I’ll say it … someone has to speak up. We should be ashamed at the actions of the Western Church.
For years I have been involved in church planting. However, it wasn’t until I became involved in finding financial support for planters and developing a collaborative initiative for church planting that I saw the ugly truth.
Before I begin, I want to shed light on some reality. Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with these numbers—and while numbers are data, they reveal the truth. With 80–85% of all American churches either plateauing or in decline, and only 10–15% of pastors equipped to turn around churches, we need to admit there’s a huge problem. An elephant in the room.
Only 26% of America is evangelical (I realize that some don’t like that terminology) and a staggering 71% of Americans are either nominal in their faith or have no religious affiliation at all. 96% of Americans have heard the name Jesus Christ, placing us in a post-Christendom society. Lastly, just to maintain the 26% evangelical rate (to keep up with population growth), we would need to plant 3–5,000 church per year!
But it’s never going to happen and I’ll tell you several reasons why.
Approximately one year ago I founded a collaborative initiative in Richmond, Virginia, called, Planting RVA. While I’m not promoting it, I’m using it as analogy. I believed (and still do) that if any city is to be saturated with the gospel, it must be a collaborative effort of gospel-centered churches, associations, and denominations. Biblical students understand that reaching cities (like Paul; Rom 15:20) is imperative for saturation. So, while many different associations were initially intrigued at the idea, the reality of collaboration became a farce.
Organizations, denominations, and associations will only get involved if there’s an asset for them or perhaps to find out what someone else is doing, but not for support. Don’t fool yourself. I quickly found out one truth—the American church is very self-centered.
One local Baptist seminary (President) advised me that they are only involved in events and programs that benefit them. I humbly asked if they’d like to help sponsor a collaborative church planting conference, if they had any students that may be interested in church planting, or professors—I was shot down:
“We basically ‘sponsor’ the events, programs and worthy causes which arrise out of our own work, ministry and budget” (cut and pasted).
I asked for a one on one meeting to discuss the fact that Planting RVA works with their “primary denominational partners: the BGAV …”
I was shot down again. Even from sharing coffee! (The blasphemy!)
Anyway, what I find abhorrent about the response is the revelation as to why certain churches in our area decline to help collaboratively plant churches and to see kingdom growth—because they’re taught to be empire builders—to align only with theological and doctrinal presuppositions. How do I know that? His last email response:
“As I am sure you know, even though we live in a postdenominational age[,] most connect with the church planting enterprise through denominational networks of one kind or another. This is primarily true because one’s theological perspective and church starting methods must be compatible. Consequently, as the seminary has needs for church starting expertise we will seek those resources through our partner organizations.”
This leads into the next point….
Lack of Unified Love
Lack of unity, self-centeredness, and greed will never help grow Christ’s kingdom. This ‘every man for himself’ mentality is not Christian love, nor can it reach an unchurched, unreached, and starving culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that seminaries should indeed teach theology, doctrine, and align themselves with the agencies that support them—but to what extent? I love hearing about Together For the Gospel and these types of conferences, but when it comes to the actual aspects of working together—we’re all going down in separate ships because of our self-centered way of doing things.
Let me give you an example. Ever see a McDonalds? I bet next to it you’ll see a Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, or other food dive. But, drive five miles out of town; do you see a McD’s, Chick-fil-A, or one of those grab-and-go places? No, you don’t. Why is it that they all stack up on top of each other? Why don’t they build in small town USA, the projects, crack allies, or low-rent districts—that’s easy—it’s called revenue. It’s business 101. You go where the money is and don’t allow your competitor to reap all the profits. Don’t allow them to be the only game in town.
However, with this same model that denominations (and even non-denominations) desire to plant churches with and how they view the Christian faith. It’s a business—it’s greed and it’s also arrogance—it’s the mentality that we do it better, more hip, more missional, more liturgical, more traditional, more conservative, more blah, blah, blah.
Let me ask you this: Do you think starving people care about where they get a meal? Oh, but why don’t you make sure they get the fat steak cooked perfectly, right?
Read on …
Forget The Empire—Think Kingdom
Recently, I was invited to speak about church planting at a local conference. While I already knew how things behind the curtains of church denominations and associations worked, one message rang loud and clear—the American church is empire building. The motto: How can your church grow and become large?
