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Friday, December 19, 2008

Church Planting Evangelism

Saying the word "evangelism" can put a bad taste in our mouths having become associated with certain tele-evangelists with dodgy theology and zero integrity. It is also used in business settings to describe viral endorsements from clients. You may have also heard the term "brand evangelist". Whatever alternative meanings it carries today it describes the most important aspect of church planting -- one-on-one gospel sharing! I'm going to share what I've learnt from 2 books I have read.

I literally just finished reading The Faithful Witness by Jerry Wiles. It is a MUST read for all church planters -- incredibly inspiring. I also read Becoming A Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels. Both books are very uplifting, practical and life-changing. If you can read both, do so. If not, get The Faithful Witness as I found it the most spiritually stirring and the story's alone are worth it.

A Change of Mind About Evangelism
Hybels has a formula in his book, not specifically for sharing the gospel or praying a prayer, actually he says not to use formulas especially for salvation prayers, but he clearly breaks apart what a Christian needs in order to have maximum impact for the gospel in someones life. The formula is: 

High Potency (HP) + Close Proximity (CP) + Clear Communication (CC) = Maximum Impact (MI)

Missing one of these elements sabotages our ability to lead people into faith. Without having a potent relationship with Jesus, being genuine friends with non-believers and being able to clearly articulate the message it just wont happen. 

Wiles doesn't use a fancy formula but he says basically the same things and in a way that more deeply affected me. He starts with who we are in Christ. It was Galations 2:20 and Colossians 1:27 that the Holy Spirit used to transform his understanding of his own life in Christ which in turn fueled him in his evangelistic efforts. What 'High Potency' is to Hybels, 'Identity' is to Wiles. He writes, "... a witness is first and foremost something you are. Jesus' last recorded words on earth prior to His ascension back to heaven were these: You shall be witnesses to Me (Acts 1:8) ... Your witness about Jesus is only as good as your relationship with Jesus."

Wiles makes a strong case that Christians already have the tools to witness just like a baby knows how to breathe. He says "... stop searching for a greater ability to witness and start releasing the nature of Christ that is already indwelling you!" Now that's provocative. So provocative in fact that the day I read it (yesterday) I went ahead a prayed with a man at the gas station and he was healed and confessed that he wanted Christ. Seriously, it's not brain surgery, it's being yourself, your new self that is, the identity of Christ. If we are in Christ and Revelation 1:5 refers to Jesus as "The Faithful Witness", then what are you?

Again, Wiles is relentless with his provocation, "Only one thing can put a stop to the Lord's sovereign work in setting up appointments for life-changing witness encounters -- our unwillingness to open our mouths and share the Good News of Jesus Christ." There is no guilt or manipulation in this. Every believer in Jesus will express it differently but the truth is that every believer, being in Christ, naturally desires to share what Jesus has done for them. For this reason Wiles has the person share their faith straightaway. He argues that because people have just been freed from their sin and have received perfect peace and joy they are happy for others to know, and somewhat unable to deny it! 

The truth is that people in this world feel guilty, discouraged, rejected, hurt and alone. That means they are perfect candidates to receive Jesus. The lie we believe is that people will reject the gospel. That does happen but in Jerry Wiles experience he sees 1 in every 4 people receive Jesus after sharing the gospel. He notes that Jesus had a similar success rate in the Gospel accounts. People know they need God, they just need someone to show them the way. Hybels points out that 25% of the US population would go to church if a friend would just invite them. That's 1 in 4 if you didn't realize!  

The biggest lesson for me in reading these books was an identity shift. Believing who I am in Christ and believing that Jesus is working in people's lives. I dare you to test this out, change your mind and see the results. Evangelism is the most effective church planting strategy. 

Conversations & Questions
We have a responsibility to initiate conversations with people. Building trust is important, but if we believe that the gospel is powerful then we should have greater trust in what Jesus can do than in our ability to be winsome. We are often afraid to bring up Jesus in fear of being rejected and ruining all future gospel opportunities. 

Hybels writes, "So can we just come out and say it? Far too many Christians have been anesthetized into thinking that if they simply live out their faith in an open and consistent fashion, the people around them will see it, want it, and somehow figure out how to get it. That never happens." I agree, people need to know they can have all their sins and guilt taken away right here, right now. Hybels goes on, "Most of the time, seekers, whether they admit it openly or not, respect and admire Christians who aren't afraid to take a stand." Go ahead, start a conversation, and speak the truth.

Another helpful practice is to keep it simple by quickly getting to the heart of the matter,  and to pray and to rely on the Holy Spirit. Look into peoples eyes and relate the gospel to where they are at. Don't over complicate it. Wiles makes the point, "It's more difficult to forget a direct, simple question than a long, veiled, never-to-the point conversation." Even if the person doesn't receive Christ the question will stay with them and may bear fruit later.

It's important to practice and develop your own style of question asking. Both authors warn of the pitfalls of unnatural prescribed evangelism steps. But they do offer their personal favorite openers. Wiles suggestions include:
  1. Is anything encouraging happening in your life? Or, do you see anything encouraging happening around you or in the lives of people you know? 
  2. Have you noticed any signs of spiritual awakening in your city?
  3. Have you been thinking more about the Lord lately? (Or I guess the word "Lord" could be exchanged for "God" as unchurched people might not be familiar with that word).
  4. Has the Lord been good to you today? 
  5. Has anyone told you today that God loves you?
Here was the shocker for me on question 3, 'have you been thinking more about the Lord lately?', Wiles says that 90% of people say yes! He comments, "The greater the fear and frustration and concern people have about the aspects of their lives, the more tender, they seem to be toward God and the more they question the meaning of life, the purpose for their existence on this earth, and the way to find lasting inner peace." You'll need to get the book for further explanation of where to take the conversations after these opener questions. 

Hybels offers these openers:
  1. Do you ever think about spiritual things?
  2. Who, in your opinion, was Jesus Christ?
  3. What belief did you grow up with?
  4. Do you ever wonder what happens to us when we die?
  5. What do you think a real Christian is? 
  6. Where are you heading in your spiritual journey?
The Power of The Word
Another powerful and yet simple point for me was the use of scripture in evangelism. I don't know why I didn't really think about this much before but if we believe that God's word is inspired and sharper than a double edged sword AND that is does reveal the heart, then sharing sections of scripture with non-believers WILL have a dramatic affect of them. Wiles mentions that he carries copies of the gospel of John with him because many have been saved simply by reading it! He tells people "Here's a book that was written by a man who knew Jesus personally, and tells how you can know Him personally as well." If that doesn't start a conversation at least the person can read it on their own. 

In this regard Hybels lays out different approaches to sharing the gospel that might be helpful. The Roman Road is a classic. You can simply share 3 verses from the book of Romans with someone (make sure you have a Bible with you) and ask them questions about what the verses mean. It's easy to remember and covers the fundamental gospel elements, Romans 3:23, 6:23 and 10:13. 

When I read this method I found it easy to remember the first two because they are the same verse but chapter 10 and verse 13 was a bit more random and I thought, I bet I forget this last verse reference. So I prayed, "Lord help me remember these references so that I can use them at an appropriate time." At that moment I glanced at the clock on the oven and it was 10:13am! Holy cow -- and that clock is slightly wrong! Now that scripture reference is burned in my memory forever. Jesus is so cool. That confirmed again that God wants me to share my faith with people.

The Double Whammy
This is where Wiles wins for me. The double or even triple or even more soul winning whammy! When he travels he sees up to 8 people saved, but at the very least 1 person is saved. At a Christian conference he travelled to he inquired to the hotel/conference venue works if anyone had shared with them about the purpose of the event. No-one had. So Wiles continues to lead a maid, a young security guard at the entrance to the exhibition area, a hotel maintenance worker and eight security guards to Christ. He strategically uses one salvation to spark another -- what a genius!

Again, he's at the checkout in a store and noticed no one was around, so he seizes the opportunity. The girl at the checkout becomes a Christian, right there and then. On the way out the door he notices a man who looks down and says "You might be interested in knowing that the woman standing at the cash register, Regina, just received Jesus Christ into her heart and experienced the forgiveness of her sins ... You need that too, don't you? He nodded and said, Yes I do." The story continues as he leads the mans stepson to Christ and then his wife shows up. He says, "You might be interested in knowing that your husband and you son have just invited Jesus Christ into their hearts. You need to do that too, don't you? She also said yes." 

