Church Planting – Spiritual Rebellion or Strategic Necessity

7 02 2009

pic22It seems odd to me that someone would go into a city that has hundreds of spiritually mature elders and plant a new independent church alongside countless others.  Was this commonplace in the New Testament?  Where did this practice come from?  Let’s take a look back.

New Testament Church Planting – Paul would never plant a second church in a city where a city church with city elders already existed (although house churches naturally multiplied underneath the authority of the city church).  He would work within that structure (examples: Jerusalem, Ephesus and Rome).  It would have been seen as the height of arrogance and divisiveness for him to go into one of these cities, ignore the spiritual leadership of the city, and plant his own brand of church, placing himself as the head.

The 2nd Century Church – Then a man named Ignatius came on the scene during the 2nd century and, being frustrated with all the fighting over heresy, wrote that each city should submit to a single “bishop” (instead of elders) and that the bishop should be regarded as “Christ himself”.

The 3rd-5th Century Church – As these bishops started to gain more and more power the bishop of Rome exalted himself as the chief of all bishops compounding the problem and replacing the local elders forever with a pyramid hierarchy beginning at Rome and trickling down from archbishops to bishop to priest to lowly you and me.  Eastern Orthodox developed a slightly flatter hierarchy while still functioning according to the structure dictated by Ignatius.

The Reformation – Luther, Calvin and other reformers still believed in one united city church except with a reformed theology.  And because they did not eliminate the oneness of church and state, theological issues and ecclesiological structures were matters of national security.  Thus the state would enforce unity of theology and structure at the city church level according to the brand of church chosen by the rulers of that nation.

Democracy and the Separation of Church and State – Once the state wisely ceased to enforce theological unity, each brand of church from various cities came and planted their brand in every other major city.  Each brand imported its own authority structure which was autonomous from the other brands within that city and city unity disintegrated entirely.  Afterward people began to plant separate churches for every conceivable reason from desiring different musical styles to choosing to follow one particular leader.

Today – Now a person going into a city has two options when it comes to submitting to spiritual authority:  1) He can plant his own church establishing or importing his own authority (or that of an outside structure) or 2) he can join a tiny segment of the city church and submit to that one pastor, priest or group of elders completely excluding any responsibility to the shepherding of the other 100+ pastors, priests, bishops and elders in that city.

Wow, what a mess.

Most ignore this dilemma, pick one of these two options, and go off on their merry way.  I reject these options because both are unbiblical, both lead to further divisions and both spread the diseases infesting the church in new and increasingly destructive ways.

There is a third option – begin to reconstitute the city church.

We have an authority problem incased in a structural problem and the structural problem must be fixed first.  As long as everyone functions on the “my brand of church” level no one is structured around the spiritual needs of the city as a whole.

I know we’ll never unify 100% of the Christians in a major city but does that mean we should only identify with one segment of one brand?  Why not begin a reunification movement?  Why not work as one with those who you agree with on the theological essentials?  Why not demonstrate our unity through ever growing city-wide worship?  Why not join with the spiritual leaders across the city to disciple the whole city?

Side note: One city church does NOT mean we all go to the same building on Sunday morning to worship to the same music and listen to the same sermon.  In Jerusalem they had city-wide worship and prayer every day of the week.  In Ephesus they had city-wide daily training courses at the School of Tyrannus.  There would still be hundreds of places to worship, pray and learn but we would function as one.

This will take vision, time, perseverance, and deep love for our other brothers and sisters but more than anything it will take commitment to the prayer of our Lord who asked the Father to make his disciples one as He and the Father are one.

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17 responses

7 02 2009
Daniel

Okay, I think I’m starting to get a clearer picture of what you’ve been trying to say… We definitely are frustrated with the schizmed-mentality of Christians today. We were just talking last night, about how it’s almost considered weird by most of the Christians we know, to meet and get to know other Christians solely because of our mutual relationship with Christ. People are so used to only interacting with other people who go to the same church building, or work with them, or whatever. It’s like we’ve completely lost the ability to just connect with other followers of Christ without any sort of program to funnel us alongside other people. Pretty weird actually. But now that we’re trying to learn how to live outside of that mentality, we feel like WE’RE the weird ones, at least in the eyes of many Christians we know. (But that’s okay, I guess we’re used to that!) Look forward to reading more…

8 02 2009
Kiwi and an Emu.

