One Body, One Year – A Reflection on 2008

29 12 2008

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I’m both someone who doesn’t like to look back and someone with a distaste for quantifying anything spiritual.  But last night, during the anniversary celebration of our body church, part of the night included simply listing what God did through our little body in 2008 and I was pretty encouraged.  I want to put some of those stats here for three reason – 1) some people from the body were out of town and I want them to have a chance to read this, 2) many people think small churches that meet in homes are ineffective (and they often are) at expansion and being productive in God’s Kingdom and 3) to thank God for choosing to use us in various ways as he built his Kingdom this year.  So, here are some stats from 2008 and a few reflections.

  • Average number of adults in our body in 2008 – 30
  • Number of 10-week discipleship training courses done – 13 (in 5 states)
  • Number of people who went through Story-Formed Life training – 275 (many confessing Lordship for the first time)
  • Number of new bodies started – 3 (2 more beginning in 2009)
  • Number of new discipleship training centers started in new cities – 3 (with 5 more starting in early 2009)
  • Other discipleship training courses done by our Northern Kentucky training center – 12
  • Our monthly city-wide worship service was also started this year.

Remember this was done with no building and no paid staff.

It seems God should be able to do even more through our body in 2009 (we now have almost 40 disciples in the body now), but dream with me for a minute.  We were planted from a traditional church of about 1000 people.  If a church that size has 500 disciples in it who are committed members of a body, dedicated to our mission of training disciples, and who did similar things as our body this would have been the result.

  • 500 disciples in bodies = 16 bodies
  • Number of 10-week discipleship training courses done – 208 (in all 50 states and 30 different countries)
  • Number of people who went through the Story-Formed Life (began discipleship training) – 4,400
  • Number of new bodies started – 48
  • Number of new training centers started nationally and internationally – 48
  • Other discipleship training courses in their area this year – 192

Moral of the story – If you want to start a movement you must be structured like a movement.  Movements and institutions are structured in almost opposite ways.  Institutions require enormous capital resource and their bulk is centered around the service the institution is designed to provide.  Movements are organized in a cellular fashion and push all their resources out.  Their structure exists to spread so if a cell stops spreading it ceases to exist.  No resources are spent on institutional survival.  Spreading is the priority and therefore training (starting training center), encouraging (starting a body) and expanding (releasing apostolic teams) are its dominate activities.

Train disciples, grow the body and release the 5-fold ministry.  Do that in that order and, with God’s help, you’ll start a movement that will spread throughout the Earth.

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Please define “Church”

19 12 2008

601751a-question-mark-on-stained-glass-postersWe need a clear consensus on the New Testament meaning of the word “Church”.

I’ve learned it’s possible, even common for two church leaders to talk for hours about “church” and be talking about completely different things.  Here’s my take (which is very simple) and please push back if you disagree even in small ways.  This is a very important discussion.

I believe the New Testament uses the word “church” (ekklesia) in three very different ways (and only in these three ways).

1. The Universal Church (Matthew 16, The Bride of Christ in Eph. 5 and Revelation etc.)
2. The City Church (Beginning of Epistles, Revelation 1-3, Throughout Acts)
3. The House Church or Body Church [small community] (End of 4 of the Epistles, Throughout Acts, the small body in 1 Corinthians 12)

Am I missing something?  Please show me places in the New Testament where ekklesia or “body” is used in other ways or if these categories don’t describe the church the way I’m interpreting it.

Clearly there are hundreds of implications you can draw from the above definitions of church.  Five that seem to come up a lot in my conversation are –

1. Every believer should be part of a small interdependent body (1 Cor. 12).
2. The city church is responsible for oversight (elders) and training (releasing the 5-fold ministry)
3. 99% of what people are referring to when they say “church” (such as “where do you go to church”) is an institution or 4th category foreign to the New Testament (kind of a sub-city church).
4. Every disciple must understand and engage in all three forms to grow and mature.
5. The 5-fold ministry (Eph. 4) is the primary agent for equipping and maturing the church and typically equips at the city church level.

All of these implications are my interpretations and are debatable but before you question them, please clarify what you believe “church” means in the New Testament and whether your understanding of church is biblically based and boundaried by New Testament usage or if “church” to you is something we can invent and reinvent in every new context.  It’s just more productive to know that, when we’re discussing something (like the church), we are actually talking about the same thing.





