Church Planting vs. Training Disciples

11 04 2008

There is an evident move of God in our day toward the launching of new works that has resulted in great interest in the planting of new churches . This fervor is correctly drawing from our understanding that new churches are far more effective at reaching emerging cultures than existing churches. But I want to ask a series of simple questions. Does Jesus ever tell us to go plant churches? Is this command anywhere in the New Testament? And maybe on a more controversial note – do we ever even see the practice of church planting in the New Testament?

The disciples of Jesus were given an extremely clear and narrow commission to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” Why didn’t Jesus tell us to go into all the world and plant churches? Have you ever considered the difference? Until one year ago I was living as if the Great Commission said to go and plant churches, until a man from China literally showed up, out of nowhere, and practically stuffed my face in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). This began a journey for me of discovering how my strategies, thoughts and activities stem almost entirely from modern-day church practice (or emerging church practice) and not Scripture.

“OK, but what about Paul? Surely he was a church planter first?” It’s been interesting to note Paul’s recorded activities. We only see him actually doing two things – proclaiming the Gospel and training disciples. “But what about the churches that started in those cities?” They were the gathering of the disciples into bodies that occurs naturally among trained disciples. There is no need to corral the Sons and Daughters of God into gatherings and serve them. This is the strange anomaly of our day and merely serves to conceal our utter failure to make disciples.

Paul did launch city-wide discipleship training everywhere he went which naturally birthed house churches by the thousands but his focus was on the city expression of church which was more like a discipleship training center (such as the School of Tyrannus in Ephesus) and not the planting of individual bodies (churches).

If you intentionally make disciples you will plant many churches but if you plant many churches you will not necessarily make disciples. Which did Jesus command us to do?

Treasuring the Living Word of God

7 04 2008

How often do you encounter the living Word of God?  When you encounter it what do you do with it?  Honestly?

While Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom a woman shouted,

“Blessed the womb that carried you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”

Jesus commented, “Even more blessed are those who hear God’s Word and guard it with their lives!”

Really?  More blessed than Mary the mother of Messiah?

So how is this done?  Let me describe briefly how I’ve learned to do this lately.

I make a distinction between the Word of God stored and the Word of God living.  The difference is a word that really resonates but has no clear and present application in my life.  I store those words through study and memorization so they can do their work in my life at another time.

But what about the Word of God that speaks to me in the present.  Words that will change the way I think today.  Words that perfectly match God’s agenda for my life now.  These you must treasure above all things.  When reading Scripture or when listening the Spirit or when present at the Gathering a word pierces my heart.  What do you do at that moment?  You MUST go into action to preserve that Word.  I carry a tiny notebook with me everywhere I go so I can immediately protect and properly steward God’s living Word in my life.

In our community I’ve noticed how many people refuse to be separated from their journals or notebooks, making a practice out of protecting God’s Living Word for them.  If right now, at this moment, as you’re reading this, you cannot turn to read and meditate on God’s Living Word for you then one of two things has occurred.

1. God is not speaking to you
2. You are treating God’s Living Word with contempt

Now the first option is highly unlikely.  Man does not live by bread alone but we feast on God’s Word as often as we eat meals.  God will speak through His Spirit to all of us if we study Scripture, listen, and live life in community with other radical disciples.  We can all develop a lifestyle conducive to hearing God’s Living Word and this should be a constant part of our daily and weekly rhythm.  But when God’s Word does come you NEED a strategy to protect it!

Every day during prayer I open my notebook and I can’t believe how often, in the 12+ hours since I recorded God’s Word to me, I’ve already forgotten parts, forgotten it all, or distorted it in my mind.  But as I open God’s Living Word to my heart during a time set aside for communion with the Father I give it a much better environment for it to work on me.  And at that moment Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled.

“ For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. ”

And this is how a disciple enters into that state prophesied by Jeremiah and repeated by the author of Hebrews about a time coming when we are all God-taught.

But this is the new covenant I will make
with the people of Israel on that day,[c] says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
and I will write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
And they will not need to teach their neighbors,
nor will they need to teach their relatives,
saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’
For everyone, from the least to the greatest,
will know me already.

How Senior Pastors are our Biggest Obstacle and our Only Hope

5 04 2008

In this discussion of returning to a more simple form of church one of the biggest questions is what to do with the Senior Pastor. Some have said, “isn’t this position an extra-biblical invention of a church wanting to both follow a man (preferably a celebrity) and delegate their responsibility to be a full-time, sold-out, radical disciple to someone else so they can get on with their self-focussed lives?” Yes, this and many other fair and well substantiated critiques have been leveled against this model of church leadership. But rarely do those who deconstruct this destructive form of church leadership give a satisfying answer to the next question and that is what do we do with these men if they are no longer Senior Pastors? Many of my house church friends think it’s realistic to plop men like John Piper, Billy Graham and Tim Keller in a house church for the rest of their lives where their gifts are equal with everyone else (1 Cor. 12). But you only have to imagine this arrangement for 10 seconds to see how this equalization will both largely neutralize their gifts or they will be so active in that little group of people that the same stifling could take place there that often happens in Senior Pastor dominated churches.

