What is Church Planting? (part 1)

Church planters are what I call entrepreneurs of the spirit. But, what is this entrepreneurship of the spirit? What is church planting?

Church planting is a disciple-making process.

Consider these two scenarios.

Imagine that there are two church planting teams. One team, let’s call them Team A, works from the first premise below. Let’s call this “starting point A”. The other team, predictably, is Team B and works from “starting point B”.

A) We’d like to disciple the residents of a neighborhood.
B) We’d like to start a church for the residents of that same neighborhood.

How do the images that fill your mind differ when you read “starting point A” from when you read “starting point B”? How do you imagine that these two teams would approach their work? What things will they have in common? How might they differ?

Jesus instructed his disciples to make disciples of the “nations”. (For our purposes here, let’s take the “nations” to mean those who live without reference to the scripture and who do not yet profess faith in Christ). Jesus’ instructions to “disciple the nations” stretch us to imagine the discipleship of the outsider. In contrast, our practice is to program for the discipleship of the insider. Of all the things the church does, starting new churches should be understood as a process for the discipleship of the outsider, but often it is not. It is conceivable, in the western context, to start a church and never disciple an outsider. According to a recent poll, 96% of mega church growth is transfer growth. (Hat tip to Bob Roberts for that stat). In fact, many churches that consider themselves “discipleship” churches even though they have little to no contact with outsiders.

At a recent Church Planting Training at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, Bob Roberts stated, “We don’t plant churches in America. We plant worship services.” Starting a worship service may require a programming team and some stage talent, but need not require nor create disciples.

Starting a new church often results in a new worship service populated by the already convinced. But if we start with the discipleship of the outsiders, then the aim of the church planter is already being achieved even before a new church emerges…which will often happen. The apostles did not go into cities to start churches, but to announce the kingdom… to get that “embodied” conversation going. When that conversation took root in the hearts of women and men, new communities of faith emerged.

Brian Hook, church planting pastor at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, tells me that he believes “… in the years ahead we will be talking discipleship rather than church planting.” In fact, he takes it a step further. He’s thinking that “we could drop the term church planter today because, in America, it doesn’t always mean ‘disciple'”.

So, when we think about definitions for church planting, it may help us to think in terms of the process of disciple-making among outsiders.

What do you think?

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The Avatar Blues

avatar-movie-posterBy now most of you have seen James Cameron’s blockbuster movie, AVATAR.
The night I saw it I knew this movie would strike a chord with large audiences worldwide. I tweeted that anyone who saw the movie was going to want to live on Pandora, the home planet of the 10-foot tall, blue skinned Na´vi.

The Na´vi people are tall, thin, tribal, handsome and fiercely brave. Pandora, their planet, is as beautiful as it is dangerous. The Na´vi live in a ubiquitous communion with each other and their world. The conflict arises when an evil corporation (surprise!) from Earth wants to exploit large deposits of a treasured mineral located directly under the Na´vi’s ancient home.

Interestingly enough, CNN reports that audiences are experiencing depression after viewing the movie, with some even entertaining suicidal thoughts. Others are experiencing an increased disgust with humanity.

I mentioned to a new friend of mine how I felt that many viewers would want to live on Pandora. He said to me in return that he asked his wife to paint herself blue. To me, these are totally understandable responses. The Na´vi live in community. The Na´vi are exotic, wise, fierce, and sexy. Their planet, Pandora, is filled with cool flora and fauna. Life there is an adventure.

Ok, so the fantastical Pandora is cool. What’s not to like?
But thoughts of suicide? Anger with the humans?

Many of us feel a slight melancholy when we finish a great novel, or when a favorite television series ends. But depression?

Still, perhaps there is something here that we should pay attention to. Sometimes we minimize the distance between the world we live in, the world “as it is”, and the world we dream of, the world as “it could be”. The Na´vi live in the kind of dense community we long for but cannot seem to find. They are exotic, fierce, wise, and sexy. We are not blue, not fierce, often confused, and mostly look awful in thong underwear. Their lush planet and colorful lives are filled with adventure. Our lives seem gray in comparison.

Here’s where it all began to break down for me. The CNN article tells us, “Compared to life on earth Pandora is beautiful and glowing utopia”.

What? What planet does CNN broadcast from?

This copy “compared to life on earth…” is a line written by someone who never gets out. Heck, you don’t even have to go outside. Get the Discovery Channel for God’s sake.

Perhaps part of the problem is that while we wished we could live on amazing fictional planets, we’ve never taken the steps to really live here on this planet.

We are estranged from each other and our world, but not because humans suck and the “world is dying” (as one of the depressed said of Earth). Our problem is that we lack a mission worth giving our lives to, something worth defending, something worth dying for. Without this we often feel an emptiness to our lives and routines. Another part of the problem is that we spend too much time being heroes in fantasy worlds and games. We live action packed lives vicariously through television and movies. Since I adore movies and TV let me qualify this. “Too much time” is a relative. Some of us “experience” adventure before our screens to the exclusion of the surrounding real world that is filled with amazing adventures, vicious predators, and lots of opportunities to die doing something really daring.

Just a couple of days before I heard about the “Avatar blues” I was listening to a new friend of mine, Steve, tell of his experience on a hunt in Africa. He and a mutual friend of ours, Terry, had fired on a Rhino and the behemoth charged them. Steve tells me that you could feel the ground tremble as this angered beast ran at them. Terry, he said, took two steps forward at the Rhino, ground trembling beneath their feet, cocked his gun, and fired.

That’s not fiction. That’s adventure. Earth is as beautiful, as dangerous, as lush a utopia as Pandora. There is a difference. Utopia means “no place”. That describes Pandora people – no place. It’s not real. Earth, however, is real. You just gotta get out now and then.

I wonder what would happen if some of us actually got to live on Pandora? Would we spend our “Pandoran” days playing fantasy games in which our avatars were Earthlings like Steve and Terry who actually went out on a rhino hunt and had adventures?

So put the remote down. Here’s the call: Heroes Wanted in the fight for humanity and for the quest to save the planet. Safe Return Doubtful.

what do you think?