Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Church Planting #5 Partnership

The Tour de France finished on Sunday.

My love for the race started when we were vacationing in Mauritius many years ago. Not being much of a cyclist myself, I had no affection for the race. However being in this little cabin with one grainy TV in French, M and I tried to decipher what was going on with the different colored journeys, tactics and the sheer French countryside beauty.

This 2015 race will probably go down as one for the ages. What caught my attention was the intent of the riders who were lying in second, third, fourth, fifth place to isolate the leader, Chris Froome, from his Sky team. The tactic was "isolation" in order to defeat. It was fascinating and captivating, but they were not able to split the team. Sky held together and Froome won.

The church planting parallel was obvious to me. We were never created to be alone. From the garden, through the Abrahamic call to faith, we have been called to a glorious "togetherness". At the first level it is in marriage, then the family as a planting team, then a core group and then lastly with apostles.

I am not sure we can do this "church planting thing"without all these "togethernesses". The mistake the planter makes is to think that some of these "togethernesses" are optional. But they are not. If Froome got split from the Sky team he simply would not have won.

Paul writes of the partnership the plant needs with apostles "because of our partnership in the gospel" Phil 1:5 and then again "... church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving..." Phil 4:15. Lest we think it is simply one man's perspectives, John also writes "I John your brother and partner in the tribulation" Rev 1:9. There is a simplicity to this, that is so empowering. It is relational, it is ongoing, it is personal, it is intimate. The church plant needs the foundation of the apostle (as we saw last time). But there are other times when the plant needs the personal touch - especially in times of tribulation (like trouble with a leader, divisiveness with a congregant, poor doctrine leaking into the community, bombastic leadership styles, moral failure...)

Unfortunately, the church is fond of surrogates. We let scripture slide for personal and cultural preferences, hence the high degree of plant implosion.

These surrogates include, joining an organization, denomination or a planting network, working with sister church models or simply being on our own. Whatever the alternative, if it is not in the text, we are ignoring a huge cornerstone of the partnerships we need to get that plant of ours powering.

Who is the apostle you are journeying with?
When and how do they engage the community personally, intimately, affectionately?
What the dirt starts flying, who will get on the plane and come and walk you through the pain of your tribulation?

Jesus loves his bride. He has thought of every eventuality. We are simply foolish to think we can improve on his design.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Church Planting Mistakes #4 Evangelism

I was sitting shooting the breeze with a church planter recently. We were sharing stories, when he told me of THAT Sunday when they gathered and there him, his wife, and his children were the sole worshippers. That was that. We laughed together and he added: "You haven't planted until you have had THAT Sunday". The laughter that ensued veiled the deep memory that can break the church planter.

Church planting is the great divine vehicle to establish new gospel frontiers, seeing men, women, boys and girls hear the gospel of grace as many times as possible.

However, the pressure to 'succeed' is overwhelming. The internal pressure that does attach itself to the planter, is way too much. To measure one's self worth and value to the number of people who gather in a room on a Sunday is a very dangerous and fickle traveling companion.

There is pressure from the sending church. The questions that are asked tend to add to this weight - "how many people were there Sunday?", "have you got a cool venue?", "do you have a good worship team?", "and children's ministry?"...

These are not good questions in those early years.

These plants are firstly there to make His name great, by seeing many come into a living faith in Christ. This evangelistic priority should drive the planter. The pressure to 'grow' often leads to the gathering of those who have left other churches with a limp. Now, of course we love the local church and we want to see every believer find a spiritual home. Even with David, those who joined him were disillusioned, discontented, in debit. We do want to give all a second chance.

However, there also needs to be significant wisdom and discernment. Too many church planters have been dashed by the arrival of a newbie, who says that this is the "best church ever". Soon their own disgruntlement become evident and they leave loudly, destructively and painfully. Often the desperate planter will try anything to grow - including marketing strategies. Please don't be seduced by the short sighted surrogate growth.

Establishing a community is first and best built, on those who come to redemption in this house. These sons and daughters tend to buy into the story and sacrifice for the journey. We always remind ourselves: "And God added to their number those who were being saved" Acts 2:47.

Dear planter as Paul said to Timothy: "For this time, do the work of the evangelist" 2 Tim 4:5. Ask God for that mantle. Secondly there is a grace gift called "evangelist" Eph 4:11 who can come into your church to stir your folks to develop an evangelistic culture {Alpha has proven to be a huge tool for developing a culture of evangelism - thanks Nicky Gumble and all at HTB}

Church planting is not defined by how many people we get into a room. It is seeing many come into an exquisite faith story with the giver of grace, the dispenser of redemption. Jesus is his name. That is what we do.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Church Planting Mistakes #3 Foundations

I love the book of Ephesians. It is this exquisite letter written by a planter Paul, writing back to the church he helped plant in Acts 19. He is writing back with affection, intimacy, and fatherly passion.

