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.





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