-called
alternative fuels or energy procedures will allow us to maintain daily life
in the United States the way we have been accustomed to running it
under the regime of oil. No combination of alternative fuels will even
permit us to operate a substantial fraction of the systems we currently

run – in everything from food production and manufacturing to electric
power generation, to skyscraper cities, to the ordinary business of
running a household by making multiple car trips per day, to the
operation of giant centralized schools with their fleets of yellow buses.
We are in trouble. (Kunstler, The Long Emergency)
Our collective hubris as Americans deludes us into assuming we can easily
transition into whatever is next; that somehow we’ll find a way to make life as
we know it continue… and without much difficulty. Contrary to this fantasy,
the transition into whatever is next will be one of upheaval and strife. Our
indulgent way of life will not continue as we know it.
And, Richard Heinberg (The Party’s Over) reaffirms Kunstler’s concern with
alternative fuels: “… the inability of alternatives to fully substitute for the
concentrated, convenient energy source that fossil fuels [oil, natural gas, coal]
As Heinberg indicates, the best option is for the nations of the world to work
cooperatively and move quickly towards conservation and alternative renewable
energy sources. However, I’m not confident the nations of the world are
capable of working cooperatively, especially at the level required to pull this
transition off. Have they thus far? Have we seen global kindness and mutual
accountability? Not by a long shot. We might well see more territorialism and
increased hostilities over resources rather than cooperation.
Bottom line, the transition into whatever is next will be messy and chaotic.
“…We should not delude ourselves,” says Heinberg. “Any strategy of
transition will be costly – in terms of dollars, energy, and/or our standard of
living.” Heinberg sites Odum and Odum to confirm this reality: “… None [of
the solutions] in sight now have the quantity and quality to substitute for the

rich fossil fuels to support the high levels of structure and process of our
current civilization.”

What’s more, says Heinberg, decades will be required to

transition from fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) to renewables − and we don’t
have decades before we’re out of gas.
Some renewables are good for generating electricity, but not for transportation
or for growing food. And, switching to alternatives will require a complete
overhaul of modern society. “The result?” says Heinberg, − an energyconserving society that is less mobile, more localized, and more materially
modest.” This assumes we are successful at implementing those alternatives. A
more simple world would be a welcomed alternative to our fractured, hyperpaced consumer culture. However, the changes will be unwelcome for many;
and painful.

What about renewables like wind and solar?
As one example of alternative energy, let’s take solar and wind power: “There is
a set of erroneous popular notions to the effect that renewable energy systems
such as solar power, wind power, and the like are available as freestanding
replacements for our fossil-fuel-based system, that they are pollution-free and
problem-free – that renewables represent something akin to perpetual motion, a
gift from the sun.” (Kunstler, The Long Emergency). This naiveté will cost us.
Kunstler points out that even an alternative such as solar-electric systems
require fossil fuels for manufacturing the solar system’s component parts – even
though that kind of system doesn’t run on fossil fuels themselves: “The
batteries, the panels, the electronics, the wires, and the plastics all require mining
operations and factories using fossil fuels… This gets back to the question as to
whether these systems could exist without the platform of an oil or coal

economy to produce them.” (Kunstler, The Long Emergeny) The same thing
could be said of wind power. You need an adequate supply of oil to make the
wind turbines and run the factories to build them, and the trucks to transport
them. Do you see the degree to which our entire infrastructure for daily living
has been inextricably linked to petroleum supplies?
Another commonly-touted solution to the energy problem is ethanol, a fuelgrade alcohol produced typically by fermenting corn. However, according to
analyses conducted by Cornell University’s David Pimentel, “the fuel cost more
energy to produce than it eventually delivered to society.” (a 29% net loss of
Also problematic is the amount of farm land required to sustain our current
levels of transportation use. According to Heinburg, “500 million acres of
farmland would be needed to provide fuel for the American fleet – or 25
percent more farmland than currently exists” in the U.S. The U.S. is already a
net food importer. Can we afford to give up any more available farmland on
which to produce corn or other crops primarily for ethanol?
To convert to alternative energy structures would take time, and we don’t have
much time. (You’d essentially be overhauling the structural DNA of an entire
nation.) Could we possibly accomplish this Herculean task before the oil and
natural gas run out for good? *
Bottom line: we have to find a way of driving less and living more
simply– not simply re-fueling our auto-addicted lifestyles.


The hyper-local church
Local churches (with their buildings, staff, and program budgets), whether they
live by faith or not, will suffer like the rest of the world in a post-oil world.
What will happen when people will no longer drive to church – especially if they
don’t live within easy walking distance? Here are some very real possibilities:

Many people may choose not to ‘go to’ church (seeing “church” as
something you ‘go to’ is a problem in itself.)

Church budgets will be affected by lack of participation.

Staff will be cut.

Programs will be cut.

Church buildings will go into foreclosure because of grossly
inflated heating costs and dwindling budgets.

Church in this form, in this context, won’t be sustainable.

Church will have to become as hyper-local as everything else. In other words,
biblical community will have to be lived out right where people live; in their
homes, businesses, and gathering places. People will become much more
reluctant to “attend” a church they have to drive to when oil supplies become
scarce and prices skyrocket. They’ll have to stay put. This is why organic
church is the way into the future:
Organic church means you can still be the Church when you can no
longer drive to church.


The disruption of just about everything
Whatever you believe about the options for the future and possible alternatives
doesn’t alter the fact that these changes will take time, and will be highly
disruptive. The assumption that human ingenuity and technological innovation
will automatically and seamlessly take us into the next phase is hubris and
There will be no smooth transition into whatever is next.
* For in-depth discussions of the alternatives to fossil fuels, look at Richard Heinberg’s book,
The Party’s Over – Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies; or James Howard

The Long Emergency.

Websites on peak oil:

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/ (Excellent website that
answers common questions about the oil supply)

http://www.oilcrashmovie.com/ (A 90-minute movie)

/ (National Geographic article on Peak Oil)


Chapter 7

A better place to live
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
(Isaiah 61:4)

“While there are many ways to reduce oil consumption – from turning out
lights to installing solar panels on the roof – the best way to save oil is to use
less gasoline – which can be accomplished by driving smaller cars, switching to
hybrid cars, and moving to a walkable city and riding trains and bicycles. New
Urbanism, Transit Oriented Development, and rail transportation are all major
solutions to this crisis.”
(from the New Urbanism website, www.newurbanism.org. )

“The living arrangements Americans now think of as normal are bankrupting us
economically, socially, ecologically and spiritually.”
(James Howard Kunstler, author of Home From Nowhere)


Our suburban landscapes have been stripped of their beauty and livability.
Urban and suburban sprawl has blighted our living spaces. Strip malls, big box
megastores with their asphalt parking corrals, cloned and uninterested housing
tracts, and miles of car-choked highways have made our spaces anything but
livable. Yet, we tolerate them.

