So I mentioned that church is on the whole passive. And myself and others have mentioned that we want to look at a different way of doing church - Simple Church, House Church, whatever you want to call it - which is more participatory. But what does more participatory church look like? Last year I went to a training session on a simple church methodology coming out of Japan, which I’ll call “Upwards, Outwards, Inwards”, and what they do there could well work over here as well.
None of this is my idea - it’s the idea of a guy called Mitsuo Fukuda, who I refer to here from time to time… :)
First, though, I’ll start by saying that like a good postmodern, I get a bit wary of anything systematized, and particularly relationship with God. Particularly since we’ve been down this exact road before: Methodism was a system of Simple Church which started off as a dynamic, radical empowering movement and gradually has hardened and crystallised until…
Add up the Book of Discipline, the United Methodist Hymnal, the Book of Worship, and the ever-expanding Book of Resolutions, and I’d guess that we have more text than the Bible itself… Read this section of the Discipline carefully and then see if you could design a more efficient means of stifling creativity and entrepreneurship and evangelism in the church. This centralized, bureaucratic, Big-Brother-Knows-What’s-Best-For-You approach was invented in 1956, and is perfectly designed to protect dying congregations from the horrendous threat that someone might start a new and thriving congregation on their doorstep.
- Seven Things I hate about U(MC) - Ted Campbell
Systems harden and suck the life and dynamism out of movements.
So while I recognise the dangers, I think I can honestly say that “Upwards, Outwards, Inwards” is more of a schema than a system. I’m not just playing semantics. It’s a framework, and you fill in the bits in the middle yourself. It’s a way of doing theology, or more accurately, a way of helping to people do theology themselves.
The framework looks like this: Man lives in three fundamental relationships, which we call “upwards”, “outwards” and “inwards”.
Upwards is our starting point, and it speaks of our relationship with God. In fact it starts with what God has done for us: God has created us, saved us, provided for us and so on. And because of all these things that He has already done, we respond to Him in two ways. First and foremost we rejoice. We don’t do enough rejoicing in our churches. One important element of worship is rejoicing in what God has done.
Second, we obey him. I noticed in the charismatic church we were at this morning that the songs emphasised our friendship with Jesus. We tend to gloss over anything that suggests that this friendship is conditional on our obedience, because sola gratia and Pelagianism and all that. But still, “you are my friends if you do what I command.” And the main things that we have been commanded to do are to love God and love others. So loving God is part of our “upwards” relationship, but obeying God drives us inexorably towards others…
Outwards. And anyone who follows God and reads the scriptures will notice that God is outwards-focused. He is always turning towards the world and turning His people towards the world. Often in our church experience we go straight from relationship with God to relationship with the God’s people, the church, and evangelism and outreach comes out of the church. Upwards-Outwards-Inwards says no, relationship with God directs us to loving others and in particular those outside of the church. We love others both by serving them and by passing on the message to them. But passing on the message will often be unpopular, frustrating and difficult - these difficulties produce endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope. As a result of this outwards orientation, there will be a change in us.
Inwards. So our character is changed through our relationship with God and our relationship with others, and this internal change is a testimony to others. (So feed back into our outward-orientation.) Children of God with a testimony tend to want to band together, and so the “Inwards” relationship is both individual and corporate.
The bottom line: What is Christianity? Christianity is living in those three relationships.
OK, that’s the schema. If someone wants to know what a Christian is, we can explain it to them in three or four minutes using that schema.
What else can we do with it? Let’s do some theology: what is sin?
Sin is a breakdown in any of these three relationships. Idolatry, rebellion, lack of trust or lack of joy are some examples of things which break down our Upwards relationship. There are some things we can do or things in our character which upset our testimony and therefore break down our Outwards relationships: compulsions, addictions, sexual immorality and so on. And then there are things which mess up our individual and corporate Inwards relationship: malice, pride, hatred, etc.
What should church life and meetings look like in this schema? Well, first, here’s a quick Upwards-Outwards-Inwards ecclesiology: Church is fellowship which occurs around three questions: Upwards: Do you love me? (John 21:16); Outwards: Who shall we send, and who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:8); Inwards: Who do you think was the neighbor to the man who was attacked on the road? (Luke 10:36)
Now the actual meeting time: A church meeting would have three components: an “Upwards” time of rejoicing in God and listening to Him, confession and repentance, an “Outwards” time of honing our testimonies and praying for others who don’t know Jesus, and an “Inwards” time of developing and building up ourselves and others. For “Upwards” we all share encouragements, words of praise, songs, verses of Scripture, and testimonies of what God has done, and take time to listen to God and pray for each other. For “Outwards”, we break into groups of three to continue to pray for one or two friends each and to encourage one another in our evangelism. Then the “Inwards” time can be done through an interactive participatory Bible study which I can describe another time if people are interested. :)
Personal devotions can be done in the same way. Here’s six handy questions to ask in a personal devotion time:
- Upwards: “Father, what do you think about me?” (or Father, who am I to you?)
- “Father, what are you telling me to do today?”
- Outwards: “Father, in what way, and whom do you want me to serve today?”
- “Father, in what way, and with whom do you want me to share the gospel today?”
- Inwards: “In the past 24 hours, is there something for which I should repent?”
- “Today, how do you want me to express love to those closest to me?”
Upwards-Outwards-Inwards is a very flexible schema for doing theology together, and it has a number of features which speak to particular needs and weaknesses in Japan, but I think it can be used anywhere. It is easy to grasp, easy to take up and easy to pass on to others. It promotes involvement and empowerment, “building in” participation as a natural part of what it means to be a Christian. I think it can be the solution to our passivity problems.