[…] may have linked to something like this before, but I can’t read this post by Jeremy Pryor without a hearty, “Amen” welling up in […]

8 02 2009
Doug

I used to participate in a Bible Study in a neighbor family’s home. The people who came regularly included several Baptists from two different churches, a couple Methodists, a Lutheran (me), a couple ‘Messianic Jew’, a couple Pentecostals, and others not attached to any church. Primarily it was Christians who lived in the same neighborhood and their friends.

I guess that Bible Study continued for about 4-5 years until it whittled down through people moving away and few new folks joining.

Perhaps things like that would be baby-steps to the sort of reconciliation you seek?

One of the things you’ll have to confront is a strong desire for people to be with others like them. This little Bible Study was an against the grain thing. Most growing Churches all appeal to the same sort of demographic.

8 02 2009
Jonathan Brink

Diggin the development aspect Jeremy. Nice.

8 02 2009
Larry Who

Some interesting thoughts, but here is a fourth option. Close all the churches, sell the buildings and give the money to charity (Luke 12:33). Then, start over.

This time, obey Christ’s mandate in Mark 10:42 – 45 that warns about hierarchies and spiritual authority of leaders over other believers.

10 02 2009
Ford

Spot on, Jeremy. Spot on!
Larry, your recommendation is intriguing. Something to consider.

10 02 2009
Bob Kuhn

Larry’s suggestion (which I also find intriguing) seems the most practical. I can’t see having city wide worship and discipleship training without having the “spiritual” leaders of my city fighting for control of it. But … if this could be done as some sort of low recognition organic movement with plenty of substance and little form, the spiritual control-freaks and glory seeking “clergy” might leave it alone.

11 02 2009
Daniel

Bob- I’m totally with you… Trying to stitch together a city-wide body using the same old hierarchical mindset, would only mean starting another turf war…

However, we can start to be a part of the greater Body that exists in a greater metropolitan (or rural) area, simply by allowing ourselves to go out and connect with the other brothers and sisters around us, and to listen to the Spirit as He prompts us to work together in reaching the lost, serving those in need, etc… As long as it stays truly “organic”, simply being a network of people who love Jesus, then we remain free to follow the Holy Spirit. Once we start slapping names and labels on things, and trying to look official or legit, then we become nothing more than another “ministry” or church-business competing for people/money/attention… This is what seperates and divides, and this is what we must make sure we do not fall into ouselves….

15 02 2009
Caesar

Would anyone like to offer up an actual idea or two (that hasn’t already been tried a million times) at unifying and submitting one to another as one “city church”? (still not sure on the hermeneutical evidence to support this argument, but I am in for now).

I am guessing that churches are not going to be too up on the idea of selling everything and starting over as a way forward…

The leadership challenges you all reference are very real for a reason. I totally agree that the One Church should be unified and be ONE…wy stop at a city church? Why not unify one big international church under the same thinking?

I think we may in fact all be one city/international church submitted to one leader in reality. Jesus is the head of the church and the only senior pastor. As long as we are united under the Head, are we not truly ONE? We have already agreed that there is not an advocating of everyone having to come together in one huge gathering to be one church…

15 02 2009
Jeremy Pryor

Caesar, great points and questions!

I’ll throw out a couple of ways this could be done (training and youth ministry).

The biggest one is training that today is happening through the church-based separation of 5-fold ministry in the city.

The church in a city is basically experiencing what would happen if we decided to set up elementary schooling with each child going to a school that only really specializes in one subject. The math school, the history school, the art school etc. There are some strengths to this approach but the weaknesses are debilitating.

Currently our lack of unity is causing us to have the prophet churches, the teacher led churches etc. but we REALLY need each other.

At Soma, for example, you guys may have the most passion and the best strategies for reaching the unreached elements of Tacoma’s culture but, that dna is largely inaccessible to other believers in the city. I’ll bet there are 10 churches within 5 miles of your expression downtown that haven’t a clue of how or why they need to reach the unreached (while people come from different countries to go through Soma School). Why don’t other believers from other churches and their leaders engage with you guys? Because believers don’t identify with the church in their city (all the orthodox, diverse 5-fold ministers) they only and exclusively identify with their church and its brand.