Elusive Community
Why is community, meaningful and consistent community, so elusive? Deep,
consistent community seems nearly impossible to create. What is working
against us? Do you have meaningful face-to-face contact with your friends as
often as you’d like? Do relationships seem secondary to your pace of life, even
if you want to make a change?
I am aware of a lingering hunger for more, and am consistently frustrated with
my current level of community. I have a small handful of friends locally, few
with whom I can go deep. Because we’re not neighbors, connecting in person
is complex. Schedules and distances present barriers that require great
intentionality to overcome. One of those great allies lives on the other side of
the country – a five hour plane trip away. We talk every week or so. It’s not
enough. How could it be? Our souls require more.

So what’s the problem?
If you only saw your spouse or children once or twice a week at best, would you
consider that healthy? Clearly not. That seems obvious. Yet, this is the norm
with many of our friendships, even our deepest friendships. (This lack of
frequency is also a shortcoming of most small group experiences.) Much of
what happens in the Kingdom happens “on the way,” in-between destinations,

as Randy Frazee suggests. Without neighborhood-based fellowships, there are
no such opportunities.
The underlying obstacle we face is proximity. We don’t live close enough to
each other to connect more frequently. Geography affects relationships. We
cannot offer each other the gift of our presence from a distance. Because I
can't walk to your house, we're forced to "set up a time to get together".
Schedules permitting.
This puts a cap on our relationship. Now, proximity is clearly not a guarantee
for deep connecting: the divorce rate is proof of that. Yet without proximity,
frequency of contact, especially spontaneous contact, gets much harder to pull
off. Do we really want all our relationships to be scheduled?

The culprit
Please know that this isn’t entirely our fault. There is a culprit working against
us, and its name is "sprawl." Our neighborhoods and cities are built in such a
way that we are forced to drive everywhere we need to go. We drive our cars
from strip mall to strip mall, fight congestion on bloated highway systems,
commute to church and commute to work. We are auto-dependent. Because
we drive rather than walk, we simply don’t bump into each other, allowing for
spontaneous conversation. We’re forced to schedule relationships! I can’t
imagine Jesus doing that, can you? Therefore, potentially divine moments
between friends are limited by our calendars.

Real places
Prior to WWII, most homes had front porches close to the sidewalk, allowing
for spontaneous conversation with neighbors walking by. We could walk to the

town square for work, shopping, or relaxation − allowing for more interaction
with our neighbors who were doing the same thing. The physical layout of
those communities fostered relationships. Today’s automobile-centric suburban
sprawl prevents frequent interaction with neighbors. You see them in the
morning when you’re leaving for work and when you pull back into your
driveway at the end of a hectic day… maybe.
Under the radar, however, God has been using town architects and new urban
planners to provide an answer to the post-oil, out-of-gas trauma that is soon
coming. Call them New Urban communities, ranging from urban infill projects
to TND’s (Traditional Neighborhood Developments) or walkable towns.
These developments provide a more sane and sustainable way of living: one
that puts people and relationships before cars and chaotic lifestyles. These
more livable places are giving shape to community – literally. (To view an
online slide show of livable communities, go to The Congress for New
Urbanism’s website: www.cnu.org. See the section, “About New Urbanism.”
You’ll see pictures of real towns that stand in stark contrast to typical suburban
When you can no longer afford to drive your gasoline-gorged SUV, you’ll want
to live in one of these pedestrian-focused communities. (Many of them have
been around since before WWII, and new towns are being built). Though many
of the newer towns are relatively more expensive than sprawl subdivisions
(because it costs more to change antiquated zoning codes), there are more and
more of these places being built all the time. On the other hand, remember
what percentage of your monthly budget currently gets spent on gasoline and
auto maintenance for multiple car trips a day – not to mention a healthier
lifestyle that would result from walking.


You won’t even need your car for most of your daily needs: you’ll be able to
walk to the store easily, walk your children to school (large gas- guzzling yellow
school bus fleets won’t likely survive the post-oil challenges), and walk to the
doctors or drycleaners. You can bump into with your neighbors who are
walking to the same places you are every day. Typical suburban subdivisions
place goods and services out of walking distance from homes, so that walking to
these services is neither a pleasure nor practical. These walkable, smarter
communities are designed to create community between neighbors. (It’s
difficult to build relationships with neighbors who are constantly cocooned in
their automobiles, running around like rats through a maze of asphalt and strip
malls.) But what qualifies a community as “walkable?”
The website, Walkable Communities, Inc. (www.walkable.org) provides the
following qualifications for a walkable community:
1. Intact town centers – a main street that includes a variety of stores
and amenities you would require on a daily or weekly basis  including
hardware store, druggist, clothing, grocery, library: all located within a
five-minute walk of the absolute center of town. There must be a
discernable town center, and a defined town edge. Typical
urban/suburban sprawl, of course, doesn’t provide either.
2. Residential densities, mixed income, mixed use – neighborhoods
where people have the option to walk rather than drive. Houses of
various incomes occupy the same neighborhoods and are integrated
with local retail, business, and public spaces. You can truly live, work,
and play in the same community. Most current zoning codes prohibit
mixed-use, separating retail and business areas from housing. This used
to be a good idea when you didn’t want a smog-bellowing factory built
outside your front door, but is prohibitive to creating communities

