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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Mark Driscoll: Good for Christians bad for Churches?

29 01 2009

picture-1Let me say from the outset this is not an attack piece on Mark Driscoll.  I like Mark and I’m very glad he is on our team (believes in the authority of the Bible, loves Jesus etc.).  But it is important  for us who study church practices to admit and grapple with the fact that Driscoll presents a way of doing church that is unrealistic, impractical and extra-biblical.

Mark has hit upon a church growth strategy that is a grand slam for attracting young men both Christian and non-Christian – two parts sex one part rebel Jesus (see latest news piece on Mars Hill).  Mark is going from being the Rush Limbaugh of Indy Christianity to being the Howard Stern of Indy Christianity.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being either but let me ask this, if Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern were to become Christians today and church planters tomorrow what would their churches look like?  After 10 years I have no doubt both men would have mega-churches with satellite campuses and an explosive podcast subscription rate.

But let me take a step back and ask should these men plant local churches?  Should these men become stay-at-home pastors?  Should their talk show host personality become the center of a one massive church?  Let’s take this to its logical conclusion.

I’m more of strategist than a pastor so if I wanted to plant a church in Cincinnati and I felt Driscoll’s model was effective and biblical I would start a satellite congregation of Mars Hill here.  Why not?  I’ll never be a Christian shock jock with my personality and its already proven to work in seven satellite congregations around Seattle.  If he’s the best Indy Christian preacher why try to compete?

Ugh…but do you see and can you feel what “the church” is turning into?  This is NOT Mark Driscoll’s fault at all but is the inevitable result of a modern Christianity being celebrity obsessed and entirely without a biblical ecclesiology (understanding of church).

The church needs to be rescued.  Today it exists as a formless and void container ready to be filled with any strong personality wanting to shape it in his image.  But the Bible does define for us what the church is and that it exists in three forms – body (a house-sized group the lives life together), city (a disciple-making movement that worships as one) and universal (the bride of Christ on his mission to make disciples of all nations).

I continually return to these three church identities because embracing these biblical concepts will both rescue the church from being anything and everything anyone wants to make it into and it will release the Mark Driscolls of the Christian world from being pastors to being teachers and communicators with world-wide ministries.

The church (universal) needs Mark Driscoll but churches (body and city) must not form themselves around the gifting of any single person.  A massive restructuring is needed and Paul’s strategy still remains untried and ignored by modern Western Christians.





Transitioning Pastors from Paid Positions to Released Callings Part 4 (how does this BETTER release my gift than a paid position?)

28 08 2008

Many of my friends in the house church movement refuse to deal with the issue of how to BETTER release 5-fold callings using a New Testament structure.  They are content to tell John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren that they should sit week after week as an equal member of a house church gathering and they wonder why gifted 5-fold ministers reject their model as an unrealistic step backward.

We need 5-fold ministers to be MORE released and for their influence to broaden not lessen.  So how does a New Testament structure that does not depend on the 5-fold endlessly maintaining individual churches, actually better release the giftings of those “called into ministry”?

Here are three ways –

Way #1 – Apostolic Teams. Instead of the modern phenomenon of teaching churches, evangelistic churches, pastoral churches etc. that arises from one member of the 5-fold leading one church, all of these should be on a balanced team.  This team would plant and shepherd many works resulting in each of the 5-fold always working in their area of calling and gifting while providing the correct gift balance to each work they are assisting.  This also eliminates the isolation many ministers feel as they will always go out in teams of 2 or more to do their work.

Way #2 – The City Church (Training Centers). The real domain of the 5-fold is the city church (that does not exist today).  5-fold ministers need to establish the city church (like Paul did with the School of Tyrannus) and then equip the whole church in an entire region from there.  Not only does this better release their gift in breadth (they equip the whole city) but also in depth (they refine particular trainings that they can impart better than any other).  Many 5-fold have specific teachings that they do better than almost anyone else (because of the depth of their faith and understanding in that area) but, nevertheless, they preach sermon after sermon hopelessly diluting the impact of the specific messages God has given them to impart to many.

