A New Year’s ReFocus: Recovering From Mission Drift

This article originally published in January’s Church Planter Magazine, you can get it here and read many other articles relating to the field.

FullSizeRender-25

 

People broadcast their resolutions every year, only to hear them muffle into the everyday noise of life. As church planters, we can spend a vast amount of time in preparation for a launch. We pray, fast, seek, and preach about the vision that God has entrusted to us in serving and making Him known within the community.

However, somewhere along the journey, we lose focus of the mission that God provided. Maybe it was the launch, perhaps seeing growth, or reaching a different people group? Maybe it’s the sermon preparation time, endless service projects, or the bi-vocational work? Regardless—whatever it is—a year has gone by and we find ourselves drifting from our missional mooring.

It’s time to refocus, regain, and reignite.

ReTurning Home

It’s time to turn around and go back home—at least for a visit.

I love being with God in the streets. It seems that the Apostle Paul did, too (Acts 16, 17). As many church planters do, claiming kingdom property begins with prayer walking in the streets—trekking urban terrain with the Spirit of God. It doesn’t seem long ago that we spent countless hours in prayer or day after day looking to talk with one single person. Let me ask you: when was the last time you did that?

The streets are where we meet people. Remember the old Sesame Street song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood”? Maybe that’s before your time—Google it. The point? As planters, we moved into a neighborhood to interact and build relationships with people. The intention was not to become comfortable, but to make God known.

Whenever I am away from home, I miss my family. I’m not a fan of hotels. But, when I return home my wife and daughter give me giant hugs and refresh me in the reality of being a dad and a husband. I think when planters fall into mission drift they forget their urgent sense of calling to a neighborhood, community, and even, to Christ. As the start of a new year has begun, return back to the core of the mission—return home—be refreshed in the reality of your calling.

IMG_5026

January’s CP Magazine

ReGaining Sight

The Apostle Paul was once named Saul, a law-abiding Pharisee. Saul served God diligently and with passion (Phil. 3:5–6). As someone who studied the Scriptures with zeal, it seems that works, desire, and accomplishment blinded Saul. Even though he was attempting to serve God, Saul had extreme mission drift—he lost complete sight of what the Scriptures were trying to reveal. God met Saul on the road to Damascus and caused physical blindness (Acts 9). It wasn’t until three days later that Saul regained his physical and spiritual sight.

I often wonder about the thoughts that went through Saul’s head. Here he was serving God with passion—perhaps he thought of himself as a modern day Phineas, saving the people from a plague of God’s wrath (Num. 25:6–9)—only to find out that he was persecuting Him. It seems that sometimes God has to step in to our world to help us regain our sight.

Vision is imperative. As the Message conveys, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” (Pro. 29:18). That was definitely true in my first church plant—I practically did everything wrong. Originally the vision was clear, but the motives and actions blinded the mission.

As you read this it’s the beginning of a New Year; make sure that you’re still casting the vision. Mission drift is preventable. Maybe it’s time to have the scales fall from your eyes—to regain your sight and refocus on Christ.

ReIgniting Devotion

As redeemed people, our passion and zeal for God come to us as gifts of faith. With that stated, anytime that I try and become more holy, I fail—miserably. One thing I know to be true—that when I devote myself back to God—to soak in His presence—He ignites my soul.

I love the Psalmist’s reflection, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke” (Ps. 144:5). Maybe it’s just me, but I yearn for the presence of God to be with me. I want to feel the glory of God in my life—that I may glorify Him. I feel like Moses, “If your presence will not go with me … ” (Exodus 33:15), well, you can fill in the blank.

Reigniting our devotion to Christ is essential. From time to time we lose focus and sight of God’s mission and need to spend valuable time with Him. The New Year brings new opportunities. In seeking new opportunities, this should compel us to seek more devoted time—more reading, more prayer, and more spiritual disciplines. As Martin Luther proclaimed, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

So, to begin your new year right, set aside time to refocus the mission, regain the vision, and for God to reignite the soul.

