Archives For Church Planting

Marks and Mission

Let me begin by saying that I’m a big advocate of both the marks and the mission of the church. In fact, I want to believe we all are. But what I have observed in evangelical life is that those who emphasize the marks of a healthy church are often (not always) weak on the mission, and those who emphasize the mission of the church are often (not always) weak on the marks of a true church.

As I have argued earlier, the marks and mission are not in opposition to one another. Jesus is both the builder (mission) of the church as well as the perfector (marks) of the church. I want to pursue genuine biblical health that will, by virtue of being healthy, be growing and bearing fruit. I also want to pursue fruitfulness that is consistent and a consequence of faithfulness to God’s Word. As Tim Keller puts it, we should evangelize as we edify and edify as we evangelize. Churches should be comprised of disciples of Jesus who have a simultaneous pursuit of God (holiness) and pursuit of man (mission), and these two should not be divorced from one another. Jesus calls us to follow Him (marks of a true disciple), and He will make us fishers of men (mission of a true disciple).

Indeed, when one comes to think about discipleship in relationship to the marks and mission, it is compelling to see how disciple-making merges the two together. What is the mark of a true disciple? Christ-likeness (increasing conformity into His image). What is the mission of a true disciple? To make more disciples of Jesus (by the power of His Spirit and instrumentality of His Word). What kind of new disciples are we seeking to make? True disciples who bear the marks of a genuine, devoted follower of Jesus. It stands to reason then, that a biblical church bearing true marks of health, will consist of disciples not only becoming like Christ but also being used by Christ in His mission.

What troubles me is that often times churches who seek to emphasize numerical growth are very loosely connected or concerned with the marks of a true church. Theology and ecclesiology is reduced to a tool in the pragmatist belt, to be used like a spare tire in cases of emergency, rather than the engine that drives the vehicle. Because the goal is growth, whatever means to secure that goal is deemed appropriate (I think you will see a good bit of this, by the way, in how churches treat Easter).

On the other hand, often times churches who seek biblical depth and health are loosely connected or concerned about the mission of the church. Evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting are not cultivated and celebrated as central to the life and focus of the church. Whereas intentionality exists in expository preaching and the membership process, there is not as much intentionality when it comes to missional engagement and the discipleship process. Because the goal is health, churches can feel justified with missional atrophy so long as the church is valuing purity.

If we believe in the mission, then we must care deeply about ecclesiology, so that we know what God considers to be a church and how it is to be governed. If we believe in a true church, then we must care deeply about mission so that true churches serve the purpose for which we exist in the world. I want both, but I admit that I feel the tension and the breakdown that exists in the evangelical world.

I want to be careful here not to make broad generalizations and stereotype every church that exists. Bear with me as I simply try to elaborate on an observation that I hope will generate substantive discussion and even more importantly, a learning experience so that we as practitioners can have a healthy and robust praxis in our respective local churches.

Am I missing it here? Are my observations off base? What are your thoughts?

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outsourcingOver five years ago, I asked the question about the outsourcing of the local church. It is a question that has not left me since then. I don’t know when it began, how it developed, or why we got here, but we cannot escape this reality that has existed for far too long. Nor am I interested in spending energy to determine who is to blame. Rather, I want to invest my life in the dream of changing the direction from outsourcing the local church to insourcing the local church. Until we have this significant paradigm shift in our thinking, any thought of seeing a serious Great Commission movement in North America is disingenuous.

The Great Commission was given by Christ for the local church. Jesus Christ promised to build His church. When we see the outworking of the Great Commission in the book of Acts, we see the fruit of that promise in the exercise of making disciples, raising up leaders, and planting churches. It is my desire and dream to see churches take greater ownership of the Great Commission with deeper faith in the promises of Jesus to do through the local church what only He can do.

I am not naive to think that insourcing the local church will become an overnight trend. Let’s face it. Outsourcing the responsibilities of the local church is convenient and (sometimes) efficient. Who do we write the check to? To tackle an issue like this requires a philosophical reframing of ecclesiological convictions. By that I mean, our thinking deeply about the Great Commission will require us to give sacrificially in order to focus intentionally on what Jesus has called us to do in His name. It is a stewardship issue, and we cannot shift or shirk the responsibility.

The Great Commission is to be worked out in the context of the local church, by means of the local church, and for the multiplication of the local church. That means disciple-making, leadership development, and church planting (three graduating expressions of the Great Commission) must find their home in the local church where insourcing is the passionate commitment of its pre-determined vision. As the director of the PLNTD Network, we have made that central to our mission, namely that church planting should be done in the church, by the church, and for the church.

Insourcing means that prophets will be devoted to communicating the vision and clarifying the mission of the Great Commission; priests will be devoted to mobilizing people and creating a culture where it is celebrated; kings will be devoted to fostering pathways and on ramps through systems and structures to administrate the vision and bring it to fruition. In the midst of all this, there is a pervasive expectation for multiplication because the mission has been simplified through a focused alignment to mobilize the people of God as a disciple-making family of servants dedicated to the cause of His kingdom come.

The history of outsourcing needs to have a conclusion. The consequences of outsourcing have led to an immobilization of mission and has undermined any Great Commission resurgence we long to see in our generation. A dream of mine is to see that change. In the coming weeks, I hope to explain more of my thinking on this, and in the coming months through PLNTD, I will be working diligently to see this dream begin to become a reality. If this is something you resonate with, I ask that you join me in the cause of insourcing the local church. It is not enough that we talk about. We need to rally together and give ourselves to it. Jesus promised to build His church, and I believe it is time that we make the changes to show that we believe His promise is true.