where residents can easily walk to non-polluting retail destinations. The
New Urbanism’s website (www.newurbanism.org) points out that many
smart towns are building garages behind homes, with rear-lane access,
putting the car back in it’s rightful place – rather than making the garage
the focal point of a home’s street-face.
3. Public space – parks, gathering spaces for play, conversation and
other functions; preferably within 1/8 miles of every home.
4. Universal design – the community becomes accessible to everyone,
regardless of ability or age; and includes appropriate ramps, sidewalks,
benches, shade and other amenities that are focused on people.
5. Key streets are speed controlled – streets are designed to slow
traffic down for the sake of pedestrians; are often tree-lined, creating an
attractive barrier between walkers and traffic; and may offer on-street
6. Streets, trails are well linked – streets are connected, often in a grid
pattern, allowing for multiple ways to get to a destination, thus more
evenly distributing traffic flow. Cul-de-sacs are no longer valid, or are
re-engineered to connect with other streets by paths.
7. Design is properly scaled – “Scaled to 1/8th, 1/4 and 1/2 mile
radius segments. From most homes it is possible to get to most services
in ¼ mile (actual walked distance). Neighborhood elementary schools
are within a ¼ mile walking radius of most homes, while high schools
are accessible to most children (1 mile radius). Most important features
(parks) are within 1/8th mile, and a good, well designed place to wait for
a high frequency (10-20 minutes) bus [or rail transit] is within ¼ to ½

mile.” Higher density makes this possible, placing houses closer
together (much of suburbia is wasted space), and placing retail and
services within easy walking distance. Land is used more wisely.
8. The town is designed for people – People are more important than
cars. Street corners are designed with a slow-turning radius. On-street
parking is available rather than having to park one’s car in a huge
parking lot and walking to retail or other destinations. Readily accessible
parks and walkways indicate the primacy of pedestrians over autos.
Many meaningless, soul-less strip malls and shopping places are now
being torn down in order to create more dense, mixed-use, mixedincome communities for residents.
9. The town is thinking small – Big-box retails are discouraged; and in
their place are smaller, more neighborhood friendly groceries and
pharmacies that blend with the architecture around them. Caps are
placed on square footage to insure that the scale is appropriate to the
10. Many people are walking – Beautiful landscaping doesn’t
guarantee that people will walk. Residents need meaningful
destinations to walk to. They also require a sense of safety as
they’re walking. In truly walkable communities, you will see many
different people walking, with drivers exercising courtesy and
caution with pedestrians or bicyclists.
11. The town and neighborhoods have a vision – well-designed
master plans are in place that encourage community input
(ownership) and set aside funds for neighborhoods, trails,
sidewalks, and parks. (The website for New Urbanism,

www.newurbanism.org, points out that the best of these places
create a minimal impact on the landscape and ecosystems; and
value energy efficiency.)
12. Decision makers are visionary, communicative, and
forward thinking – In these places, there is a large core of
community leaders who understand how to create a sustainable,
enjoyable community. Community participation is encouraged.
Building practices and codes are reworked to support a vital town
center and to disinvest in suburban sprawl.

Walk, don’t run…
Eric Jacobsen, in his book, Sidewalks in the Kingdom, reminds us of the difference
between communities based upon walking and those catering to the automobile:
The result of the auto-oriented culture we have built for ourselves is that
our days feel fragmented into disjointed elements, and we are forced
into the role of harried tour directors who must create complicated
itineraries for ourselves and our families … When every element of our
being human and functioning in a human environment requires a
separate trip in the car, it is no wonder that even the most laid-back
personalities complain of life’s frantic pace.
On the other hand, in the mixed-use neighborhood [where housing
space is integrated with businesses and public greens, affording the
opportunity to walk rather than drive] a simple trip walking to the store
can meet multiple goals. It is primarily an errand to purchase food for
the family. But it is also exercise and an opportunity to get some fresh

air … It can be a social occasion if you happen to meet a neighbor on
your way to the store.
Jacobsen points out that walking is a biblical activity:

Walking builds relationships because the opportunity to bump into
a neighbor and start a conversion is greater than if the two of you
are driving past one another in your gas-eating metal cocoons.

Much of Jesus ministry happened as he was walking on the road:
“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers…”

We use terms like, “walking with God” or “walking in the light” as
a way of describing discipleship; and “he who walks with the wise
grows wise.”

Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus, turning that
mystical encounter into an awakening.

We’ve forgotten that there is a physicality to our spirituality. The act of walking
can be a portal to spiritual activity.

Billy Crockett, a guitarist and songwriter who has refused to succumb to the
Christian music industry machine, penned these lyrics about the myth of
suburban “community:”


41 Lawnmowers
Find a good ol’ neighborhood – a square block of the U.S.A.
Stake your claim, claim your space; sink your roots and live your days
Build a fence, close it in. Raise a lawn and grow some kids.
Make a name, name your friends; that’s the American way to live.
In forty-one houses, only one street
Forty-one yards, eighty-two trees.
Forty-one mowers all sittin’ in sheds,
Forty-one families in over their heads …
And everybody’s got their own everything.
From the Bronx to Hollywood, Montreal to Mexico
The fever grows to go for gold
Gain the world, and lose your soul …
Push and shove; don’t look back
Absolute success attack
Insulate … cul-de sac
Proves that universal fact that:
In forty-one houses, only one street
Forty-one yards, eighty-two trees.
Forty-one mowers all sittin’ in sheds,
Forty-one families in over their heads …
Forty-one neighbors with nothing to say
Building their lives the American way ….
And everybody’s got their own everything.
(Lyrics from: “41 Lawn Mowers,” Billy Crockett, In These Days – Live)


Suburbia is not good for your health
From USA Today we read, “People living in sprawling American neighborhoods
walk less, weigh more and are more likely to be hit by a car if they do venture
out on foot or bicycle,” according to studies. “The studies are among the first
reports to link shopping centers, a lack of sidewalks and bike trails and other
features of suburban sprawl to deadly health problems … One report also
shows that people living in sprawling suburban areas were more likely to suffer
from obesity, which can put people at higher risk of cancer, diabetes and a host
of other diseases.”
Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, suggests that for every ten minutes we
spend commuting, we suffer a ten percent loss in “social capital.” I recently
tallied the hours I spend in the car weekly, and by conservative estimates, I am
cloistered in my automobile for 12 1/2 hours a week (I’m sure other commuters
top this easily.) Therefore, according to Putnam’s formula, I’m suffering a
750% loss in social capital each week!

