Five Contextual Agreements for 2018

Beginning the year is always an interesting time in the blogging world. Christian leaders make their predictions on the church, changes, and challenges for the coming year. Three of the best lists I have seen thus far are Carey Nieuwhof’s, Thom Ranier’s and Chuck Lawless’s. Rather than create my own, I have decided to list five which directly connect to my context and what I am wrestling with as a church planter. Here they go in no particular order:

One: Carey’s number one disruptive trend is “A move beyond church in the box.” Chuck Lawless predicts, “Life-on-life, genuine community will ground people in a church.”

I combine these two together because I believe they go hand in hand. Especially in the Portland area, people crave authenticity and accessibility. As Nieuwhof articulates, gone are days when “you sat down Thursday night at 8 to watch your favorite show, because you didn’t want to miss it.” Yet, churches still function on a set time and schedule which is not on-demand. I will address this later, but the on-demand culture does not mean the physical space will cease to exist; instead, the culture enhances it.

“Bottom line? Churches who only think Sunday and who only think building will continue to shrink. In 2018, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy” says Carey.

How will people engage with the local church? A life-on-life genuine community will attract and connect people to a local church. These life-on-life relationships are on demand and can be engaged with a quick text, Facetime, Facebook message, etc. Conversation can happen in an instant, followed by a genuine embodiment of the characteristics of Christ. Hence, spiritual formation and discipleship will become essential for the local church to thrive moving forward.

In fact, one of my current projects is a series of conversation points followed by basic resources for anyone to employ in an on-the-go world.

Two: The Team is Eclipsing the Solo Leader. I am a church planter and my greatest desire is to have 1-2 other spiritually mature couples to move to Vancouver and co-lead with me and my wife. While The Village Church is not the first to function with three lead pastors, they are the church which has the most viable track record and visible presence. These other lead pastors would help oversee and champion mobilization and spiritual formation. These pastors would help expand the good already in the community. These other pastors would help free me up for what I do well, and I, in turn, will enable them to lead out of their strengths. “The leader who can do everything well is being eclipsed by the team that can do everything well.” To reach, teach, equip and send a diverse group of people will require a diverse and well-rounded team.

Three: Thom Ranier notes, “The e-book has not proved to be nearly as popular as we thought it would be. Many blog writers are reporting declines in readership. But audio books are rising in popularity. Listeners are moving to podcasts so they can learn while they jog, drive, and exercise. Outside of preaching podcasts, churches have many other opportunities to reach and disciple people through audio ministries.” The Village Church does this through their ‘Knowing Faith’ podcast which takes complex theological issues and makes them accessible in order to equip the everyday Christian.

In Vancouver, people are increasingly working odd hours and 50 hour-plus weeks via two jobs. Therefore, having a small group on Tuesday evenings is ceasing to be an option (think point #1). Spiritual formation will occur as they walk to work, ride their bike, or on the MAX (public transit). As Lawless notes, while this will increase, the subsequent results will be less evangelism. The life-on-life portion of discipleship is so crucial, evangelism must be modeled so that discipleship leads to evangelism. I have stated before how both are the wings of a disciple-making airplane.
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Four: One of the options to maintain a viable presence in the community is a trend which Ranier highlights: “Churches moving into retail spaces.” Anecdotally I have seen greater success for church plants who have rented a storefront. The brick and mortar can be used throughout the week, can be multi-purpose, and don’t require extensive set-up for services on Sunday. In addition, the presence enables a return to the parish model (see point five). Where we are specifically looking to plant, there is an abundance of affordable retail space. I envision a ministry center which can double as a worship space. I envision a place that is filled with worship and ministry seven days a week. A place of resource for the needy. A place of growth for the spiritually hungry. A place which champions and models unity. A place of worship for the gathered church. A place of sending for the scattering during the week. A hub for life and ministry in the community, in the neighborhood, and in the home.

Five: “The rise of the neighborhood church.” The parish model is on a comeback. Because people like their craft or customized “fill-in-the-blank” (i.e coffee, beer) they will increasingly expect this in their church. Further, pastors will be forced to lead wellness for their whole community. They are not just the pastor of the people who attend the church on a Sunday service. They are also the pastor of a select community. A church will gain credibility in our skeptical world when it seeks the good of the whole community. This can only be done when they understand the narrative of the neighborhood and highlight how the story of God brings wellness. It will be increasingly difficult for pastors to know the narrative of multiple neighborhoods. Therefore, multiplication of churches will happen when a group of people lives in another neighborhood. In order for this to be effective, team leadership must be modeled and championed.