Way #3 – New Works. Any city of above 20,000 people that does not have a city church where an itinerant 5-fold minister can come in and train the Christians in that city NEEDS A NEW WORK.  A new work is the process through which we establish a city church in a new region (beginning with a training center for the city).  Look around and see how many places, both in America and throughout the world, need a new work.  The 5-fold cannot be fully released without the re-emergence of the city church.  Of course not all the Christians are going to recognize your training center as the city church but over time hundreds and then thousands will see the fruit, and be trained there as you bring the 5-fold of the city together to disciple the city as a whole.

So this New Testament way of releasing moves 5-fold from –

  • Isolated Pastors to Apostolic Team Member
  • Using a Portion of their Gifting to Ministering from the Center of Their Gifting
  • Ministering to one fraction of God’s church in the city to Ministering to the City Church

Yes, they can be BETTER released in a New Testament model than in our current model.

So we’ve asked and answered the top 3 objections to making this transition from paid positions to released callings.  Now we need to have the courage and determination to make this shift happen in our generation.





Transitioning Pastors from Paid Positions to Released Callings Part 3 (who’s going to take care of my flock?)

27 08 2008

A continual concern for Pastors wanting to be fully released is the group of people or the organization they may have often spent decades building.  Releasing 5-fold callings instead of filling in paid positions is such a different philosophy of ministry that its inconsistent to adopt this philosophy while seeking a replacement for your former position.  Your position must be dissolved.  But this requires radical restructuring.  So how is this done as part of your transition period.  Here are some steps –

Step 1 – Refocus your efforts toward radical discipleship training. The structures I’m about to describe where the body “builds itself up” (Eph 4:16) cannot be done if the average person in the body is a baby Christian.  You need powerful discipleship tools and a clear, intentional discipleship process.  Design this process to be 1 year and create entry points into the process every 3 months so by the time 2 years are over you have trained everyone that wants to be trained.

Step 2 – Release discipleship trainers. As you develop the modular teaching courses and training intensives that are a part of the discipleship process, quickly recruit, train and release teachers and trainers to take over those modules so that training is expanding and continually occurring without your direct involvement.

Step 3 – Allow trained disciples to gather in body churches. An equipped and trained body of disciples loving each other like a royal family does not need you or any other full-time person to supervise and weekly lead its life together (typical size 15-40).  The body with gather at least once a week and work interdependently througout the week as it seeks to continue to expand the mission of make disciples.

Step 4 – Replace your leadership of the church with the headship of Christ. This should be done toward the end of your time in that position but this often looks like dissolving or completely changing the focus of your weekly worship service.  Because this is the center of life for most churches and the service centers on the paid Senior Pastor it is a structure that replaces Christ’s headship with a human head.  This often involves recognizing elders.

Step 5 – Cast a Vision for Itinerant 5-fold Ministry. Use the training center you developed in step 1 and 2 to begin to train these disciples about how the 5-fold ministry should really work.  That those of us with 5-fold gifts should not be leading one church (tilting it entirely toward our gifting) but equipping multiple churches as a part of a balanced team that has all five of these people.  Also train them in the advantages in a 5-fold culture of “coming and going”.

Step 6 – Complete your financial support phase. We discusses this in Part 2

Step 7 – Begin to go on extended and regular ministry trips. For the next 2 years spend intensive time building up other works and when you return to your home base, spend intensive and intentional time building up the bodies and the training center you helped established through the steps above.  You’ll quickly find the right rhythm for the works you are equipping and establishing as well as what works best for your family.

So are your people being cared for?  Take a step back and consider the real impact of the above transition.

You replaced

  • Passive learning with Intentional Discipleship
  • Corporate Gatherings with Interdepenent Bodies
  • Human Headship with Christ’s Headship

And you released yourself and many others in the process.





Gandalf the Grey – Tolkien’s Apostolic Archetype

2 08 2008

(Warning: If you don’t enjoy fantasy you probably want to skip this post.)

Ever since my friend Luke Crook forced my to read The Lord of the Rings in 7th grade I’ve been enamored with the character of Gandalf.  What is it about him that resonates so deeply with me?  As I’ve been studying the nature of apostolic ministry I continue to be struck by the similarities between Gandalf’s role (and the role of the 5 wizards) and the developing biblical picture I’m getting regarding God’s apostles.