I agree. Churches need revitalization. Here’s a secret about church planting. When churches plant churches the kingdom grows. If a church is in decline, one sure-fire way to grow is to plant or support a church plant. Why do I have the idea that you’re scratching your head?
Here’s the deal, if a church plateaus at 200 people (average church in US) and they plant another church, as they grow to 200 people, the mother/sending church has doubled in size. And, as the next generation (3rd church plant) is sent out, there is a potential of growing the kingdom even larger, to 600. This is first-century church growth.
But, that stands against the current model of empire building—of, I want ‘my’ church to be large (*as if it were yours!*). I hope this is convicting someone? But I bet it’s only angered some to justify their positions.
The reality: As long as the American church desires to “go it alone” and not work together, we will never see a Jesus movement occur and gospel saturation happen. We’re too busy with our own agendas.
I leave you with this to think about; the words of Jesus when the Disciples confront him:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:38-41 ESV).
 This number varies depending upon the data. Mainly due to the addition of 1,800 churches closing per year—this adds to numerical figure, from 3,000 to approximately 5,000.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he boasts of a five-fold ministry consisting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—we’re going to call this, APEST (btw, I didn’t make that up and I know how some feel about it—if you’re not an APEST fan, go ahead and tune out, otherwise, read on.). The key to finding leaders who are just dying to utilize their giftings are in your core team or church, and are within the five-fold ministry.
First, let’s look at what Paul writes, “And [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV). This is our foundation. Granted, Paul is talking about “offices,” so let’s remember that we’re looking for leaders. Not everyone is an APEST. Some people are gifted according to 1 Cor. 12:4–11.
In this passage, the Apostle outlines how the “fullness of Christ” (4:13) is uniting the fellowship of the saints and their specific gifting to edify (build up) Christ’s church. Let me say this, you have some of these people sitting in your pews (if you still have pews) and they’re gifting is being squandered. Let me help you discern who has what gift and how you can tap into that gifting, creating a missional movement for the kingdom.
Twenty-first century evangelicals have a hard time with this title. Mainly, we were taught in Sunday school about the 12 apostles. None of us should consider ourselves on of them. But the gift of apostleship still exists, in the essence of being hard-wired to edify the church. This one is so important. Church planters get this, as most of them (if not all) are apostolically gifted.
The gift of apostleship is a gifting that inspires people to be entrepreneurs, business owners, risk-takers, imaginative thinkers, and creators—people that are never afraid to step out of the box. In our church settings, it is really important to allow these people to be innovative. However, it is difficult for most pastors to allow those with the gift of apostleship to flourish because they are viewed as a threat. Why? Because they are driven by change and innovation. But, we must realize that God has placed them within our midst. If we can tap into a person with this gift, they can help birth an entire movement.
Those with the gift of apostleship may excel in art, music, sewing (we have those), woodworking, cooking, business administration, or any other creative industry. The idea here is that these folks will be the ones with the ideas for motivation, innovation, and expand structure—they’re inspired by the Lord to create and inspire others. Set these people free! But, keep them close to leaders because they see vision, understand it, and apply it.
We’ve all heard of Elijah calling down fire to consume military opposition (1 King 1). When we think of the word prophet, we think of Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, but God has placed the prophets within the church to edify and build up the saints. The prophetic gifting is one in which encouragement with truthfulness flow. These are straight shooters, sometimes viewed as “hardliners,” and have a heart for the holiness of God. Pairing up a person with the gift of apostleship and prophet can be very effective, yet dangerous.
It can be effective because the prophetic gifted person is very instinctual, emotional, and finds things cut and dry (black and white). It can be dangerous because they can quell an imaginative thinker quickly. However, if they work as a team, using discernment and understanding their unique gifts, they ascertain why they think the way they do. Prophetically gifted people see danger before it happens, but sometimes lean on the more cautious side of everything, and can get depressed easily, especially if they feel their gifting is not utilized.
