Driscoll’s Great Commission Magic Act

30 04 2009

I’ve recently written how many current Christian leaders I highly respect seem to be replacing the Great Commission mandate to make disciples with church planting.  But why replace the mission when you can just simply slip it right in?  This sleight of hand was performed by Mark Driscoll (ht – Colin) in his latest blog post where he wrote –

“Thankfully, the mission of the church is not that complicated. The mission of the church comes directly from the command of Jesus, who, following his resurrection and just prior to his ascension, said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20; see also Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:20-31; Acts 1:5-8). Jesus speaks of going, evangelizing, making disciples, and planting churches that plant churches to continue the process.”

There is no command in the New Testament to plant churches unless we read it into the text.  Make disciples and churches will form organically but planting churches does not necessarily lead to the making of disciples.  We need to all get on Jesus’ mission not a replacement mission promoted by well meaning men.





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.





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.





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.





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

packed-sheep

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.