Friday, April 04, 2008

Movement, or No Movement: What's the Difference?

This week, I'm in Tuxtla-Gutierrez, the capital city of Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico. I and a team from our association have had the privilege of holding training for church planters here, as well as working with the Chiapas Convention and local association to develop a church planters network.

Today, the participants caught fire! Before lunch, a strong network/learning community had been built and the first meetings had been planned. It's exciting to see God at work. Wherever he decies to show up in the world, the results are always glorious!

Nevertheless, the reason we suggested beginning a network was because so many church planters had felt marginalized, and even resented, by established church pastors. They needed some form of encouragement, exhortation, and mutual learning in order to facilitate their vision of a church in every city in their region. That's quite an aspiration, and its also quite apostolic! By the end of the book of Acts, each of the 40 cities mentioned in the book boasts a church. Our brothers and sisters in Chiapas want to follow that pattern, and I hope you will join me in praying for God to give them success.

Anyway, our experiences this week have led me to observe some common elements that determine whether or not a church planting movement is possible among a group of God's people. To be sure, the culture very different here. In fact, every time I come to Latin America I'm "brushing up" on what little Spanish I know. By the end of this week I'll at least be able to order food, hail a cab, have small talk with the hotel staff, and find my way to public restrooms. But over the next year, I'll be back with the "gringos" and I'll get rusty. As such, the cultural differences are very real to me. Given this fact, my observations of common problems in church planting are stark indeed when seen against the contrast of those cultural differences! Regardless of the language and culture, those things that determine whether a movement of new churches takes place are pretty uniform. I have found that whether you are in Mexico or Manhattan, the following principles generally apply:


1. ASSERT BEAURAUCRATIC CONTROL OF IT. Beauracracy has its place. As much as I hate to admit this, there can be no clear structure, and no real rhyme or reason to your strategy without some degree of beauracracy. At the same time, it is there to give structure to the movement, not stifle it. If you have reached a point where your guidelines, policies, procedures, lines of accountability, and total structure are so imposing that they no longer facilitate the mission they were intended to support, don't hold your breath waiting for a movement of new churches!
2. REFUSE TO ACCEPT "NEW WINESKINS." Sometimes it is very difficult for the establishment to accept new methods of evangelism and church planting. Currently, guys like Erwin McManus, Mark Driscoll, and those who follow them are heavily criticized and attacked for their innovative approaches to ministry. But they weren't the first "targets" of the establishment. Thirteen years ago a young California pastor named Rick Warren took his shots as well, and now he is, to an extent, the establishment he once rejected! But Warren wasn't the first either. More than a half-century ago many Fundamentalists were highly upset with a young pastor who touted that he would reach every possible person, using every possible means. His name was Jerry Falwell.
From time to time, denominations and other agencies feel threatned by new approaches to mission. When those feelings translate into endless policies and attempts to "rule out" anything with which they are uncomfortable, you can rest assured that such agencied have just signed their own death warrant.
3. TAKE A "TOP-DOWN" APPROACH TO YOUR CHURCH PLANTING STRATEGY. To be brief, church planting strategy should be led by churches, not denominations. Too much centralized power in this regard results in a few churches that look exactly alike, rather than many churches who each fit well within their own environment.
4. MAKE SURE THERE IS A LOT OF "IN-FIGHTING." In the sixteeen years I have been in ministry, I have met a few guys who were always waiting for the next "battle." Some were conservative; others were liberal. All of them were full of demonic influence. Anybody with half a brain can uncover a controversial issue, take a side, and pick a fight. To be sure, some things are worth fighting for. But if you seem to spend more time putting out man-made fires, and less time trying to stoke God-inspired ones, you have just lost your relevance.
5. PLAN MORE THAN YOU PRAY. Any genuine movement of God doesn't begin in the boardroom, but on our knees. Sophisticated strategy components, charts, graphs and other visual aids are a total waste of paper without prayer.


1. UNIFY AROUND THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. Remember when I said some things are worth fighting for? This is it! On the one hand, this means that we should be warry of any attempts to dilute or compromise the message of Jesus' incarnation, propitiatory death, bodily resurrection, ascension, return, and His command to repent and believe. On the other hand, this also means we should seek to avoid peripheral conflicts about things like Calvinism, theonomy, or other less-than-worthy issues that will detract us from mission if we make them our fight. Our affinity is the Gospel!
2. DE-CENTRALIZE YOUR STRATEGY AND LINES OF ACCOUNTABILITY. Glocalnet, ACTS29, GCM, and other highly successful church planting networks have modeled this principle for us for a few years now, and each year the point is proven all the more. Put local churches in charge of reproducing themselves, and use the centralized "mother-ship," be it a para-church headquarters or a denomination, to do the only thing it can do well; serve churches and seek to undergird their efforts, not legislate them. A movement is, by definition, something that can't be "controlled."
3. MAKE SURE THE BEAUAUCRACY KNOWS, AND STAYS, IN ITS PLACE. In a sense, this is just a re-statement of #2, but I think its an important enough principle to mention it at least twice! Denominational and para-church beauracracy should give structure and clarity to the aims of the local church, not legislate what those churches can and cannot do.
4. DEPLOY FRONT-LINE MISSIONARIES WHO WILL PUSH THE ENVELOPE. I admit, sometimes this is hard, partially because at times, you have to pull these guys back from the "edge" before they fall off (or take back some rope before they hang themselves. Choose whichever metaphor you like best.) At the same time, these kinds of "front-line" thinkers will challenge your own Biblical assumptions. If you simply react to their brashness and irreverance, you won't learn anything and eventually they will leave and be without the wisdom they need to succeed. But if you make sure the guidance you give is thoroughly Biblical, and be willing to struggle with them as they push back the edges of darkness and sin, you will both be stronger and more spiritually mature for it.
5. PRAY MORE THAN YOU PLAN. Jim Cymbala testifies to this in every book he has ever written. They have a fantastic choir, and Jim's not a bad preacher either! But if you ask, he will tell you that the singular reason Brooklyn Tabernacle continues to impact its culture is because his people stay on their knees.

So the choice is ours. Thing is, God will start such movements with or without us. The question is whether we will play a cooperative part in what He is doing.


Tally Wilgis said...

Great Post.

frostburgpreacher said...

Sounds like a book...or is it coming out in your book? Great to see what God is doing way down yonder!