The 3 L’s of Revitalization

By now, most pastors know the statistics; 80-85% of all Western churches are in decline or plateauing.[1]Likewise, only 10% of pastors are trained or capable of turning around those churches.[2] As Fezzik from the Princess Bride declared, “If there is no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.”[3] But, there is an arrangement; thankfully, God is raising leaders willing to devote their time and dedication to His mission. As well, he’s allowing people like me to create and teach practical curriculum in our seminaries.

As a church planter, I recognize that there are many similarities with church revitalization. Having been blessed to be a part of the renewal and planting processes, both require dedication and devotion. Of course, intentionality is foundational, but I have always tried to remind myself of the three succinct L-words. 

Knowing that church revitalization is a bit more complicated, I would like to share the three “L’s” that have helped me to stay focused when revitalizing and seeking church transformation: (1) love, (2) leadership, and (3) leverage. 

Love

As God’s people and called leaders, we must remember that we’re not called to revitalize a building, but people. There will be emotions, feelings, and opinions involved. We cannot ignore the hurts, pains, and scars as if they didn’t exist, but we may not need to make it our focus. For revitalization, change is inevitable and required. If change were not required, then there would be no need for revitalization. 

Some people will resist change. I’ve come to realize that some people see the world as ever-changing and never stable. They view the world as chaotic—always remarking, “Things are going to H*** in a handbasket.” 

These believers will desire to have “their church” to remain the constant in their life. They yearn for a place that reminds them of “better days.” They require an area of their life that will be free from change. So, don’t attempt to remove the Cantata, old hymns, or the bright pink curtains that the Sunday school made in 1965. However, to the best of your ability, embrace these individuals, bring them close to you, and “love on” them. Remember, most dying churches have a broken spirit; it is your duty to promote love; to build up the body, and to encourage the people of God that He’s constantly at work.

Leadership

President Truman was given a desk sign that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” As leaders, we must be willing to take full responsibility for our actions and choices. For this reason, we must seek wisdom and discernment from God so that we can lead His people rightly. 

As well, we should be aware that we’re called to protect the flock. Sometimes this will be difficult. So, while it is wonderful to see new growth in dying churches, do not be naive about the “consumer” believers that jump from one church to another. They will attempt to hi-jack the vision of what God has called you to do. 

Good leaders will pour into other leaders. If the church you serve does not have leadership, then create leadership. Invest time in others, discipling them and training them in navigating and living through the daily rhythms of life as a Christ-follower. Stay focused on the gospel and Christ.

Leverage

There are many areas that we can leverage. First, always celebrate the “little wins” in your congregation. Investing intentional time and recognition in the body of Christ will promote unity and harmony. When a small group provides an outreach, or a person shares a testimony, or a person gives a “praise report,” it is during these times that as a leader, you need to leverage these events as “wins.”  

Second, learn to leverage the community. God has placed the church into a specific culture and location to make an impact. Learning to leverage the community denotes a relationship. One way to leverage community would be to invest in community events. Does the community have a farmers market, special day, or scheduled event—if so, get involved?

Lastly, learn to leverage social media. In promoting and bringing awareness to your church’s existence, the community will see why it exists. While some may people may view this as worldly, Jesus did inform us to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). He also gave us the parable of the shrewd manager that realized how to live within culture (Luke 16:1-9). While at this point, most churches are already on Facebook due to Covid, don’t neglect the other platforms. As well, learn to exegete the community by utilizing hashtags. 

Summary

While the three L’s are not exhaustive, and there’s much more involved in them, they are a means to keeping focus. Love, leadership, and leverage will go a long way if you remain steadfast and conscious of them. Finally, we can do nothing without Christ (John 15:5). As revitalizing leaders, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and stay deeply grounded in Jesus Christ. 


[1] Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Reiner, Rob. 1987. The Princess Bride. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.

Harnessing Chaos and Order for Innovation

Is there anything that grows out of comfort? 

Where and how do innovation and change occur?

These are not philosophical questions but are insightful ones that require honest and reflective responses. Whether we seek to understand innovation and growth in business, organizational or leadership change-development, or in this aspect, my application to the questions—the contemporary Church, regardless, change is happening every day.

While the pandemic has altered how society does global business, everyday interactions with others, the mundane daily tasks, and especially gathered to worship; I think it is imperative to look beyond what is visible. In this short article, I merely want to propose an idea about chaos and innovation; although the concept is not mine, only the reflection from it. 

