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.





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.