Why Churches Must Plant Churches That Plant Churches

FullSizeRender-24

Published in December 2015 Church Planter Magazine

“Why would I want to do that?”

That was the answer that I received when I asked a pastor if his church would support church planting.

Did he really just say that? Let me try this again, but this time I’ll rephrase it.

“Why wouldn’t your church want to be involved in the Great Commission?”

Now he had the same look that I had—confused. Bewildered. As if someone just stolen his lunch money. I was sort of in shock, but not really—I’m beginning to get used to this type of answer.

I won’t go into detail about how he justified his church’s involvement in the Great Commission by sending money to missionaries, feeding the homeless, and sending Christmas boxes (all good, by the way).

A Gospel Passion

The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16b)

People ask me, “Why are you so passionate about church planting?” I reply, “It is not church planting that I am passionate about, but the gospel.”

To be a disciple of Christ means, to desire to be more like Christ. Churches that plant churches that plant churches epitomize disciple-making and gospel-centered fruit.

In the beginning of this year, I founded a collaborative initiative here in Richmond called, Planting RVA (RVA stands for Richmond, VA). My goal is to see Richmond saturated with the gospel. With 121 countries, Richmond is ripe for the harvest—a diverse, cultural, and beautiful area, but one that desperately needs more churches planted. Richmond was one of the only cities on the eastern seaboard that was not affected by the Great Awakening—a spiritually darkened city.

With an original intention for a multipronged approach of house church movements, comprehensive and traditional church plants, satellite campuses, and revitalizations, it was an uphill battle from the get-go. I found that dozens of pastors were willing to talk about it, but very few were willing to get their hands dirty—to break up any fallow ground.

And so, my passion is not necessarily for churches, but for the gospel. Churches that plant churches that plant churches are gospel saturated. Their intention is outwardly revealed—to make Jesus known, to bring glory to God, and to make disciples. Church multiplication is the result of disciple-making, which is the command of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20).

The Harvest Is Ripe

Jesus declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:2-4).

This verse is sometimes misconstrued. Some pastors will exegete this passage as a call to prayer, but the context is Jesus sending out His disciples. He sends them out with nothing, other than His authority. Jesus was indeed telling these disciples to pray, but He ordered them to “Go.”

When I rephrased this to my pastor friend, he didn’t understand that intrinsically church planters are disciple makers. This is why I am so passionate about planting churches that plant churches—it is fulfilling Christ’s command. We cannot plant churches without making disciples—it’s nearly impossible (unless you pay people or draw them in with false benefits, but that won’t last).

IMG_4984

Living in Reality

The current model of Western Christianity is broken. I’ve written about this many times and will share it with you. Western Christianity is hemorrhaging! Seventy percent (70%) of the U.S. population reports a connection with Jesus Christ, yet according to David Olson, on any given Sunday less than 17.5% of the population actually attends an orthodox worship service.[1] This number includes Roman Catholicism.

Even though Olson’s statistics display 17.5%, Doug Murren, of the Murren Group, declared that number to be too high and suggested Olson’s 2008 numbers were lagging behind. Murren’s ghastly number of 12% is staggering![2] Furthermore, Murren’s research indicated “20% of people leave their church every year, which would require a visitor rate of at least 30% of a church’s size per year, just to grow.”[3]

Once again, Olson declared that American Christianity would need to plant 2,900 new churches a year, just to keep up with the current pace of population.[4] However, with over 7,000 churches closing each year, and only 4,000 opening, an article in Outreach Magazine noted “15,000 new churches [are needed] every year to keep up with population.”[5]

The Barna Group assessed that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.”[6] With a population of roughly two hundred forty million Americans, “one hundred seventy million of them (71%), either consider themselves as having no religious affiliation at all or Christian in name only.”[7] As JR Woodward observed, “Functional Christendom has given way to a ‘spiritual,’ secular and pluralist society where a growing number view the church with suspicion and some with downright disdain.”[8]

And so, with 80 to 85 percent of churches in America either plateauing or in decline, there is an urgent call for church revitalization and planting.[9] For this reason, the church must re-engage the church planting apostolic call of the missio Dei. The Western world is officially a mission field and is in dire need of apostolic movement.