Here are a few parallels:

“The Wandering Wizard” – Gandalf is itinerant and insists on building up other groups but being beholden to none.  He takes REAL responsibility for his role in providing guidance and strategy without settling down in any one place (the flaw of Saruman).  In the Silmarillion there is an interesting narrative about the White Council (Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, Saruman etc.).  Galadriel wanted Gandalf to be the leader of the White Council but Gandalf refused because “he would not be subject to any summons”.  He will not be rooted to one institution because it would interfere with his ability to serve many (this also must be true of apostles) which leads to my second point.

“Servant of the Secret Fire” – My favorite scene in The Fellowship of the Ring is when Gandalf faces the Balrog of Morgoth.  Gandalf is already visibly shaken by being hit by a counter spell at the tomb door and suddenly Legolas cries out Ai! Ai! A Balrog!  And you know when the powerful, wise, hundreds-of-years-old elf freaks out you’re in serious trouble.  But when Gandalf faces off with the Balrog on the bridge he tells the creature “I am a servant of the Secret Fire” and the second I read that for the first time I was entraced.  Tolkien has amazing literary restraint.  He tells you very little about the history of Middle-Earth but just enough to give his works a sense of almost endless depth and history.  Now I’m a big enough geek to read Tolkien’s other books and notes and I know that Gandalf was sent by the Valar to Middle-Earth to counter the growing threat of Sauron.  But Gandalf’s self-identity as a servant of something secret and unseen by those who knew him is exactly the kind of self-identity needed for an apostle.  Apostles are not superstars they are servants of the unseen Kingdom of God, not building fortresses like Saruman but on the move, tirelessly serving and building up the forces of God’s people to face their enemy which leads to my final point.

“Stormcrow” – Gandalf was given the name Stormcrow by some because his arrival always seemed to be perfectly timed with a season of war of either expansion or defense.  Likewise God’s apostles often arrive to shake up foundations and move God’s people forward which can be unsettling for those who are desperately trying to defend the status quo.

There are many others but I thought I’d list a few and expose my hopeless geekdom for public display once again.





Strategy vs. Revelation – Striking the right balance?

1 08 2008

My whole life I’ve been an obsessive strategist by nature but many in the church have looked with suspicion on my gift believing that there is something inherently ungodly about strategy.

Statements like “we just need to be faithful” or “God doesn’t care about how you do it He just wants your heart” have shut me down making me feel less spiritual because I deeply care if what we’re doing is the best method.  As I entered the business field I was greeted with the exact opposite response where strategy is highly prized and respected.

This is one reason I think God is going to call many of his apostles from the business world.

But does focusing on strategy breed an unhealthy independence from God and dependence on man and his plans?  I believe there is truth to this concern about strategy as some have embraced ungodly strategies and have justified their independence from God as a “holy pragmatism” and have built forms of church that have no chance of creating a biblically functioning body.

So what’s the balance?

I believe the answer may be a need to work from revelation to strategy not from pragamtism to strategy.

God has given apostles an ability to understand how God’s revelation builds a God-given strategy that will have the unique ability to allow the church to function properly.  God is beginning to release the apostolic ministry in our day in a way never seen since the first century and you will know an apostle by their unique ability to understand how revelation impacts strategy.  This will bridge the gaps created in the previous generation by the faithful but strategy-less pastoral church and the revelation-ignoring pragmatism of the evangelist led church.

We’re about to see why God’s divine order is not to build the church on the gifts of the pastor, the teacher or the evangelist but to build the church “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:20-21)





Parts of the Apostolic Team

20 06 2008

I’ve written in the past that ALL the members of the 5-fold ministry should function as an itinerant team to found new works and build up existing ones. This strategy will lead to the explosive expansion experienced in the 1st century church.

One question people continually ask is how these 5 gifts function. Enter Mike Edwards’ excellent post on Apostolic Expansion. Mike has an apostolic ministry in our DiSC network (Discipling in Simple Churches).