But, prophets also are those who will be extremely loyal. Pastors love them and they seek out the pastor, often. As long as you are gospel-centered and driven, these gifted folks will be the encouragers to remind the flock that God is in control—nothing fears them. Use prophets in leadership as advisors—they have God’s best interests at heart—sometimes to a fault. Also, prophets are the ones who see giftings in others—usually immediately. These are the people who when they look at you, they’re “reading your mail.” You won’t fool a prophetically gifted person. It is highly likely that someone with the gift of evangelism has this gift, too.
Here is a gift that it seems no one wants. I don’t know why, it’s one of my favorite gifts. Perhaps the term scares people? I guess we perceive that the gift of evangelism is usually set apart for those who love Scripture and “witnessing” to people. While this is partly true, let’s remember that we want to cultivate and find these new leaders. So, do you have someone with the “gift of gab”? This person, if discipled, will make an excellent evangelist.
But speaking to people is not the only side to evangelism. This gifting includes the servant-heart—the Martha. You know, the people who love to set up chairs, cook meals, and talk with others. While some may say that’s the gift of hospitality, and it is, what we’re saying is that we need to cultivate this person—bring out that beautiful servant heart and release it into the community.
Servant-hood evangelism in one of the best models of Christ-like action. Some of you may have heard the term, incarnating into community, so think of it as “fleshing out,” or being Christ to a culture. An evangelistically gifted person can serve in leadership by locating others with this gift. These people tend to be magnetized to those who are like-minded—finding one person with the gift and putting them in leadership, has the potential for a team of an evangelistic movement in community. If you match up an apostolically gifted person and an evangelist…things get done!
So, recently I was working with a cohort of church planters for several hours. When I left, I had felt better than I did and more at rest than when I spent a week on vacation at the beach. Crazy, you say? No, this is one of my gifts. I realize that like a border collie set free to heard sheep, there is nothing like being in your realm! I’m a herding freak! But, don’t associate shepherding with meetings—blah—shepherds are extroverts.
Shepherds are vital to any church or church plant because these are the networkers. These are the men and women who know how to bring people together. They are by nature positive people—optimists. Shepherds not only know how to network and bring people together, but they also are people who have deep empathy, compassion, and a heart for those who they consider family (which in my case is everyone I meet!). Maybe you have healthcare workers, foremen, moms/dads with multiple kids, or managers, these are the people who know how to get things done, but in good ways.
The gift of shepherding is one, which thrives upon everyone getting along and coming together. They seem to get great satisfaction with seeing things “fire on all cylinders.” They’re shepherding gift kicks in without notice. You want these people in leadership; they can help your small group leaders, pastors, and teachers with bringing events and programs together. They can help with social media and will have fun doing it. One negative side note, shepherds tend to be a little OCD. Everything has a place, time, and purpose. Shepherds will inevitably burnout if you do not take care of them, but they thrive on being busy and sometimes stress.
Teachers. What can we say? We have to love those who are patient, loving, and desire to see the skill sets of others come out. Those with this gift love being disciple-makers. They do not necessarily need to be the one that can cite every passage of Scripture and exegete the Bible flawlessly, leave that for the prophet (who by the way, may not be a good teacher—at all! Prophets tell it like it is). If you have a school-teacher in your midst, be careful not to burn them out. They know they have this gift and use it daily.
The best way to nourish a teaching gift is to cultivate it—water it. A person with a teaching gift will thrive and come to life, IF, they have encouragement. The reason is due to their gifting. They pour out so much from their heart and passion that they can easily get drained, but as those who invest in others, gratitude goes a long way. People who may have this gift could be any myriad of person, but look for the person who has great patience, an ability to clarify or portray things, they can contextualize things very well, are very practical and down to earth people, who enjoy staying in the shadows and seeing others blossom.
Utilize teachers for small groups, discipling, counseling, and developing activities. If asked, they may also be very effective at working with the evangelist in a community project—because they have great patience and can express ideas (and the gospel) in ways that others cannot.
Granted, this is not exhaustive, these are just some good observations to help you develop your church’s five-fold ministry in building up the church. If you have these people in leadership, surely a missional movement can ignite. Your job is to assess these giftings (maybe you have one), and then apply them by putting the right people into the right places.
If you have one these gifts and are not being utilized, maybe you need to share this with your pastor or leadership team?