So what’s the answer? How are these men fully released?

First, I want to acknowledge how incredibly valuable and essential these men are. We need them! In Ephesians 4 Paul writes that when Jesus ascended into heaven he gave gifts to men. These gifts were in the form of 5 types of specially gifted and called people: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We call this the 5-fold ministry. Almost every Senior Pastor embodies one of these 5 gifts given to the church. These are not in the same category as situational spiritual gifts given to the body as it gathers (1 Cor. 12-14) nor the unique gifts given to each believer at the point of salvation (Romans 12) these gifts are embodied in and through a man with a unique calling from God. Often the calling and gifting is so profound it makes sense to pay these men for periods of time so we can free them from non-ministry work so we get the privilege of enjoying more of their ministry through their gifting.

One of the biggest mistakes we make when transitioning to a simple structure of church is to design the church so it can no longer receive ministry from these men. But simple churches need MORE of the 5-fold ministry not less! And not just from one gifted man but many. We need all five to minister to all the churches at their point of need.

The problem with the Senior Pastor is not their gifting, it is their position. When the church structures itself like a medium to large size organization it requires the continual presence of a CEO style leader for continued growth and success. In fact, in that structure, the Senior Pastor’s level of gifting determines the growth potential of the church. Last month at a church planters boot camp Mark Driscoll said that in the Acts 29 network there is only one factor that determined the relative health and effectiveness of churches in their network and that is, in his words, “the dude”. He seemed to attempt various forms of verbal gymnastics to avoid calling this guy the Senior Pastor naming him the “dude of dudes” and “first among equals” as an elder but this describes one form of the Senior Pastor led church.

Few would deny that the concept of “Senior Pastor” is foreign to the New Testament but fewer seem interested in asking the question why. Why, if this man determines the effectiveness of his church did Paul not appoint Senior Pastors? Why is this position never mentioned? Why, when a church plant would blow up, like the Corinthian church, does Paul not tell “the dude” to get control of his church? Why, among all the leaders at Cointh, does Paul not address one of them as the solution to the problem? The lack of any appeal to a single leader in the book of 1 Corinthians, where church structure is described in more detail than anywhere else in the New Testament, and where things were going south, illustrates the enormous separation between the church structure Paul utilized and our structure today.

But Paul absolutely loved to discover, train and release the 5-fold ministry. But with a profound difference from us. When Paul discovered someone with a 5-fold calling and gifting he never, in recorded biblical history, told them to become the permanent church planting Senior Pastor of one of his church plants. Instead they joined Paul’s team and he would dispatch them for months or years at a time to build up specific churches when that church’s specific needs lined up with the specific gifting of one of the 5-fold members of Paul’s Apostolic team. So Titus was dispatched to Corinth NOT to replace Christ as the head of the Corinthian church but to build that church up so that they could better align themselves underneath their Senior Pastor – Jesus Christ.

But having a permanent Senior Pastor in one church will inevitably result in that church tilting toward the gifting of that man. Not because he is not gifted enough, but because his gifting is so powerful. So Prophets who become Senior Pastor often lead very charismatic churches.  Teachers who become Senior Pastors often create theologically obsessed churches (eg. Grace Community Church).  Evangelists lead outreach centered churches (eg. Willow Creek) etc.

I believe a day is coming again where men who receive one of the 5-fold gifts will equip churches and not lead them. Where thousands of apostolic teams will crisscross the globe on coordinated planting and building missions. Where these men will be in the foundation of the churches and not the roof tops. Where Jesus Christ will once again become the head of the Body and each member will align themselves underneath him alone being built up by the 5-fold ministry, shepherded by Elders and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Who Leads the Body?

4 04 2008

Each body of Christ is an autonomous organism that must grow into full maturity (in fact the full stature of Christ Eph. 4). When the goal is maturity you cultivate and train the organism, but one thing that stunts organic growth is to subvert it’s will. Forcing children, for example, into a structure of concrete where they are given no responsibility for their own actions will cause them to exist in a continual state of immaturity. This makes leadership a very tricky proposition. How do you provide enough structure so the organism grows in the correct direction but not so much that growth is stifled?

Have you ever seen a tomato plant growing up into a three ring tomato stake, bursting with6757504.jpg life? This tool was designed to provide just enough structure to assist the organic growth of the tomato plant and strikes that perfect balance for that organism. So what is the correct balance for the body?

In our community, cultivating the soil is like the continuous discipleship training we engage in but I want to explore what the three rings of the tomato stake and what this assisting external structure looks like for us.

Lowest Ring – The Apostolic Team

Each body receives ministry and nurturing from the 5-fold members of the apostolic team (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) that planted the new work. And they release team members according to the specific needs of that organism. If major restructuring is going on an apostle (architect) will assist. When serious doctrinal questions arise we send a teacher. When relationships are strained we send a pastor. None of these gifts work INSIDE the organism. They are external. They equip the organism (Eph. 4) so that it can build itself up. But they do provide that bottom layer of the structure.

