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)





3 Powerful Tools for Discipleship

7 07 2008

Often when I discuss discipleship with church leaders they point to some program – yearly conferences, small groups, sermons etc. that they see as their attempt to disciple their congregation.  But if you go a step deeper and try and discover if the tools they are using are actually effecting lasting change they’re not sure, they just assume.  It’s almost like they want a program to exist so they can feel like discipleship is happening and get on with what they think of as the “real mission” (growing bigger, maintaining church, planting churches, living in community etc.).

But pulling off a program for discipleship does NOT mean you are off the hook.  If you choose tools that are simply too weak to transform believers into devoted, obedient disciples what difference does it make?  You have not and are not fulfilling our Commission.

I believe discipleship is the mission and I am on a constant hunt for the most POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE tools in existence to create lasting change in the life of a disciple.  These tools also must be accessible for everyone.

Here are the three tools we use in conjunction with each other to disciple the bodies in our city (this 3 part approach also fits into a triperspectival frame work of prophet, priest and king).

1. Teaching Courses (75% content, 25% application)

These are courses like the Story-Formed Life and Koine Essentials where we spend 1.5 -2 hours midrashing and then go into training groups for the last half hour.  These have been extremely effective at building and growing foundational beliefs essential to the disciples life.

2. Traning Intensives (75% application, 25% content)

These are intensives like Rhythm Training and Walking in the Spirit where we teach a concept for half an hour, workshop the specific implications out for each individual that they will follow the next week, and debrief and pray over what happened when they tried last week’s training.  It is not uncommon to see someone’s entire approach to life completely transformed during the 5 week intensive, equipping the disciple with the tools and practices to live out the life of Christ.

3. Mentoring Relationships (50% content 50% reactive to what is going on with the disciple)

Whereas both Teaching Courses and Training Intensives are done at the Training Center level (city church) the Mentoring Relationships happen at the body level and are overseen by the Elders.  Currently we are doing this in groups of 3-4 (one mentor with 2-3 others) and we are experimenting with Greg Ogden’s 25 week process called Discipleship Essentials (you just need a starting point each week so curriculum is not central to but helpful).  After the 6 month process the mentoring is not complete until those going through the process mentor their own group of 2-3 for 6 months (thus a one year process).

Combined these tools are strong enough to truely and completely transform people’s lives.  We have to stop making excuses and focus ALL of our attention on fulfilling the Great Commission (make disciples…teaching them to obey everything) and not get side tracked by some other cool sounding mission, causing discipleship to be side-lined by a competing passion.





The Challenge that will Transform the Church

28 06 2008

There is one simple challenge that a church can take that will once and for all

  • Shift the mission to disciple-making
  • Cause the church to be structured into small bodies (missional communities)
  • Release the 5-fold ministry to focus most of their energy on expansion

I’ve mentioned this challenge in several of my past posts especially here and here but I just discovered that it was posed by an episcopal priest named George Martin in the publication “Today’s Parish” where he wrote –

“Perhaps pastors should imagine that they are going to have three more years in their parish as pastor—and that there will be no replacement for them when they leave. If they acted as if this were going to happen, they would put the highest priority on selecting, motivating, and training lay leaders that could carry on as much as possible of the mission of the parish after they left. The results of three sustained years of such an approach would be quite significant. Even revolutionary.”

I want to work with ANY church leaders willing to serious consider taking this challenge. We need to STOP planting churches that are improperly structured requiring endless maintenance by full-time workers and the lack of serious discipleship and deep community that are their natural byproduct. It’s very simple. Structures that really make disciples, foster community and release the 5-fold are available if we’ll have the courage and fortitude to leave the familiar paths and take this ancient neglected path back to sustainable Kingdom expansion.

Please talk to me if you want to explore this.





The Slippery Slope of Extrabiblical Eccelesiology

24 06 2008

A quote from Richard Hanson in Viola/Barna’s book Pagan Christianity perfectly summed up a concept I’ve consistently encountered.

95% of my conversations with others about HOW to do church seem to center around this practice of reading their current model back into the biblical text.

Hanson writes –

“It is a universal tendency in the Christian religion, as in many other religions, to give a theological interpretation to institutions which have developed gradually through a period of time for the sake of practice usefulness, and them read that interpretation back into the earliest periods and infancy of these institutions, attaching them to an age when in fact nobody imagined they had such a meaning.” – Richard Hanson

This is so important to me because I believe, without this practice, so many true believers would fully embrace the design of the church given by the 1st century Apostles. But so many of us have decades worth of training which spins biblical teachings into a defenses for our current church practices. If we can at least get over this and admit that there is no biblical basis for the

  • worship service
  • weekly sermon
  • career clergy
  • church buildings

and that these are man made inventions that should only be used if we truly believe they will enhance our commission fulfillment, and not distort the Apostolic vision of the church. Only then will we finally have the flexibility to rediscover the Apostolic methods that lead to explosive, deep, natural, unstoppable Kingdom expansion.





