What is Open Source Ministry?
In the late 1980s, when I had my first taste of the Internet (it was actually called the Arpanet, but who’s quibbling?), there was a dedicated group of software developers who referred to their work as “free software”. The old joke was that they didn’t consider it free in the sense of “free beer”, but rather in the sense of “free speech”. They weren’t against commercialization of software and they weren’t opposed to people making money. What they really wanted was a free-for-all approach to developing new ideas. They felt that the speed at which software titles changed was akin to turning around an oil tanker: Slow, costly, and sometimes messy. But their idea of “free” rankled against the American value of making a good living, and so some “free” software developers went to work for commercial companies like Novell, Microsoft and anyone who wanted to eradicate the Y2K bug.
In 1997, Eric Raymond wrote a ground-breaking essay about a growing movement that many people had begun to call “Open-Source Software” (OSS). The most famous proponent of this form of programming was Linus Torvald, the developer of the Linux operating system, Windows main competitor. People had stopped making reference to “free software” and now called it Open Source because that is how it really was developed. Someone might write the basic code for a program (or in the case of Linux, an operating system) and then would publish that code on the Internet for all the world to see. People could download the code and improve upon it any way they wished. They could then publish their improvements and others around the world could make use of their labors. In this way, instead of just a few people in one company trying to create something new, the entire world had a crack at it.
In his essay called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, Raymond likened the traditional way of writing software to the old style church cathedrals. The OSS way of doing it, he compared to an open-air bazaar. Here is one intriguing insight: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” (which he terms Linus’ law): if the source code is available for public testing, scrutiny, and experimentation, then bugs will be discovered at a rapid rate. In contrast, Raymond claims that an inordinate amount of time and energy must be spent hunting for bugs in the Cathedral model, since the working version of the code is available only to a few developers.”
Please go to the link mentioned above if you are interested in Raymond’s insights into this fascinating field of Open Source Software. In addition, there is a site dedicated to the various details of OSS development. Go here to view it.
The reason I mention OSS is because this forms the philosophical basis of Gateway 3.0, the latest version of our ministry philosophy at the church I serve with: Gateway Fellowship of Sacramento, CA. It is ironic that the old way of writing software is likened to a Cathedral by Eric Raymond, and now here I am using OSS to describe what we want to achieve as a church.
A kernel is the essential code of a computer program that makes it run with a particular operating system. In the same way, the basic kernel of Gateway Fellowship is already established and we have no intention of changing it. This includes three basic elements: Doctrine, Organization, and Format.
- Doctrine: Our church community is part of a movement of churches dedicated to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. We believe completely that by sharing the Gospel with everyone near and far we are actually hurrying the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:14). In addition, we have some foundational beliefs that we will not alter, no matter who joins the church or how much disagreement there may be from people who desire to join with us. You can view that statement here. We allow people to hold doctrinal opinions not touched upon in our doctrinal statement. We think the doctrines we have mentioned are the core beliefs we want to hang onto and define who we are as a movement.
- Organization: By organization, we don’t mean the daily working of the office or the various ministries connected to our church. Essentially, organization is both a structure of authority and accountability. We believe that all Christians must recognize that God’s authority has been partially constituted through humans, although the ultimate authority must always be God and His Word. But God also appoints elders and deacons, whose role it is to train up God’s people in works of service. At Gateway Fellowship, our elders are in charge of the discipleship of the Body through home cell groups and are given the responsibility of training cell leaders and of holding them accountable to their work. All other helping ministries function to do the work of deacons. These may include office personnel, Sunday service workers, church cleaners and those people designated by cell groups to take care of the financial and physical needs of their members.
- Format: We believe that our primary focus for the delivery system of ministry should be one of two formats (we call this the ‘two wings of the church’): Small group joint ministry and Large group encouragement ministry. The small group ministry may include cell groups, accountability groups, youth groups, prayer groups, evangelism teams, Theophostic ministry teams etc. Their role is to train one another up in the work of the ministry and to expand their ministries to reach other people. These ministries are best operated on a weekly basis. The large group meetings are more for the purpose of encouraging and strengthening God’s people as they serve him. With the exception of Sunday services, these ministries will primarily operate on a monthly or occasional basis so as not to compete with the small group ministries.
As you look at this kernel of our church, you may say that this does not differ much from other churches. In this sense you are right. But the same could be said in a comparison between traditional software and OSS. A software program is a software program. There is not much to choose between them. The difference comes when other people want to improve on the basic premise. In most software companies, the process for improvement is tedious and inefficient. It also includes a very small cadre of people. In OSS, the amount of people that improve a product may be a thousand percent more than with a commercial title.
In the same way, Open Source Ministry seeks a unique way to add to the basic kernel of doctrine, organization and format. In the next couple of blog entries, I desire to present the concept of how Open Source Ministry works and how that affects the central kernel of our beliefs and structure.