One Body, One Year – A Reflection on 2008

29 12 2008

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I’m both someone who doesn’t like to look back and someone with a distaste for quantifying anything spiritual.  But last night, during the anniversary celebration of our body church, part of the night included simply listing what God did through our little body in 2008 and I was pretty encouraged.  I want to put some of those stats here for three reason – 1) some people from the body were out of town and I want them to have a chance to read this, 2) many people think small churches that meet in homes are ineffective (and they often are) at expansion and being productive in God’s Kingdom and 3) to thank God for choosing to use us in various ways as he built his Kingdom this year.  So, here are some stats from 2008 and a few reflections.

  • Average number of adults in our body in 2008 – 30
  • Number of 10-week discipleship training courses done – 13 (in 5 states)
  • Number of people who went through Story-Formed Life training – 275 (many confessing Lordship for the first time)
  • Number of new bodies started – 3 (2 more beginning in 2009)
  • Number of new discipleship training centers started in new cities – 3 (with 5 more starting in early 2009)
  • Other discipleship training courses done by our Northern Kentucky training center – 12
  • Our monthly city-wide worship service was also started this year.

Remember this was done with no building and no paid staff.

It seems God should be able to do even more through our body in 2009 (we now have almost 40 disciples in the body now), but dream with me for a minute.  We were planted from a traditional church of about 1000 people.  If a church that size has 500 disciples in it who are committed members of a body, dedicated to our mission of training disciples, and who did similar things as our body this would have been the result.

  • 500 disciples in bodies = 16 bodies
  • Number of 10-week discipleship training courses done – 208 (in all 50 states and 30 different countries)
  • Number of people who went through the Story-Formed Life (began discipleship training) – 4,400
  • Number of new bodies started – 48
  • Number of new training centers started nationally and internationally – 48
  • Other discipleship training courses in their area this year – 192

Moral of the story – If you want to start a movement you must be structured like a movement.  Movements and institutions are structured in almost opposite ways.  Institutions require enormous capital resource and their bulk is centered around the service the institution is designed to provide.  Movements are organized in a cellular fashion and push all their resources out.  Their structure exists to spread so if a cell stops spreading it ceases to exist.  No resources are spent on institutional survival.  Spreading is the priority and therefore training (starting training center), encouraging (starting a body) and expanding (releasing apostolic teams) are its dominate activities.

Train disciples, grow the body and release the 5-fold ministry.  Do that in that order and, with God’s help, you’ll start a movement that will spread throughout the Earth.





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.





Exploring Explosive Growth in Church History

8 09 2008

Alan Hirsch asks an excellent question in a talk he gave at the Missio Conference at Fuller (download the conference talks HERE).

  • How many Christians were there at the end of the 1st Century? – 25,000
  • How many Christians were there at the end of the 3rd Century? – 25,000,000
  • Here’s the question – What happened?

or in China

  • How many Christians were there in 1940’s when all the church buildings were taken away, missionaries kicked out and pastors killed or jailed? – 2,000,000
  • How many Christians are there in China today? About 120,000,000
  • Again, what happened?

One thing is 100% certain – the kind of strategies that are taught at church growth conferences were not what causes exponential, viral expansion.  Do you know what happened?  Do you want to know?

I honestly think most of couldn’t care less.  If it doesn’t fit into our life, our model, our comfort zone, what we were taught in seminary, what will give us a steady pay check, we don’t really care.  Am I right?

We should ALL be totally obsessed with this question and we should ALL be willing to lay down our plans and models to move the church in our city and country into alignment with those things that allow for exponential growth.  I know a lot of people who pray for revival while defending the tools that will make revival impossible.  I know a lot of people who talk about being Kingdom centered who build structures that build their Kingdom at the expense of God’s Kingdom.

Alan throws these factors out during his talk (I’m grossly paraphrasing and simplifying) –

  • An absolute commitment to the Lordship of Christ
  • A peasant led church (not professionally led)
  • A simple, viral message centered on the person of Jesus
  • A decentralized non-institutional structure

You can ask yourself an incredibly simple question to know if you are a part of the solution or the problem.  Here it is – If 25% of the people in your city were to come to Christ in 1 year, are you today, part of building a structure that will –

  • Train them into disciples
  • Allow them to form a interdependent common life
  • Release their gifts for the city and the world

…or are you a part of building a structure that cannot handle exponential growth because it relies on –

  • Paid professionals
  • Church buildings
  • A weekly worship service as the church identity

So are you a part of the solution: building the city church, creating discipleship processes that are lay led, centering church life on the body (interdependent community) that is lay led, or a part of the problem?