If these numbers do not cause you to see the vital need for church planting then nothing will—but perhaps you’re among the complacent crowd? My call to you today is not for you to get up on the soapbox and scream out for revival, but to begin revival within your own heart. Start living the life of Christ on mission within your home, neighborhood, and community—get engaged in the Great Commission by making disciples and helping plant churches that plant churches.

If evangelicalism is to re-engage the Western culture it will not be with political agendas, but with a true apostolic movement, where Christ is Lord and the Church is sent.

If you’d like to be a part of Planting RVA, either as a church planter or a supporting church, please feel free to email me pastor@oakhallbc.org

[1] David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.

[2] Doug Murren, “De-Churching or Re-Gathering,” themurrengroup.com, March, 2015.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 181.

[5] Rebecca Barnes and Linda Lowry, “Special Report: The American Church in Crisis,” Outreach Magazine, June 2006, 1, accessed October 16, 2015, http://www.simplechurchathome.com/PDF&PowerPoint/AmericanChurchCrisis.pdf.

[6] George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 16.

[7] Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 12.

[8] JR Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 30.

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

The Ugly Truth About The Church & Church Planting

th-3

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![1]

But it’s never going to happen and I’ll tell you several reasons why.

No Collaboration

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).

 

[1] 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.

Why Churches Must Plant Churches That Plant Churches (Part II)

FullSizeRender-3

This is the second part of a three part series (here’s the first article)

I have listed three reasons why churches must plant churches that plant churches. The first part was gospel passion. Churches must have an intentional reality for outwardly making God known. Why? Because …

The Harvest Is Ripe

Jesus declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:2-4).

This verse is sometimes misconstrued. Some pastors will exegete this passage as a call to prayer, but the context is Jesus sending out His disciples. He sends them out with nothing, other than His authority. Jesus was indeed telling these disciples to pray, but He ordered them to “Go.”

When I rephrased this to my pastor friend, he didn’t understand that intrinsically church planters are disciple makers. This is why I am so passionate about planting churches that plant churches—it is fulfilling Christ’s command. We cannot plant churches without making disciples—it’s nearly impossible (unless you pay people or draw them in with false benefits, but that won’t last).

Why Did Paul Not Want To Plant More Churches in Rome?

Paul’s “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20)

paul_areopagus

What did Paul mean when he said that he did not want to plant churches where “Christ had already been named”? He even clarified to the Roman churches, “I no longer have any room for work” (15:23). Did Paul establish a church plant in every village and every town? Did he reach every person? Why was he so ambitious to go and plant new churches in “Spain” (15:24, 28)? Did he reach all of Rome?

The understanding that church planters come alongside the working power and mission of God is an understatement—they breathe it!

Paul was a man moved by the Spirit of God to plant churches in new regions (Acts 16:6–10; Rom. 15:19). He understood the power of God. He also understood the missio Dei, the sending of God. For Paul, the gospel of Christ manifested itself in action and power wherever he went (c.f. 1 Thess. 1:5).

So, what did he mean in Romans 15:20? First of all, Paul does not consider the phrase “to preach the gospel” as some type of individualistic evangelism or an outreach event. We may view it that way today, but that was foreign to Paul. He was an apostolic pioneer—Paul established disciple-making churches. Discipleship was (and should still be) the DNA of the early church.

So, Paul was more concerned with establishing bodies of gathered believers (ecclesias) in two or three focused areas of resurgence, within each region. This meant that his assignment in each “region” was to create disciples who disciple people that disciple others, and so on.