The Sin of Sheep Cloistering

17 12 2008

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As we go into cities and challenge people to make disciples in the city through the development of a city-wide training center, people with a deep commitment to one institutional church sometimes wonder if this activity is “sheep stealing”.  We believe every disciple and every body of believers needs access to the all the 5-fold gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) in order to mature.  Today, instead of receiving equipping from all five (as Paul commands for church maturity in Ephesians 4) we are led and equipped by only one of the 5-fold gifts (the teaching church, the evangelist church etc.).

Because institutional churches are often based on a strict hierarchy where everyone ranks under the Senior Pastor who has only one of those gifts, if I were to attempt to shift your allegiance from that man’s ministry to another man’s ministry, I would be considered a “sheep stealer”.  Under Paul’s apostolic structure this allegiance shifting was an impossibility.  Paul believed Jesus alone was the head of church and Christ’s under shepherds (elders) were over all the believers in that city.  So if you were a Christian and you lived in that city you were automatically under that group of elders and you were equipped by ALL the 5-fold ministers in the city and ALL the 5-fold ministers traveling through the city.

What Paul was dead against and preached against was the practice of sheep cloistering in a city.

1 Corinthians 1

10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Then later he writes in 1 Corinthians 3

3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?

5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

So the real sin and danger is that one man would cloister sheep into a single pen, under his ministry alone, and structurally and functionally cut those sheep off from the ministry of others in the city with equipping ministries.  Sheep instinctually want to be cloistered but the 5-fold during the 1st century (Apollos, Paul, Cephas etc.) continually pointed them to the one unifying head of the church, Christ.  In our day the 5-fold actually feed the sheepish desire cloister.

How have we drifted so far from the apostolic structure of the church that what is considered a sin today “sheep stealing” (equal access to equipping God’s sheep) was considered a virtue to Paul and what is considered a virtue today, sheep cloistering, was considered a unity destroying sin to Paul and the first century Apostles?

There is a structure that gives all the sheep in the city access to all the 5-fold equippers and aligns them under one unified head.  I pray for the return of the city church with one mission (making disciples), with one label (Christians) under one head (Christ).





Missional vs. Attractional vs. House Church Models all have the SAME flaw

10 12 2008

311641077777511Tim Keller (admired equally by the missional and attractional church) dropped a bomb shell the other day by commenting on a post about the never-ending debate regarding the fruitfulness of missional vs. attractional churches.  The missional model believes you build the church through being “incarnational” which often means small communities living life with non churched people, enfolding them into community as they move toward a belief in the Gospel.  Attractional churches set up excellent programs usually centered around a worship service that draws the non churched in and slowly works on building a belief as they move visitors through a defined assimilation process.  House churches critique both models believing you build the church by gathering believers together in a shared common life.

All three models miss the point.  We are never commanded to build the church.  We are never commanded to plant a church.  We are never encouraged to develop church building models of any kind.  We don’t build the church.

Jesus has already weighed in on this debate.  Listen to two thing he said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), and “Go and make disciples….” (Matthew 28:19).

Not only is there not a command in the New Testament to build or plant a church there is not a single narrative in Acts where you see Paul or anyone else involved in the activity of church planting.  Thousands of churches emerged through Paul’s ministry but he didn’t build them, they emerged as Paul proclaimed the gospel, made disciples and released the 5-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11).  [Read this for one example of this in the city of Ephesus]

So what happens when we neglect our mission (to make disciples) and, instead take on Jesus’ responsibility (to build the church).  A very strange thing.  Because the church is supposed to emerge organically through the training of disciples, when WE build it, we have to change its basic nature into something synthetic.

Let’s use farming as an example.  Farmers don’t grow plants they cultivate fields.  God is responsible for the natural laws that cause plants to grow.  So imagine going to a farm where the farmer confused his role (to cultivate fields) with God’s role (to grow the plants).  I picture row after row of lego plants and the farmer with a bag of green legos going out day after day to add one more to each plant until its time to start over again.  Synthetic plants bearing synthetic fruit so we don’t have to trust Jesus to build his church or labor at the dirty job of cultivating, weeding and harvesting the field.

