Plant Jesus Not Churches

Two posts on Facebook this afternoon have got me animated…..

The first was a friend who posted a link to an article on Tall Skinny Kiwi’s blog entitled ‘9 reasons NOT to plant a church in 2012‘.  The other was the posting of a YouTube video from NewForms Media, via Mission Britain/ SimpleChurch UK, called Dandelion Wind (see below):

What TSK writes makes a lot of sense, and I think we, the church, need to take notice of his warning.  I especially think this is the case over here on the right hand side of the Atlantic pond, specifically as far as I am concerned, here in the UK.

If the vision that is given in Dandelion Wind is to happen in this increasingly post-modern and post-Christian culture, then I feel we need to accept that ‘church’ planting, as in setting up a bunch of Christians as a new church in a new place to be a catalyst to reach the surrounding community, just doesn’t work in the same way that it used to do.

Unless, of course, you are satisfied with occasional addition rather than dandelion multiplication…..

We need to think again.  We meed to find a ‘new’ way to communcate the love of God in Jesus to our increasingly God-less nation.

The answer?

How about we focus on planting Jesus into people’s lives as TSK suggests and then see what happens….who knows, we might see ‘Dandelion Wind’ multiplication after all….just in a way that we didn’t expect.


Know God rather than just feel His presence

Uncomfortable but true and accurate thoughts posted by Chris Elrod earlier today:

This past weekend I was going through some old magazines and came across an interview with author Calvin Miller.  In the interview he alluded to the idea that most Christians were more interested in feeling God than really knowing God.  What floored me is that the interview was from the early 1980′s…yet his train of thought is even more relevant today than back then.  In 2011 the Church seems more fixated on “feeling the presence of God” than truly knowing God.  Church leaders seem more concerned with the worship experience on Sunday than the discipling and outreach Monday through Saturday.  Pastors seem to be spending more time worrying about creativity and relevance…than substance and depth.  In an of itself wanting to feel the the presence of God, being relevant, embracing creativity and striving for excellence are not bad things.  However, when they become the primary goal and constant priority…the Church is in danger.

I fear that we are getting people in the front door, baptized and plugged into “community”…yet never see them grow beyond spiritual infant status.  They forever suck on milk as stunted babies and never long for the solid spiritual food that the Father wants His children to desire.  They know the latest worship “hit” word-for-word…but never know the Word itself.  They can quote lines from the latest emergent guru’s book…but not a single line of Scripture from memory.  They know how to go through the motions of worship on Sunday…with hands raised upwards…but never discover that it is our eyes that should be focused to the Heavens.  They learn how to embrace the cultural relevance of this world…but the not the ability to flee from the things of this world in their own hearts.

True church is not solely about reaching people far from God or discipling those that have already come to Him.  True church is both…with equal importance.  It doesn’t mean that every church leader is called to reaching and discipling…but it does mean a healthy church has leaders that can guide people through both aspects.  It is great that people can feel God in churches throughout America each weekend…but if we as church leaders don’t teach them how to truly know God…the Church as we know it…is doomed.

This is just as relevant for the church here in the UK as it is for the church in the USA.

Mission, ecclesiology and discipleship in our contemporary culture

It is not very often that I read a blog post that really gets me thinking – but I did today.

I happened to find a link to Jim and Bobbi Hoag’s blog ‘Mission Now‘ and started to read a recent post by Jim entitled ‘21st Century Mission, Ecclesiology and Discipleship‘.

As he explains at the beginning of the post:

“I’m just thinking outloud on this post, nothing chisled in stone here. Put up a Tweet the other morning that went like this: “On being missional: Less trying to be early church “radical”, more room for the marginal (by being relational) without compromising the core”. I think it might be helpful to ask, does the early church and,  say, the contemporary Chinese church provide appropriate (relevant) models for the church in the West in this hour? If we are to emulate the vision and ambition of the early church in this culture, at this time in history, I believe we need to understand in what way that is to be achieved.