Television and suburban kids
In their book, Suburban Nation, respected new-urbanist community designers
Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck (of DPZ & Co.), pose a question to parents
who think life in the suburbs is best for their families:
In considering a move to suburbia, parents must ask themselves such
fundamental questions as how much television they want their children
to watch. A study comparing ten-year-olds in suburban California and
small-town Vermont found that the Vermont children had three times

the mobility – independent access to desired destinations – while the
Orange County children watched four times as much television.
(from Peter Calthorpe, The Next American Metropolis, 9)

Benefits to residents of new urban communities:
(from www.newurbanism.org)

Less traffic congestion, less need to drive

Closer proximity to shopping and services

Closer proximity to parks and trails

More pedestrian-friendly

More opportunities to get to know others in the neighborhood and

Friendlier town

Local business owners are involved in the community

More unique and varied small businesses and shops from which to


Saving money by driving less

More unique, local architecture rather than franchised sameness

Better sense of place and community identity

So, what can we do about it?
Be prepared - the solutions are radical for suburbanites and require significant
choices, ones my family and I are seriously considering. Here are some options:
Become neighbors - literally. Move closer to your friends, within easy walking
distance. Or move to a true town – the kind your grandparents grew up in, with
front porches close to the sidewalks, allowing for conversation with neighbors
walking by; and real town squares where residents mingle and enjoy a
meaningful sense of place.
You’ll enjoy more frequent contact, spontaneous conversation, and the option
to share lawn equipment and child care duties. In this close-proximity context,
we can offer each other our presence more often.
There are two viable options in addition to moving into the same
neighborhood: They are co-housing clusters (does not mean you live in the
same house with other families), and TNDs (Traditional Neighborhood
Co-housing is when like-minded families might build their homes around a
central courtyard or other cluster configuration (or adjacent to one another
along a street), allowing families to share a common courtyard area and perhaps
a common eating facility. The families work with the architect to design this
housing cluster and its facilities to suit their needs. Families, each with their
own residence, can share meals together in a common dining or recreation
facility several times a week, and share lawn equipment and other tools. They
can share babysitting more easily, allowing weary moms and dads a break from
the routine.


TNDs (Traditional Neighborhood Developments/walkable towns), as
indicated above are well-designed, walkable towns that allow for pedestrianscale community: short walking distances between homes, local businesses,
schools, and recreation areas. It’s the opposite of suburban sprawl, which
forces people to live auto-addicted, socially fragmented lives. The best of these
communities build houses with front porches closer to the sidewalk, so that
residents can casually interact with passers-by. The porch becomes a first-step
gathering place for neighbors (an outdoor living room of sorts); rather than the
deck on the back of the house that keeps neighbors isolated.
These options create proximity and frequency − two elements strong
relationships require. The following links explain these community types:

Explore further:

Explore a new model for suburbia. National Geographic put this
fun, interactive site together:

Learn more about Traditional Neighborhood Design - (including
photos) http://www.tndtownpaper.com/neighborhoods.htm

Visit an excellent co-housing website: www.cohousing.org

Learn more about walkable towns and see a list of walkable towns
by state: www.walkable.org


Learn more about creating more sane places to live:

Randy Frazee's book, The Connecting Church, was helpful here for
understanding neighborhood-based church structures for semiconventional churches.

For a more in-depth study of sprawl vs. sustainable living places,
Duany/Plater-Zyberk, and Speck have written a great book with
many illustrations called, Suburban Nation – The Rise of Sprawl and the
Decline of the American Dream.

What if you don’t want to relocate?
How can you help change your town or city to make it more livable? There are
resources for those who want to make a difference:

Smart Growth America has published a guidebook for citizens
called, Choosing Our Community’s Future – A Citizen’s Guide to Getting
the Most Out of New Development. This guidebook includes a state-bystate listing of smart growth contacts, as well as internet resources.
Go to www.smartgrowthamerica.org for resources.

Smart Growth America also provides a free multimedia CD-rom
called, Smart Growth Shareware – A Library of Smart Growth Resources
for Everyone Interested in Creating Livable, Well-Planned Communities.


Some agencies, such as www.walkable.org provide walking tours
that help communities evaluate and improve communities, making
them more livable and walkable. It also lists walkable towns by


Chapter 8

Simple church in simple places
"If you, like most people I know, are worn out from a lifestyle of accumulation,
then an invitation to a lifestyle of conversation and community is welcome."
(Randy Frazee)

“…the environment of the suburbs weathers one’s soul peculiarly. That is,
there are environmental variables, mostly invisible, that oxidize the human
spirit, like what happens to the metal of an ungaraged car. I think my suburb, as
safe and religiously coated as it is, keeps me from Jesus. Or at least, my suburb
(and the religion of the suburbs) obscures the real Jesus. The living patterns of
the good life affect me more than I know.”
(Dave Goetz, Death by Suburb; www.deathbysuburb.net.)

"The spiritual life cannot be made suburban. It is always frontier; and we who
live in it must accept and even rejoice that it remains untamed."
(Howard Macey)


For some time now, I’ve wondered what would happen if you combine simple,
organic fellowships with simple and walkable (rather than sprawling), towns and

Fusing simple church with simple places would bring together

the spiritual and physical/spatial aspects of community; both being essential for
regular, meaningful and sustainable relationship. It’s the fusing of the
supernatural with the natural – a far more accurate version of the Kingdom
than the disembodied spirituality we’ve become accustomed to.
The Church is likely to give thought only to the ‘spiritual’ aspects of
community. We’ve always done this – elevating the spiritual and largely
ignoring the physical. (Remember the ancient Docetic heresies the early Church
faced that assumed the material world was evil?) We forget that we live an
embodied faith, an incarnational spirituality. We give little thought to how our
physical environments (our buildings, our streetscapes, and landscapes) shape
us. As Kenneth Jackson writes in Crabgrass Frontier, “The space around us – the
physical organization of neighborhoods, roads, yards, houses, and apartments –
sets up living patterns that condition our behavior.”
Remember, God is interested in restoring the physical world (all creation groans
until the redemption …) as well as spiritual realities. Don’t we believe that
Jesus’ resurrection, and therefore ours, was a physical restoration of his body as
well as a conquering of sin, the devil, and death? Ours is a physical spirituality.
Though complete restoration of the landscape and its natural resources is not
possible in this life, substantial and meaningful restoration is possible; especially
where the built-environment (buildings and structures humans create) has
stripped the surrounding landscape of livability and beauty. Christ-followers
are called into stewardship of all things; because once you become a Christian,
all of life is a spiritual issue. Because of Adam’s and Eve’s tragic choice, a long
and enduring “disharmony with creation itself” began, as Brian McLaren points

out. This destructive relationship with the created order has continued to the

The melting planet
In an April 3, 2006 Special Report, Time magazine told us that the Earth has
passed its tipping point. Our planet home is “fighting a fever” and global
warming is no longer a theory of the eco-obsessed: “The debate over whether
Earth is warming up is over. Now we’re learning that climate disruptions feed
off one another in accelerating spirals of destruction… Never mind what you’ve
heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take
decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.”


bears are drowning in the Arctic because warmer waters are melting the ice
flows they live and hunt on, causing the bears to drown as they try to cross an
ever-widening gap between ice flows.
Drought-seared lands have more than doubled since the 1970’s. Time sites a
study by Science magazine suggesting that “by the end of the century, the world
could be locked in to an eventual rise in sea levels of as much as 20 ft.” What
will this rise in sea level mean for coastal communities, especially as hurricanes
and tsunamis continue to batter these beach fronts? Again, I ask, what sort of
world will our children and grandchildren inhabit?