In one of the weighty moments he writes: "apostles and prophets lay foundations" Eph2:20

What does that mean? How does that work? Who can I get?

The statistics point to many churches folding within the first year, then more in the next three years and certainly by five years, there is evidence that most church plants have folded. What are these mistakes and why are they repeated?

One of the prevalent reasons is the absence of solid a/p foundations. Foundations are needed for every  building / temple to stand firm, strong, solid and essential for healthy church. In God's architected design, he crafted a skill set within the apostles and prophets to ensure that the correct foundations are laid. There are some foundational pieces that pastors, teachers, evangelists and the priesthood simply cannot lay. That is not my crazy idea. That is what the text teaches and what I have seen and experienced over almost 40 years of doing church planting.

It is pretty clear that the "apostle and prophet foundations" are grace gifts as seen in Ephesians 4. They are not the Old and New Testament. Jesus called the old "the law and the prophets" and the new was not even written. We need  these gifts coming and digging the trenches alongside us, on the ground, understanding our story - not professionals watching and commenting from a distance.

At the risk of being simplistic let me suggest the foundations are made up of four cornerstones:

1.   Theology - a strong Christocentric matrix, rich in Trinitarian application, kingdom advancing and all bible instruction;

2.   Missiology - a clear sense of what God calls the church to be and do generically and specifically. Each church have a deep desire to see men and women, boys and girls come to a living and rich faith in Christ as well as embrace the specific mandate the Father has given them;

3.   Ecclesiology - help process what is truly biblically prescriptive, prophetically essential and culturally necessary;

4.   Leadership - as seen in Acts 20, there is a clear textual yardstick for who qualify for leadership, what their roles are and how they are to lead. Why too many mistakes are made with leadership matters, is that the business model is used way more than the biblical approach.

Buildings collapse because they have inappropriately weak foundations. Lets get this one right to stop the implosions that are causing so much pain.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Church Planting Mistake #2 Mission

Paul Johnson gives a great description for the mobilization of young Europeans to discover the lands beyond. He wrote "As Christopher Columbus said, men crossed the Atlantic primarily in search of gold. But they were also idealists. These adventurous young men thought they could transform the world for the better. Europe was too small for them - for their energies, their ambitions and their visions... the mixture of religious zeal, personal ambition and the lust for adventure which inspired generations of Crusaders was the prototype for the enterprise of the Americas" [A History of the American People pg3]

We are created to be adventurers. When God spoke life into our DNA to "increase, multiply, fill the earth, subdue" there was an accompanying spirit of adventure loaded into us.

Making sure our mission is clear, is essential. When we listen carefully to most young planters, they speak of how they are going to run a gathering - what kind of venue they have rented, who the musos are, who will run kids ministry...

But is that church planting? Each church plant needs to embrace the generic and the specific - the generic what all churches have as a base mission. The specific - what the Father specifically wants our plant to become / to do.

These are such large conversations so forgive my brevity - each church exists as a catalytic, strategic piece to "disciple all nations". That is a hugely exciting, expansive sense of mission. It is NOT to run a great gathering, OR to develop some cool programs, OR get a cool building OR to accumulate the floating mass who will make me look good in the short term. It is NOT to simply be a fellowship forum, spot to debate philosophies or trends OR a platform for social justice OR a political voice.

At its base, we want to see the gospel preached to bring every man, woman and child come into a living and vital relationship with Christ. We want to see them discipled then embrace the advancing of the kingdom. Every plant lives to be an example of the "kingdom come, your will be done"

But then, every church plant needs  to have a clear sense of personal mission beyond that generic obedience. Just as the Lord spoke to the Ephesians church to change or they will have their lamp stand removed, so it is that every plant has a very specific and unique assignment. Here are some modern metaphors that may help.

We exist because, God has called us to be a:
1.   Lighthouse to serve and empower the other churches in the area with a large light
2.   Harbor to be a safe haven for ships to come to port to heal up, but then they get back to the high seas where they belong,
3.   Hospital to be a community of healing - body and soul, so catalyze them back into their Jesus story,
4.   Bootcamp to get the new recruits in and to ready them for their divine assignments,
5.   Family to raise and release folks to multiply new communities, just like our children leave home to start new families - something desired and celebrated...

Lacking to define our mission clearly, is to call folks to a misty mission - one that will lead to frustration, miscommunication and often splits. In business terms, we are called to answer the 5 whys... Why are we planting a church?... Why?... Why?... Why?... Why? That should get us closer to clarity, which will lead to ownership and in turn lead to sacrifice.