Recently, I was sitting in a Movement Leaders Collective cohort. I was listening to Alan Hirsch explain the concepts of “chaordic organizations.” Alan gave reference to the originator of the idea, a man named Dee Hock, the founder of the VISA corporation. Initially, Hock wrote an article, “The Art of Chaordic Leadership.” Chaordic refers to harmony with chaos and order. Hock defined the term as such:

“By chaord, I mean any self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order.”

The more I studied Hock’s chaord, the more I sensed a lack of creativity or innovation was due to the lack of chaordic impulse. Scientists have perpetually scratched their heads regarding the creation of the universe. Inevitably, they tend to assign some type of explosion or set of events that appeared out of nothing. Without arguing creation theory, my point is understanding that even the Bible affirms that God intervened with “null and void” (i.e., the darkness)— to establish a chaordic harmony.

But, let’s apply this to organisms and organizations. Whether the Church, non-profit, business, or foundation, the need for innovation is paramount. As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Culture is in a constant state of chaordic impulse—it’s constantly changing. Albeit, culture isn’t in a vacuum or self-propelling—people make the culture shift. Overall, paradigmatic movements occur when specific people group(s) invite and accept change.

 But, what if culture shifts due to outside circumstances. For instance, in the article, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch note:

“There is no doubt that God has been teaching us all kinds of key lessons over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has been probably the most disruptive event for the Church since WWII and has compelled Christian leaders across the globe to re-evaluate their mindsets and their practices.

The long-held belief that the Church exists almost exclusively in its Sunday/weekend expression has been called into question, and as the so-called “queen” has been removed from the game, leaders have been forced to learn what the other chess pieces on the board can do. This in turn has forced us to reflect on the nature of the Church as a living, distributed, incarnational, network—the very essence and mark of all world-changing, transformative movements.”[1]

As I contemplated Farrah and Hirsch’s words, I thought about innovation—more specifically, how the Church could utilize the cultural chaos to produce systemic order—namely, chaordic nature. 

Think of it this way, if any system or organization remains stagnant, there can be no growth, yet the organization may be comfortable. Organizations love consistency and order. However, sometimes too much persistent order is damaging to an organization. 

On the other side of that thinking, if an organization were wholly overtaken by chaos, that same organization would probably self-implode for lack of stability. But, if there’s an order to the chaos, then natural growth and creativity occur. Movements transpire through innovation, and innovation happens through chaordic impulse. For the most part, growth periods can be somewhat uncomfortable. 

Yet, if I’m answering the first question honestly, I realize that nothing grows out of comfort. Using the caterpillar as an example, with ordered chaos, the caterpillar stays a caterpillar and never experiences flight. A chaordic metamorphosis occurs. Likewise, the beautiful butterfly cannot and will not return to the state of the caterpillar. The butterfly will no longer utilize the same characteristics, attributes, and skills. Life is dead for the caterpillar but fully alive for the butterfly. 

The dilemma is that many organizations or leaders cannot see past inevitable death. Their willingness to remain the same is due to fear. The fear of change is greater than the fear of death. However, if the organization leans on chaordic impulse—a harmonious blend of uncomfortable change with order—innovation will occur.  


[1] Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” https://abtslebanon.org, April 15, 2021.

The Church Planting Lie: It’s about Numbers.

As an experienced church planter, trainer, and teacher, one of the biggest misnomers that I have witnessed is the pressure placed upon the planter or planting team to produce numbers. While proponents for “numbers” (or butts in seats) recite passages recorded by Luke in Acts (2:41; 4:4) or argue that one of the books of the Bible is labeled Numbers, the Missio Dei (mission of God) is about people, not numbers. Assuredly, Luke was writing a descriptive narrative, as was the compiler of Numbers, not a prescriptive regulation.

Any Bible student can utilize proof-texting to clarify or validate a point. For instance, if God was “all about numbers” then why was a plague sent upon Israel when David established a census to count the people (2 Sam. 24)? Clearly, God loves numbers, right? What about Jesus making purposeful statements to see how many disciples would stop following Him (i.e. “eat of my flesh and drink of my blood” (John 6:60–71)?

Don’t get me wrong, I think numbers are important, but they should never be a church’s focus. Church Planters endure serious depression and loneliness for two reasons: (1) financial burdens, and (2) numbers/growth. As for the former, the majority of church planters are bi-vocational, contributing to the burden of the new church start’s finances. As well, the bi-vocational planter cannot devote as much time, energy, and attention to the start-up, as hoped—again, causing anxiety. 