The evangelical community, not known for being eco-friendly, is coming
forward and demanding action. Several well known evangelical leaders
(including Rick Warren) are taking note and demanding action. As Time
indicates (Christianity Today magazine also did a story on this) “in February

[2006] … 86 Christian leaders formed the Evangelical Climate Initiative,
demanding that Congress regulate greenhouse gases.”
God brings beauty from ashes: As residents of his Earth, humans often operate
the other way around. What kind of world are we leaving our children and
The problem is, even if most Christians agree with the idea of creation
stewardship, they believe the physical restoration of the world occurs only at the
return of Christ, that the earth will be destroyed upon his return; and therefore,
how we live on this planet really doesn’t matter. But should we go on sinning
because grace abounds? We are gouging God’s handiwork. We need to
remember that “rule and subdue” does not mean ruin and deplete.
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live
in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the
waters.” (Psalm 24: 1-2)
God fashioned this planet and its provisions to be uniquely suited for us. There
is no other. Even at the end of the age, earth will still be our home. It will
undergo thorough reconstruction but will still remain our home … forever.
(Revelation 21:1-2). A restored earth is also where God himself will make his
home … forever: “Now the dwelling place of God is with people, and he will
live with them.” Through the surprising creativity of God, the former earth
(that is the shadowlands) will disappear and the true earth will be unveiled: a
world where you can run and run and not be out of breath, where “every rock
and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more,” describes C.S. Lewis.
Here is a most brilliant portrait of the New Heaven and New Earth:


It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land [the new world] was different
from the Old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that
country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.
You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked
out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among
mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there
may have been a looking glass. And as you turned away from the
window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over
again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the
mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same
time they [the real ones]were somehow different – deeper, more
wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard
but very much want to know. .. the new one was a deeper country:
every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.
(C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle)
In the meantime, we live as if that’s true; allowing the future to break into the
present. Why? Because the Kingdom is at hand. Even now. The Kingdom
of God is near you…the Kingdom of God is within and among you. (Luke
10:9; 17:21).
Though not everyone has yet found their lives within the reign of our Father,
his Kingdom is substantially present now. Therefore, we live in partnership
with the rest of his Creation – royal stewards over an earthly kingdom.


A hunger for beauty
The “Body of Christ” is not a metaphor. We are a physically-embodied spiritual
organism, and our physical habitat shapes our spiritual habits. This is why we
have such a hunger for beauty in all its varieties. Intuitively, we know that
beauty and design affects our souls. The cold concrete structures of big-box
churches and their asphalt parking corrals betray the God of autumn maples
and alpine meadows.
In the past few decades, local churches have increasingly looked like Walmart
and Costco. Big box sanctuaries, surrounded by seas of glistening asphalt car
corrals (we call them parking lots), offer multiple “shopping” options (we call
them “programs”) for the spiritual seeker. We offer a variety of programs
rather than apprenticeship. (‘disciple’ means ‘apprentice,’ as Dallas Willard
points out.)
The churches, meanwhile, sought to benefit from the same economies
of scale as those enjoyed by the giant retail chains. Increasingly, the
churches were organized on a mass basis and housed in buildings that
looked like Walmart with gigantic parking facilities. In fact, evangelical
churches were renowned for taking over the leases of dead chain stores
in dying malls because the rents were so cheap. (The Long Emergency,
James Howard Kunstler)
While constructing buildings for maximum space and flexibility, we’ve forgotten
that building aesthetics also affect our spirituality. We’ve built some impressive,
but ugly structures in which to warehouse believers. I am increasingly aware of
my own desperate need for beauty in multiple forms. Beauty is food for the
heart, and draws us to God as the artist’s work draws one into the heart of the
Artist himself.

Natural, organic, surroundings have always inspired people. It doesn’t take
much to enter into grateful worship while standing in a grove of old pines as
shafts of early morning sunlight penetrate the canopy roof, turning the pine
needles under your feet a honey amber.
There’s a little spot in Acadia National Park, on the coastline of Maine called
Ship Harbor. Birches, spruce, and fir trees stand where no chainsaws are
allowed. There’s a footpath that runs along the edge of a quite cove where you
can smell the seaweed at low tide and the salt air in your nostrils, and feel the
stillness. A canopy of quiet evergreens shelters your steps, allowing shafts of
feathered light to pass through its old-growth limbs. It all provides a prelude to
worship. The following song lyrics reveal the natural splendor of God’s
organic sanctuary. Try reading the following out-loud and see what it releases in
Church in the Field
The sky was one vast ceiling
That vaulted out and on
Down to starry stain-glass windows
Of sunsets and of dawns
An out-of-doors cathedral
Day by day revealed
I remember church in the field
I remember church in the field


The rain fell like a sacrament
On the alter of the soil
And mixed with sweat that fell from hands
Content with honest toil
The faith of spring saw harvest
That seeds and earth would yield
I remember church in the field
I remember church in the field

There were blazing colors
There were lovely smells
I encountered passions my poetry can’t tell
Mere religion hadn’t tamed me yet –
My reverence was all real
I remember church in the field

I prayed there without thinking
I worshipped from no cue
At flashing summer thunderstorms
And wild roses fresh with dew
And to mysteries and music
Always just concealed
I remember church in the field
I remember church in the field
(written by Phil McHugh, sung by Bruce Carroll.
1989 River Oaks Music Co. BMI)


Why has contemporary Christianity settled for industrialized, soul-less spaces?
We even call them church “campuses,” suggesting an institutionalized
educational model for discipleship.