What you and Jeff teach or think is totally irrelevant to their lives as Christians in Tacoma. You go to the “Art elementary school” and they go to the “History elementary school” and over time these schools often begin to believe they are the only one that matters or maybe the only one that is really school at all.

This gets broken down in small ways all the time (but I think we need a larger more visible movement to push this to the next level.)

In my city there is an amazing city-wide Youth ministry through Young Life but almost no church identifies with it as “our youth ministry” because its not in their “church”. These city-facing ministries get under resourced and disconnected from the churches in their city.

I want to start reversing this through a para-church looking city-wide training center (training center = not a building just a weekly email newsletter with a website of trainings available to all believers in the city) where people begin to experience trainings from diverse members of the 5-fold. This is just step one and will take years to establish but its a start and it begins to alleviate the largest problem being created by our inability to identify with our city church and at the same time puts the focus back on training disciples.

15 02 2009
Caesar

Jeremy, thanks for the thoughts and ideas and again, I am in agreement that one unified church is what we all want and what in reality there is/should be. But I think you have made some huge assumptions here…

Is God not able and willing to give all of the 5-fold giftings within any given gathering/collection of believers and leaders? The gifts are not necessarily spread out and only found through the re-collecting of them. They often exist in one group of people. (church) Maybe not right away, but like you said, this may take years. I think the specialized elementary school analogy really breaks down here. I know that some churches have stronger, singular slants in their teaching styles/gifting, but many work hard to identify, strengthen and exercise all of the giftings represented by 5-fold. We have prayed for and worked hard to submit to this in Soma from the beginning.

Also, another huge assumption made here, that what we are doing in Soma is “largely inaccessible to other believers in the city. I’ll bet there are 10 churches within 5 miles of your expression downtown that haven’t a clue of how or why they need to reach the unreached (while people come from different countries to go through Soma School). Why don’t other believers from other churches and their leaders engage with you guys? ”

Jeremy, please give us the same grace and gift of time and the Spirit’s leading that you give yourself and your hopes for a new city church model to emerge. In reality, hundreds of leaders and believers from other churches across Tacoma and the South Sound HAVE come to train with us in many different topics, subjects and methodology in the past few few years. An awesome exchange of gifts, ideas and learnings! I think your ideas about making more of what we do and have to offer known and more accessible to the city is wise. We need to think and pray about how that might be accomplished.

But more than anything, I want to move beyond theory and assumptions and get back to the questions I asked above, which were still not addressed:

“an actual idea or two (that hasn’t already been tried a million times) at unifying and submitting one to another as one “city church”?

“Why stop at a city church? Why not unify one big international church under the same thinking?

“I think we may in fact all be one city/international church submitted to one leader in reality. Jesus is the head of the church and the only senior pastor. As long as we are united under the Head, are we not truly ONE?”

Thoughts on these questions and some ideas on how to move forward would be super helpful for us.

Thanks! Great dialog.

16 02 2009
eden2zion

Hey Caesar,

On the two assumptions – 1) can 5-fold exist in one local church? Yes, but now we’re opening up a new can of worms about how these function. I believe when you have these gifts you equip multiple churches per the role described for them in Eph 4. as equippers (as distinct from the body that “builds itself up” through being equipped). But there are other systemic problems with what I call “rooted 5-fold” that I can’t substantiate here that include – loss of new work expansion, clergy/laity distinctions, hierarchical organization etc.

The second assumption was NOT about Soma (sorry I worded that poorly) but about other Tacoma churches. What you are doing is inaccessible to 90% of Tacoma’s Christians because they identify with their local church and are taught to draw only from that well thus narrowing your ministry in Tacoma to your church, the minority of open-minded Christians from other Tacoma churches, and those outside the area. I’m sure you guys are working to open this up, as are we, but we all have a huge obstacle to this which was caused by the dissolution of the city church described in my post.

On your question –

* an idea to make this happen. Here are the steps that can make this happen when working through an existing church that wants to commit to this.