These five create a perfect storm for a revival of old models and methods blended with the technological advancement of the twenty-first century. Regardless of theory and prediction, would you join me in praying for the advancement of God’s kingdom during 2018?

New Year. Same God.

“Sing a new song to the Lord for he has performed wonders; his right hand and holy arm have won him victory. The Lord has made his victory known; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.” – Psalm 98:1-3

It is day one of the New Year. As many look forward to the newness of the new year with anticipation, excitement, anxiety, and even determination, I find myself resting in the won victory of Christ. For me, that’s more than a cliche Christian response; it is a necessity. I (we, my family and I) need it to survive just like we need oxygen. We will live in Vancouver, WA for a full year in 2018. This is far away from immediate family, yet God is creating a new family around us. We will attempt to discern where God wants us to specifically plant. We will attempt to gather a core group of people who may want to be a part of a new church. We will begin to more clearly articulate the vision for the church God desires us to see planted. In all these, while I may not have every ‘i’ dotted or every ‘t’ crossed, I am confident in God’s track record of revelation.

I could not have confidence in any of the future plans if it was not for the assurance that Jesus wins. We know the ending to the story. God is sovereign. Therefore, His righteousness will be revealed to the nations (including Portland/Vancouver) because He has been revealing himself to the nations since the beginning of time. God will be faithful because he has been faithful and is being faithful.

We could not manufacture, program, or schedule God working in the ways He had in 2017. God is consistent and unchanging. New year, same faithful God.

“Let the sea and all that fills it, the world and those who live in it, resound. Let the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains shout together for joy before the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth/ He will judge the world righteously and the peoples fairly.” Psalm 98:7-9

The Discipline of Evangelism

One of the most challenging chapters in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is the chapter “Evangelism…For The Purpose of Godliness.” The idea of evangelism has been thrust into the forefront of my mind for two reasons: 1) I am taking a class called Evangelism and Discipleship, and 2) because I want to plant a church from evangelism.

I was twenty-three years old before I heard of anyone actually setting aside time in their week to go evangelize. I knew Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses went purposefully, but I had never heard of a faithful Christian person plan to go evangelize. For some of you, planning to go evangelize just does not compute. It did not compute for me either until I began to be influenced in another way. See, evangelism was something the whole church did through events or from living a Christian lifestyle, not personally sharing the good news of Jesus. Evangelism was always guilt driven too. “You needed to be doing it, and you were a bad Christian if you were not evangelizing” (whatever that meant). Evangelism in some cases was simply inviting someone to church. Evangelism, for me, was an ethereal idea that happened unintentionally. I have since changed my perspective.

Evangelism is not some ethereal idea. Evangelism is the communicating of the gospel to another. I explain the connecting between evangelism and discipleship here. As someone who loves the church, we need to rediscover the art of verbal proclamation of the gospel Monday through Saturday.

For some, even reading about evangelism causes an eye-dropping, foot-shuffling anxiety, and the response to click off this post and stop reading. We would rather the idea of personally sharing the good news be left forgotten. However, as Donald Whitney articulates, evangelism is actually needed for our growth in godliness. He says, “I’m convinced that the main reason many of us don’t witness for Christ in ways that would be effective and relatively fear-free is simply because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it.”

We do not discipline ourselves to do it because the only image we have is the guy on the street corner shouting at people about how they are going to hell. At the end of the day, we have not consistently seen very many methods of evangelism. For many years, my excuse was that I had not seen someone effectively do it. I have heard the excuse I do not know enough, or I am not sure what to say. We let our lack of “learning” stop us from doing. Evangelism is always an assignment of faith. The believer is seldom wholly prepared for every tough question or every single encounter.

What’s fascinating is that in Mark 5:1-20 Jesus provides a great blueprint for evangelism.  Jesus takes his disciples to the unclean region across the Sea of Galilee where they encounter a demon possessed man. The disciples most likely knew exactly where they were headed. The demon possessed man could have been heard all across the lake in his chains. Jesus casts out the demon upon reaching the other side and then begins getting back into the boat.

18 As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged him earnestly that he might remain with him. 19 Jesus did not let him but told him, “Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So he went out and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and they were all amazed.

Simple. No training. No extra time with Jesus. Just go tell others what the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you. Then, the man went and did.