Not to be undone by finances, one week may bring ample gospel conversations, leading to twenty new guests. The church planter is elated and excited! However, the elation quickly subsides as the next week’s attendance is a gruesome six people (mainly the core group). The church planter becomes depressed. Why? Because his numbers are off. If someone asks him how many are “attending” his new church plant, he feels that he’s a failure. 

While the two evidences of church planter anxiety are separated, one of the two can be fixed by mindset, reality, and biblical adherence. If the planter lays a firm foundation in the Great Commission mandate, the pressures of growth go away. My contention: focus on people—not numbers.  

What’s It All About?

So, if not numbers then what is the biblical focus of church planting? The biblical response is that no one has ever been called to “plant a church,” but everyone has been called to make disciple-makers (Matt 28:18–20). Churches form out of the new disciples that are being produced. “While teaching church planters about church planting techniques and strategies is important, Christ mandated his followers to make disciples, not plant churches (Matt 28:19–20). Sometimes, we confuse the two.”[1]

If church planters would focus their attention on making disciple-makers from new converts, the result would be churches that naturally multiply. Instead of worrying about a sound-system, social media posts, livestreaming, kids church, order of service, set up and breakdown, worry about the mandate—are you making disciple-makers? Because, “There is no discipleship without living life together.”[2]

One of the dilemmas with starting new churches is that church planters focus so much on growth, that they really don’t care if it’s transfer growth or conversion growth—as long as it’s growth. And in doing so, they’re missing the aspect of living life with others. They’re neglecting the command of developing and establishing disciple-makers of Christ. And, that will never happen without being intentional!

Making disciple-makers takes intentionality, focus, and grit. And, yes—time and patience. Making disciples is not completed in a week or three months. In actuality, there’s really never a “completion point,” only maturity. 

Making disciple-makers is not solely about a curriculum but walking through the rhythms of life with one another—we’re to feel the hurts, pains, and victories of “withness.”  If a church planter is only focused on numbers to feel relevant or “successful” they have neglected the mandate of Christ. Inevitably, they will create a revolving door of shallow believers. 

My prayer and plea: press harder inward, onward, and upward. Create lasting relationships. Live life with the few that God has entrusted to you, instead of worrying about a platform. Obey the Great Commission. 


[1] Fretwell, Matthew. Church Planting by Making Disciple-Makers (Castlerock, Ireland: Timeless), 2020, 24.

[2] Ibid., 90

Anointed & Appointed for Community Mission

“Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them” (Numbers 11:26).

During the forty-year desert wandering of Israel, things were not so easy. Admittedly, things are not so easy today. And, not unlike our own “wandering” in the wilderness of our faith, seeking a “not-yet” Promised Land, Israel began to complain about God’s provision. Let’s be honest, we grumble far too often.

But, the account in the book of Numbers demonstrates how God obligates Himself to humanity, for His mission. Before we dive into the anointing and appointing, we should recognize that God meets out needs, not necessarily our wants. He is Jehovah Jireh (the LORD our Provider).

Throughout the Exodus, the Israelites complain about the constant and mundane supply of manna. Instead, they yearn for meals they prepared during their Egyptian captivity. The leader, Moses, is mentally and physically exhausted. He’s nearly burned out from the constant complaining and the never satisfied attitudes of the people he’s leading. 

I believe many leaders can relate to Moses’ troubles. He is grieved with leadership-despair. Moses cannot handle the encumbrance of the masses, he pours out his heart to the Lord, “The burden is too heavy for me” (Num. 11:14). And yet, in the midst of God’s displeasure with the people, the Lord hears the cries of Moses.

Yet, one biblical foundation that is repeated, the Lord’s hand is never weakened or shortened (11:23); meaning, there is nothing too hard for God or too exhausting for Him to handle.

As leaders, times of replenishment are vital, but so is delegation. We were not meant to bear the burdens of life, ministry, or mission alone. Jesus expresses this when he declares, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Thus, the Lord instructs Moses to gather seventy elders among the people. The elders will become “anointed and appointed” leaders. God promises to “take some of the Spirit” that is on Moses and lay it upon the seventy (11:17). Again, we read how God obligates Himself of the problem by providing grace, power, and wisdom. 