Middle Ring – The Elders

At the center of the organism, surrounding and protecting the body’s growth is a team of elders. Elders are never given the charge to proactively “lead”. They shepherd the body. The word elder during the first century was not exclusively a Christian term but referred to the guardians of a city that often were stationed at the gate guarding what goes in, releasing and resourcing what was sent out, and dealing with what the city needed to remain healthy and prosperous.

The Top Ring – The Holy Spirit

It is through the Holy Spirit that Christ takes up the headship of his Body. Christ is not a part of the structure; he is the Head of the organism, but he released the Holy Spirit into each member of the body as a way for us to know his heart and follow his direction. This requires each member of the body to have a deep and consistent relationship with Christ so that, through the continuos filling of the Holy Spirit, each part of the organism can be unified, walking in step with the direction of Christ.

Notice there is NO human head to Christ’s body. Who would dare take up such a position and supplant the headship of Christ? But we have a track record as humans of rejecting the direct leadership of God, preferring the security of a human head. Three times in God’s historic work to bring us back into our Edenic relationship, we have rejected his headship.

At Mt. Sinai God tries to speak directly to his people wanting to make them a “nation of Priests” (Ex. 19) and they beg Moses to go and talk to God and be their surrogate. Then God tried to train the next generations of Israel through judges who were like elders, not taking God’s headship but leading the people under God. But the people demanded a human king. So in sadness God tells Samuel, the final Judge of Israel, that it is not he, Samuel, who is being rejection but “they are rejecting me as their King.” And then the final and most surprising supplanting of God’s headship is happening in our day. Jesus died on the cross, the curtain was ripped so that all God’s children can enter into direct relationship with him, not through a priest, and become the “nation of priests” God wanted. But we, once again, demand a human head and train, ordain and pay people to be priests on our behalf.

And so Christ’s waits for the church, the body, his bride, to align herself underneath his headship once again. What will we do?

These Three Things We Do

3 04 2008

The best methods and models are usually quite simple but all the theological and philosophical wrestling, testing and wandering that takes place behind the scenes can be a difficult process.  But we’re at a point now of great simplicity in our model so I want to see if I can explain it with one picture and a brief post.  In our church model we only do three things (and in a new work they are done in this order) –

  • Train Disciples
  • Grow the Body
  • Release the 5-fold Ministry

That’s it.  Kingdom ministry can and should involve a lot more activities after these things are done well and the work is mature but to launch a healthy, self-sustaining, reproducible work you only need to do these three things.

So if you look at this picture – the first thing we develop is the Discipleship Training Center. simplechurchmodel.jpg Trained disciples form and deepen healthy bodies and as body members are continuously trained and living in community we release those with a special 5-fold calling on their life (from Eph. 4 Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers) to start and strengthen other works.

So I’ve been teaching my kids this because, if my 4-year old can understand it, it passes the simplicity test.

And you can see why each part is essential.  A body (house church) without a clear discipleship training process both lacks a front door and a way to deepen and unify our one faith.  A body and training center without releasing the 5-fold has no way to properly steward the unique calling given to the 5-fold.  If someone with a 5-fold gift is not released the body will be so imbalanced by that gift it will build itself around one man’s gifts and personality (picture Mark Driscoll only using his full gifting in a house church for 10 years and you get the idea).

So it’s that simple and we know it works to bring back to the church three of the things remaining to be restored –

  • Radical Discipleship
  • Interdependent Community
  • Exponential Expansion

For the first time in my life I feel I know both WHAT to do about the church and HOW to do it.  I’m super encouraged!

O You of Little Faith

3 04 2008

journey_of_faith1.jpgWhen the disciples made mistakes in word or deed the most common response they received from the Master is “O you of little faith”. But no one says this today.

When I would wrestle with theological questions people said to me “O you of little knowledge, go to Bible college” (hey that rhymes).

When I would struggle with sin it was “O you of little righteousness, get accountability”.

But what is with Jesus’ obsession with the extent of our faith?

Going through the Story-Formed Life now for the 8th time I can say conclusively that everywhere we go we encounter people who believe faith is NOT a matter of degrees but a simple on/off switch or a yes or no and, therefore, not the root of their problem. But it is. People’s action and even their emotions are always, to a large extent, rooted in deep seated beliefs they’ve been trained in (by accident or intentionally for good or ill).

When you consider your discipleship or the discipleship of others realize that your primary role is helping people deepen their faith in truths they already know. How is this done? There are two primary things you do to build faith in a training environment.

1. Midrash the truth
2. Expose the lies

Both require an open conversation with intense dialogue and the opportunity for people to share what’s really going on in their hearts (step into the light). This process works. Teaching via monologue is useful for declaring something people do not yet know but monologue will rarely build deeper faith in things already known and can just as often harden people’s hearts over time as they believe they know so much but it has so little impact on their lives.