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small churchLast week, David Murray wrote a blogpost entitled, “Church Size: Is 150 the ‘Magic’ Number?” In this rather short article, David makes some rather large assumptions–assumptions I’m afraid that are all-too-often given unwarranted support. I am somewhat a regular reader of David’s blog and had the privilege of sharing a meal with this dear brother (along with Joe Thorn) at T4G this year. Though we have disagreed on things in the past (e.g., sermon delivery), I believe we enjoy a continued appreciation of God’s grace in each other’s lives. The issue of church size and the assumptions that accompany is another one where David and I disagree, and I think it is important enough to give an alternative take with reasons why.

Arguments and Assumptions

David’s main point is that small churches are richer in relationships than large churches. While David offers no biblical grounds for such an argument, he does make the following assumptions that I find problematic:

  1. David asserts that when a church becomes large (in this case larger than 150 which in my opinion is still rather small), they lose the greatest asset of all–rich relationships.  In most Reformed circles, the primary (if not only) structure of the church is the Lord’s Day gathering. If that is the case, then one might be able to understand why David’s assumption is plausible, but to have such a truncated ecclesiology creates even more problems (I will elaborate later).
  2. David contrasts a large church gaining “more respect, more money, and more activity” with small churches having the exceedingly more valuable commodity of relationships. This is (a) wrongfully assuming the motivations of large church leadership and (b) unnecessarily making a contrast between the two. I would happily want a church to grow to have more influence (respect) in the community we are seeking to impact, more money to invest in kingdom initiatives, and more activity in engaging the lost world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. What leader would not want that AND rich, meaningful relationships?  In an effort to advocate for small church size, large church motivations are not charitably characterized–which makes the reader wonder if the small church size really has sufficient merits of its own.
  3. David argues it is hard to create and maintain rich and meaningful fellowship with a church more than 150 people. Again, this goes back to assumption #1, the assumption behind the assumption being that the church size is undergirded by a church structure (church gathered) as the dominant venue/vehicle for community to take place. Relational community can be maintained and cultivated in larger churches when other church structures and venues are available to body life.

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In the vast array of conferences available today, church leaders can get attend an event for just about anything they are passionate about. Some people attend conferences because of the tribe they belong to; others go to conferences on the issues or practices they care most about. Over the past several years, I have forced myself to be more disciplined in my time away from family and local church responsibilities with attending and participating in conferences.  Having said that, one training event that I highly recommend and remain committed to participating in is the GCA National Conference

I’m not opposed to going to conferences or bootcamps where you can hear your favorite preacher deliver an encouraging or challenging message. We need those for sure. But more than that, we need more practitioner-driven, nuts-and-bolts training that can have tangible, ongoing benefit for the ministry leader. When it comes to church planting, I don’t know of any other organization that does this better than Steve Childers and Global Church Advancement.

On January 22-25, 2013, current and aspiring church planters will have the opportunity to learn from leading practitioners from across numerous networks, including Ed Stetzer, Randy Nabors, Randy Pope, Bob Cargo, Tom Wood, Larry Kirk, and others. I have personally attended this training twice and led as a practitioner twice. I have sent all of our church planters and their teams to the week of training as well. Needless to say, I’m a believer in the benefit this week brings in all aspects of church planting–theological, missiological, spiritual, and practical.

The training event takes place in Orlando, Florida (which will be stellar in January). The training is intensive and interactive. The community is engaging and encouraging. The instruction is practical and contextual. AND with the extension of the early bird discount to this Friday, the cost is rather affordable.

For those who register by this Friday, you will be able to take advantage of the early bird discount. This week of training is the equivalent of an entire seminary course on church planting at a fraction of the cost. I plan on being there (along with PLNTD) and hopefully will see some of you there as well.

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My friend Garrett Ventry is a church planting intern at Vintage 21 in Raleigh and responsible for many church planting training initiatives in the RDU area. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him in recent months, and he has asked me to write on his blog about the message of the church planter (the gospel). Below is my answer, originally posted yesterday on his website.

THE GOSPEL MESSAGE

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of uniqueness and universality. The former speaks of the subject matter; the latter addresses the subject’s supremacy over all things. Jesus Christ is the sum and substance of the Christian faith. He is the exact revelation of God—His character and His ways. As the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), Jesus displays all the manifold perfections of God’s character, and through His incarnation brings it down to our neighborhood for us to behold (John 1:14). In profound irony, the radiance of the glory of God that transcends what any human eye can be allowed to see (Heb. 1:3), and yet at the same time God sent His Son to earth so that through the eyes of faith we could see such glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Uniqueness

The Gospel is a message of uniqueness. It separates Christianity from all other religions of the world. It has divine origin. In the covenant of redemption, God the Father planned salvation before the world begin through the sacrifice of His Son that would be supernaturally applied through the regenerating work of His Spirit. It is preeminently God’s gospel. He came up with it, and therefore we are not authorized to edit or censor it.

The Gospel is also unique because it is an announcement. While all other religions tell us what we must do, the gospel tells what God has already done in Christ. While religions tell us we must work ourselves into acceptance with God, the Gospel tells us we are accepted through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Religions are centered on good advice (what we must do); Christianity is centered on good news (what we must hear and believe). Therefore, unlike what many have mistaken Christianity for, it is not a religion of do’s and don’ts. Rather Christianity is a family whereby sons and daughters are adopted because our elder Brother took our place and in love brought us into the Father’s presence. He came down to rescue us precisely because we could never come up to Him.

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