One of the most strategic things he does is to use the immediate testimony of the person receiving Christ and presents it as a new opportunity for someone else. This builds faith and confidence in new Christians to continue to share their faith. It also causes people to be more open to the gospel in the face of a freshly converted person beaming with the joy of the Lord and radiant that they are now guilt free and destined for an eternity with Jesus. Isn't that brilliant? He notes that he has often lead 4 or 5 people to Jesus in this sequential manner at the same time. 

This principle rings true because of the way people relate to each other. Wiles writes, "People tend to work or associate in clusters ... If you have the opportunity to lead one of them to the Lord, the door will often open to share with several other members of the staff or team." He frequents restaurants and other places where people have responded to the gospel because co-workers and others are now more likely to be open to the gospel having seen someone they know find faith in Christ. 

All the church planting books I have read point to the fact that you have to connect with people who don't know Jesus -- that's the purpose of church planting. This means a high commitment to personal evangelism is critical for church planters. Wiles writes, "Can the church end up with too many people sharing Christ? No!" And, "Need a lift in your spiritual life? Win someone to the Lord! Introduce others to the living Christ." Often, the most exciting things are the things we desire the most and long to do more of. Hybels writes, "There's nothing in life that's as exciting as befriending, loving, and leading wayward people toward faith in Christ. Nothing." 

This is obviously not just for church planting but for established churches. I'd suggest that these books have equipped me in the most effective way for church planting. It seems unavoidable that a high degree of consistent gospel sharing is really the best means to plant a church. Generally the mass communication stuff (mailers, etc...) attracts Christians. So perhaps, both strategies can be combined but with a strong emphasis on evangelism in church planting.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Circumcision: Can I get that gift wrapped?

Once something has been cut off is it dead or alive? We'll come back to that question later.

There is a fundamental problem with everyone, wouldn't you agree? We are not just genetically deficient, we are morally flawed. We want things that are harmful to ourselves and others. We want things we cannot have. That's why most of us have painful relationships. We express our brokenness in different ways but we're all basically corrupted on the inside. (Don't worry, this post is going to get a lot better, and I'll explain the circumcision gift wrapping, just stick with it.)

Humans are not basically "good" as it's popular to believe. Anyone holding this view doesn't have kids and doesn't watch the news. Some people find comfort in their self-destructiveness and find ways to justify it. Others try hard to perform well and cover it up, to appear good. Unfortunately, neither strategy works. From day one, everyone has a self-centred heart -- everyone! Not to say we can't do good things, we just default to self-centredness, which we can agree is not just less than best but plain wrong.

This is a hard reality to face. No one likes to be told that trying to be good is a waste of time. Somehow we know we should be good but we keep choosing our personal needs over others. We keep trying to position ourselves above or ahead. We continue to insist that we are more important than the guy next to us and we know best. We'd prefer someone else to lose their happiness rather than us. All self-centredness is basically a deception about ourselves, the truth is that the value of our life does not out weigh the value of someone elses. The human heart is therefore naturally deceiving (see Jeremiah 17:9). The Bible refers to this condition as the "sinful nature".

The question I want to answer is not, how do I change my nature (because the answer is through following Jesus), but what nature does a Christian have? 

When you become a follower of Christ are you a sinner saved by grace (a sinner-saint) or a saint completely free from the sinful nature?

It was Martin Luther, the great reformer, who proposed the concept of Simul iustus et peccator "At the same time righteous and a sinner". This view is based on verses like Galatians 5:17 (NIV) "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want." And Romans 7:17 (NASB) "So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me." 

This "sinner-saint" view is commonly held. At first hearing it portrays great humility but is not as freeing as one might think and can even become an excuse for sin. It can give some a wrong sense of lowliness and cause a constant repentance for "being a sinner". I disagree with the "sinner saved by grace mentality". Scripture declares that Christians were once sinners, and are now saints, saved only by the grace of God. Even the Corinthian church are referred to as saints!

Let's explore some scriptures that clarify this issue.

Colossians 2:11-12 (NIV) "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."

When a dude is circumcised he doesn't keep the foreskin and carry it around with him for future use -- it's dead and therefore useless. Doctors don't usually offer gift wrapping services for circumcision. In the same way, when we are spiritually circumcised in the death and burial of Christ, we can't keep the sinful nature around any longer for future use -- it's totally gone.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 

The "old" is the sinful nature. The old and the new don't coexist. It's fairly straightforward. If they did Christians would be hybrid creations not new creations. 

The most compelling arguments come from the book of Romans. Simple reflection on these verses reveals the nature of a Christian. Paul writes:
  • Romans 6:2 (NASB) "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"
  • Romans 6:6 (NIV) "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin"
  • Romans 6:7 (NIV) " ... anyone who has died has been freed from sin."
  • Romans 6:11 (NIV) "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus."
  • Romans 6:12 (NIV) "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires."
  • Romans 6:14 (NIV) "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
  • Romans 6:18 (NIV) "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."
The confusion for some comes in chapter 7 of Romans were Paul seems to say the exact opposite of what he just wrote in Romans 6.
  • Romans 7:14 (NASB) "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin."
  • Romans 7:18 (NASB) "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not."
  • Romans 7:19 (NASB) "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want."
  • Romans 7:24 (NASB) "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?"
The weight of the words used above don't sound like Paul is simply aware of an internal sinner-saint struggle, they are more serious and contrasting than that. Saying that he is in bondage to sin, nothing good dwells in him, he practices evil he doesn't want and that he is a wretched man are not in keeping with the theme of the book and other New Testament writings. These don't give room for a duality of human natures. There's no ying and yang in Romans 7. It's 100% bad!

For example, If nothing good dwells in him why does he so confidently urge others to imitate him? How can he claim such joy and peace if he constantly does things he hates? It is interesting to note that no other passage in the New Testament reflects what Paul appears to be saying here. Peter actually says in 2 Peter 1:3 (NASB) "His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness". Also, 1 John 3:6 (NIV) "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." 

In 1 Corinthians 4:4 Paul says that he is "conscious of nothing against himself." Ugh!? How can he be wretched and in bondage to sin and yet confident of no wrong doing? In 1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV) he says "I will not be mastered by anything." How can someone so confident of being unmastered by sin in 1 Corinthians and Romans 6, be so helpless and bound in evil practices in Romans 7? It just doesn't make sense! 

The most satisfying way to understand Romans 7 is that Paul is referring to an experience before becoming a Christian. Theologians like Gordon Fee, Douglas Moo and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones hold to this interpretation. This understanding makes sense of the contrasts in Romans 6 & 7 and nullifies the sinner-saint concept which actually never appears in scripture. 

What about other contradictory scriptures?

In light of this interpretation of the Bible how do we reconcile Galatians 5:16-17 (NIV) "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."

The translators of the NIV normally render the Greek word sarx as "sinful nature", but it can also be understood as "flesh". When you see that the word "sarx" has many meanings you realize there is room for a different interpretation. It doesn't always mean sinful nature. W.E. Vines expository dictionary of bible words lists 14 different meanings. The scripture here is likely encouraging us to not live with our body in control over our spirit, but the other way around. This makes sense because verse 24 says "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." This is not talking about the body, but sinful nature. The Bible says the sinner is dead! No sinner-saints exist in the Bible.

Why do Christians still sin?

Personally, I don't want to sin. I want to do the right thing. I know I do because whenever I have willfully sinned I regret it and pray that I'll never repeat it. This lines up with what the scripture tells me about my new nature in Christ. But we still live in a frail body with the real option of sin around us. Temptations come not from the inside, like they did when the sinful nature was alive, but from the outside. Sin now tries to activate itself in the works of my body rather than in the state of my heart.

Some argue that the sins of a Christian prove that the sinful nature is still there. They are deceived into thinking that the absence of a sinful nature would make them impervious to sinful choices. It didn't work that way for Adam and Eve. They didn't have a sinful nature yet they sinned -- majorly. This sheds a whole new light on the temptations of Jesus. He didn't have a sinful nature. It means that the temptation of sin was real for him. It means that temptation can always be overcome. Now that our sinful nature is gone we are more like Christ.