Franchised Christianity
What we tend to offer in many big box churches is a franchised faith, a widely
distributed sameness. We proliferate franchised models of ministry without
thinking twice about our specific local context; never asking the question: “Is
this right for our ministry context?” It’s easier to mimic than it is to be
incarnational and original. Once again, we mistakenly walk with assumptions,
models, and formulas, rather than with God himself. The early Celtic Christians
called God the “Wild Goose,” inferring his inability to be tamed or reduced to
formula. Yet He can be followed.
The Church has become a cesspool of consumerism. A.J. Keisling, author of
Jaded-Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church but not on God, points us to a
remark made by United Methodist pastor Benjamin S. Sharpe who writes:
“In western culture, the Church is becoming ‘McDonaldized’ in order to
retain parishioners who are enslaved to consumerism. We try to offer
what McDonald’s does: We provide lots of menu choices designed to
please the appetites and personal tastes of many individuals…
[As Christian Consumers we:]
Want lots of choices from a menu of programs that appeal to our
personal tastes and preference.

Believe the reason for the church’s existence is to meet our felt needs,
providing a product or service.
Base our loyalty on whether our felt needs are met.”
Standing in the gaps that local churches create, there are Christian
revolutionaries who think beyond the formulas and clichéd offerings of church
culture today. They are meeting in coffeehouses, homes, parks, office buildings,
and other organic surroundings – being the Church rather than doing Church.
They are not bound by formula or tired programs. These pioneers are rejecting
the bloated churches, budgets, staff, and programs of consumer Christianity.
Their desire is to follow the Wild Goose rather than mimic franchised McFaith.
These revolutionaries are wholly committed to Christ and his mission, and are
advancing the Kingdom outside the confines of the established local church.
How can we pursue a more organic faith and better places in which to live? In
other words, creating organic spiritual community, as well as more livable
physical communities?

How a real town can become fertile soil for the Kingdom
In contrast to the ugly degradation sprawl creates, how would living in a
walk-able, well-planned town or city affect you spiritually? What if you
could walk to the church that meets at your neighbor’s house? Or, start one
in your own home, or at the local park? What if you bumped into a
neighbor on your walk the local grocer, and your neighbor needed prayer
that moment? You could walk over to a park bench and listen or pray
together. You couldn’t do that while stopped in your car at a congested
intersection. (In that frenzied context, you probably wouldn’t even know
much about the interior world of your neighbor.)

Relational depth requires frequency, and proximity provides frequent
opportunities to connect. If you have to drive to your friend’s, then you’ll
probably have to schedule the visit. On the other hand, if you could have
multiple daily encounters with your neighbors in town, or at the park or the
local coffee shop, you can build meaningful relationships more quickly.
Frequent encounters can build trust. Walk-able communities make this
possible. These well-designed communities provide a town layout with homes,
businesses, green spaces and recreation built around a vital town center.
Everything is within walking distance from everything else, providing
opportunities for spontaneous encounters with neighbors. Thus, the physical
layout of the community gives opportunity for spiritual connections:
Christianity is fundamentally relational. “The gospel is all about the formation
of community,” Len Sweet reminds us. It’s not a benefits package for
members of the institution, he points out. The Gospel is bound to community;
because it is bound to the Trinity. “Let us…” is the starting place for all
Christian activity. Real towns and cities are relational networks for Kingdom
To visit a true small city’s website, see Keene, New Hampshire’s website:


The following are principles for building a better place to live. From The Smart
Growth Network’s document, “Getting to Smart Growth:”)
Smart growth principles:
1. Mix land uses
2. Take advantage of compact building design

3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
4. Create walkable neighborhoods
5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong
sense of place
6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical
environmental areas
7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing
8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
9. Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost
10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in
development decisions

What if your house church wanted to network with other house churches in
your community in order to sponsor a community wide service project?
Gaining credibility might be easier in the context of a true town or city because
you’ve been building relationships with its citizens all along. People know you.
They trust you.

Working in a real community
Consider what your work would look like in a real community. What if you
could walk to work at your business loft in the town square; then walk
downstairs to street level and enjoy lunch at the local café? Your wife and
children could easily join you for lunch in the square because it’s only a five104

minute or so walk to the town center from residential areas. The kids are on
summer vacation join your wife on the brief walk into town.
While enjoying lunch with your family, you run into your next door neighbor
who is shopping at the small health food market across the street. By her body
language, you sense something’s bothering her. She reveals to you that her
husband just lost his job. Because you’ve earned a level of trust with your
neighbor, you have the following options: Your wife can go with your friend to
the town park at the end of the square, where they can pray together; or you can
invite your neighbor to the small house-church gathering that meets in your
home tomorrow evening where neighbors connect, eat a meal, and pray.
While your wife is a short distance away at the park bringing Jesus to your
neighbor, you strike up a conversation with some other businessmen sitting at
the adjacent table and discover that one of them can help you develop a website
for your business.
Meanwhile, your two children have discovered that some of their school friends
are playing over at the park at the end of the square, and they ask you if they
can go join their friends. You say ‘yes’ because you feel comfortable allowing
them to go, because this community feels more friendly to children than the
suburban housing tract where you used to live. After all, in typical suburbia,
your children couldn’t easily walk to the tot lot in your former subdivision; so
you were reluctant to let the young ones go by themselves. In suburbia, the kids
couldn’t walk to the ice cream shop, or go bowling or take a trip to the hobby
store without asking you to drive them. It just wasn’t possible to walk to those
But now, while you’re enjoying lunch, your children can run off to the park,
allowing you a moment to soak in the sun and enjoy God’s friendship.

You notice the smell of fresh-baked sourdough coming from the bakery across
the square. You watch the relaxed conversations taking place at the outdoor
cafés lining the sidewalk. And God simply says to you, “I love your company.”
Such are the possibilities in a true, walkable community.

Discovering nature again
What if you wanted to take a short hike and detox, find some solititude? That’s
pretty tough in suburbia. You’d have to drive to get there. Yet, if you lived in
a true community, you could have easy access to park trails not far from the
center of town. Or, you would have the option to hold your fellowship
gathering outdoors, next to a stream or in an aspen grove. What if nature were
more accessible to you? In compact, walkable, ‘smart’ communities you could
do that. However, to do that in modern suburbia would be next to impossible.
Because of separate zoning requirements, suburban tract communities don’t
often have accessible park spaces or woodlands accessible to housing areas.
Suburban neighborhoods that do have parks often use those green spaces for
tot lots. (Great for children, but not for true solitude). Where do you go if you
want to get away from suburbia? You have to drive, sometimes great distances.
Notice again our dependency on cars.