Paul’s missiology was Christological. For Paul, Jesus was Lord of all. Paul’s passion was to assemble and see disciples create “reproducible ecclesias.”[1] Paul was sold out. He believed in the power of the gospel to infect people with a pioneering discipling-evangelism. The “infected” people were then, also, sold out to the mission of God, within the everyday rhythms of life.

Paul shows that church planting is more than preaching the gospel, a building, or a vocation. Church planting involves discipling converts into an “obedient” surrendered faith (Rom 15:18). Church planting does not build upon another man’s foundation, but upon the work in Christ.

Paul’s driving “passion to work where Christ was not known,” was confirmed in his apostolic nature: “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it” (1 Cor 3:10a). Paul relied on others.

The Apostle rightly assumed that anyone who was infected with the gospel would in turn, go, make disciples, and plant churches. Each church body became a sending church, not once or twice, but until the region was saturated.

So, the answer is that Paul did not have to reach every single person. Paul’s belief in the Holy Spirit affirmed his faith that God was at work within His church.

[1] Alan Hirsch, and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 136.

Church Planting & Expecting Great Things!

http://www.livemint.com/rf/Image-621x414/LiveMint/Period1/2013/02/22/Photos/urban%20slum--621x414.jpg

http://www.livemint.com/rf/Image-621×414/LiveMint/Period1/2013/02/22/Photos/urban%20slum–621×414.jpg

There is one quote that I have placed in every book that I have written. It is by far one of my favorite quotes—I’ll get to it in a minute.

My favorite quote was stated by one of the most famous missionaries, known as the “father of modern missions.” His name? William Carey.

If you’re not familiar with William Carey, you should be—his story of what God can do with a humble and willing heart is profound.

Another one of Carey’s accomplishments, was that of a Bible translator. He was the first to translate the Holy Scriptures into Bengali. Carey also translated it into twenty-eight other languages. Amazingly, Carey was a self-taught man. He only had a fifth grade education!

Needless to say, it never hindered his passion for Christ.

When Carey desired to follow his calling into India, he had little—to no—support. The larger and more “established” churches would not recognize his desire to see foreign missions attached to the local church.

However, Carey knew that mission and church were inseparable. He would be way ahead of his time, asking for a collaboration of denominations. Carey desired to see Christ’s church set aside its ecclesiology for the aspect of evangelization and mission.

While in India, Carey was mostly viewed as a fanatic. His “enthusiasm” in wanting to see the world come to Christ and Christians work together for the gospel was viewed as abnormal.

Carey once declared, “Would it not be possible to have a general association of all denominations of Christians, from the four corners of the world…I recommend this plan, that the first meeting be in the year 1810, or 1812 at furthest…”

It never occurred in Carey’s lifetime—but it was established 100 years later, in 1910. Carey was a man before his time. Sometimes the greatest fault of visionaries is exactly that—they see what others cannot see and yet they press on with passion for what they see and believe.

John the Baptist was such a man. He paved the way for Christ; a man who only ate locusts and wild honey and wore garments of camel hair. The camel hair symbolized a coarse, itchy, and abrasive culture against God’s purposes.

Of course, John paid the ultimate price for his obedience by losing his head, but he gained eternity. The Baptist was never ashamed to call himself a servant of the Most High God. He was never afraid to confront the fears of being disliked or being less than someone else. John was humble; yet passionate that God was doing great things.

Likewise, Carey was eerily similar in his understanding of God’s calling.

This brings me to that famous and favorite quote of his; Carey once declared, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

I have always tried to attempt great things for God, not out of compulsion, but love, and yet, I always expect great things to happen. One aspect of Carey’s statement that baffles me, and yet also inspires me, is that Carey believed we ought to “expect great things from God,” even before we “attempt” them.

Don’t misunderstand him, he wasn’t in the “name it and claim it” crowd, but believed that God was sovereign over all things. William lived his theology. He took such bold adventures because he believed in a God that had already overcome death and sin and given him life eternal.

So, let me ask you…do you expect great things from God and attempt great things for God? If not, what’s stopping you? As Carey said, “Go ye’ means me!”