I think in some ways we need to appreciate the early church of the first two or three centuries as historically transitional and an example of the effect of God’s love/grace on human hearts. But because we live in a historical continuum (not vacuum), it’s possible we are making a mistake adapting a perceived first century church paradigm as a universal model of mission, ecclesiology and discipleship, without factoring in cultural and historical differences. Dogmatic interpretation often moves from context to the abstract and universal, ignoring historical and contextual contingencies, reducing and limiting Spirit-led creativity. For instance, in 21st century Western culture we are not living in, nor do we have to fear being eradicated by a satanically inspired imperial regime or a hostile persecuting Judaism and thus huddle up in places hidden from view. A narrative theology suggests to us that chunks of biblical truth, wrenched from their historical and eschatalogical setting, can result in serious damage to cultural connection.”

This really got me thinking – and I’ve been mulling it over, on and off, for the last few hours.

There does seem to be a trend at the moment, both in Christian literature and praxis, to move towards a more organic/ simple/ liquid/ incarnational/ missional church paradigm – with so many seemingly rejecting inherited church expressions and traditions as dated and restrictive, or even pagan, in structure and substance.  In parallel with this, so many are looking back to the first century church for inspiration – seeing it as a time when the worship of the risen Lord Jesus was undiluted by culture and the carnal desire for power and influence.

And I must admit, I have done the same.

But is looking backwards to what we think is a golden age in church history the answer to our contemporary church problems?

Well, maybe, in part, it is – but maybe we should also be looking to the future to influence our contemporary church expression – as Jim puts it so eloquently in his post:

“There is an eschatalogical horizon set in the distance for us, meaning that if we take as the final objective the renewal of creation (not escape to the heavens), we have a mission that is creational in scope unique to us. The community that is expansive enough, improvisational enough and imaginative enough to embrace that mission will participate in what the future will be, modeling new creation. And it will do so motivated and compelled by the love of Christ who gave Himself for that community, for His church.”

I think this is brilliant – and spot on!

The final objective of our faith is to be part of the renewal of creation – and that starts now – in Christ – being part of His Kingdom – today.  If our only hope as Christians is heaven when we die then we have sort of missed the point – and missed out on the blessing of day to day transformation in Christ as part of His body – the church.

I love the idea of our mission being ‘creational in scope’ – and that this view of mission is unique to us as disciples of Jesus!

Our purpose – to bring the new creation into reality by the Holy Spirit working through us as salt and light in our tainted world – being a community compelled by the love of Christ, modelling what that new creation will be like through the love and compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and grace that we show to others in response to that which we have found ourselves, hard won by Jesus on the cross at Calvary.

And that is the call to us across the whole age of the Church – until Jesus returns for his Bride, and the new heaven and earth are brought into being.

How we do it needs to be sensitive to the culture in which we find ourselves – but most of all – it needs to be centred on Jesus alone – dependent upon His power and presence through the Holy Spirit – led and sustained by Him – rather than just blindly following the current fashions of men.

As Jim puts it:

“…missional communities will organize themselves according to the conditions of their calling and existence. We are dealing less with religious hostility and imperial oppression and more often with indifference, irrelevance and cynicism. (This is tough enough to deal with in its own right and is not to say the church doesn’t face its own very real persecution and unique difficulties in every generation). It is not only our faith but our imagination and intellect that is being challenged today. So, what does the ecclesia look like in it’s 21st century implementation? It will examine the Great Commission and discipleship in the first century, understanding its origin and form developed under the shadow of suffering and martyrdom, living in the expectation of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This effected the task of making disciples then, and needs to be adjusted for discipleship in the context of our NOW. Though discipleship is a “given”, it is not (IMHO)  a generic, one size fits all proposition. Its form relates to (among other things) a particular period in the history of a people. This is hard to grasp because we relate so totally to universal timeless truth, not a narrative, not context, not a continuing story. We can think that the Great Commission, being shaped to current culture, is somehow being reduced or diminished in it’s power and purpose. But we have to have faith in God and the leading of His Spirit, not a timeless, context-less program of discipleship.”

So should we reject the current trend towards a more organic/ simple/ liquid/ incarnational/ missional church paradigm?  No, not at all – I think we should embrace it – but not as a replacement for inherited or traditional church – but as a catalyst for renewal, and complementary to it!

We must not throw the baby out with the bath water – but be led by the Holy Spirit to express church in an appropriate way for the time, place, culture and circumstance in which we find ourselves.  That might be organic/ simple/ liquid/ incarnational/ missional or inherited/ traditional in expression – or maybe a hybrid of both.  The point though is that the gospel truth stays the same – but how we express it changes.  The key, I think, is to not be restricted in our way of doing church, but to be open and willing to be led by the Spirit – in prayer together as ‘church’.  This might actually mean that our church community expression is different in different places – as we reject the idea, as Jim says, of discipleship as “a generic, one size fits all proposition”.