The article Do Christians Still Have a Sin Nature? by Dr. Bill Gillham puts it nicely:
Romans 7:20 speaks of the power of indwelling sin (not the sin nature) working in man to produce undesirable (sinful) behavior. The power of sin simply deceives the Christian by masquerading as the old man, suggesting (deceiving) to the will that a choice be made to perform according to the old self-serving patterns programmed in previously. This is referred to as "walking after the flesh." Satan could never deceive a Christian with a direct approach as a "little man in red underwear." He must disguise himself if he is to have any hope of victory. There is one way and one way only to accomplish this deception and that is to masquerade in the thought life of the Christian posing as his unique version of the old man! The naive Christian will believe he, himself, is generating the unchristian suggestion and thus direct his defensive efforts against the wrong foe...what he perceives to be a darker side of himself!

Christians are not some type of heaven-hell-hybrids or sinner-saints. Christians are saints by the grace of God. Christians do not have a sinful nature, they cannot have a sinful nature. This means that all temptations can be overcome as they are not from our hearts. This view places more responsibility on the Christian to live according to their new nature. The two-nature view (sinner-saint) gives a Christian a reason to excuse sin as something they cannot always help. In fact, sin is something a Christian can always help because its not driven from their heart. There is no sin a Christian cannot overcome! 

This study will be incredibly beneficial for church planting in Chicago. This is such a foundational doctrine which causes people to understand the depths of grace. Christians are not lowly people who have to drag their sin to the cross everyday. They are completely free to live a new life under a new master and to go with the impulses of the new heart God has given them.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

I Am Second

What does it really mean to be a Christian? How does a person become a Christian? Why would people I know start believing in Jesus? How can I help people explore the claims of Jesus? How does a new church embody this? 

I am asking myself these questions a lot recently. It's something I don't want to just know or think about but be actively engaged in. 

Ultimately, following Jesus is about giving up control, admitting fault and becoming second place. Jesus becomes first place. It's hard for people to give up control. But I know that following Jesus is the most freeing thing anyone can do. It has been for me. 

Checkout this web site which has videos of why people have become second in pursuit of Jesus:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Church Planting The Next Generation by Kevin W. Mannoia

A while ago I read Church Planting The Next Generation by Kevin W. Mannoia. This book presents an overarching system to foster rapid church planting on a large scale. The sole focus of the book is for churches (specifically the Free Methodist Church) to work together through the predefined Century 21 Church Planting System. Ultimately the purpose is to create a environment or ethos for church planting within networks of churches. It is highly practical and descriptive of how to implement the small steps that make up the larger movement of finding, training and launching successful church planters. 

Ed Stetzer at the very end of his book Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age, references the Century 21 Church Planting System (page 334-335). He writes: "Many groups and denominations have adopted these systems, and they have helped raise church planting capacity. More churches are being started, and more of them are being successful." To get such an endorsement signifies the value of this book and the structure that Mannoia brings to the table.

He writes that the Profile Assessment component "raises the success rate of new churches by focusing on the most important ingredient -- the planter" (p67). The book points out that using a well designed assessment process for potential planters increases the success rate of a new church to 90%. The best way to know how someone will act in the future is to find out how they behaved in the past -- hence the value of assessment. This was illustrated well by a story of an unintentional assessment. One leader, after just being appointed as a church planter, was used as a test subject to help new assessors to be trained. The data from the assessment recommended that he not be deployed as a church planter. He found greater reward in a ministry better suited. The cost and significance of church planting are too great to risk sending the wrong dude.

Mannoia makes a strong case for the intentional funding of church plants. "Fund your church planting efforts, whatever you do. It's your future, to say nothing of the best stewardship of your finances in fulfilling the Great Commission. Planting should have a significant presence in the general operational budget." (p116) Yes! This is music to my ears. Intentional funding of church plants, along with the selection of the right guy, are big strides towards building church planting momentum. As a church planter you either have time or you have money -- you don't have both. But, in the environment being proposed here we see the possibility to be more financially stable earlier on. This shouldn't remove the faith element of starting a new church, but it should allow more fruitfulness at a faster pace. I am praying hard for sufficent funding of our church plant in Chicago. 

The Century 21 Church Planting System works like this:
  • Parent Church Network: A group of local churches start to develop a vision for church planting
  • Profile Assessment System: Objectively measure the skills of potential planters
  • New Church Incubator: A coaching fellowship for planters
  • Pastor Factory: Train laypeople to become founding pastors
  • Church Planters' Summit: An event to initiate new candidates
  • Maturing Church Cluster: Specialized support for new churches over a year old
  • Strategic Planning Network: A network of pastors who focus on strengthening churches and planting new churches
  • Harvest 1000: A fund raising effort for planting churches
  • Meta-Church Network: Clusters of churches helping to train people through small group ministries
This system is indepth and requires some reflection and discussion in order to grasp its true value. Here are some one liners from the book that caught my eye:
  1. Church planting cannot be tagged on -- it must be intentional and planned for. It must be woven into everything, p14.
  2. Church planting is the life-blood of our future, p19.
  3. Prayer is the foundation to church planting, p25.
  4. Church planting can get a bad name because it changes the status, p35. 
  5. Plan for discouragement after church launch, p48.
  6. If you don't constantly recruit leaders, the network will deteriorate, p86.
  7. Mission-driven churches attract mission minded people and produce mission, p90.
  8. The most difficult step is to think differently about church planting, p166.
  9. Anything not connected to the mission should be revamped or stopped, p172.
This book should give a church planter a much broader perspective than just claiming a small patch of ground for himself. This macro-system should produce a vision for city wide church planting that is urgent, faster and more successful. By collaborating with like-minded people we should be able to multiply church planting efforts much more effectively to increase the noise in heaven (See Revelation 7)!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chicago Church Planter Mark Willis Interview

Here is my latest interview with Mark Willis, a church planter in Chicago. He moved to Chicago in June and just planted a church a couple of months ago. He is 25, he has works with all types of Christian groups and coaches church planters. Please use the interface on the right to listen to the audio or download the mp3 file.

Matt: First question, how did you get involved in church planting?

Mark: I went to college in Texas, Abilene Christian University, and went through their graduate school of theology, which is sort of their seminary there. One of the tracts that I chose was the Missions Residency for North America. That was in addition to the Master's in Divinity that I got, so it was a specific tract that they let me study with. So, it was sort of a residency, in terms of a medical residency where students are actually doing church planting and doing mission work while they are learning about it, along side mentors and coaches.  

I guess I got involved in church planting in the practical day in, day out experience of what it looked like and felt like and they joys and pains of all that.  The good part was that I had some friends, teachers and mentors to pick me up when I fell.  I had a few scraped knees through the process but really enjoyed it. 

Matt: What is it about Chicago that drew you to start a church there?

Mark: Well, I felt drawn to Chicago.  And I use that word (drawn) specifically because there was no specific call to Chicago from God.  A lot of people say "well, I felt called to this, or called to that," but we kind of walked backwards into it.  We felt drawn by God to Chicago to plant a church.  It was a remarkable series of events that told us this is where we were going to end up going.  It started with us just circling a bunch of cities on a map and asking God to give us some direction.  One by one he started taking cities off the list. 

We had a few things we were looking for-we wanted a global city, a place where the world was coming and being sent from.  We wanted a post-Christian and metropolitan area  where we could spread the gospel in a post modern area, because that is sort of my bend and our passion.  My wife is a portrait artist, so we were also looking for a city with a portrait market.  

Matt:  Which Chicago neighborhood are you in and how did you go about selecting that?

Mark:  We new it would be north somewhere, we loved the neighborhoods along the red line (Chicago transportation system.)   So we ended up choosing Evanston, due to some renting snaphoos that happened. So, we almost ended up here by accident.  We knew we wanted to be near a Christian group here called the Reva Place Fellowship, they are connected with the Mennonite group here in the US.  Part of our vision for church planting is networking with other families of Jesus that believe in a redemptive community, common work and social justice.  Reva Place really embodies those things and have a track record for commitment to the Chicagoland area.  We moved here without full intention of staying here in this neighborhood forever but we wanted to get to know and experience the Reva Place Fellowship and learn more about what it means to be an intentional Christian community.   