What to do during a Small Gathering? Rediscovering the Forgotten Gathering of the Body

14 06 2008

As I’ve explored the various ways of doing discipleship training I’ve discovered that one of the main reasons our model differs from others is because we have very different purposes and practices for the small gathering (missional community, body church, cell, community group etc.).

I want to lay out what we do during what we simply call “The Gathering” and then make a few observations on how this impacts our overall church model.

We believe there is only one Gathering actually described and prescribed in the New Testament for the local church body (the one that met in homes during the New Testament). This Gathering was (and still should be) one of the greatest distinctives of the Christian church. In the book of Acts we know they gathered in homes and at the end of the epistles Paul was greeting churches that met in those homes, but what actually happened INSIDE of those homes when they gathered?

Fortunately for us, one church royally screwed up their Gathering(s) so badly that Paul was forced to spell out specifically what should and what should NOT happen during The Gathering. This was the Corinthian church and the passage that described the practice of the Gathering was 1 Corinthians 11-14. As we’ve studied this passage here is a sample of the elements we’ve gleaned and put into practice during The Gathering:

  • 1 Cor. 11 – It starts with the Lord’s Supper as a love feast where everyone brings something to share and eats together remembering our Lord’s death and resurrection. This feast is celebratory in mood and is like a rehearsal dinner for the wedding banquet of the Lamb.
  • 1 Cor. 12 – We then clean up together and form a circle demonstrating that each gift or part is equally important for what is about to take place.
  • I Cor. 13 – Everything about this body and about The Gathering is done to demonstrate the unfailing love we have for one another as a spiritual family.
  • 1 Cor. 14 – Christ takes his position as the Head of the Body in a very real and physical way as we invite the Holy Spirit to come and various people bring what they felt led to bring “a song, a teaching, an interpretation, a revelation etc.” (1 Cor. 14:26)

Paul then ends this section by clearly telling the Corinthian church they have no right to ignore his prophetic teaching on The Gathering even saying that if someone ignores this teaching “he himself will be ignored” (I Cor. 14:38 )

So I want to be clear that we do NOT do The Gathering because it fits our ideal model of church. We ONLY do The Gathering because we believe it is the biblically prescribed way the church MUST gather.

However, as we have gathered this way we are beginning to understand how this form is unique and how it was carefully designed to achieve the proper function. This form of gathering:

  • Elevates Christ alone as the Head
  • Allows all gifts to be equal
  • Creates a family atmosphere (in a home around a meal)
  • Allows Christ freedom to move and speak
  • Forces us to depend on the moving of the Holy Spirit
  • Creates an opening for the prophetic word
  • Demonstrates our love for one another in very practical ways

Two major observation I want to make at this point are –

1. This is NOT a worship service, a replacement to a worship service nor does it have any relation to a worship service. When people put it into that category its disastrous. If you must put it into a preconceived category it should be as a spiritual discipline. Just like you have rhythmic spiritual disciplines in your life The Gathering is a weekly spiritual discipline the church (body) does together.

2. In this Gathering there is no leader but Christ. One of the most amazing things about the mess that was the Corinthian Gathering, where people were talking over one another, was that Paul never told the “leader” to get control of The Gathering. It’s an astounding omission!  When I hear people planting Missional Communities or Community Groups all the emphasis is on “leader training” and “leadership development” for these small groups but you are setting up these groups to have a human head. Christ must be the head of the body. That does not mean there are not elders or leaders. They are VERY important but they should NOT lead during The Gathering. They are equal participants.

We’ve acknowledge the following progressive implications of this model

1. This requires all body members to be at a high level of personal discipelship to do The Gathering
2. We need extremely powerful discipleship tools that work repeatedly
3. This is why BEFORE we can start a Body we have to start a Discipleship Training Center
4. After 20+ weeks of intense training a disciple can begin to participate effectively in The Gathering

Side note on Missional Communities – I realized that one of reasons my MC friends don’t get too jazzed about starting a DTC (Discipleship Training Center) is that they do systematic teaching during their Missional Community meetings, during leadership training and during worship services. So adding a 4th training process was over kill. In our model the DTC is where the systematic teaching and training happens. Although a lot of great teaching happens at The Gathering, we never prescribe training there. For us to set an agenda for The Gathering would violate Paul’s basic form which would turn it into a functionally different meeting.

Questions for discussion –

  • How can we ignore The Gathering as prescribed in 1 Corinthians in favor of other meetings?
  • How can Christ be the functional head when every Missional Community or Community Group has a designated “leader(s)”?
  • How can a “managed” or “led” meeting demonstrate the gifts as equally important?
  • Isn’t what the world needs to see is Christ’s Body? Why replace the biblical concept of body with the currently popular concept of community? Isn’t something lost here?




How did the Story-Formed Life Start

3 05 2008

This video is a description of my quest to find an effective disciple-making strategy and the ideas and experiences that started me down the path toward developing the Story-Formed Life discipleship training and using it as the foundation of our training centers.





Distinctives of Christian Training – Discipleship Series Part 3

26 01 2008

We’ve defined discipleship and unearthed training methods but what elements must be a part of Christian discipleship? Below is a list of seven that have been important for us as we’ve initiated processes intended for transformation from our old life into the life of Christ.