Making spiritual community … physical
Smart growth communities (also known as new urban communities, traditional
neighborhoods, walkable places) are designed to build social capital. They give
residents a sense of place where relationships matter more than unbridled
sprawling development. People are looking for a meaningful sense of place
where varieties of relationships can be formed. Organic kingdom outposts such

as house churches, coffee houses, and marketplace ministries are a perfect fit
for walkable communities. Much of Jesus’ own ministry took place while
walking from here to there, from house to house, from field to town.
Kingdom activity often happens “on the way.” Rather than being cocooned in
our cars, stressed out in traffic, we can now spend more time simple living and
relating. Because of the rise of new urban/ walkable communities, this kind of
in-between connecting with others is possible for us as well.
And remember, after the oil becomes scarce we’ll have to walk or bicycle almost
everywhere. Organic outposts that meet in walkable towns and cities offer us a
great solution: Organic church means you can still be the Church when you can
no longer drive to church. You simply walk to the Body of Christ that gathers
at your neighbor’s house, or the local park, coffee shop, or local business.



Chapter 9

What are your options in an
out-of-gas world?
Preparing for the storm
Climbers on Mount Washington who aren’t thoroughly prepared for all possible
scenarios risk unnecessary death if a storm comes up. Smart climbers assess the
weather conditions and the terrain they’ll encounter. Nature is an unforgiving
teacher. You take the right gear and you plan well.
Here’s an assessment to help you live well (not simply survive) through the
coming storms.
Pre-storm assessment

Do you live in an area where you can easily walk to daily and
weekly needs: a community in which you don’t have to use your
car all the time? Or are you forced to drive to all your activities and
services? Is there public transit nearby?

Do you have a neighborhood fellowship you can comfortably walk
to? − The fellowship may meet in a home, coffee house, park, etc.
As we’ve seen, the ‘where’ is not as important as the ‘why.’

This fellowship would serve as more than a weekly small group
experience. Because of the close proximity, you would be able to share
life together: spontaneous conversation and prayer, meals, chores,
tools − much as the early Church did. You’ll need allies close-by when
the storms hit full force.
Pre-storm preparations

Move to a real city or town where you can walk to most everything.
Go to the website: www.walkable.org. They offer a list of true
towns and small cities by state, places they’ve personally visited and

Advocate change where you are if you don’t want to move.

Walk with God in this. Ask God, “How do you want my family,
my faith community to walk through these coming changes?”

Start conserving energy now. Get used to living on less. Find ways
to conserve energy around your home or business. Much of our
electricity is generated by coal and natural gas (both are nonrenewable fossil fuels like oil) – both of which are either
problematic or in diminishing supply. So don’t count on
uninterrupted electric services.

Start driving less, now. Doing this will help lessen the shock later
when you are no longer able to fill your tank, either because the
cost for fuel has gone through the ceiling, or later, when there
simply is no fuel available.)


Consolidate lawn equipment with neighbors, sharing lawn
equipment and tools so that every neighbor doesn’t have to own
and maintain one of everything. You might want to invest in some
hand tools and non-electric/non-gas lawn equipment. Remember,
we’ve gotten used to the luxuries cheap fuel has provided. It
wasn’t always this way. Somehow, people managed.

Start learning small-batch, organic farming. Remember, the large
chain supermarkets won’t survive in the post-oil economy. They
rely on large distribution networks and trucks to get the food to the
store: This requires large, endless quantities of cheap fuel. Chain
grocers also rely on huge industrial farming plants that will struggle
to survive: Their heavy-duty industrial equipment is run on
gasoline or diesel fuel.

I remember having a small garden in the backyard when I was a kid.
It’s rewarding to be able to grow your own food, and you won’t even
need to leave your backyard in order to get it! I know very little about
organic gardening, but I expect I’ll need to know in the near future.
There are resources on the internet as well as books on organic

Ask neighbors to join you in forming a community vegetable/fruit
garden. Share the labor and costs. The Kingdom of God is about

Become as healthy as you can. Remember, every business will be
affected by the oil shutdown, even the medical profession. Eating
organic foods, including meats, is healthier because they are not
processed with pesticides or growth hormones and antibiotics.

Get out of debt. The last thing you need is financial stress in a
time of disruptive change and stress.


Chapter 10

How do I find an organic
Kingdom outpost?
Though there are seasons in which we must walk alone with God, this is not
God’s preferred journey for us. He wants to bring us friends and allies. We’re
not meant to walk alone. How do you find others who share your desires for a
more organic approach to church?

A different kind of journey
First, it is critical to remember that the journey of a revolutionary looks
different than those who have chosen a more conventional path. In some ways,
it’s more difficult because there are no scripts, no formulas. Unlike church-aswe-know-it, it’s not always obvious where organic outposts gather. (They don’t
meet in churches.) But they’re out there.
However, the journey of a revolutionary or an exile is often more exciting
precisely because there are no scripts. You get to walk it out with God. You
get to be surprised by his intervention. So, how do you get started?
Pioneers have something better than formulas. We have God, who is a
seasoned guide for wilderness travel. Ask him, “Father, lead me into
relationships with others who want what I’m looking for.” If the answer
doesn’t come immediately (It often doesn’t), remember that faith is a journey,

not an event. God is fighting for you when you are least aware of it. He may
have to set some other things in place before giving you your answer.

Start where you are
Secondly, start where you are. Unlike “church,” the Kingdom isn’t something
you “go to.” It literally permeates the air around us. You have the special
calling to advance the Kingdom of God right where you live. Ask God, “Show
me how I can develop relationships right here, where I live and work. Do you
want me to start a house church among my neighbors?” (Remember: don’t
turn your house church into another institution. There is no set agenda or
script. Simply live life as a Jesus-apprentice. Ask him how to proceed.)
You might ask God, “Do you want me to start by inviting my neighbors over
for simple meals, or wine and cheese, or cigars?” For me, many a good
conversation has taken place over a favorite cigar. It’s about the community.
(No one likes to smoke alone, right?) Though I certainly enjoy a good smoke, it
also lets people know I’m not about being “religious.”