Has the time come to put our business model ‘strategic’ thinking back in the box and get back on our knees together – seeking the will and purposes of our Lord for us in our specific time, place, culture and circumstance rather than just adopting the latest fad, trendy programme or worship style that worked for someone else?  I’m not saying we reject business or programme led thinking altogether – just maybe it’s time we put it into its proper place in the church context – subject to the discerned purposes and heart of God!

Our mission, ecclesiology and discipleship must start and end with Jesus – creational in scope – focussed on His life, death and resurrection – bringing the transforming power of the Kingdom of God into reality today – through the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us, His church – reaching the lost and serving the needy in response to the love and grace we have found in Him.

Everything else is peripheral!

(HT: Miguel Labrador)

Have we lost confidence in the gospel?


From an article in the Christian Post:

It may tempting to think the church can win converts if it has the right strapline or soundbite, but the most effective way remains telling people about Jesus Christ, said a British theologian.

Speaking at this year’s Keswick Convention in Cumbria, Derek Tidball said the church often wanted to “keep the Gospel back” and “hook people by other messages first”.

“Judging by the way the church in England behaves, we don’t have confidence in the Gospel,” he said.

Tidball, the former principal of the London School of Theology, argued that the simple teaching of the Gospel and “the unpacking of the unsearchable riches of Christ” were still the most persuasive ways to bring people to a genuine point of conversion and discipleship.

“I have been, over the years, to many conferences on evangelism that have reduced evangelism to marketing and suggested that, if we only get the right language, the right strapline, the right soundbite, the right techniques – if only we can tap enough into the culture, then of course it will be obvious, everyone will see the truth of the Gospel and come to believe,” he said. “But it doesn’t work like that. We are not selling cars or soap powder. We are engaged in a spiritual battle.”

He called upon Christians to reconsider their priorities and live a life of serving and showing mercy to others.

“I sometimes think that the church is not particularly known for its mercy. It is known for its judgmentalism, its tut-tutting, its objecting to this, that or the other. But the God in whom we believe is one who is merciful,” he said.

Read the full article here.

8 reasons why some churches do not grow….


There was an article in the Christian Post last week by Perry Noble which caught my eye – ‘8 reasons why some churches do not grow’.

In summary, the 8 reasons listed are as follows:

Some churches do not grow because…..
#1 – Their vision is not clear;
#2 – Their focus is on trying to please everyone;
#3 – Their leadership lacks passion;
#4 – Too much energy, time and money is wasted on things that no-one cares about;
#5 – There is a lack of prayer;
#6 – There is an unwillingness to take risks;
#7 – There is disobedience with regard to the clear demands of Scripture;
#8 – There is a refusal to embrace the reality that the call to follow Jesus is a call to serve.

This is all well and good – and to a large degree I can understand Noble’s viewpoint.

However, I can’t help but feel it’s all a bit dry – all a bit, well, business like – emphasising moral outcomes rather than personal, radical discipleship!

Bible references are included to support each stated reason – which is great – but I thought it was telling that the name of Jesus wasn’t even mentioned until the last paragraph – and ‘discipleship’ wasn’t mentioned at all!

And where is the cross?  What about repentance – and faith?  How about whether people love Jesus in the first place – and recognise the forgiveness, mercy and grace that they have received as a result of His sinless life and death at Calvary!

It occurred to me that a church could do all eight things in Noble’s list and still not see any ‘growth’ – because they are motivated by religious duty rather than a heart melted by the love and grace of God – getting by with little or no reference to Jesus or the Holy Spirit at all!

I also have a problem with the implied definition of ‘growth’.  It seems to me that ‘growth’ in this article is about growth in numbers – increasing bums on seats – but is this the only definition of growth that should be considered?  What about growing in faith, in compassion, in holiness and ‘Christlikeness’?  Admittedly, Noble does mention ‘disobedience with regard to Scriptural demands’ and ‘refusal to embrace servanthood as the primary call of the Christian life’, but both seem to me to be focussed on moral, outward observance of rules rather than a heart felt, irresistable response to the grace, mercy and forgiveness received ‘in Christ’.