Strict Training – What little Christian training does exist it seems to have a level of intensity somewhere between Kindermusic and the Brownies. Perhaps this is why we would rather endlessly pontificate abstract general truths from the pulpit rather than get up in each other’s “bidness”. After all, isn’t hurting someone’s feelings a sin? (God save us from this lie).

Here’s a little explored passage these days. 1 Cor. 9:25olympiad.jpgEveryone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Notice that when Paul says “they go into strict training…but we” But we what? We go into strict training to get a crown that will last forever. We do? Do you remember the date you went into strict training? Further. Paul compares our training to Olympic training. Here is one of those cultural illustrations that actually still works for our culture but to no avail. We all know how Olympic trainers train but we have an Olympians skill at avoiding these kinds of uncomfortable Scriptures. Oh well, it’s only the Bible. And this was a long time ago. Maybe the people of Paul’s day needed strict training but today our transformed lives are so evident that all we have left to do is come together for 1 hour a week to celebrate the achievement of our unsurpassed maturity in Christ. Paul would be so proud (when the Christian activity of almost all mediocre Christians is “weekly celebrations” what exactly are they celebrating anyway?).

Faith-building – One big difference between training someone to master a skill (like playing the piano) and discipling someone in Christ-likeness is a shift from focusing first on behavior to faith. Jesus knew better than anyone that behavior naturally follows faith and the best way to transform behavior is to build the disciple’s faith. Our aim in discipleship is to tear down false beliefs that naturally lead to godless action and to carefully construct a new set of beliefs strong enough for the weight of real life.

Let me illustrate this process. In Genesis 1 we learn that men and women are created in the image of God (The Imago Dei) which is the foundation of our worth and that every human being. It’s a nice idea but I’ve never met a Christian that believes it. On a scale of 1-10 the may, if they are lucky, believe in the Imago Dei at a 1 but they believe in the culture’s definition of human worth (performance, appearance, and self-esteem based) at a 8 or 9. So almost all Christians think of themselves and treat others just like the culture because we believe the same as they do. If you teach them about the Imago Dei they will say to themselves “Come on, I’ve heard this before. I already know this.” And they are right, but they don’t believe it.

You see, the instant their faith in the Imago Dei grows (to say a 6) and surpasses their faith in the culture’s definition of human worth (say it falls to a 5) that person will instantly change. No joke. I’ve seen this over and over again. What is not instant is the process of increasing one’s faith in the truth and the deconstruction of one’s faith in the lies. Jesus didn’t care about what people knew, he cared about what they believed. We’ve replaced an obsession with faith with one of knowledge. A discipled congregation for most leaders is when their church knows all of God’s truth once they spent 20 years preaching through the Bible. Never mind these things they “know” they only believe at a 1. So how do you build faith instead of merely impart knowledge? It requires specific training methods we’ll build on later but for now I’ll say its often the dynamic interaction of two methods 1) intensely, intentionally and personally testing the real beliefs of trainees through invasive questioning followed by 2) aggressively, systematically deconstructing worldly beliefs by a skilled faith-filled Spirit-led trainer the trainee trusts and respects.

Christ-centered – He is our model our inspiration and the physical embodiment of the truth we are growing to believe. The Gospels that painstakingly describe Christ’s life must paint the target.

Narrative-based – What are we building faith in? Unfortunately we’re still recovering from a devastating period of human thought called “the Enlightenment” which ripped truths out of contexts, which tends to work fine for disembodied abstractions like math, but is devastating for theology (truths about God). We are living in God’s story and the Bible is mostly narrative, so we can experience God through his real life actions, not so we can dissect him in neat pieces for scientific evaluation. People need to become personally identified with who they are through the story of God. This Story-formed Life contains the categories for all the faith elements necessary for life changing discipleship.

Calls to Repentance – As disciples work through the story and identify truths they clearly don’t really believe (given the evidence of their life) we need to call them to repentance in every area. Radicle disciples have chosen to turn their back on lies and reorient their lives toward the truth the first step of which is repentance every time.

Spirit-filled – No doubt some have received teaching about the Spirit that they use as their excuse for avoiding this activity. I’m sorry but Jesus didn’t command the Spirit to make disicples, he told the disciples to make disciples (and us by extension). But with that said, discipleship, like everything in the Christian life, must be done through active dependence on the Spirit. Few things are more amazing to watch than a discipler, filled with the Holy Spirit, unearth the secret faulty foundation of a trainees heart in a way that brings a flood of freedom, life and Christ-likeness.

Lifelong – It doesn’t stop until we reach full maturity (which doesn’t happen in this life) so this process needs to keep going. But it’s precisely this unending nature that makes it so important to separate training into clear, burstable, bite-sized modules. Modular training allows everyone to start where they actually are at, but gives freedom to push well-trained disciples even farther in their pursuit of the Christ-like life.

In part 4 I’ll describe what we do at Koine to give one (imperfect) example of these principles applied.