Church Planting – The latest Good Mission to Replace The Great Commission

25 03 2009

bait-and-switchFor years now I’ve read and enjoyed fellow Kentuckian Michael Spencer’s blog and I appreciate and agree with so much of what he wrote regarding The Coming Evangelical Collapse which rightfully spread like wild fire around the blogosphere.  He’s a prophetic voice in the post-evangelical wilderness.  But, like most prophets, he deconstructs flawed ideas far better than he constructs new ones.  He’s ten parts hammer to one part screwdriver and in his uncharacteristically brief post on his proposed solution to the Coming Evangelical Collapse, Spencer lends his voice the cacophony of innovative evangelicals who believe planting more churches is the way we fulfill the Great Commission.  And on this one point he is wrong.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is where Jesus commands his disciples to go and make more disciples.  I’m going to say the most simple statement that may sound so obvious even writing it seems absurd.  But I can also say, that in all my life, I have almost never met a Christian leader, pastor, author, speaker, church planter or missionary who actually believes it.  And it is this:  there is only one way to fulfill the Great Commission and it is – to make disciples.

Our enemy will happily promote any idea, strategy, cause or movement that is not entirely focused on the intentional training of disciples.  He will be happy to see our Christian efforts achieve financial, numerical and even reproductive success as long as we’re not counting the completely transformed life of reproducing disciples.

You might be saying to yourself, “wait, isn’t that what we’re doing?  Even our mission statement as a church is ‘to make disciples’.  Doesn’t almost all Christian ministry result in making disciples?”  no, No, NO!  They do not.  Jesus said in Matthew 28:20 “teaching them to obey everything…” in other words – training.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that Olympic athletes go in to “strict training” to get a fading crown but we go into strict training to get a crown that will last forever.  I’ve asked several hundred Christians this question or a similar one that quickly exposes if you are making disciples or not.  On a scale of 1-10, “10” being Olympic training and “1” being training as a Barista at Starbucks, where would you plot the intentional discipleship training you regularly give or receive.  Guess what everyone says.  “I don’t give or receive hardly any training” or they simply say, “ah… negative 5”.  And here’s the dirty little secret: it doesn’t matter if they are in a main-line denomination or in the most innovative church plant to emerge from Acts 29, they are not making disciples.

So, no Michael Spencer, planting churches does not fulfill the Great Commission.  Church planting has been the latest in a long line of replacements for the Great Commission.  And all of these replacements have been good things – biblical preaching, church growth, church planting, small groups, missional communities anything please but NOT intentional discipleship training.

There are three simple reasons why church planting, as an activity, does not result in the intentional training of disciples and I’ll put it in a three point alliterative outline for my evangelical friends – church planting 1)divides, 2)demoralizes and 3)distracts.

Divides – The most common result of a church planting effort is the creation of a new worship service ministry.  In a city with 10,000 true Christians guess how many are currently involved in a worship service ministry – maybe 9,000+ and guess how many are involved in a weekly rhythm of discipleship training – maybe 50.  Huh…what if you had two choices when going into a town with 10,000 true Christians and 100 different styles of worship services with the goal of fulfilling the Great Commission.

Option #1 – Plant a new more innovative worship service
Option #2 – Start a discipleship training movement as a ministry to the 100 existing churches and the city as a whole.

Which is more likely to result in more trained disciples (i.e. help fulfill the Great Commission)?

We need 100% of the disciples in a city clearly connected to our mission of training disciples and if they coordinated with each other instead of building a new hipper wall against one another it would make the task far more effective.

Demoralizes – You would never think to build a ministry intended to reproduce disciples around a single person.  But we don’t hesitate to build churches around one man.  Why?  Because it reproduces churches.  Of course the byproduct of this activity is passive consumers, and then more churches and then more passive consumers.  How exactly does this fulfill the Great Commission?  Yah, I’ve read countless books of innovated dudes who are trying to find a new and creative way to take this existing hierarchical structure that hinges on one person and PRESTO morph it into a disciple-making machine but it doesn’t work.  Why make more of what isn’t working?  Why not do what Paul did in Acts 19 which was NOT to plant a new church but to start a city-wide disciple-making movement.  Disciple-making movements make more disciples than churches.  I wonder why?  “But in my church of 3000 I’ve seen several new Christians turn into disciples.”  Yes, and you can build an entire house with a edge of a dime instead of a screw driver and ya, a few boards are bound to hold together, but as your brother and friend I feel that maybe I should hand you a screw driver.  Church planting is like a caffeine high.  It works for short time but its biggest result is a head ache and the need for more caffeine.  When the church plant dust settles and the “new” and “exciting” gives way to the routine you still have a bunch of people sitting in chairs, not reproducing disciples.

