Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (1/25)

Religious beliefs should never be privileged over other beliefs, simply by virtue of being religious. Either a particular belief is relevant to eligibility for employment or it is not.

So I’m beginning to wonder if it’s “a wrap” on this whole “missional” movement splash, especially in terms of church planting? I can definitely see the wind being taken out of the sails for some. I’ve been particularly curious about crickets I hear when bringing up a few issues among missional Christians:

More importantly for us, the interpretive principle by which one ancient interpreter handled this specific issue is a very common one in contemporary Christian interpretation: using other parts of the Bible to inform our interpretation of Genesis. The question, then, is: how our application of this principle differs from this one example below, if at all?

From the point of view of biblical faith, there is no inherent value in suffering. Like much that is evil in our world, human suffering is a perversion and a disruption of what should be. It has entered the world because of the dislocation of the relationship between human beings and their creator – the good God who purposed his creation for his own delight and that of his creatures. Suffering is an aberration – it has no value for its own sake. It is not good in and of itself. In the Psalms of the Old Testament, we read some impassioned pleas to God about the absurdity of suffering.

Alan Hirsch on being a missionary incarnational church

Here’s Alan Hirsch explaining why he thinks that the church has to be both missional and incarnational.

.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/10)

This shift of focus away from the activity of the church towards the activity of God, however, exposed a critical bifurcation in the argument, a fork in the road—and many theologians took the concept of missio Dei in a direction altogether unintended by Barth and the German missiologists….If the church participates in the mission of God, the possibility arises that the mission of God in the world may be thought to happen more or less independently of the church.

But there are other indications that though this event was used to bring about peace for a time, the twelve might not have been as faithful leaders at this point as we might have hoped.

One of my pet peeves is the fact that most Christian lay people and even many pastors don’t seem to know what they think the “Kingdom of God” means or have no idea what the Bible really says about it and yet use the phrase all the time.

  • Here’s a roundtable discussion on Christians an Internet Presence with Trevin Wax, Steve McCoy, and Brandon Smith discussing social media, blogging, and other forms of Christian presence on the internet. One interesting quote from Trevin Wax:

The blogosphere is a neat thing, but it’s also a gigantic echo chamber, and the noisy links create the false perception that we are very important and have something so valuable to say.

  • If you spent way too much time during your teen years (or youth  ministry years) watching The Princess Pride, here is the quiz for you: “Prepare to Die: A Princess Bride Quiz.” I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I scored a 10 out of 10 on this one.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/22)

What churches often do less well is grieve. We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss. A friend of mine whose husband recently died put it like this: “For about two weeks the church was really the church—really awesomely, wonderfully the church. Everyone came to the house, baked casseroles, carried Kleenex. But then the two weeks ended, and so did the consolation calls.” While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably, forgets and goes back to their normal lives and you find, after all those crowds of people, that you are left alone. You are without the church, and without a church vocab-ulary for what happens to the living after the dead are dead.

  • Dave Block offers some good thoughts on how to master Greek. None of the advice is terribly new, but it is a good reminder that learning Greek (or any language) is a continuous process.

So you’re studying New Testament Greek and finding it a bit of a challenge. A lot of people don’t stick with it. “I tried learning Greek and it didn’t work for me.” The problem with these people may just be that they never learned persistence. Do you want to master the Greek language and be able to use it in your walk with God and in your service for Him? If you do, you will have to put forth some effort. How can we “stick with it” in a practical sense?

Cockatoo: If you’ve ever seen the cockatoos at a pet store and thought about keeping these large and magnificent birds- don’t. Yes, they are beautiful, and yes, they are relatively smart. But, they will cost you $1,035 a year after spending $1,535 the first year. And these guys are no guinea pigs. Expect your cockatoo to live for 50 years, costing you a total of $52,250.

  • And, on a similar note, here are instructions for how to pet a kitty. I’m not sure why you would want to pet a kitty. But, if you’re going to do it, you should learn to do so safely. HT

Viral Churches – multiplying church growth through church planting networks

Many thanks to Wiley for providing me with a review copy of Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird.

The central argument of Viral Churches is that church planting alone is not enough to accomplish the mission of growing the church so that it reaches every people group and every slice of society in every country. We need “church multiplication movements,” movements capable of sweeping across entire countries.