A great contrast can be seen. Instead of being satisfied with God’s provision (manna), the people crave and lust after food from their enslavement. In retrospect, God doesn’t give the people what they want (or crave), but what they need. Likewise, when the Lord responds to Moses’ leadership dilemma, he doesn’t provide Moses with extra power. Instead, God anoints and appoints 70 Spirit-filled community leaders, taking from Moses. 

As the seventy elders gather before the tent of meeting with Moses—the Lord comes down in a cloud and anoints the elders. They begin to prophesy! However, not all of the prophesying leaders are at the tent. Two of the leaders never arrive—they remain in the community. Meanwhile, “a young man [Joshua] ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” (11:26). 

While Joshua is confused and a bit jealous, Moses understands God’s mission and wisdom—to fill His people with the Holy Spirit as they live among one another. Eldad and Medad— were two anointed and appointed leaders for community mission (Missio Communitas). Moses declares, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29). 

Indeed, God has brought to fulfillment the snapshot of Eldad and Medad; He has answered Moses’ prophetic word. As recorded in the book of Acts, Peter stands before the entire assembly at Pentecost and recites from the prophet Joel:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, 

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, 

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 

and your young men shall see visions, 

and your old men shall dream dreams; 

even on my male servants and female servants; 

in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” 

(Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29).

As believers of Jesus Christ, we are all anointed and appointed for community mission. While the place and people we serve among may look different, every believer of Christ has been anointed and appointed by the Spirit of the living God for community mission. We’re appointed to weep, rejoice, breathe, eat, sleep, and live among the downtrodden, broken, displaced, and disparaged. God’s children are gospel-centered and Spirit-empowered (John 1:12).

In agreement with Moses’ declaration, I wish that all believers are like Eldad and Medad, prophesying and speaking the Word of God within their communities. And more than that—living as anointed and appointed Spirit-filled people. 

Didache: The Way of Life and The Way of Death

I have long been intrigued and captivated by the early church. What I mean by early church is the New Testament era and the first two centuries succeeding. I love the narrative of Acts and its apostolic association with “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2). I crave for their sacrifice, and for their disciple-making devotion. While I understand that the early was far from perfect and had vast dysfunction—they also possessed dedication, piety, and desire.

Because of my captivation, I find myself diving deeper into the depths of ecclesiastical disciple-making (See Church Planting by Making Disciple-Makers). My journey has currently positioned me within an early document known as the Didache. If you’re not familiar with the Didache (pronounced, Did-ah-key or Did­-ah-kay), it is not without its controversies, as it seems to have been lost for fifteen hundred years. 

As history notes, in 1873 a Greek Orthodox bishop named Philotheos Bryennios was in the library archives of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem sifting through the early manuscripts.[1] Bryennios wasn’t exactly sure what he had discovered, as the Didache was “sandwiched between other early church documents;” namely The Epistle of Barnabas1 and 2 Clement, 12 letters of Ignatius, and several others.[2] While Bryennios’ contemporaries had common knowledge that Origin and Athanasius had referenced the Didache, many scholars believed that no extant manuscript existed—until Bryennios.

A Little More Background

By the early nineteenth century, the universal church was not monolithic regarding the dating of the Didache. While a small debate ensued regarding the text, some even considered it to be fraudulent. However, with ongoing German and French research, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1945, and the critical work of Willy Rordorf, the dating of the Didache was credibly proposed as preceding the Gospel of Matthew.[3]

Nancy Pardee believed that the Didache’s early dating demonstrated an “important witness to the composition and development of the New Testament.”[4] She stated, “Such an early date and stature by themselves would make the Didache an important witness alongside the New Testament of the development of the early Church, but the additional fact that the text is of more utilitarian nature means that it does not merely supplement the biblical texts, but compliments them.”[5] Indeed, the Didache does compliment the synoptic Gospels. 

Breaking It Down

The Didache itself is only sixteen short and concise chapters (a quick 20 minute read), instructing in the ordinances of the church, prophets, apostles, bishops, and deacons within the church, and some brief eschatological views. I found the section on the Eucharist, “breaking the loaf,” to be incredibly illuminating and missional. With the disciple reciting back the words during the Lord’s Supper (I paraphrase):

“As the seed that produce the loaf is scattered over the mountains,

And then gathered in and became one,

So may your church be gathered together into your kingdom,

From the very ends of the earth.”[6]

The Didache is truly an amazing document, but it was never intended to be equated with Scripture, as it was a practical learning tool (orally taught) for new converts. Perhaps this is the reason for its disappearance? Yet, as someone that thrives to reach the world’s lostness, the Didache’s practical guidance regarding reproducible disciple-making is what I find the most intriguing. 