1) design one’s current church to identify locally with two groups. First, a cellular body (the soma) that “builds itself up” and submits to Christ as its head (we believe, in maturity, these groups will typically number 30-50 adults). Second, your people must draw their training, corporate worship, corporate prayer, youth ministry, children’s ministry, social justice etc. from the “city church” (the City Church of Tacoma) and not a new branded local church that reproduces all of these city ministries under its brand.

2) When you establish each one of these city ministries try to do it in coordination with at least 2-3 existing churches (& be constantly inviting all the others) to demonstrate its not just your thing under the new branded name (City Church of Tacoma). We like to start with the ministry of discipleship training like Paul did in Ephesus through the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19).

3) Release 5-fold ministers by giving them training opportunities at the city-wide training center and, once they’re dna is beginning to circulate through their modular trainings and others can continue the training, send them out to do the same in other cities (when we send 5-fold out that’s when we begin funding them). At the same time you bring in 5-fold ministers from other cities who are excellent at equipping believers in areas where you currently are weak (for example we need you to help equip the evangelists in Cinci. We do have those gifts here but they don’t have your maturity/equipping ability yet).

On your second question why not identify with the global church. Yes, you should. Every believer should have 3 church identities – body, city and bride (global church). And yes we are truly one. Agree 100% but how is this unity expressed and lived out locally? Certainly not through 100 churches in a city who conduct the same ministries within a few miles of each other never bothering to coordinate with one another. Jesus wrote letters in Revelation 2-3 to seven city churches. He identified all the believers in those churches as belonging to that city church. If you lived in that city, surely you couldn’t read that letter and say “this doesn’t apply to me.” I believe we still are a part of our city church. You are a part of the church of Tacoma and so is every other believer but because of the above historical occurrences most have forgotten it.

One thing I feel when we interact that I also wanted to mention is that we seem to agree conceptually on almost everything but I think we have different focuses (I hate writing foci). I feel called to unify, train and release existing Christians (95% of which have never really been trained). I can’t work in a structure that, by definition, will wall me off from ministering to the majority of the Christians in that area. I get the impression that you evaluate ministries more on their ability to reach unchurched people. Both approaches are essential. I need your help thinking through how to work this out with unchurched people. There is a group here in Cinci that is thinking about using the Story of God to catch people and the Story-Formed Life to train them. Wow, I would love to see this in action.

I feel like we should maybe have a phone call. I would love to discuss this more if you have some time.

Thanks for interacting with me on this! Your feedback is very valuable.

16 02 2009
Bob Kuhn

Jeremy, am I hearing you right? In short, a “Young Life” style church for all age groups?

Its structure could be organic; its method would be incarnational; its focus (not foci) would be evangelical; its goal would be discipleship (complete with the releasing of the 5 fold ministry); and its result would be the birth of several small Jesus centered communities with a unity of purpose. Am I close?

17 02 2009
Caesar

Jeremy, thanks for working so hard here to explain and expand. I would love to chat on the phone soon. Let’s set up a time in the next week.

17 02 2009
eden2zion

Bob, yah, you’re definitely beginning to get the vibe and the purpose. I would love to see something like this emerge in New Orleans!

Caesar, shooting you an email. Hope we can connect.

2 05 2009
Jon

My dilemma with the city wide church is that I’m afraid we will never agree upon what the essentials of Christianity are.

Everyone has to draw a circle around themselves and say, “Anything within this circle is good Christianity, anything outside is not.” And in a sense every single denomination does this. Some parts of our circles overlap and some don’t.

We couldn’t say that we get rid of these circles. And somehow a circle has to be drawn around the “city church” in order to keep unity and identity. But in doing this drawing aren’t we really just creating our own brand and calling it the “city church” and establishing it as the bishop church structure of all the churches in the city.

1. What if certain churches don’t agree with the theology of the city church and do not want to participate?

2. What if a group wants to be in the city church but offers discipleship training that is not theologically sound?

3. Is an elder of a local church automatically considered an elder of the city church when that church begins to operate as a part of the city church? Or do those people need to be reconsidered as elders?

I guess these questions are getting at really this question:

4. In the city church model who has the authority to make final decisions on what is good theology?

2 05 2009
Jon

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