Matt: So, you are living in Evanston.  Is that where you are actually planting right now? 

Mark:  Yeah, that is part of our vision, not to see just a church plant but to see the whole region churched.  So we intentionally picked a place that was not at the center of all the commotion.  We didn't want to be the hub of everything.  And all ready there are little groups of Christians popping up in different areas. 

Part of our vision is to  partner with those networks and leaders. Like this afternoon,  I am going to go to the Greenhouse Church Planters Conference, which is a place where you can connect with other organic church planters and regardless of denominational lines you can help serve each other, find ways to collaborate-work together on projects, you know common worship, or service projects for the city.  Part of the reason we chose Evanston is because we knew we would be moving all over the city helping little communities. We have one in Hyde Park that just started a month and a half ago, a little house church there. There is another one in Albany Park that is mostly made up of Somalian refugees.  There is one in Logan Square that is mostly artists and poets.  There is another on the west side that is almost all Hispanic and working class.  

So these groups are very different and our intention in not to try and lump these groups together and make them look like us, but to give them the tools they need to be a vibrant family of Jesus in their neighborhood.  

Matt: Now, how did you identify and get involved with these groups?

Mark: It seems that is has happened differently every time.  The one we are directly involved with is in Hyde Park.  We got connected through a friend, through a friend, through a friend.  So just through indirect, natural relations that we have.  She is a Christian and she has a lot of non Christian friends who are working with her in a very low income public school, here in Chicago. Her desire is to share the gospel with her co-workers, other teachers.  To do it, we feel that sharing the gospel happens in community and as community-that the best evangelism is done in a family of faith verses one person handing out tracts to another.  So, we are directly related to the church in Hyde Park and we have discovered the other ones along the way. 

The big question now is how do we all relate and work together, because it is important that we do not become isolated.  This may bring up a totally different point here, but I think there is some health in small group centered church planting but I think it can get unhealthy if we refuse to allow those groups to mingle and work together.  

Matt:  How did you get people to help you/ is there any type of team that is helping you with that?

Mark: That is a good question and I would recommend a team for those who are looking to plant a church.  In this model, I would not recommend a large, parachute style 20-person team, but I would recommend at least 2 couples-6 couples at the most.  We have 2 couples on the north side and 2 couples on the south side and we meet together once a week.  My wife and I moved here by ourselves and that has been the hardest thing in all of this.  The good news is we have a couple moving here in January and another in the summertime.  So we feel like we are laying the ground work, just planting some simple seeds.  My recommendation would be to do it a little different than we did it.  

Matt:  How are you connecting with non-believers and what are you bringing them into in terms of someone who is interested in the gospel and they are coming along in their faith, what does that look like? 

Mark: Our hope is that we are sending Christians to non-believers.  That these simple churches find there way into their space.  So, rather than inviting some people we met at a bar to our house, lets start regularly attending this bar, and being salt and light in that context.  So that is kinda our mission that we live by. 

You know, we believe that each house church should have a mission that they live by, whether it be teachers, a pub, dance hall, a coffee shop, skaters, or the elderly,  whatever it is, that is the planting process for each house church.  But to say all of that, we are attracting people with an attractive gospel  and so we are asking ourselves constantly what makes the good news good.

The gospel is about reconciliation between God and man and man and man, the gospel is about peace, forgiveness and cleansing.  So we are trying to do that attracts non believers.  We have been inviting them over for a dinner party, the teachers in Hyde Park, and asking them out for coffee. Last weekend we went up to a apple orchard and just spent the day out there with them and just got the chance to share life for a bit.  

Matt:  How do you effectively communicate the gospel to people?

Mark:  I think a big piece of this is to let it be a community that preaches the gospel.  One of the things we've talked about is taking a piece of the gospel and finding a way to communicate that in our lives.  Kind of carnate that to the city of Chicago, to the world.  So, lets say it is peace making, how could we embody peace making?  So, we might stop buying coffee that wasn't fair trade, or maybe we are an advocate for spousal abuse.  At the end of it we hold a coffee night where we invite non believers into a discussion about what it was like for us to embody that piece of the gospel. That is one of the ideas we have had for doing communal evangelism.

Matt:  What is the format right now for what you are doing?

Mark:  It is still evolving.  On the micro level we have a life-transformation group model where we meet together for accountability and prayer.  That is where discipleship and teaching takes place.  We have the women in the house church meet together and the men in the house church meet together.  The key there is that these are brothers and sisters that will be fighting for my heart, they will be helping me through the hard part.  On a mezzo level, we get together once a week, share a meal, pray for each other, share about the week, and talk about it.  We talk strategy for what we feel called to.

Right now our house church is going through some major healing and it is amazing to see what God is doing.  We worship, do art, poetry, kind of depends on the group. On the macro level we have plans for this, this is starting in June,  but we will start to network with other groups in the city.  As we plant more house churches we will hopefully find a way to bring these groups together for worship festivals, kind of a weekend long party.  Maybe there is line dancing, or a big banquet table, similar to the Jewish festivals...that is sort of a long answer...

Matt: How many salvations have you seen or baptisms?  What are your goals?  You talked about these girls groups/guys groups, what kind of numbers are you looking at and how do you know when to multiply a group?

Mark:  We have an idea that this is going to be bigger than just our little group which speaks of the kingdom, which I think is good to instill into every Christian. God is doing something much bigger than what we can see.  As far as our cutoff point...I think it will depend on the specific group. Once it gets beyond 15 it becomes more difficult to have true honest, deep relationships. So, we tell people once the group gets between 12-20 people to start thinking about what the next steps are. Once a group gets to that size a group will start to taper off in their desire to bring in new people anyway, so that is when we start asking people to ask the Lord if they have a burden to do this elsewhere. I am speaking more from my training in my residency here. Almost always when we approach people with this question, there is normally 1-2 that are already thinking that way. So, instead of dividing the groups we ask them to discern in the Spirit who is the 1-2 people to go and start another group, to send out. 

As far as salvations and baptisms, like you said it is a new group, so we have not seen any of that yet in our time so far.  We are working alongside a few non Christians with the Hyde Park group. With the refugee network, the Hispanic network and the poet network, I could not give you specific numbers on those because we are not directly tied to those groups. As far as I can tell every group has about 70% Christian and 30% non Christian.  Our hope it through time and gospel sharing we will see more people come to Christ.  

Matt:  How do you divide your time during the week? 

Mark:  Right now, it is busier because I have picked up a seasonal job to pay some extra expenses and then I have another part time job that I work throughout the year.  I do have some support from individuals and the church planting organization that focuses on the Chicagoland area.  So my time is pretty fluid.  It is in the afternoons and evenings when I really focus on the church plant.

One thing that has been helpful is I have been taking days to walk through different neighborhoods. I feel that every church planter should take some time to do this, where they are fully immersed in the mission field in another context. Chicago is amazing for this. It is none as the "city of neighborhoods" and is made up of about 200 different communities. So, I have this city map on my wall and then go to it. I travel public transit, eat lunch there, and just try and discover what people's needs are. Another big piece of how I spend my time is creating training tools for other church planters. One of those is Pray for Chicago Project. It is using wikipedia style technology and allows people to prayer walk through different parts of Chicago. So, I guess half/half. Half the time I am doing things on my own and the other half is working on website development. 

Matt:  In your groups do you speak every week, do you have a traditional sermon, or is it more of a discussion format?

Mark:  I would say the majority is dialogue.  Sometimes we go through a specific topic and one person decides they are going to research that topic.  Right now it has been more dialogue.

Matt: What would be your advice to me?

Mark:  Don't put the model before the maker.  There are pluses and minuses to every model.  I don't know what your dreams are, but I would say to every church planter to not put your passion for church planting before your intimacy with Father.  Without that deep rooted intimacy you are up the creek without the paddle.  I am talking from experience.  It is easy to forget about what is truly important.  

Matt:  Well, thanks so much Mark.  I really appreciate your time. 