Distracts – And of course the biggest problem with all this new fervor for church planting is that it is a distraction to a clear mission with a clear solution.  Yes, we can do both/and.  I’m sure the comments will light up with people telling me not to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Can’t we do biblical preaching and discipleship, worship services and discipleship, small groups and discipleship, mega-church and discipleship, social justice and discipleship.  Don’t ask, yes you can, but you won’t.  Why?  Because institutional survival demands you do those other things first and they don’t lead to the training of disciples.  A typical church structure has the following priorities by design –

Priority #1 – The Worship Service – To be involved in that church typically means to regularly attend that worship service (Church member involvement 100%)

Priority #2 – Small Groups – Christian need community and the service doesn’t provide this (Church member involvement 50%)

Priority #3 – Serving in a Ministry (You NEED people to do this to pull of the worship service every week (Church member involvement 20%)

Priority #4, #5, #6, #7….is a list of things churches like to do and discipleship training gets lumped in here so we can get that old guy from the Navigators to shut-up about it. (Church member involvement, less than 5%)

Good discipleship training can and will lead to each of those other things naturally but none of those things will naturally lead to good discipleship training.  God made the chicken before the egg and you need to train disciples BEFORE you experience the fruit of trained disciples – the local church.  But you won’t because you don’t believe me.  As long as their is a glimmer of hope that current programs might some day produce new results without the need to change you’ll keep waiting.  And so on it goes.

Jesus said “go make disciples” and he said “I will build my church” but like Adam in the garden we would rather eat the fruit than work in the dirt.  Disciple-making can be tough, toilsome work but it’s what our Lord commanded us to do and no activity, no matter how seemingly good, should replace it.

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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?





The Perfect Church Service – the Worst Experience

13 12 2007

worship1.jpgI posted some questions about the church on a forum I frequent and received some enlightening responses I’d like to share (with their permission).

Below is perhaps the most thorough and thoughtful description of a church service I’ve ever read from the perspective a new comer.

WARNING: His language is real and raw and we hereby deny any liability for flashbacks or offenses that may result. It’s important to see things from a variety of perspectives and as these churches almost always give new comers feedback cards that come back with canned responses, here’s what you won’t get in your survey.

Enjoy –

“My biggest issue with church is the suffocating emotionality of it all.

First, I pull into the parking lot and make my way past the hip, extroverted greeters who high five the youngsters and give me the over-friendly welcomes.

Then I make my way through the halls of people milling about and chattering. This part isn’t so bad except that I get the distinct feeling that everyone is “being Christian” at this point. All the body language and vernacular seems calculated to reflect their true Christian core. Everyone is suddenly called brother and sister and the amount of caring they show over the most trivial aspects of each others lives is both impressive and disturbing. Frankly, I suspect many of them are just doing what they think a dutiful Christian should do with no actual understanding why they should even care.

After that, I sit in the pew and consider why I’m there. Why did I come to Church? What am I seeking? What is going on here.

About 5 to 10 minutes later, some lead vocalist person shouts into the mic “Let’s all stand up and praise the Lord!” and the cool-Christian-rock-band tears into an up-tempo worship number. Wow, everyone is having such a GOOD TIME! The vocalist inevitably starts clapping in time to the snare hits while bopping their head and lyrics from the powerpoint slide flash across those nifty projection screens backed with some artsy-fartsy image of a cross or serene lake or the clear blue sky. The music is usually based on a verse from Psalms, but fixed up to show that this church understands rock and roll and is cool with youthful energy.

Some people in the congregation squish their eyes shut and extend their arms upwards and palms out while getting real into this praise and worship time. Others, bop and clap along with the beat and others stand next to their spouse seeming very robotic like.

After 10 to 15 minutes, someone (usually the worship/music director) segues into a soothing piano piece. Everyone closes their eyes, the lights dim and (s)he starts a prayer in a voice that, frankly, sounds like they’re getting good oral. Very breathy and overwhelmed by the majesty of the Father.

The worst part is when they (sometimes) do the “let’s turn around and greet each other this morning” and the pews come to life with hugs, handshakes and more over friendly greetings.

At this point, I feel like a turtle that’s having it’s shell ripped off by a bunch of curious, but unruly schoolboys and the actual message hasn’t even been delivered yet. Once we get to that part, I’m fine. But once it’s over we have to back to more flamboyant praise-and-worship. Ugh.

It’s just the sheer ritual, robotic, trance-like nature of it all. Very uncomfortable to me. And I don’t dare ask questions or tell people that I’m not a Christian. Or tell them I’m a truth seeker who’s read just as much of the Hindu and Buddhist texts as I have the Bible. They’re not so happy-go-lucky then.

I just hate being around anything that tries to twist my emotions around before delivering some bit of self-proclaimed truth. I wonder if lots of people in the congregation are like that. Is their knowledge of God just what they get after hearing some loud worship songs and being told what they already know? Or do they go home and read texts authored by apologists from other religions when they’re not emotionally high?”