Stetzer and Bird begin by explaining what they mean by “multiplication” and how it relates to church planting (chapters 1-3). According to them:

“A church multiplication movement is a rapid reproduction of churches planting churches, measured by a reproduction rate of 50 percent through the third generation of churches, with new churches having 50 percent new converts.” (5)

So, church multiplication is more than just church planting. It is church planting that is also intentional about building multiplication into the DNA of the new churches so that they go on to plant churches of their own. And, they argue that only this kind of aggressive multiplication will provide the growth that the church needs to be faithful to its mission.

“To achieve such momentum, churches would need to plant, on average, a new church every two years with each church reaching at least half of its attendees from the unchurched community.” (116)

And they point to examples demonstrating that such growth is possible. Church multiplication, then, is “the much-needed alternative to inward-focused or addition-based church planting”(6).

From here, Stetzer and Bird discuss successful church planting and building church-planting DNA into new churches (chapters 4-7). They argue that the best predictors of success in church planting lie in recruitment (attracting the best people), assessment (making sure they’re a good fit for church planting), and deployment (getting them to the right places). They also discuss the importance of quality training and effective networks/mentoring for church planters.

Chapters 8-10 focus on assessing several other strategies for building the church: house churches, multi-site churches, and big, rapidly-growing churches. They do a nice job identifying the strengths of each approach along with some significant weaknesses.

The last few chapters are a bit of a hodgepodge. Chapter 11 discusses the role of funding in church planting. According to them, the research suggests that networks and denominations should fund qualified church planters, but that too much funding creates dependency and undermines creativity. Chapter 12 argues that we need new “scorecards” for assessing church health, ones that emphasize spiritual vitality and church multiplication. And chapter 13 offers a nice assessment of obstacles to developing these kinds of church multiplication movements, along with proposed solutions.

Overall, the book is worth reading at least for its statistical information and for Stetzer and Bird’s familiarity with what significant churches and church planting networks are doing today. I also appreciated the emphasis on building missional DNA into churches from the very beginning. We tend to forget that what we teach first tends to stick best. When we focus on developing stability and maturity at the beginning of a church plan, we often communicate inadvertently that these are our highest values. And, they offer a number of good suggestions for what contributes to successful church planting.

I do have a few criticisms. First, I always find it annoying when someone claims that their approach to ministry is “just the way they did it in the Bible.” Stop it. We all say that. And we’re all wrong (to an extent). The first century church operated in an entirely different context. We cannot and should not try to do ministry exactly the way they did. We should learn from them, of course. But simple emulation is not going to cut it. And, Stetzer and Bird also miss the fact that church planting had to be the approach of the early church. There weren’t any churches. So, of course they went around planting them. We can’t simplistically move from they did X to we should do X. It’s going to take a bit more nuance than that.

I was also troubled by a subtle pragmatism throughout the book. They repeatedly referred to things we should do because they work, with little reflection on whether we should do them. For example, they emphasized the importance of planting churches in micro-groups (niche groups, slices of society, etc.) because socially focused church plants grow faster. But this, of course, bypasses a whole raft of concerns about whether this is the best way to be the church in the world. Pragmatism cannot be the driving force of ecclesiology, though it often is.

Third, they expressed an oddly ambivalent attitude toward educating church planters. They repeatedly emphasized the importance of training church planters and even stated at one point that “We need more seminary-trained church planters” (116). Yet, they routinely highlighted the accomplishments of “unpaid local amateurs” (53), who did not have “university degrees” (55), and they associated seminary training with the rise of stagnant institutionalization in the church (171). This ambiguity may stem from their argument that we need “two tracks” in church planting: the more established, well-funded, trained, and professional church planter and the amateur. They seem to think that the first is important, but they really went out of their way to highlight the success and importance of the latter.

Finally, I wasn’t excited about their approach to discipleship. They clearly believe that discipleship – or, more appropriately, leadership development – is a vital aspect of the church’s mission. But, they say very little about how we make sure that this happens in the context of a rapidly growing and highly decentralized movement. They seem to think that quality formation will simply happen if we’re preparing people to multiply new churches. But, that just isn’t the case. There’s far more to spiritual formation than just the leadership skills necessary to grow a movement. Evangelicalism will remain “a mile wide and an inch deep” as long as this is our exclusive focus for growing churches.

To conclude, then, Viral Churches is very helpful for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the contemporary church planting movement, offering some good thoughts for how and why we need to continue moving forward in accomplishing the church’s mission. Despite some significant drawbacks, it would definitely serve as a useful starting-point for a discussion on the nature and mission of the church in the world today.

(Wiley books are available at your local bookstore or by calling 1-800-225-5945. In Canada call 1-800-567-4797.) (They told me I had to say that.)