Checkout Mark's site:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Books I have read so far on my Church Planting Training

Here is a list of books I have read and reviewed since I started my Church Planting Training roughly 9 months ago:
  1. Rediscovering Church by Lynn and Bill Hybels
  2. The Multiplying Church by Bob Roberts
  3. Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age by Ed Stetzer
  4. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal by Aubrey Malphurs
  5. Breaking The Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putman
  6. Staff Your Church for Growth by Gary L. McIntosh
  7. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
  8. Church Planting the Next Generation by Kevin Mannoia (review coming soon)
  9. Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy (review coming soon)
I'm also reading a church planting manual and have read sections from several books for my theological and theme studies. I am currently reading Simply Strategic Volunteers: Empowering People For Ministry by Tony Morgan and Tim Stevens (review coming soon).

They are all good but if I had to pick one, in terms of church planting, I'd pick Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age by Ed Stetzer. It's comprehensive in that it covers theological and practical aspects of church planting. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Interview with the Director of Church Planting for the Vineyard, Steve Nicholson

A couple of months ago I interviewed Steve Nicholson, who is the national director of church planting for the Vineyard. Steve is originally a church planter. He planted in Chicago and from that church there has been more than 17 other churches planted out.  Steve also does training globally with church leaders, so it was huge privilege to learn from him. Use the interface on the right to play the latest podcast or download the audio here.  

Matt: Steve, how do you express your wanderlust for church planting even though you are not planting churches yourself right now?

Steve: For me, mostly it goes into training and coaching church planters.  So I am pretty much always coaching and training church planters all the time. 

Matt: OK, so how does that look on a week to week basis?

Steve: We have phone conversations and exchange emails.  Usually, if I am coaching someone, I visit them from time to time. We start far ahead and keep going until they get the church up and running.

Matt: I see.  Now, have I got that number right about your church planting out 17 other churches? Is that correct?

Steve: I think that is right, yeah.

Matt: Have you been involved in all of those? 

Steve: Yes, to one degree or another, I have been involved in all of them.

Matt: How do you go about finding guys who are church planters and then training them to do so? 

Steve: For me, I tend to start fairly young.  So, with some guys I figure out that they are a church planter when they are still in high school. Even though they may not plant for another 10 years.  But you are looking for people who are leaders, who can articulate themselves, who know how to put a team together, who can break a vision down into steps which they can actually do.  You are looking for catalytic people who tend to start things and lead people everywhere they go.  A good church planter looks like a good business entrepreneur.

Matt: Do you find that you get a lot of guys from the business world who are interested in church planting?

Steve: Sometimes we do, later in life. They spend time in business and then feel like they are ready for a change. They always make good church planters.

Matt: Now, this is your main preoccupation, church planting.  What do you find yourself thinking about the most when it comes to church planting?

Steve: Just to clarify, I am still leading a church.  I spend most of my time leading on my on church. I do spend time thinking about church planting and the biggest default is still about finding the right people. There is a lot of knowledge out there about how to plant, certainly more than there was 30 years ago.  The steps to take our fairly clear.  There are plenty of places to plant.  The bottle neck is finding people to plant.  So, that is where most of my thoughts are.

Matt: What is your strategy for getting the DNA of church planting into the church that you are leading?

Steve: First of all, when you plant 17 churches it kind of gets into the DNA.  A lot of times you get it in the DNA by doing it.  Two, you have to build a church where people have a kingdom mentality, where people know that we are not just here for ourselves...we are not here to be religious consumers, we are here to build the Kingdom of God. When people get that mentality they are going to want to express that in some form.  The third thing, I think if you teach people to listen to the Holy Spirit, He calls them.  He puts it in them.

Matt: What are your plans for increasing your church planting efforts?  Is that in your thoughts? What are your plans for the next 5, 10 years for church planting?

Steve: Church planters are kind of like evangelists.  You know, if 100 people come to Christ an evangelist will celebrate for about 5 min and then they are thinking  I wish it was 1,000.  It is never enough.  The same can be for church planting, you know, it is never enough.  You always want more.  Like I said, I mostly try to make sure that I spot every potential planter I can and help them move in that direction.

Matt: What changes have you seen in the church planting scene?  Are there any concerns yo have about the church planting scene and how have you seen it evolve?

Steve: The thing I would say, no matter where you get it, the training is basically the same.  There are a few magic bullets that everyone has to do it doesn't matter what brand of church you are planting.  The only different situation would be, say a Catholic church moves into a new area where there is already 10,000 catholics and start a new parish...but for everyone is it pretty much looks the same.  It is a function of doing it.  

On the plus side, I think that there does not have to be as many failures as there was 30 years ago.  30 years ago there were many churches being planted and a lot of them did not survive.  Generally, the survival rate is higher than it was even though the general climate is more negative.  My main concern, is that once in a while you get people who don't want to do it the regular way, they want to skip stuff.  Or, they want to plant the "non-church" church.  "We want to plant a church, but we are not going to call it a church, it is not actually going to meet...etc."  Of course, you get nothing.  So, we have seen more of that in the last 5 years, which concerns me because it does not work.

Matt:  Have you seen much of that in the Chicago area?

Steve: No, I haven't. Part of it is that it is the mid-west.  Mid-westerners tend to be more conventional.

Matt: What is your vision for Chicago?  What is your heart for the city you are in?

Steve:  Well, we would like to have 50 Vineyard churches, which would be about the same as the Catholics and Lutherans. It is still pretty modest. Along the way, we want to be a friend and assistance to other churches.  Every once in a while we will help a church that is not planting a Vineyard church, but some other kind of church.  I am always happy to do that too.

Matt: Have you done much with the emerging, multi-site approach to churches?  What is your take on that and what is your experience of that?

Steve:  My take is that it is certainly a way of getting fast, short term results.  If you have a strong church with a lot of momentum and a very strong preacher, you can get a lot of things going very quickly by piping in the preaching and that produces fast, short term rewards. 

My concern is, what happens in 30 years when those guys are not around anymore.  My experience is that it takes many years of experience to train up mature pastors that are capable of leading a large organization.  It takes many years for someone to become a good preacher, and I am thinking that if these gifted people do the multi-site thing and do it all electronically themselves, where are people getting any experience and training.  My question is, "yeah this works now, but what will happen in 30 years when they are gone?"

Matt: My wife and I feel call to plant in Chicago.  Steve, if you were me...I have never planted, I'm 28, married, we will have 2 small kids when we move...where would be a strategic place, in terms of reaching the city, to land...where would you suggest?

Steve:  Usually, I tell people...number one-go somewhere where there are people like you. Unless you have a very strong missionary gifting you need to go to a place where there are people like you.  If you go to a more upper class, intellectual area, then you have to be that yourself.  On the converse, if you are more of an intellectual and you go to a blue-collar area, you will struggle.  The leader and the place need to match. 

Secondly, really big cities like Chicago are a lot harder than medium and smaller size cities.  It is much more difficult to be noticed.  Word-of-mouth does not help you in really big cities.  If you start a new church in a city of 200,000-500,000 and your church grows to 200-300, your church will be noticed.  You could have a church of 2,000 people in Chicago and nobody would know who you were.  You don't get noticed here until you have 10,000 or more people.  It is very hard to create this wide-spread public perception.  And you can't do it using advertising because it is very very expensive, no one has that kind of money.  It is a hard place.  

Thirdly, you need to know that Chicago functions like 3 different cities. There is Nothside, Southside and Westside.  People of one section generally know nothing about the other sections, and never go there at all.  They each have their own culture and ethos and that includes the suburbs.  Not only do you have north, south and west sides of the city, but also the suburbs, so you need to look into that and figure out where you would best fit.  Southside tends to be more blue collar and Westside tends to be more coorporate, middleclass, republican.  Northside tends to be more wealthy, more educated, more democratic, more young professionals.  So, you need to know that is how Chicago works.    

Matt: Do you find that in your church that you have a lot of fruit amongst students? 

Steve:  Yeah, we've always have had a lot of fruit amongst students.

Matt: What do you attribute that to?

Steve: Good music helps.  Our style of preaching appeals to students. Our leadership is more educated people. And then once you have some you get more. So, even though I've been doing this for 30 years and am 30 years older, our median age is still only 32.

Matt: What are some of the idols of Chicago?

Steve: Money is a biggie.  The whole city is really constructed of immigrants who came here to make a better life.  Chicago is very much the immigrant city, it still is and they are coming here to find money.