All he knew was the Jesus he encountered and how it transformed his life. Two questions:

  1. How has the Jesus of the Bible impacted your life?
  2. Can you share that story?

If you can share the how Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection has intersected and impacted your life then you can “evangelize.” Recently, I have been challenged the only way to learn is by doing; in conjunction, the only way to do is through discipline. When speaking about discipline people react in funny ways as well. I know I do. Most discipline is drudgery because it has no direction. When the direction is to become more like Christ (Rom 8:29), we cannot honestly pursue Christ-likeness without the discipline of evangelism. Further, when we pursue Christ-likeness it will take effort but ultimately cultivate delight in the Lord.

Disciplined faith is a faith that is likely to survive and lead to faith in others. – Alister E. McGrath

In order for Christianity to reach movement stage (my personal vision for church planting in the Pacific Northwest), pastors have to lead out in personal evangelism and subsequently equipping others for evangelism. Jeff Christopherson says this thought well.

“When churches are planted for evangelism, they often find themselves culturally mismatches and fail to gain an indigenous foothold. When churches are started from evangelism, they seem to instinctively know how to move forward, with great credibility, in a sea of networks and relationships.”

If you would like to see a movement in your city or revival in your church then take up the task of personal evangelism. Will you take a step to discipline yourself to evangelize?

To Plant a Church

I have realized something over the past few weeks. To skip the long intro, people have different views on church planting. God has been showing me that I had taken this for granted. Ruth and I have experienced wonderful insight into the world of church planting over the past several months. Specifically, what is an effective philosophy and methodology of church planting in our current North American context. We have been free to learn and see first hand what line of thinking is simply just moving sheep from one pen to another and which are actually reaching lost sheep. By the grace of God, we were able to grow. I mean sure, I was jobless, income less, at a loss for words as to what was potentially next, but what we have experienced and learned was nothing short of life changing.

We had experienced a culture that was increasingly on board with the movement and necessity of church planting, well so I thought. Being immersed in the church planting conversation I had almost forgotten there was apprehension to church planting.

Church planting has been defined in many ways, but for the sake of getting everyone on the same page, using Aubrey Malphurs’s definition, “church planting is and exhausting but exciting venture of faith, the planned process of starting and growing local churches based on Jesus’s promise to build his church and in obedience to his Great Commission.”When we seek first God’s Kingdom we will make disciples, impact the domains of society and Jesus will build His church.

Having this as my base definition and foundation, my first difficult conversation came when talking to a Presbyterian minister at Starbucks. The second conversation happened over dinner with a friend.  The last with a co-worker. Each conversation raised several objections based on their experience with church plants previously, and in regards to the real need of new churches. Sadly, I was not prepared for this. Thankfully, God is a gracious God and allows us to learn through these experiences. For those of you who may have some objections to church planting, especially if one starts in your city, realize that there are many ways to plant a church. Nevertheless, the need is great, look around you at the lostness of our cities and town, regardless of how many churches occupy streets within those city limits.

…starting new churches is vital to the future of the church in America. The point is simple. No church plants—no church. Like all organizations, churches have an organizational life cycle. They’re born or planted and experience early growth due to a natural emphasis on outreach. However, problems begin to arise along the way, and far too many churches shift from an outreach to an in-reach mentality as they attempt to solve their problems. This, in turn, slows growth. Should churches ignore or fail to correct the situation, their growth stymies and they plateau. If they continue in failing to correct the situation, they experience early decline that if ignored will turn into later decline and ultimately death. – Aubrey Malphrs, The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting.

The result of each conversation has pushed me to better articulate the statement above when questioned about church planting. Essentially, it comes from some training that Ruth and I attended in Las Vegas. See, often times when people think church planting they think about location and a Sunday service. The picture they have is a lack of information and experience with healthy kingdom thinking.

There is a different picture in their head when a church plant is described. They wrestle with how you get money to build a building with no congregation. Or, it’s not really a church if it’s in a school. The other side of location is why there, or in some cases, why here? A church plant in their city brings frustration and anger. I remember when a church started in my home town when I was younger and the people I talked to couldn’t even fathom it and were confused. Mainly, because they were thinking about their church, not God’s Kingdom. Their responses were selfish. Their responses were focused on how a new church would negatively affect their fellowship and their Sunday morning attendance. However, most churches are okay with incarnational approaches to foreign missions, but fail to realize the same strategy can be useful within their own city, no matter how large or small.