If the dating of scholars is true, as one reads the Didache, the Gospels are immediately apparent. As well, the writer of the Didache notably assumes the reader understands the Sabbath days, rejecting the Roman days of the week with “second” and “fifth days of the Sabbath” being set aside as fast days.[7] Most noteworthy is how the two ways of life are taught to a new convert; once learned, the “disciple-maker” baptizes the new convert, after a day or two of fasting. The reason I find this so noteworthy is its implication for rapid multiplication.

The Way of Life

The first several sections of the Didache are the two main aspects of the “teaching.” In perspective, we shouldn’t be surprised with the Way of Life and the Way of Death as central tenets, as a latter title for the Didache was “The Lord’s Teaching to the Nations through the Twelve Apostles.”[8] The Didache is missional, devotional, and multiplicative. Yet, within the two ways they provide a glimpse into an early devoted and dedicated community—devoted to holiness and dedicated to Christ and one another.

The Didache begins with the introduction consisting of the two ways (1:1) but immediately proceeds with the first four succinct chapters describing the Way of Life. As a believer, I instantly see the value of guiding of a new convert through these first thirty-seven “verses.” The Way of Life begins with the greatest commandment, “You shall love God who created you; second, your neighbor as yourself; all those things which you do not want done to you, you should not do to others” (1:2).[9]  

The abstention from “carnal desires” and how to practically treat others is resounding (1:4). Giving is not a motto for the Way of Life but emphasizes God’s generosity to the adherent (1:5). It is easy to see the Ten Commandments interwoven throughout the Way of Life (2:2–7), as well as humility, patience, justice, hard work, and respect for the image of God. The new convert is reminded not to neglect the “Lord’s commands, but to hold fast to what has been handed down to you” (4:13); the very nature of disciple-making! 

The Way of Death

Contrasting with the Way of Life, the Didache does not possess any gray area for the believer. You either walk in the Way of Life, or you’re cursed by wickedness—most notably, the Didache does not sugarcoat lasciviousness. Those who follow the Way of Death “do not know their Maker” (5:2). The warnings for the new converts, not to be led astray from the Way of Life, are foundational. 

One might assume that the Didache is merely a set of rules and regulations, a means of legalism, but to the contrary: 

“If you are able to bear the whole of the Lord’s yoke, 

you will be complete. 

However, if you are not able to bear that yoke,

then do what you can” (6:2).

In reflection, the Way of Death denotes the “old self” and the ways of the world, but as a student of the Bible, the Didache reads as a mixture between Jesus’ words and Pauls’ epistles. The Way of Death ends in chapter six and is much shorter than its counterpart, the Way of Life. The Way of Death is utilized as a practical guide of admonition, encouragement, and sanctity.

Conclusion

Spending the last several months researching the Didache has been more than rewarding; it’s been enlightening and informative to view an early community of steadfast believers. Without Scriptures, Paul’s epistles,[10] the Gospels, and Revelation, it is eye-opening that such a document could have existed and point to biblical values (i.e. Great Commission teaching). The Didache demonstrates that the early church was not merely concerned with “Jesus loves me this I know” and that’s enough, but with multiplication, perseverance, righteousness, and humility. 

            The remaining chapters of the Didache are no slouch, either. Understanding its views of baptism, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, church administrative structures, and end times may not be prescriptive or inspired, but they are revealing as to how the early ekklesia communities lived out the rhythms of life. Any time the modern church can utilize documents like the Didache, I believe it to be edifying. Again, while the Way of Life and Way of Death are not inerrant and inspired, they are definitely biblical—there’s no doubting their veritas


[1] O’Loughlin, Thomas. The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2010), 4–5.

[2] Milovec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. (Newman Press: NY, 2003), 4.

[3] Ibid., xxxi.

[4] Wilhite, Shawn, J. The Didache: A Commentary (James Clarke & Co.: UK, 2020), 4. 

[5] Pardee, Nancy. Genre and Development of the Didache, 1.

[6] O’ Laughlin, Didache, 167.

[7] Didache, 8.1

[8] O’ Laughlin, 5.

[9] Ibid, 161.

[10] Even though there is ample evidence that Paul’s letters were circulated among the early churches, early dating of the Didache would predate the over a third of the New Testament, including the Gospels.