Sometimes you just gotta love Driscoll

5 12 2007

Yah, I’ve got issues with Mark Driscoll (who doesn’t, I’m sure he has issues with himself) but sometimes what he says speaks the truth so loudly and bluntly I just got to be glad he’s on our side.

Watch between minute 6:00 and 7:00 priceless.





Willow Creek admits to the mistake of the Century

5 12 2007

mistake.gif

Willow Creek Community Church the mother of all mega-churches and the father of the seeker-friendly church growth movement recently released the results of a survey they took of their congregation which led to a startling conclusion.

The seeker-friendly church model doesn’t actually change the way people live.

Oops…

You can read the details of their findings here.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal if a series of similar mega-churches hadn’t spent the last 20 years assimiliating half of the evangelicals in America into their ineffective churches.

So while Willow Creek has the guts to admit this mistake what are the hundreds of other churches doing to fix the problem?

The seeker-friendly church movement may be the worst thing that ever happened to the church in our generation.

  • A church without Community
  • A Gospel without Lordship
  • A lifestyle without Discipleship

Where do we go from here?





Confessions of a Christian Abortionist

4 12 2007

I have something to confess that I’ve not told anyone.  A long time ago, when I was a young, inexperienced Christian I performed several Christian abortions.  Yes, I did the unthinkable.  I took someone who was experiencing a powerful move of the Holy Spirit, who might have confessed Lordship and become a true disciple of Christ and I pointed him to some easier way that fell far short of real conversion.

I clearly remember my first abortion.  It was at a Billy Graham Crusade in Seattle, Washington.  After the message I went down to the floor as a counselor to help those who wanted to become Christian Disciples.  There was a man who seemed ready for anything – he was ready to give up his life and looked to me to find out what to do next.  So I pulled out the first and most effective tool in the Christian abortionist’s kit – the Sinner’s Prayer.  “All you have to do is pray this prayer and really mean it and you’re a Christian.”  I told my unsuspecting victim.  After I had performed the heinous act I pulled out the finishing tool in my kit, a Bible study booklet for his first few weeks as a new “Christian”.  And what was the first study about – Assurance of Salvation.  It trained him to NEVER question whether or not he was a Christian.  He could put the date of this event right in the booklet and any doubts that might come afterward were certainly not from God and could and should be completely ignored.  The abortion was an amazing success.

I performed a few other Christian abortions that year before I was finally confronted by the biblical path to conversion – real faith that results in the life-abandoning act of verbally confessing  “Jesus is Lord”.  Ever since then I’ve dedicated my life to recovering the damage done by Christian abortionists.  I strive to train dying fetuses how to enter Christ’s Kingdom.  It’s the least I could do after the damage I caused.  But I find that, more often than not, the Christian abortionist knew their craft all too well and it’s simply too late.

But each time I see another one recovered it gives me hope.

Because someday Jesus prophesied that he will stand before a vast sea of people who call him “Lord” and have performed amazing ministry in His name.  And when Jesus tells them plainly , “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23) whose face will spring before their mind, amidst their horror, as they realize they’ve experienced the ultimate betrayal. My guess – their Christian Abortionist





Are you building another man’s ministry?

29 10 2007

A prophetic word sent out last week included this line that deeply struck me.  The prophet wrote about a shift coming in the way people are released into ministry.  He wrote, “The new breed of ministry will not use the people to build their ministries.  They will use their ministries to build people.”

It’s a subtle difference but many churches and ministries are NOT designed to find and release people into their ministries (into the unique calling God has placed on you).  They begin with a specific ministry agenda and seek to find others to help them build THEIR ministry.

But is that how a church should be structured?  Should we structure a church, a body of equally gifted, interdependent believers around the ministry, gifting and calling of one man?  Should not churches be a place where everyone is released?  Where the first question is NOT “what ministry position can we fit you into” but instead “what is your Kingdom destiny and how can we equip, encourage and release you”?

But there is one huge weakness in a model that releases everyone instead of supporting only one man’s ministry.  The weakness is this – if everyone is released, it requires each person to PROACTIVELY pursue their calling and NOT wait for someone to come along and give them a position.  We must each take responsibility for our own calling and steward those gifts and fulfill our responsibility to God and His Kingdom.

Oh what am I saying???  Its so much easier to just put in our hour or two per week supporting another man’s ministry.  Let’s just do that and get on with our lives.  Anything more might require too much of me.  Anything more might require me to die to myself.  Anything more might mean I will have to be crucified with Christ, that I can no longer live, that Christ will have to live His life through me.  Anything more might mean I’ll have to live in God’s Kingdom and NOT mine.  His life for mine.  His Kingdom for mine.  And that is why almost none of us will do it.  See you at the ministry fair.