Matt: Have you had much fruit from other nationalities being added to the church?

Steve:  My church has people from around 35 different countries and is about 42% minority.  So we have a very divers church.

Matt: Do you find that you have leaders, church planters emerging from those people groups, or do you find that is a harder step to take?

Steve: We have some. We have leaders and some church planters also.

Matt: What are some of the contemporary approaches that you have found that help to connect the way people think to the gospel?

Steve:  One of the biggies is ministry to the poor.  People love being apart of giving to the poor.  You have to understand that I am a north side most of the people are democratic, most are more educated and professional and have more of a social consciousness.  SO, they love being apart of a church that is involved in reaching the poor.  I think, the other thing is just talking about spirituality in a non-religious fashion.  People want to experience spirituality.  They do not want religion, or rules.

Matt: On a personal level, what would be your encouragement to know we are on a church planting internship, we are in St. Louis, we are about half way through.  What would you encourage me to really focus on?

Steve: First and most importantly, you have to have your vision as clear as a bell.  You have to work out phrases and ways of describing your vision that you could communicate to someone in a coffee shop again, and again and again.  When church planters struggle, a lot of times it is because their vision is not very clear, or they have not worked it out, how to say it to someone.  Imagine yourself in different settings, describing what we are trying to do and get it worked out precisely.  Meeting someone in a coffee shop and they are asking, "why should I join you?" you have to be able to communicate clearly what the vision is to them .  

One guy I knew, he would start out every church service by saying, "this church started with a dream..." and then he would say something about what that dream was.  You have to be able to answer that question.  Secondly, I would say you always, always, always start with a team.  You need at least 12 people, min 10...but the bigger the team you have, the faster things can go.  But, don't take people who are going to need lots of hand holding.  People who need lots of attention from the pastor because they are not going to get it.  Thirdly, I would say include a prayer team. The Devil is not a sleeper.
Matt: When you say "prayer team" do you mean people locally, or do you mean something broader than that?

Steve: People who don't go on the church plant who pray for you regularly...because there is spiritual warfare.

Matt: Steve, I want to thank you for your time, it has been very beneficial.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bi-vocational Church Planting

During this year of Church Planting Training we receive support from a number of very generous people who really believe in us and what we are doing. Our support covers a lot of what we need but to make up the rest of our income it's been necessary to make extra doing freelance work. This presents a lot of time challenges especially considering the type of work I do. 

I have a number of technical skills including; web site design, email marketing, digital image enhancement and search engine optimization. Through divine intervention work has turned up just at the right moment without having to do any advertising. That's a huge blessing, especially with the economy right now. I have completed a number of email marketing concepts and executions recently as well as a few web sites and a web site redesign. 

On the one hand this type of work allows me to set my own schedule. On the other hand it's directly tied to a businesses success and therefore controlled by the tight deadlines of the marketing industry. Responsiveness and quality are critical to longevity as a freelancer. There is absolutely no loyalty or performance reviews and so the product has to be top notch. Plus, I find that with the myriad of constant online advancements I generally have to learn as I go, on almost every job. Innovation is a constant. 

This is not an excellent setup for a church planter. I recently heard that to be bi-vocational you need a regular job that you can clock out from and be done with it. It can be easily segregated and turned off in your mind. That's not what I find with online marketing. I find that to be innovative and produce something cutting edge you have to pour a good amount of time and energy into it. Let me give you an example. 

I recently re-launched Atlanta Magician Arthur Atsma's website. I really enjoyed redesigning the site and implementing some innovative aspects. Checkout the site and especially the video's at the top of the page, they are a blast. To make this website robust for the various types of clients Arthur has I needed to make it compatible with the ever increasing amount of browsers and browser versions. The site is fully compatible with all versions of Safari, Firefox, IE (version 5 and above, including version 8 beta) and Google Chrome. This is no small task -- it's a LOT of work! 

If anyone reading this has any bi-vocational ideas for me, especially that my skills might fit into, then please let me know. I've always been interested in starting an online company but I realize that to plant a church I'd need a business manger to run a start-up internet business like this for me. When we church plant, I'd like a tent making business that I could give 1-2 days a week to and have someone else managing it. It would be especially cool to be able to use the business to fund church planting efforts. That's my ultimate dream. 

Let me know if anyone else out there thinks the same way!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Conversations with our doubts

As part of my church planting training I have initiated involvement with local University students. Students are not just a fun group to be amongst but because they are thinking through serious life issues and desire satisfactory answers, they embody an effective environment for the gospel.

Because of their intellectual pursuits many students require a no nonsense well reasoned explanation for the beliefs of Christianity. Therefore, my work has so far involved creating summaries of chapters from a book titled The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Having realized that many students, especially those outside faith, are unlikely to buy the book, I am creating one page chapter summaries with discussion questions (example here.) As you can imagine this is a time consuming process--but a worthwhile one.

So far these discussions have been held with a Campus Crusade for Christ group at UMSL and have been very enlightening and equipping. But, now we are taking it to the next level. Over the next four weeks at Webster University Jubilee Churches College group LATITUDE will be hosting "conversations with our doubts". See the video below for more info:

Each week we will discuss the following topics:

Monday Nov 3rd: There Can't Be Just One True Religion
Monday Nov 10th: Christianity Is The Enemy Of Freedom
Monday Nov 17th: Science Has Disproved Christianity
Monday Nov 24th: You Can't Take the Bible Literally

The next four weeks will be a great way for us to engage college students with subjects they wrestle with in an intellectual way and provide some solid discussion and thought provoking concepts.

Have you ever doubted your doubts about God? I challenge you to get this thought provoking book: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Church Staffing

As part of my church planting training I just finished reading Staff Your Church for Growth by Gary L. McIntosh first published in 2000. The book tackles questions like: When is it the right time to hire additional staff or pastors? And: How should a church begin to look for support staff? Gary L. McIntosh is a professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and has over 22 years of experience in this field. 

There doesn't seem to be loads of material out there on the subject of church staffing, and nothing was personally recommended to me, so this book choice was an unavoidable gamble. I don't agree with everything in the book and found some language to be unfamiliar, but I'll share 2 main areas that I found particularly helpful.

Staffing a Church for Growth
I found this aspect of the book most applicable to church planting as it deals with the issues of who to hire first and how to keep making the best staffing choices to encourage growth. 

McIntosh points to C. Peter Wager who writes: "Most churches are understaffed for growth. They are staffed for maintenance and survival, but not for growth. If your church is to sustain growth momentum, staffing must become a very high priority." McIntosh writes: "[the] observation of churches that have recently called a new staff member has revealed that many are hard-pressed to define a clear, reasonable rationale for doing so." This means that church staffing decisions are largely not very smart--and at best a shot in the dark. 

The fastest growing churches are new churches. This is because the first priority of the new church is evangelism. If the core group do not win new people to Christ, the new church will not get off the ground. The early priorities of a new church are finding people, keeping people and gathering people for worship. However, as the church is successful at this, its members move into maintenance mode, taking care of what they have (people, programs, facilities) while abandoning the priorities that got them there (outreach, assimilation and worship). 

This shift in priorities is the cause of plateau in many churches. With numerical growth comes organizational needs. Those in the church are acutely aware of their needs and it can be tempting to staff based on the growing needs created by the constant addition of new people. However, staffing this way leads to an ingrown church and responds to a relational issue instead of a missional issue.

On page 26 he writes: "a church that wants to grow must staff positions ... [that] help find new people (evangelism), keep new people (assimilation), and worship (celebration)." These staff members will focus on the priorities that result in continued growth. To staff for decline would be to first hire a youth pastor in response to parents concern for their own children. This position is not going to grow the church. 

The book goes on to suggest that the second staff person to be hired should be a person who balances the gifts and talents of the senior pastor. You find the balance by understanding the two dimensions of nomothetic church roles, being growth focused positions. The first set involve finding, keeping and celebrating with people. The second set involve educating, overseeing and caring for people. If the senior pastor is stronger in the first set, then the additional leader should be stronger in the second, and viceversa. 

The third staff person should fall outside a nomothetic role and into an idiographic role, being more relational and focused on community maturity. Idiographic roles include internal programs like various adult, youth and children's ministries. However, there is a strong encouragement to staff these positions with volunteers for as long as possible because they do not grow the church. Additional staff beyond this can be alternated between nomothetic and idiographic roles to bring constant balance to the overall ministry. 

Adding a supporting staff member like a secretary, admin assistant, intern, or bookkeeper, is more flexible depending on how heavily program based the church is. A rough guideline is given of with 150 people one support staff is suggested. 300 would require 1.5 and 450 requires 2 support staff. 

The issues of hiring staff is also addresses well from multiple angles. Everything from recruiting, interviews, conflict and team roles are covered. 

Lone Ranger Vs Team
The book starts by attacking the notion of the "Lone Ranger" Pastor who does everything. On page 13 he writes: "Only one person has all the gifts and that is Jesus Christ Himself." Biblical reasons are given for the need to move away from this model of church staffing but another helpful insight is offered: "Just as the secular world has moved towards specialization and sub-specialization, so the church must respond with specialization to effectively minister to the complex needs of people." If the church is to be engaged with the culture, then we are to be engaged with an increasing complex culture. 

He also asserts that while vision usually comes from a central person, there always seems to be a team involved to bring the vision to reality. The various different team models are discussed. One example, The "Hired Gun Model", was addressed and warned against. This involves a strongly results-orientated environment where support staff and additional pastors are accepted as long as they do what they are paid to do. The major downfall of this model is that is breeds an inadequate loyalty to the team and means the "hired gun" can be hired away by another church. 

The best model for team is the relational/complementary model. There is diversity in gifting and function but with an emphasis on relationships and giftedness rather than strictly performance or popularity. The senior leader acts as a team coach, while the leadership team has room to help set the direction and agenda. A strong feeling of unity and shared ministry is developed.

The communication of a compelling vision and the development of clear job descriptions, evaluations, resources and rewards are significant elements in building a strong church staff. He writes: "Leadership and management are complementary and dependent on each other for the growth of a church ... it is entirely possible--indeed necessary if the church is to grow--for the pastor's role to move over time from shepherd to rancher." I didn't like the word rancher at first but in explanation this refers to a leader providing oversight through others, of which there are many good Biblical examples. This is a step on from the role of the shepherd which is one-on-one oversight. 

Another helpful insight is that of team and subteam size. Through Biblical observation and studies "... it appears that the best staff team is most often made up of seven or less persons since a team of seven allows for a leader and two subsets of three individuals (triangles)." This helps to explain why larger teams struggle to maintain intimacy and therefore common vision. He writes: "To keep larger teams healthy, it is wise to organize them by triangles." Keeping things small in the midst of growth is smart because it facilities change and sustains the personal dynamic and mutual ownership. He admits that developing a strong team simply takes time. 

This book had some really helpful insights into decisions about church staffing. There are of course many things I don't have space to mention. If you are interested, this is a quick read, checkout: Staff Your Church for Growth by Gary L. McIntosh

Friday, October 17, 2008

Breaking The Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putman

I recently read Breaking The Missional Code by Ed Stetzer & David Putman. This book is a great way for me to jump straight back into a missional church planting learning mode after having been a little silent on my blog for a while -- here we go -- kappow

The main message of the book is pretty simple. The church is the primary vehicle for God to reach the world and local churches cannot simply copy methods, styles or techniques to be effective, but must discern their local cultures in order to be fruitful yet remain faithful. 

Breaking the Missional Code does not present a secret formula to suit everyone. It presents a principle for church life: to study and observe the surrounding culture in each community and adjust the methods/forms of the church in order to best connect people with the message of the gospel. On page 228 it says of code breaking churches that "... the mission of the church to fulfill the Great Commission does not get relegated to a program of evangelism, but it becomes intricately woven through the entire fabric of the local church." Everyone is on the mission!

The book talks about the sin of preference. Page 50 says "You can't be missional and pick what you like at the same time ... That is not a problem when our preferences line up with the missional choices for our community. The problem occurs when they do not. That situation requires a change of heart." This is a conundrum for many because everyone holds certain styles to be best, effective, right or even biblical. For example, I prefer a type of worship because I have grown up with it and find that I often experience the presence of God in that worship style. 

However, the book is challenging me to rethink that preference. The community we live in might have a different musical form that would more effectively allow them to hear the message of the gospel. The question is: am I good with that? Am I willing to do whatever it takes to connect with the unchurched and not just assume that the vibe of contemporary Christian worship is best for our community? I often preach 45 minutes to an hour at our yearly youth conferences. But, what if people just can't connect with that? Shoot! Dying to these preferences is going to be hard but essential if the lost are important. 

Some other key themes in the book are contextualizing discipleship, emerging church strategies and the characteristics of missional leaders. This book would be very helpful for church planters and church leaders alike as it raises a call to bring effective mission back into the church where it truly belongs. Christian community is the best place for mission. Our core identity and core calling should never be divorced. The church should be what she is -- an effective code breaking missional family.

Here are some highlights from the book:
  1. For too many, they love their preferences and their strategies more than they love the people whom God has called them to reach. Page 7
  2. America is the most diverse nation in the world. Page 14
  3. [Some] are convinced if you just "preach the gospel" and perhaps "love people" that your church will reach people. They are wrong, and their ideas hurt the mission of the church. Page 14
  4. Jesus' command to "go to all nations," we think countries. But when Jesus spoke those words, there were no countries as we understand them today. Jesus' instructions mean we must go to all people groups in the world. Page 34
  5. We have become fascinated with the very things that Jesus said not to worry about. Page 40
  6. It seems that every pastor really wants to get into mission -- if his church was just a little bigger. They do not want to give themselves away until there is enough to share. That is not the way God does things. God calls us to give ourselves away and trust him. Page 70
  7. Mission is an intrinsically translational task. Page 73
  8. Leaders who break the code create opportunities. They throw themselves at the challenge of creating environments where the gospel can be planted and flourish. Page 74
  9. Redemptive analogies are twenty-first-century parables. Page 97
  10. Code-breaking churches teach their members to invest and invite. Page 145
  11. ... we learn our way forward and therefore we must build time into our process to evaluate what we are learning. When this happens, we build a culture where team members are willing to take risks and come up with new ideas. When we evaluate everything on a pass/fail basis, it is not unusual for a culture to be created that is suspicious and lacking in trust. Page 196-197
  12. Vision is something people produce; revelation is something people receive. Leaders can dream up a vision, but they cannot discover God's will. God must reveal it. Page 205
  13. Pray that God might reveal what keeps local people from trusting in Jesus Christ, and then ask the Holy Spirit to break those barriers. Page 219

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sweetman Family Photo Shoot

This morning a good friend of ours Jodi Hertz took some family photos for us. Here are our top choices. Enjoy ...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Interview with Chicago Church Planter Rick Kuhr

Recently I interviewed Rick Kuhr who planted a church in Chicago and started gathering people in January 2007. Rick is 32, married and has a daughter. Checkout this podcast and learn from Rick's church planting experiences.

You can use the player on the right to listen to the most recent podcast, download the church planting interview or read below.

: How did you know you were called to plant a church in Chicago? Why did you pick Chicago?

Rick: I did a year of mission work in Spain and after that year I knew I wanted to be in a place that was needy spiritually. Chicago is one of those is short on the national average when it comes to churches and there is a lack of witness in that city.

Matt: Were there people that God used or events to help shape your vision for Chicago? Or was it more like, "this place needs God, so lets go." ?

Rick: I had a friend who was planting in Boulder CO and had asked me to come with him. I wasn't sure but I knew wherever I went I would need to be called by God, I wasn't going to move my family if I wasn't called. One day, this friend who had asked me to go with him said, "Rick you need to be unleashed from this. You just got to do what you have to do." And for the guy who had asked me to go to release me, that was huge. He encouraged me to get involved in Chicago. I called the national church director for church planting (for The Vineyard) in Chicago and asked if they were doing in work in the UIC area. That ended up being the only area they were doing work in at that time. So that was a big confirmation. A year before I had been praying and actually asked my wife what she thought about planting in the UIC area and then that was the only area they were planting in. After doing bible studies on the campus for 3-4 years and asking college students what churches were there, I realized that people would travel 4-5 if not 10-12 miles to go to church! I thought that was a little crazy and saw that the need was there. I found out there are smaller churches in the area but none of them are being a strong witness in that area. So we decided to do it!