Getting Connected
Lastly, go to events where you’re likely to intersect with others who want what
you’re looking for. Here are some portals, possible entry points:

www.house2house.net: House to House − (house church
resources and gatherings). Offers an online magazine and a
directory of house churches.

www.hccentral.com/directory/: House Church Central (find
or list a house church in your area)


www.housechurch.org: House church topics and resources.
World-wide house-church directory (Can search by state and city).
Well-done website.


Church Multiplication Associates.

Organic church planting

www.ransomedheart.com: Ransomed Heart Ministries (“Wild
at Heart” events for men; “Captivating” events for women.
Ransomed Heart also provides online resources, books, audio.)
God has used this ministry in profound ways to bring healing and
restoration to thousands of men and women, including the author
if this book.



Chapter 11

Further up and
further into the Kingdom

“[Aslan] turned swiftly around, crouched lower,
lashed himself with his tail and shot away like a golden arrow.
‘Come further in! Come further up!’ he shouted over his shoulder.”

“And now, friends, in the name of Aslan let us go forward.”
(The Chronicles of Narnia - The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis)

Whenever visitors to Narnia heard the phrase “Further up and further in,” it
was an invitation to adventure. In the strange new world of Narnia, accepting
that invitation involved a good deal of risk … and trust. But the children had to
know that Aslan had not only gone ahead of them; he also planned to make
them his allies in that strange and wonderful world.


Narnia isn’t always a safe world: also inhabiting Narnia is the White Witch,
under whose tyranny it is always winter and never Christmas. Or the
neighboring tribes of warring Calormenes, who served a foreign and wicked
god. Or the dwarfs, whose allegiance was only to themselves. Giants, talking
beasts, the Wild Lands of the North. But it was into Narnia that Aslan led
them. It was necessary, for in that strange new place is where they would
discover their true and regal identities. It was where they would learn to reign
… and learn to trust a Lion who was not tame, but most certainly good.
This was also true for Frodo, Sam and their friends. Much of the adventure
awaited them outside the safety of the Shire. Frodo fulfills the mission only he
could bear. Outside the Shire he discovers a depth of friendship with Sam that
only shared-risk can provide. The little hobbits discover an unlikely fellowship
that will rescue them time and again; and find a noble and trustworthy guide,
named Aragorn – a warrior with the heart of a king.

All this, because they left

the safety of the Shire. Glory follows risk.
Dorothy must leave Kansas.
Cinderella must come up from the cellar and soot.
Neo must leave the illusion behind.
Jesus must leave Nazareth.
And so it is with us. We are about to enter a very strange new world, where
cars will remain parked in driveways – remaining idle for perhaps years; where
highways will become increasingly empty and desolate; and where community
with neighbors will matter more than ever.


We already live in a world where organized and franchised faith is becoming
increasingly suspect; where the Kingdom will need to grow organically in
homes, neighborhoods, towns and cities.

Our invitation is “further up and

further in.” We follow Aslan into this strange world, because that is where he
lives. That is where he is moving.
“And now, friends, in the name of Aslan let us go forward.”

You can read Jim’s blog about Outposts of the Kingdom at:




Resource Appendix

Websites on the coming world oil shortage:

www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net: Excellent website that answers
common questions about the oil supply.

www.oilcrashmovie.com: (A 90-minute movie)

/ National Geographic article on Peak Oil.

http://whatwouldjesusdrive.org/ (Why what we drive is a
spiritual issue.)

Websites on walkable towns and cities/new urbanism:

www.newurbanism.org: New Urbanism’s website

www.cnu.org: The Congress for New Urbanism’s website

www.walkable.org: Walkable Communities, Inc. – lists walkable
towns and cities by state


h.html: Explore a new model for suburbia. National Geographic
put this fun, interactive site together.

www.tndtownpaper.com/neighborhoods.htm: Learn more
about Traditional Neighborhood Design (including photos)

www.cohousing.org: Visit an excellent co-housing website.

www.smartgrowthamerica.org: Smart Growth America’s

www.ci.keene.nh.us: To visit a true small city’s website, see
Keene, New Hampshire’s website.

Websites on organic/simple church:

www.house2house.net: House to House (House church
resources and gatherings). Offers an online magazine and a
directory of house churches.

www.hccentral.com/directory: House Church Central (find or
list a house church in your area)

www.housechurch.org: House church topics and resources.
World-wide house-church directory (Can search by state and city).
Well-done website.

www.cmaresources.org: Church Multiplication Associates.
Organic church planting


Websites for living from the heart:




Books on organic/simple church:

Houses that Change the World, by Wolfgang Simson

Mega Shift, by James Rutz

Organic Church – Growing Faith Where Life Happens, by Neil Cole

Mustard Seed Versus McWorld – Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future,
by Tom Sine

Revolution – Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary, by
George Barna

Books on Church in a Post-Institutional Church/Culture:

The Present Future – Six Tough Questions for the Church, by Reggie

Post-Modern Pilgrims, by Leonard Sweet


The Shaping of Things to Come – Innovation and Mission for the 21st
Century Church, by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch

A Churchless Faith – Faith Journeys Beyond the Churches, by Alam

Jaded – Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church But not on God,
by A. J. Kiesling

Mega Shift, by James Rutz

Books on the coming oil catastrophe:

The Long Emergency – Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the TwentyFirst Century, by James Howard Kunstler

The Party’s Over – Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, by
Richard Heinberg

Books on New Urban/Walkable Places:

Suburban Nation – The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American
Dream, by Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck

Sidewalks in the Kingdom – New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, by
Eric O. Jacobsen


Books on living from the new heart:

Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge

Wild at Heart [for men], by John Eldredge

Captivating [for women], by John Eldredge

Connecting, by Larry Crabb

Revolution Within, by Dwight Edwards

The Rest of the Gospel - When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out, by
Dan Stone & Greg Smith

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis

Other media:

Fellowships of the Heart – from the National House Church
Conference, 2004 – Featuring John Eldredge & Craig McConnell,
Neil Cole, Curtis Sergeant, Tony Dale − (audio CD’s) Available at

Revolutions & The Danger of Secrets − from the National House
Church Conference, 2005. Featuring Thom Black (audio CD)
Available at www.house2house.net.

The Four Streams [Waking with God, Receiving the Counsel of the
Holy Spirit, Spiritual Warfare, Deep Restoration], by John Eldredge
– (audio CD) Available at www.ransomedheart.com.


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