And I must say, before you write this off as an impractical theory that doesn’t work, we actually do this and we have seen churches organically emerge over and over.  One quick current example is my friend Stephen who was taking a vacation with his family in August in the Northeast when he was asked by two different groups, who have not been trained, if he would stay and do some discipleship training.  Now it’s December and two new churches are beginning to emerge that no one planted or built and by the time Stephen leaves they will be self-sustaining, training disciples city-wide and able to reproduce.  How, through the training of disciples NOT through the planting or building of churches.





Bring Back the Prayer Meeting

8 12 2008

pentecost1In the conversation about what needs to be restored to the church I can’t stop thinking about our need to bring back the prayer meeting.  If you list what gatherings Christians typically attend today in order of consistency and frequency it might go something like –

1. weekly worship service
2. small group
3. ministry team or committee meeting
4. second teaching meeting (sunday night sermon etc.)
5. prayer meeting

When I read the New Testament regarding the frequency of gatherings it seems to go something like this –

1. the prayer meeting
2. discipleship training
3. body gathering
4. the lord’s supper (love feast)
5. city worship

Passages just in Acts that refer to constant, spontaneous prayer meetings include –

Acts 1 – Prayer in the upper room – “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

Acts 2:42 – “They devoted themselves…to prayer”

Acts 3:1 – “1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.”

Acts 4:24, – “4When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God…31After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

Acts 6 – “We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

“They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.”

Acts 12 – “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

“where many people had gathered and were praying.”

Acts 13 – “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

Acts 14 – “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”

Acts 16 – “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.”

“Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl”

Acts 20 – “36When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.”

Acts 22 – “”When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance”

I just received an email this morning from someone in our body calling a spontaneous prayer meeting on Tuesday and I’m so encouraged.  These prayer meetings should be called constantly.  We must become a praying people that call prayer meetings as often as we think to call someone to grab lunch, come over for dinner or get a cup of coffee.

Many thanks as well to my friend Justin for pointing me to the importance of the prayer meeting in Acts.  Please share your thoughts on this and other ideas for bringing back the New Testament practice of spontaneous and rhythmic prayer meetings.  How do we make these meetings full of life and energy?  How do we motivate each other think like this naturally?  What lies are hindering this?  What beliefs will enflame this?





Protest averse Protestants

5 12 2008

lutheratwormsOccasionally as we engage people in conversations about restoring aspects to the church  that  appear to have been lost (5-fold ministry, structuring like a body, the mission as city-wide discipleship) I’ll hear through the grapevine of a person (often a church leader) that writes us off saying “they think they are the only ones who know how to do church”.  Their summary judgement seems intended to allow them to avoid the uncomfortable process of wrestling through biblical concepts that are unfamiliar and, therefore, might require some change.

What I find terribly ironic about this reaction is how quickly Protestants seem to forget their history.  Protestant comes from the word “protest” and was given to our movement because we had a heart to reform and restore things to the church.  And reform we did.  Every Protestant church today stands on the back of 40 or more very hard won restorations that are far more fundamental than anything we’ve ever suggested.  Things like salvation by faith, the authority of Scripture, the priesthood of all believers and on an on.

So a Protestant who refuses to engage in any further reformation or restoration conversations is actually saying, “our church has finally figured out the final restoration and we now, alone, represent the fully restored church.”  In a phrase, they cease to really be Protestant.  They fall prey to the objection one Catholic voiced over the Reformation when he said, “you will simply replace one pope with thousands.”  Sadly, his prediction has become a functional reality.  Just look at the language we use.  Someone who believes strongly in the tenets of the Reformation during the 1400’s is said to be “reformed”.  Not a refromER or reformING but reformED.  As if all that needed to be reformed occurred 600 years ago and now we can truly stand and say the reformation is over and we are now reformed.  They are theologically Amish and chose to pause theological converation at an artibrary date in history but without the Amish integrity to admit it.  If we were living through the reformation today doubtless 90% of the people who are committed Protestants today would have been the most ardent supporters of church status quo because their actions reflect protecting church tradition as their most passionate agenda.  How did this happen?

I believe true humility is for all of us to admit that we have a long way to go to see the church fully restored and we need to graciously and rigorously engage in restorative conversations.  This should be an ongoing part of our Protestant DNA. So please, don’t cut off the conversation prematurely but give us all the benefit of your wisdom and experience as present and future generations continue to discover elements long forgotten but in need of restoration.