Matt: When you got on the ground, how did you go about launching the church?

Rick: We did it a little differently. Usually a leader will gather a team and then they will go out. I came in on the middle of everything. The Hyde Park Vineyard had organized it without a leader and I found out about it after it had already started forming. I operate quite relationally so that was different because I didn't have much chance to get to know people I just felt called to the area and that was prodded me to interact with people. It was really the Hyde Park Vineyard who really had gathered some people who would be committed to the plant, so that is how we originally got together. Personally, I did not do much of the gathering. A lot of the people came through the UIC bible study which I had been involved with.

Matt: How many people did you have in that initial group? How did you get the word out amongst non Christians in the area?

Rick: Part of our vision is connecting people to Jesus. We try to focus everything we do to be centered on relationships. So we did kind of everything in the beginning, from doing water giveaways, handing out flowers, door to door prayer. and flyers. Ideally people to come because they know someone. Other people have come because we have been active in the community, being aware of people, talking to people on the streets, really founding that vision of being interactive and aware of what is going on. We have done pizza at a park where there are homeless and different things like that.

Matt: How many people are you gathering right now?

Rick: Well, Chicago is really transient so our numbers can be low because we are in the university area. Last week we had 15 the week before we had 27. So, our average is somewhere in between there.

Matt: You are bi-vocational (working full time job and planting a church) how do you manage your time? How does that affect your life and your ministry?

Rick: A mentor of mine says in church planting you either struggle financially or with your time and if you are bi vocational you typically aren't going to have the financial stress but you will have the time stress. We already lived in the area and I already had a job so for me it really comes down to time stewardship. I have to take advantage of every second I can. So, when I walk to work I talk to people. I usually engage with them using a question that goes along with the theme for the coming Sunday or the time of year. My commute is 15 min so I take advantage of it and talk to people about Jesus. It is doing stuff I already do but incorporating Jesus into it. I try to multi-task and be effective. I make sure that I get time with God, ultimately that is what will effect me, my family and the people I talk to. My second priority is my family, if my family health is not doing well that will effect the overflow of me being able to love other people.

Matt: How do you find time for the church and preparing messages during the week?

Rick: My main gifting is evangelism, so apart from my walking to and from work I would spend an additional 2 hours talking with people on the streets, getting into conversations. I make sure I am consistently in the word because the directly effects everything that we do and I believe it is good to speak on a Sunday what God has been speaking to you, so that is something I make sure to do. Usually, since we have a baby, I study late at night. I don't get the most sleep. It really comes down to time stewardship. I try to utilize every moment I have during the day, from meeting up with people on my lunch breaks to praying or reading the word.

Matt: What do you do for work?

Rick: I am a personal banker. Which is great because I've been able to talk to a lot of people about Jesus. In my work I talk a lot with other people about daily life, so I am able to bring Jesus into the conversation quite easily. The whole idea of being bi-vocational is not appealing to me because I see it more as a way of life. We are all ministers of Jesus.

Matt: What other challenges have you faced? What have been some of your lows and how have you pushed through them?

Rick: I am an off the scale extrovert and have always operated out of relationship with people. So, it has been hard for me is having come into the middle of a plant where I don't know anyone, they don't know me. I had not been around long enough for people to see my actions, because actions speak louder than words. So, it can be hard to speak into people's lives when they haven't had time to really see what you are about. Second difficulty has been we had a lot of individuals who had a lot of great ideas and because I came in later in the process I think that was something that was difficult. It was a situation where the leader wasn't established. People had their own ideas, their own agenda and when that didn't pan out to be the way that the plant was going to be that was very disappointing for them, which was then expressed to me or other individuals, which was hard.

I look at church planting can be a little bit like the bi-polar disorder-everything is magnified. The great things are incredible and the victories are awesome but the defeats are in the valley, they are deep. So where there is a lack of consistency or history there is those real highs and real lows and that is something I have really had to work through. My calling here is something that I am convinced that God has given me. And through human eyes success in a church plant would be getting the church going, getting all the activities and ministries in place and having that fly. In reality, if God calls us to an area, we need to be committed to that. God honors our obedience. We could look at church plants and think, "o they don't have this going or that going." But it is in the process that we are able to love God, that is what is important. I just heard about a guy who is planting out in Montana and things have flopped from a financial standpoint and almost ruined him. It you find your value in how your church then you've missed it. It is about the kingdom of God advancing and being obedient to him. Church planting is so intense and you can be so caught up in your own little world rather than focusing on the big picture and advancing the kingdom.

Matt: What have been some of the highlights/victories for you?

Rick: We have had homeless people come to our gathering, which is cool. About a month ago we had a meeting where 1/2 of the people there were either Latino, African American or Asian. For me to get to a point where we see a diverse group is exciting! My wife and I are both Caucasian, so sometimes it can be difficult to get people to come in a multi-diverse, multi-economic area when you look different to them. It is important to have different ethnicity's on your team because that communicates to people who are different to you that they are welcome. So, that has been really exciting.

Another guy came in off the streets, and we helped him get a place at the YMCA. We helped him a job situation, transportation and he has come and we helped him get established. Talk about social justice and ministering to the heart and spirit of an individual. I have not heard of to many stories of churches seeing someone so broken being redeemed in that type of way. He is helping us with music and serving in the church he is part of the community. It is obviously hard work and a huge investment but really encouraging. A lot of the conversations on the streets have been incredible. One question I have asked is "what makes people selfish?" I had 2 conversations yesterday about this questions and they were incredible. I think people like dealing with that question regardless about where they are on the spiritual spectrum because they realize selfishness is a problem and they want to overcome it. But, touching on those issues that are at the core who we as humans are. People are aggressive about lust and pornography and anger and jealousy, different things in how they live their lives. I believe we can be aggressive about living a life of love. I believe we can be confrontational with love.

Matt: How has God provided for you in terms of finances for the church? How have you covered your costs?

Rick: We have been really blessed in this area! It is pretty simple, I don't get a salary and we don't pay for our location. We are in the same location as another church, which is a huge blessing. They said to us that we could use their place, they want to use their facility for the advancement of the kingdom. I am sure it happens but I have never heard a church receiving a blessing like that. We are incredibly blessed to be the recipient of that. So, we don't have any huge costs. That makes things pretty easy. A lot of our money goes to outreach. We have a different starting time, we start at 4.30pm and we are thinking of that for a long term basis due to people's work schedule. But, anyways, we actually get together afterwards to have a bite to eat. And coming back to community, living life together and the vision to actually see that accomplished we use that as an opportunity to get to know people. And those who come and eat, for the most part, we buy them dinner. So, a lot of the money that we spend is on things like that.

Matt: What is your vision for Chicago? What plans do you have to expand?

Rick: Our vision is to connect people to Jesus, in a general sense. And that looks like, sharing life with people. I think sometimes with churches they can go for social justice but it turns into social gospel...where it is not ministering to the whole of the person, but they just talk about the spiritual aspect. Those things are all connected and we can forget to help out the physical needs. So we want to be a community that is able to merge that. Not neglecting social justice and also addressing the real issue of the spirit being redeemed. So, community, meeting the needs of the whole person, and also being really into the scripture, really understanding it. We want to be expectant for God to speak, for him to guide us and lead us but doing that with the foundation of the word. Having that mix, kind of a double barrel action.

Matt: I am doing a church planting internship, in St. Louis. You are already doing the stuff, out in the field. What would be your advice for me?

Rick: I would encourage and challenge you to have a team. The research that has been done shows that if you don't have a team you are setting yourself up for disaster. So, I would challenge you to bring a team, people that will help you along the way. Make sure you love God and loving Jesus and loving people as the main thing. Also, maintain that balance. We are useless as followers of God if we forget that we are following God. It may sound obvious, but if we are not receiving, others can't receive from us as easy. We need to be able to have a balance with our family, our wives. There is a huge witness in loving our wives and loving our families. That responsibility in the community needs accountability. You need an established overseer. Those would be my advices. Go with where you are strong. My most recent blog is about we as individuals are meant to live in co-dependence with God and others to advance the kingdom.

Matt: Rick, thank you so much for your time, I so appreciate it.