A Dream of Mine: The Insourcing of the Local Church

Tim Brister —  December 17, 2012 — 10 Comments

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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  • I read your previous post on the outsourcing. I’ve felt the discomfort of this for a while and wrestle with the same questions. Sometimes the outsourcing is done with good intentions. Other times, it’s done out of convenience. Looking forward to seeing your future posts on the issue.

    • Thanks, Tim. I agree. I think there’s a lot of folks wrestling with this issue (which is a good thing!). I hope the outcome is an army of gospel-centered practitioners working out the Great Commission stewardship found in making disciples, training leaders, and planting churches!

  • Great word… My struggle with this is how to find the appropriate boundary between the two. It is my desire to completely insource the church. However, is it appropriate to leave a need unmet until insourcing is possible? With this position I can see scenarios where a strict policy of insourcing could stunt the discipleship efforts of the church.

    However, the moment one begins to outsource even temporarily until insourcing is feasible you just find yourself with new needs bringing you back to the original dilemma.

    All to say I resonate with your words here… but it has been difficult in practice.

    • Matt,

      You bring up an important point/reality. If churches are going to move toward insourcing, it will take numerous transitions over an extended period of time. The maturation process will be one where the inertia to go back to the original dilemma will be an ongoing temptation no doubt. But I think this is where an environment/community of like-minded churches networking together to share experiences and work together to encourage and assist one another is really beneficial. As a network, PLNTD hopes to facilitate such and environment in the future. I don’t want to get ahead of the game here, but I hope you stay tuned. I hope to make the case for this in the coming weeks and begin to offer practical solutions and baby steps to begin to move us in this direction.

      On the question of unmet needs vs. full insourcing, I think that the needs can be met through a shared commitment of partnering churches. Or, I am not opposed to parachurch organizations or networks that are seeking to supplement the insourcing of the church in ways not detrimental to the overall process. In other words, to use the popular phrase and title of the book, in many cases, unintentional outsourcing in the end is a great example of “when helping hurts.” I want to believe there is a way to meet the needs while using the vehicle of the local church (who is being assisted by other churches or affiliate network).

      • Thanks… I appreciate this reply. When I first planted 6 years ago I had a ‘get-outta-my-way-I-can-do-this-myself’ attitude. It was true naivety (and a lot of pride). One of my many lessons learned as I’ve grown through this journey is the need for a network/association of like minded pastors.

  • Love this bro! Hope to help in any way that I can, and grateful for your leadership in the kingdom!

  • Can you offer a brief definition of “insourcing” as used here?

    • Adam,

      Wikipedia (insert caveat) says that insourcing is “the cessation by a company of contracting a business function and the commencement of performing it internally.” Dictionary.com says it is “to keep within a corporation tasks and projects that were previously outsourced.” I think those are helpful but not precisely what I am referring to.

      When I speak of insourcing, I am talking about the local church taking responsibility for the mission of the church – in short, owning the Great Commission. Churches can be competent in programming and doing a lot of random things, but if we are not doing the work entrusted to us, then we are dropping the ball. Insourcing changes the scorecard because we are measuring what matters most, not what is easiest to settle for.

      Insourcing is the practice of bringing back to the local church what has previously been outsourced to denominations, parachurch organizations, or anything else as a means of replacing or substituting the role of the local church to accomplish that specific work. Examples are many, including disciple making, leadership development, theological education, resourcing, funding, justice and mercy ministry, etc.

      Insourcing is a philosophy of ministry that looks to the local church as the primary (not exclusive) agent of the Great Commission. This philosophy leads to a process and practice that mobilizes the church for mission and multiplication in a culture appreciating and celebrating the promise of Jesus to build His church through Spirit-empowered disciples.

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  • One of the things I love about my church is that elders had a grasp on this from before the opening service 6 years ago. We press upon parents the need to in-source the education of their children and we train up and test put into service men who are qualified to serve as elders. We plant churches rather than grow larger than can be rightly overseen by the elders.

    ‘Tis sweet indeed to be a part of a church that has the right focus – to glorify God by standing on and under the Word He has given us. Imperfect, but headed the right direction.