Church Planting Mistakes #1 Motive

I love church planters and church planting.

The stats of lasting church plants are mixed, varied and not always encouraging. That smell and taste of new "church planting trenches," is my delight, yet we have to reflect with sober faith, on how we can do this great gospel assignment far better.

So, it is a good exercise to ponder on the mistakes that do lead to stumbling or even failure.

It would seem to be true, that one of the big reasons for stumbling is motive - why guys go out to plant. Here are a few really poor reasons.

1.  "It is the cool thing to do right now" - as with other societal groupings, the church is not devoid of trends and peer pressures. As much as the hipster styles as replicating themselves across the western globe, so too church planting can be the new adventure that seems tantalizing and exciting. Not a good reason.

2.   "I want my own story" - in the late 1800's in England, the older son tended to get the family business and estate. The young brothers went to the military or ministry to carve out a good socially reputable career. Simply wanting to craft your own story is not a good reason. When the bullets start flying, we certainly need more than ambition to stand strong.

3.   "We can't see eye to eye, so lets plant out with you" - this "splant" appears to be a face saving way to detract from the brewing conflict that cannot be resolved, so planting seems an honorable alternative. Oh dear. This is a recipe for more pain and anger than resolution at home base.

4.   "We plant churches" - whilst I would love this culture to permeate through more churches, it does not erase the notion that one only goes to plant because the Father has clearly spoken. It is not "the thing to do," nor is it "multiplying a brand" with all the support that that brings, nor is it "the next step in a career in ministry". That rank corporate influence has done the church more harm than good.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it does facilitate a conversation for potential planters that can be helpful

Monday, July 20, 2015

Praying perfect peace

Love this early Monday morning.

This was a big weekend. At many levels, one has to remain in His presence, even when the hustle and bustle of life demands more than you feel you can give. Or, when the enemy sneaks in like a flood and we have just had some big LA rains), the battle still belongs to the Lord.

"You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock"
Is 26:3 - 4

This is an exquisitely intimate and affectionate text.

There is so much that demands our minds focus and priority. But the prophet knew something. He knew that we all long for peace. We all deeply desire that inner rest no matter what turbulence around us, seeks to overwhelm us. That anchor is only found in one place. That courage is found only in one person - Jesus our rabbi redeemer.

Trust in him as the uncertainty of political fragility, economic volatility, relational mediocrity, squeezes in on us. Our trust, daily, verbally, mentally, emotionally is simply placed in that one man, the God - man Jesus, our everlasting Rock. He is the giver of peace, perfect peace.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Next Generation

I had the huge privilege of being back in Portland this last weekend.

Now, I don't know if I take good weather, or if good weather follows me, but Portland was exquisite. The warm summer weather, seemed to make the city come alive. The Sunday afternoon was abuzz with people. In downtown, every cafe, restaurant and eatery was filled with very happy people spilling onto the sidewalk. Alex, Kate and I ate a most outstanding pasta restaurant, who make the pasta onsite. Simply delicious.

But my true privilege was staying with John Mark and Tammy Comer, their 3 amazing children and ministering in this impressive "A Jesus Church - Bridgetown".

I am always nervous to flatter - as that corrupts. However, we do need to celebrate what and where the favor of God rests. At any moment of our 2000 year journey, God uses both the old war horses but is also readying the next generation of leaders in the wings. Some will try to grab the headlines early - and there is always a price tag for that (remember the prodigal son's initial mistake was simply wanting to take his inheritance early...) Others will endeavor to step out of the lonely, places and spaces before the Father has fully readied them ( like Elijah we have to be OK with the loneliness that is God authored. Ravens will feed us and the brook will nourish us as God forges us in the isolated places - we can't bypass that moment in our story.)

However, we will err greatly if we are not watching to see who God is nourishing at the brook... what their message is, as it will most definitely challenge us... how God is teaching them and developing their journey.

There are about 20 or so essential emerging ministries in the nation right now. They are humble, and highly intentional grace gifts. They are staying out of the limelight and will not be seduced into celebrity status.  They are deep thinkers with a passionate love for the text. They are hungry for more of the Holy Spirit and are forging some strategic architectural pieces for an unfolding ecclesiology.

They will catalyze the church in this nation over the next 25 years. We ignore them at our loss. We criticize them at our foolishness. We embrace them as the future demands it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Persevering Prayer

The call to prayer is clear and loud.

Of course that always remains essential for the church, but this time it is not normal. There is a deeper more sublime and urgent call coming from heaven.

I gave this talk at Mercy Town Church last Sunday.

Hopefully you will listen, enjoy and be empowered by it: