When Does Church Planting Become Kingdom Subversion?

21 09 2008

This post may feel like it’s coming out of left field but hear me out.  Anyone who studies church planting is very familiar with stats about how it’s the best method for reaching non-believers, how it allows you to create a form more effective in reaching emerging cultures and how there are not enough churches for the growing population.  However, I must seriously ask the question, “if Paul were to arrive in my city today would he plant a new church?”  My answer is that he probably would not.  He would most likely see this activity as an anti-Kingdom move and here is why.

Paul never planted a church in a city with existing Christians, and, even though he preferred to go to unreached cities, he spent a lot of time in cities with preexisting churches (Rome, Ephesus and Jerusalem to name three).  When Paul went into a city with an existing church he seemed to always –

  1. Recognize and honor the city church that already existed there (Acts 19, Romans 15-16)
  2. Build on the already existing foundation (as he did in Ephesus with the church Apollos already planted).
  3. Focused on imparting some gift or teaching they were lacking (Romans 1:11, Acts 19:6)

The thought that Paul would disregard the work that existed in that city and start a separate group that exclusively followed him would have seemed to Paul to be terribly divisive and self-aggrandizing (1 Cor. 3:4-5).

Paul would think it most strange that a church planter would move to a city and not even consider the possibility of working with the hundreds of churches that already existed there.  But here is where modern day church gets us all twisted up.

Paul only knew of 3 types of churches –

  1. The Universal Church (all believers)
  2. The City Church (all believers in a city)
  3. The Body Church (a small interdependent group of disciples usually gathering in a home)

Paul always wanted to build up the city church and today that doesn’t exist.  So I have come to this simple conclusion.  If Paul were alive today he would go into a city and attempt to create a city-wide church.  That city-wide church would disciple all the believers in that city and its natural fruit would be various body (or house) churches.

I’m sure that brings up a thousand more questions about how to organize it, would any existing churches join it and how do you agree on doctrinal questions.  All of these I’m working through (and the Bible answers each) but it starts with a very simple conviction – today there is still only one city church in your city (although it is mostly ignored) and it’s the only hope your city has of experiencing a city-wide sweeping move of God.





Mark Driscoll’s Thorough Evaluation of the Emerging Church

13 09 2008

Wow, if you had only 1 hour to hear a contemporary critique of the emerging church I would highly recommend downloading the link below –

Mark Driscoll at Xenos on the Emerging Church

Mark identifies 4 streams of Emerging (I can’t remember Mark’s exact titles):

  1. Hipper Church (Dan Kimball)
  2. House Church (Alan Hirsch)
  3. Emerging Reformers (Mark Driscoll)
  4. Emergent Liberals (Brian McLaren)

Not sure where Mark would put me (City Church to Body Church to Apostolic Teams)?  I wouldn’t personally identify with any of the streams he’s listed.  Hopefully that means we’re not emerging. 🙂 (I much prefer to be Restoring).

Mark gives an especially detailed critique of the theology of both Brian McLaren and Rob Bell.

Mark’s serious and far more careful tone is very refreshing and his call at the end against reactions I thought was also important.

If you get a chance to listen let me know your thoughts.





God’s Growing Anger with my Generation

4 09 2008

I had a very unusual experience last week that I wanted to describe to you.

Every morning I ask the Lord to teach me and he usually gives me a passage of Scripture that we converse about.  On this morning I immediately heard “Numbers 14” so I read about how Moses interceded for the house of Israel when they refused to go into the Promised Land.  God promised that none of that generation would enter in.  He initially wanted to destroy them and make a nation out of Moses but Moses knew the heart of God and made an argument with God that, for His glory and His reputation, He should find another way.

Then I felt God turn to me and tell me to intercede for my generation.  And as I prayed I began to feel the growing anger.  I’ve never felt this before (except for a specific person) so I asked the Lord why he was angry.  This is the Word I felt He gave me –

“Fruitless has been my careful cultivation of this generation”

Now I’m not a prophet so I rarely get specific words from the Lord especially for others so this is new for me.  I took it to the Gathering of our Body and it was immediately confirmed as I submitted it to them.  I’m sure many of you are sceptical of this kind of thing (as am I) so lets just explore the possibility that our generation (I’m thinking of us Xers) have not born the fruit God intended us to bear.

Just think of the resources poured out on our generation in the 70s and 80s

  • Multiple Youth Pastors in every city and town
  • Flourishing para-church ministries like Young Life and Youth for Christ
  • Bible Colleges in every corner of the country
  • International Stability (none of us were drafted into any wars)
  • Financial Stability like no other time in history
  • Societal Stability where most of America was safe and justice visited upon criminals

So these were God’s astounding gifts to our generation and where’s the fruit?  We seem so caught up in our self-focussed conversations about what we want church to be that we can easily forget that God is an investor expecting a FULL return, many-fold, for all he has poured into us.  Where is the fruit?  Do we even care if we’re fruitful?  Have we forgotten that God demands a return?  Do we really think all of these blessings are simply for our enjoyment?

I get the picture that we are like a Judges Generation.  When God grants peace we run to our idols until God shakes things up (removes the hedge of protection and abundant blessing).

During the next 20-30 years many of us will be leaders of American Christianity.  Here are three things I think we should do –

  • Pray and stand in the gap (like Moses did) for our generation.
  • Stop ignoring or recasting the question about our fruitfulness so that we can be self-focussed.
  • Band together to see a world-wide movement of God bearing fruit for many generations to come

What do you think we should do?





Go First to the Pastors? – To the Jews first then the Greeks

5 08 2008

During Paul’s initial missionary journeys you see a repeated pattern –

  1. Paul reasons with the Jews at the synagogue
  2. Those who believe he trains and they form churches in homes
  3. Those who don’t believe get jealous and stir up persecution against the Apostles
  4. When the persecution gets really intense (or when training is established) they move on

As I’ve mentioned before, I place a lot of stock in what the Spirit of God was doing in Acts and what he inspired Luke to write.  I believe we need to at least ask the question why?  Why did Paul use this pattern and if we were to do this today, what would it look like?

Today church planters are encouraged to avoid other churches like the plague and to focus on serving and reaching unbelievers.  When persecution got increasingly intense Paul did end up starting outside the synagogue with God-fearing Gentiles but something in him always said to go first to those who already know God.  Why?

It goes to the very nature of apostolic ministry.  An apostle wants to see the Kingdom of God take root in a whole city or an entire region.  He doesn’t serve a fraction of the church in that city (one denomination or a single congregation) but the entire church in that city.  So if he’s called to start a disciple-making work, why not work with cooperating churches?

The pattern might go something like this –

  1. Arrive at the new city and go meet with the ministerial association
  2. Offer to serve them for the purpose of creating a unified disciple-making work in the city
  3. Any who will listen cooperate with
  4. Begin the disciple-making work
  5. As people are being transformed some pastors may become jealous especially if many of their people are being built up
  6. Stay there until discipleship training and house church planting is established (or until persecution becomes intense and makes you the focus)
  7. Move to the next city

If we have no chance of creating controversy with the way we’re starting new works I have to ask, are we using the correct pattern?  Maybe, like Paul, we were not meant to see the denomination lines man, in his sin, has created.  Maybe we should see the church in the city the way God sees it – all of his called out children as one people.





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)





Becoming an Antioch Church

31 07 2008

God has impressed on me lately the importance of not neglecting the Antioch model so I want to simply introduce some observations and how this tiny, new church plant was responsible for the single greatest church expansion in the history of our faith.

In our effort to plant and grow churches, in the past 50 years we have gone through 3 major model shifts –

Pastoral model – This is where someone with a 5-fold pastoral gift plants a church and stays there, growing and maintaining it for life.  This has and always will ultimately result in the decline of churches because there is no chance for exponential growth and the number of churches is always limited to the number of Pastors.

Evangelistic model – This was kicked off with Bill Hybles church plant in Chicago and has been reproduced a thousand times around the world.  This model is where a 5-fold evangelist plants a church and restructures it around their ability to enfold thousands of people.  If Billy Graham would have planted a church it would have been like this.  These churches tend to be 1000+ but are even more difficult to reproduce then pastoral churches because there are fewer 5-fold evangelists.  This model results in the fast decline in the number of churches the slow decline in the number of church goers and very fast decline in the number of devoted disciples since evangelists do not have the gifts or calling to thoroughly train disciples.

Church planting Churches model – Very recently there has been a call for churches to plant churches.  New churches are both better at evangelism and contextualizing the Gospel in emerging cultures than existing pastoral churches.  While this is smart strategically this model tends to carry with it the same problems as the above two if the model for church being used is based on finding the right 5-fold gifted person.  If they chose a new model (actually an ancient model) not basing a church on a person and his gifting they may become an Antioch church and learn how to reproduce in a way that expands the church.  I have the most hope for this model.

So what is the Antioch Church Model

Acts 13

1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

  1. The gathering of prophets and teachers.  It is important for the prophets and teachers of a church to spend time together before the Lord seeking his will for the church
  2. Sending out the most called and gifted of the group.  Any church that wants to see this kind of expansion can NOT be dependent on their most gifted members but must be preparing to build itself up (Eph 4) as they are equipped by those gifted members so they can send their best out and not suffer.
  3. Spiritually and financially support the Apostolic team you are sending out.

I know many of us have been trained not to pay any attention to Acts to find models.  We’ve learned well that what the Spirit of God did in Acts and what the Spirit of God inspired Luke to write in Acts should have no bearing on our models but we should instead follow what the spirit of Brian McLaren or Mark Driscoll says or trust in our own limited understanding of the Bible and our context to discern how to structure the church.  But I believe church structures must flow out of divine revelation and then work toward strategy because it is given to apostles in our day to understand what models and forms will result in the proper functioning of the church.  We cannot and should not divorce form and function because one leads to the other.

I’d encourage you to dig into Antioch and see if these elements are true of you and your church and for the sake of the Kingdom, consider the impact of this tiny, obedient body.