Planting churches are the most effective way to reach non-Christians. And, it’s the most effective way to keep up with the growing population. Bruce McNichol explained the findings of his research in Interest magazine:

  • Churches under three years of age win an average of ten people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
  • Churches three to fifteen years of age win an average of five people per year for every hundred church members.
  • Churches over fifteen years of age win an average of three people per year for every hundred church members. 2

According the to NAMB research using US Census data, in 1900, there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 2000, there were 12 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 2004, the latest year available, there are 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans. 3

The other aspect of confusion is starting a church involves starting a service. My hope over the next few posts is to describe that church planting will eventually lead to some form of worship gathering but that it’s not necessary to start with and its not the end goal. A church has not arrived when they have many people, a building, and a Sunday services. Rather, disciples indwelt with the Holy Spirit  bring the Kingdom of God to the world forming the church.

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  1. Aubrey Malphurs, The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting.
  2. Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the Twenty-first Century.
  3. Lost in America: How You and Your Church Can Impact the World Next Door.

Our Previous Step

I don’t know how many times I’ve written and deleted this post, or versions of this post–maybe 10 or 20 times. Every time I get the words out I feel the pros and cons lists growing in my head about whether these words are too truthful or foolish and I go back to word-smithing and tweaking sentences and phrases.

As many people who pay attention to this blog know that I write mostly about student ministry and how to equip parents to help their students own their own faith. Well, that will be changing. I’m still very passionate about people owning their faith and even teaching people how to teach others, but after 3 years at CenterPointe God has shut the door on that ministry and is preparing something new.

The reason I’ve written this post so many times is because I’m not sure what to share or even if what I share makes any sense at all. Do I share the whole story in one post? Do I share the journey Ruth and I have been on over many posts? Because we still aren’t sure what’s exactly next, should I wait to post anything at all?

Maybe, it’s time to stop thinking and still share even with many unknowns. So here it goes as of March 15, 2016.

The past 6-plus months have been a whirlwind. Since mid-August 2015 my wife and I felt God leading us in a new direction. We were unsure where this direction was taking us; the thought was most likely church planting, but maybe to an unknown opportunity. Based on wise counsel, assessment and a few trips, it seemed that direction was going to be church planting, so we have passionately pursued that option. Church planting seemed to be the logical conclusion, mainly, because why would a 24 year old with a wife and 2 kids leave a secure job and a thriving student ministry to step into the unknown if it wasn’t church planting? For sure, God had convincingly shown us it was time to depart from Lexington, KY to lead and learn somewhere else. I am and will forever be incredibly thankful for the people and leadership at CenterPointe and for the time God had us in Lexington.

In answering the question earlier, the short answer to why we left is because God said so. I hope to unpack what God has shown us and how we are arriving at what’s next, with God’s timing, in later posts soon.

The answer and reasoning to why we left seems so strange to many, not all, but many. It seemed strange to set an end date at a ministry when they next step wasn’t clear (the end date was Dec 13, 2015). As I’ve shared our story, it has dawned on me that the norm for some has become to only take a step to what’s next when the step is clearly laid out for them. I’ve faced this battle in my own life. I’ve been conditioned by my training for when I hear others say “because God said so” a red flag gets sent off and to be cautious–be skeptical. But, as I’ve walked this path for a few months now I can say that God dependence is a truly daunting endeavor in a “churched culture.” When a path does not seem logical or clear, direction from God drives fear and skepticism into the hearts of those who feel they could never do the same thing. Often, God reminds me that it’s easy to read stories in the bible of God dependence as fairy tales that happened in some parallel universe, or as epics in a galaxy far far away.

However, when it comes down to it, doesn’t God want us to be totally dependent on Him? What does that look like day-in and day-out?

If we don’t value (show fruit of it in our own life in accordance with His Word) God dependence then the antithesis is self-dependence and from my reading of the Bible that’s called sin.

Within the whirlwind of discovering where God is preparing for us,  it’s been exhilarating and a little frustrating to take God at His word and to just take the next step He shows us. I am thankful for the support and encouragement we have received as we take one step at a time. Ruth and I are also thankful for those who disagree or pose questions about the decision because God uses you to strengthen our convictions, while also using you to teach us.

All I know is that God has us right where He wants us and we will continue to take the next step. Pray that we continue to abide in Him, so that much fruit grows for His glory. I’m excited to see how God continues to draw us closer to himself as He shows us what He is doing across the globe.

Thank you again to those who have encouraged and supported us in prayer or provision while we have been on this journey!