Transitioning Pastors from Paid Positions to Released Callings Part 4 (how does this BETTER release my gift than a paid position?)

28 08 2008

Many of my friends in the house church movement refuse to deal with the issue of how to BETTER release 5-fold callings using a New Testament structure.  They are content to tell John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren that they should sit week after week as an equal member of a house church gathering and they wonder why gifted 5-fold ministers reject their model as an unrealistic step backward.

We need 5-fold ministers to be MORE released and for their influence to broaden not lessen.  So how does a New Testament structure that does not depend on the 5-fold endlessly maintaining individual churches, actually better release the giftings of those “called into ministry”?

Here are three ways –

Way #1 – Apostolic Teams. Instead of the modern phenomenon of teaching churches, evangelistic churches, pastoral churches etc. that arises from one member of the 5-fold leading one church, all of these should be on a balanced team.  This team would plant and shepherd many works resulting in each of the 5-fold always working in their area of calling and gifting while providing the correct gift balance to each work they are assisting.  This also eliminates the isolation many ministers feel as they will always go out in teams of 2 or more to do their work.

Way #2 – The City Church (Training Centers). The real domain of the 5-fold is the city church (that does not exist today).  5-fold ministers need to establish the city church (like Paul did with the School of Tyrannus) and then equip the whole church in an entire region from there.  Not only does this better release their gift in breadth (they equip the whole city) but also in depth (they refine particular trainings that they can impart better than any other).  Many 5-fold have specific teachings that they do better than almost anyone else (because of the depth of their faith and understanding in that area) but, nevertheless, they preach sermon after sermon hopelessly diluting the impact of the specific messages God has given them to impart to many.

Way #3 – New Works. Any city of above 20,000 people that does not have a city church where an itinerant 5-fold minister can come in and train the Christians in that city NEEDS A NEW WORK.  A new work is the process through which we establish a city church in a new region (beginning with a training center for the city).  Look around and see how many places, both in America and throughout the world, need a new work.  The 5-fold cannot be fully released without the re-emergence of the city church.  Of course not all the Christians are going to recognize your training center as the city church but over time hundreds and then thousands will see the fruit, and be trained there as you bring the 5-fold of the city together to disciple the city as a whole.

So this New Testament way of releasing moves 5-fold from –

  • Isolated Pastors to Apostolic Team Member
  • Using a Portion of their Gifting to Ministering from the Center of Their Gifting
  • Ministering to one fraction of God’s church in the city to Ministering to the City Church

Yes, they can be BETTER released in a New Testament model than in our current model.

So we’ve asked and answered the top 3 objections to making this transition from paid positions to released callings.  Now we need to have the courage and determination to make this shift happen in our generation.





Transitioning Pastors from Paid Positions to Released Callings Part 3 (who’s going to take care of my flock?)

27 08 2008

A continual concern for Pastors wanting to be fully released is the group of people or the organization they may have often spent decades building.  Releasing 5-fold callings instead of filling in paid positions is such a different philosophy of ministry that its inconsistent to adopt this philosophy while seeking a replacement for your former position.  Your position must be dissolved.  But this requires radical restructuring.  So how is this done as part of your transition period.  Here are some steps –

Step 1 – Refocus your efforts toward radical discipleship training. The structures I’m about to describe where the body “builds itself up” (Eph 4:16) cannot be done if the average person in the body is a baby Christian.  You need powerful discipleship tools and a clear, intentional discipleship process.  Design this process to be 1 year and create entry points into the process every 3 months so by the time 2 years are over you have trained everyone that wants to be trained.

Step 2 – Release discipleship trainers. As you develop the modular teaching courses and training intensives that are a part of the discipleship process, quickly recruit, train and release teachers and trainers to take over those modules so that training is expanding and continually occurring without your direct involvement.

Step 3 – Allow trained disciples to gather in body churches. An equipped and trained body of disciples loving each other like a royal family does not need you or any other full-time person to supervise and weekly lead its life together (typical size 15-40).  The body with gather at least once a week and work interdependently througout the week as it seeks to continue to expand the mission of make disciples.

