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.

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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?





Observing the difference between an apostolic and evangelistic mega-church

6 09 2008

You all know I’m not excited about the mega-church model but, since we’re all familiar with mega-churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek, I wanted to illustrate, within the mega-church model, the difference between an apostolic ecclesiology (Rick Warren) and an evangelistic ecclesiology (Bill Hybles).

And this is it –  An apostle is obsessed with developing a discipleship process that works and an evangelist will almost always sacrifice discipleship for evangelism or “mission”.  Evangelists are essential but they should NOT develop church models!  Evangelists must equip multiple churches on how to move out missionally but today almost all evangelists are church planters (developing unique missional church models) who create evangelistic movements in a city and call them the local church.  30 years later we can see what happens.

In this video Rick Warren (who is clearly apostolic) critiques Willow Creek’s (a church model designed by 5-fold evangelist, Bill Hybles) approach and what the Reveal Study demonstrates about what happens when a church does not have a clear discipleship process as the foundational of their ecclesiology.  Missional friends please take note.

So here it is, a video demonstration of the continuous clash in our day between apostolic and evangelistic church strategies.





Your Discipleship Tools Are Too Weak

30 08 2008

As I’ve discussed the making of disciples with church planters and church leaders and they admit disciples are not being made I find myself saying this line over and over again (Your discipleship tools are too weak).  This is the diagnoses I find most accurate for so many churches and ministries.  Their discipleship is Sunday worship, community groups and a class a year.  I find myself wanting to ask, “are you really TRYING to make disciples or are you trying to check it off the list so you can get on with what you believe is the REAL mission?” (which is usually either “being missional” or balancing the four E’s or the the 4 W’s or some other construction of 4 different missions).

So what is the test of an effective discipleship process?  How do you know when your process is intense and complete enough?  Jesus gives us that answer in the Great Commission when he describes discipleship as “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Notice –

  1. “teaching them to obey” means teaching without obedience is not really a part of discipleship (which passes for the vast majority of what we think of as discipleship).  There’s a word in English for teaching with a direct outcome focus and that word is training.  If your discipleship isn’t training (if it’s only teaching) it’s not discipleship.
  2. “obey everything I have commanded you” which means discipleship must be comprehensive.  Most people ignore this line with a “sigh” and saying to themselves “see, its impossible”.  We have an enlightenment definition of comprehensive knowledge but I think both Jesus and the disciples thought this was entirely possible maybe in a 1-2 year process.  Paul says to the Ephesian elders after 2 years “I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.” (Acts 20:27)  So we move on to part 27 in our 49 part series through the book of Luke not considering that we are actually responsible to train each disciple in our care to obey “everything”.  This requires an aggressive, comprehensive, systematic plan for discipleship.

So let’s try this approach.  Erase from your mind what is “practical” in your church or context and let yourself dream for just a moment.  Five brand new Christians come to you for training.  You have no tools yet (no worship service, no small groups, no classes etc.).  What would you design that would turn these 5 into fully trainied and obedient disciples?  When you’re done architecting the process ask yourself why we are not willing to sacrfice our sacred cows to weild tools strong enough for the task we are given.  Until we are we’ll never stop being baffled by why our weak tools simply don’t work.





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.




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.