We’ve been doing some reviewing, reflecting and clarifying who we are as Upstream and this is a list of our ‘distinctives’. By that I mean some characteristics that may shape our own unique identity as distinct from ‘the church down the road’. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does indicate our slant in how we are approaching church and mission.
Feel free to offer your thoughts.
1. Discipleship is our primary task
We see our core task as simply that of being disciples and making disciples. We define this as ‘loving God, loving one another and loving the world we live in’. If we do these things as the Bible describes then we will live counter-culturally and be ‘swimming upstream’. To help us grow in our discipleship we meet in 2’s or 3’s for encouragement in and accountability to several specific core practices. Ultimately we want to see the people we live amongst captivated by the life of Jesus and drawn into following him with their whole lives. We believe this process of discipleship begins from the time we meet a person and develop a relationship with them. As such there is less emphasis on the moment of ‘conversion’ and more on leading people towards a life of Christ-likeness.
2. Mission takes priority over Meeting
We see our primary focus as being what happens during the week in the community and the workplace and this is where we seek to invest our best energies. For this reason we place less emphasis on the Sunday meeting which for many has become the centre of church life.
3. Mission shapes Church
We are seeking to let our understanding of the local Brighton community determine the shape and rhythms of our church gatherings rather than coming with a pre-determined model or liturgical preference. We understand this is what classical missionaries do – allowing their ecclesiology to flow out of their missiology. British theologian Martin Robinson has said that most of what passes for church planting in the West is usually ‘Sunday service planting’. We are hopeful that in this process we will develop truly indigenous expressions of Christian community that resonate deeply with the people we live amongst.
4. Community Transformation as the Primary Measure of Success mad the divx
We are seeking to gauge our impact and effectiveness by the degree to which we are involved in community transformation and the extent to which we see evidence of the kingdom of God in our local area. While we would love to have people join with us we do not see increased attendance at any meeting as a primary goal. If new Christians identify better with the functioning of a more traditional church then we would encourage them to join them. As such we are committed to working in genuine partnership with other local churches & community organisations to see God’s kingdom in Brighton become a reality.
5. Relationships are Primary
We are seeking to foster mission & community primarily through personal relationships and by flowing into the natural rhythms of life here in Brighton. Where appropriate we will use programs to serve us and the community, but they are not the primary means by which we develop relationships.
6. Simple Multiplying Communities
Our longer term dream is to see a great number of new communities springing up and multiplying in the developing northern coastal suburbs where Aussies who would have little interest in church as we know it, may be able to connect in Christian community and grow in discipleship. To that end we intentionally seek to keep our meetings simple and small. Smaller gatherings requires minimal time and resource to accomplish, enable a greater opportunity for participation and reduce the possibility of passive consumerism. They are also much easier to reproduce.
7. Learning & experimenting
We are seeking to try and discover what kind of church expression works in this community. We will be bold, take risks and adapt and adjust as we learn.
While it isn’t difficult to articulate the distinctives of our team life, the reality is that we are continually coming to grips with this different way of living our life and faith. We are consciously walking the mostly untrodden path of being missionaries here in the West and discovering along the way what that means.
Some of it is refreshing and exciting, while other parts of it are difficult and disturbing. In many ways we are an experimental group, learning and making mistakes but hopefully also making discoveries and providing hope to those both inside and outside our churches who want to follow Jesus but struggle to connect in the current structures.
While we are committed to the path we are on, we do not advocate it as ‘the way’ for the future. We don’t have a model to work from or a strategy to emulate. That is intentional. We strongly believe there is a need for many fresh expressions of church to emerge in the West if we are to fulfil the missionary task God has given us, but they will need to reflect the context they are birthed within and the people who are their lifeblood.