Don’t get me wrong – in principle, I accept and recognise as valid all of the reasons given – but wonder if the emphasis of each should be slightly different.

How about these instead?

Some churches do not grow because….

#1 – Their vision is not Jesus centred, Spirit led and disciple focussed;

#2 – Their focus is on trying to please anyone other than Jesus;

#3 – Their leadership lack a passion to lead by example as disciples who make disciples – in humble response to the grace they have received and God’s call on their lives;

#4 – Too much energy, time and money is wasted on things that Jesus doesn’t care about;

#5 – There is a lack of desire and need for God’s presence which results in a lack of prayer;

#6 – There is an unwillingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit and step out in faith;

#7 – There is a lack of a personal experience of Jesus, leading to disobedience and disregard for the clear demands of Scripture.  We are called to be disciples who make disciples – and live our lives as salt and light for the world – period!;

#8 – They neglect to incarnate the call to follow Jesus as disciples who serve, share and sacrifice in response to the Kingdom of God being a present reality.

I am sure that I am not saying anything that wasn’t in Perry Noble’s heart when he wrote his article – I hope not anyway 🙂

What do you think?  Anything that you would add or take away?

Read more from Perry Noble at this blog here.



They will know us by our love

Donald Miller posted an interesting article on his blog yesterday about the need for Christian witness to be founded in love:

If you are a church leader, may I suggest a church growth plan? Center your mission on the love or God. Center your teaching on the aim of becoming more loving people. Center your outreach on genuinely loving people. Define the antagonists to your mission as the forces that rip apart your love, even if those forces are Christians who speak the truth, but do not love their neighbors or their enemies. These people are demonic. As theologically wish-washy as it all sounds, love is the core manifestation of our relationship with Christ. People will go to love, and when we stop loving people, we stop representing Christ.

Read the full article here.

Church As We Have Always Done It Will Find Increasingly Fewer Participants….

I thought a recent post on Tim Stevens’ Leading Smart blog was interesting – he quotes Ed Fenstermacher as follows:

Eddie Gibbs, in his book ChurchMorph, has identified at least five changes, or megatrends, as he calls them, happening in our culture at present.  They are the shifts from modernity to postmodernity, from the industrial age to the information age, from Christendom to post-Christendom, from production to consumerism, and from religious identity to spiritual exploration.  Books have been written on each of these.  The amazing aspect of them is that they are converging in our time, causing seismic shifts in our culture which require paradigm shifts in our thinking.  In this environment, “church as we have always done it” will find increasingly fewer participants.  Just as financial advisors are needing to modify basic principles they have used for years in this new economic scenario, so will those doing church development need to consider new ways to impact their mission fields.

In his original blog article Ed goes onto say:

Of course, the church will be slow to respond.  The classic bell curve used to show acceptance of innovation applies here.  Since the church is not feeling immediate drastic consequences of the cultural changes, most church folk, including leaders, will be glacial in accepting the need for change.  Ample evidence abounds indicating that even when change is clearly needed, change is very difficult to implement.

And his overall conclusion is interesting:

Missional churches do not necessarily revolve around real estate, buildings, and programs.  They often do not focus on staff driven ministries.  A criticism of many religious folks not reached by attractional methods is a view of traditional church where they feel too much money is spent on staff and buildings and not enough reaching out to those in need.  Missional is not a program to add to existing church.  It is not a category of ministry to add to other categories within the church.  Missional is an ethos which permeates every aspect of what church is, such that all ministries of the church are outward looking and more about the mission field than the existing congregation.  There is no simple threshold which determines if an existing church has arrived at being missional.  It is an ongoing process, sort of like going on to perfection.  However when a church is getting there they can tell the difference and celebrate the progress. 
Being missional is an additional challenge to congregational development.  Since finding new life, vitality and mission in existing churches is tough enough as it is, adding even more depth to the change required will not be easy.  Converting from the attractional model is another level of difficulty, but some churches are doing it.  Likewise most new starts have a strong sense of mission in their early days, but still do so within an attractional framework.  Doing church out there and having much of it stay out there requires a thorough paradigm shift.  To not do so will leave us with ever diminishing returns with the attractional model and a corresponding ongoing denominational decline.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Read the article on Leading Smart here.

Read Ed Fenstermacher’s original blog post here.

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