Step 4 – Replace your leadership of the church with the headship of Christ. This should be done toward the end of your time in that position but this often looks like dissolving or completely changing the focus of your weekly worship service.  Because this is the center of life for most churches and the service centers on the paid Senior Pastor it is a structure that replaces Christ’s headship with a human head.  This often involves recognizing elders.

Step 5 – Cast a Vision for Itinerant 5-fold Ministry. Use the training center you developed in step 1 and 2 to begin to train these disciples about how the 5-fold ministry should really work.  That those of us with 5-fold gifts should not be leading one church (tilting it entirely toward our gifting) but equipping multiple churches as a part of a balanced team that has all five of these people.  Also train them in the advantages in a 5-fold culture of “coming and going”.

Step 6 – Complete your financial support phase. We discusses this in Part 2

Step 7 – Begin to go on extended and regular ministry trips. For the next 2 years spend intensive time building up other works and when you return to your home base, spend intensive and intentional time building up the bodies and the training center you helped established through the steps above.  You’ll quickly find the right rhythm for the works you are equipping and establishing as well as what works best for your family.

So are your people being cared for?  Take a step back and consider the real impact of the above transition.

You replaced

  • Passive learning with Intentional Discipleship
  • Corporate Gatherings with Interdepenent Bodies
  • Human Headship with Christ’s Headship

And you released yourself and many others in the process.





Living Communally

7 08 2008

“Roomies Rock!” is an often heard phrase as I feel continually blessed by the experience of living with others.

A little over a year ago we started living with a young couple in our community.  It was such an evident blessing and so successful others in our community began to do the same.  My wife and I were reflecting on this sudden trend when we realized that every family with kids in our entire community is now living communally.  Some have bought houses for this purpose others have finished (or refinished) their basements and we’re all experiencing wonderful blessings from it.  But wait, before you try this at home, allow me to outline the elements I feel has really made this work for us and for many of our friends.

  • Same 100% commitment to Jesus as Lord.  All have gone through our Story-Formed Life discipleship training which deeply tests our foundational beliefs particularly if we are living a life surrendered to Jesus as Lord.  Living with others when you are all serving the SAME master works but even if everyone calls themselves a Christian, if they are serving another master things could get ugly.
  • Same Christian culture – Our community has a very strong, unified culture that includes weekly rhythms, holidays and common values.
  • Deep Appreciation for Diversity – Our community is universally obsessed with the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) not so we can label each other’s personality and discount one another but so that we can love each other.  This goes way beyond the 5 love languages.  We study the personality type of those who live with us.  What happens when 3 extroverts are living with 1 introvert?  What happens when one J (structured and clean) lives with 3 Ps (values freedom and spontaneity).  We study each other’s personalities for the purpose of honoring each other and openly discussing possible issues early.
  • Household Meetings – Once per week we meet and ask questions to draw out issues before they become a problem
  • Serve Together – For us church happens in our homes multiple days of the week (The Gathering, Discipleship Trainings, Sabbath Meal, etc.)  We want to aggressively practice hospitatlity but that can be a lot of work.  Having a team of 4 who works together and mixing young marrieds without kids (or just 1) with larger families creates a balanced team.
  • Strong Household Heads – When you have a highly trained and motivated father/elder at the head of every household who is dedicated to building a Christ-centered household they set a stable tone that skillfully handles the complexities of communal living.

So what are other blessings to this arrangement?

  • Deeper discipleship – Living life together causes many more discipleship opportunties where iron sharpens iron.
  • More adults training kids – My kids best friends are usually the couple who lives with us.  What better friends can they have than committed mature disciples who love them and love to play their silly games.
  • Sharing the physical burden -“When I cook you clean” is the best thing that ever happened to my evenings.
  • Creating a Common Space – This is huge.  When people live with one another an area of the house (usually the kitchen and family room) become common space which greatly increases the number of others who feel free to stop by and hang out in your common space creating a more daily life together as a community.
  • Fostering body life – In our culture of radical individualism we are desperately trying to find a way to live life like a 1 Cor. 12 body that is interdependent and demonstrates radical love and service. Living communally brings you instantly into that interdependent life and reshapes you from an obsessive individualist to one who loves to live for others.
  • Showing the world the redeemed community – “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love each other”.  Our neighbors get to see first hand the love we have for one another.  Many of them cannot imagine living with another family in a peaceful blessed way.  They’re having a hard enough time living with their spouse.  This demonstrates the real power of the Gospel.




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)