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Total Church: Interview with Steve Timmis - Part One

Total Church: Interview with Steve Timmis - Part One

By Pastor Scott Thomas

Steve Timmis is a good friend of mine whom I respect for his exemplary character and his snarky charm. Recently, our Pastor’s Training Program had a video call with Steve to discuss some of the principles of his book, Total Church, co-authored by Tim Chester. Steve smartly answered several questions from a group of men training to be church planters.

Total Church is published by Crossway through the Re:Lit line of books managed by Resurgence.


Scott: Tell us your history with Porterbrook and the Crowded House

Timmis: About four years ago we closed down a church meeting in a house that I was leading and we moved into a small church that was dying. And we attempted to replant it. It was sinking pretty much outside the box as far as Crowded House was concerned – we were really trying to expand, litter the city, with “Communities of Light,” which were our gospel communities.

We planted a few times out of it because it grew, and we currently have gone with the model where we are comprising of a number of gospel communities. We come together Sunday morning for a teaching session, but the rest of the week life-on-life living in the sense of discipling one another  - that’s where we do breaking bread together, discipleship, discipline, evangelism – the whole work is done in the gospel communities. So Sunday is just the central gathering where we get 120 together and in which we teach one another.

Porterbrook is something that we started to train people in a whole range of church situations – large churches and smaller churches to equip people theologically and at a missiological level for church-planting or missional church. It’s a two year course and for one aspect of it we do a degree level course and another aspect is the Northern Training institute. All the while we are equipping leaders to be able to plant and transition to theology as a principle as opposed to being simply pragmatic.

Scott: What is your definition of being a “gospel community”?

Timmis: A gospel community is a group of people who are effectively a group of 10-30 people sharing their lives together. It’s about life-on-life, it’s about doing evangelism corporately. We share our lives together, we make friends with each other’s friends so we can show the gospel in action, we can tell them the gospel verbally, we disciple one another – just everything that the church is about we do in those communities. They are intentional communities.

Scott: How is that different from a small group?

Timmis: Gospel communities see themselves effectively as a church, so they take upon themselves the privileges and responsibilities of a big church. A small group in a centralized structure basically just sees itself as part of the bigger church in the sense that a lot of the other stuff goes on centrally. These gospel communities have a very extensive expression of the church – so basically, if it’s church stuff, they do it. They teach the Bible to one another, disciple, they break bread together, they baptize in those contexts.

Scott: Do you have any trouble with leadership in that respect? How do you control what takes place in these communities?

Timmis: We control that as far as we can. One thing you have to always appreciate with any form of church-planting is that you can never ultimately control. But as far as we are able, we put a lot of effort into recognizing the biblical criteria for leadership – which is primarily character. So because we are intentionally discipling one another and looking at younger guys to see what kind of character they’ve got, what kind of gift set they’ve got – we are trying to take them under our wings and expose them to godly leadership, give them responsibility within a safer environment. All the leaders of these gospel communities are either elders or under the watchful eye of elders. So there’s always some kind of control that is put in place there – but we do give them a lot of responsibility.

Scott: How does that lead to church planting?

Timmis: It’s an issue of how you define church. I think we need to make sure our definition of church really resonates with a biblical understanding of church. So everything we do that is church, we do in these communities – so these are effectively, to all intents and purposes, churches. And because our strategy is not so much to have one big central “lighthouse” that emanates light all around the city at kind of roof-top level, what we are trying to do is “litter” the city with these communities of light (churches). That will get us street-level into the communities around the city – so where the big lighthouse wouldn’t distribute it, we are trying to distribute by littering the city. This is essentially what church-planting is; our gospel communities are our churches that we plant.

What we then effectively do is plant networks. When these gospel communities get too big, we’ll split and form a new network. We have shared leadership, shared resources – but we always do this littering model.

Part Two tomorrow…

Seattle Boot Camp, The Call of a Church Planter
Speakers: Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, PJ Smyth, Scott Thomas, Dave Bruskas