I think that most people in ministry eventually come to the difficult, but necessary, realization that they not only didn’t get everything they needed in seminary (like practical application in real life), but that their whole understanding of ministry has been turned upside down by actually being involved in the messy lives of those around them. Of course, this can easily be avoided by setting ourselves so far apart from the people that we supposedly minister to, but this has disastrous results. This has happened to me on a couple occasions. The most recent when I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the kind of church planting we wanted to do. We had seen traditional church planting methods, and while there was nothing wrong (as in anti-biblical) with most of them, we did not believe they would produce the results we wanted to see. And what did we want to see? I think the goal of most church planters, including us, is to plant churches that are autonomous (independent & self-governing), self-supporting (not dependent on external resources), self-propogating (able to reproduce on their own). I could come up with a list of 1,000 other things I’d like to see, but these are the three most common things nerdy church planters like me talk about. However, what we saw was that traditional methods were typically producing just the opposite results, or at best producing these desired results after a long period of time. That drove us to search the Bible to see what it says about church planting. The answer we found: very little! It talks a lot about the kingdom of God and making disciples, but not a whole lot about church planting. That led to a drastic shift in our thinking, from viewing the church as a one-day-a-week attractional event to seeing it as a community of disciples of Jesus that functions as the New Testament teaches (more on that in future blog posts). As this shift took place we realized that we were completely unprepared to actually go about planting the kind of church we envisioned. So, as we’ve done in the past we simply prayed that God the Father would be our teacher, that he would equip us with the knowledge and tools we would need. Shortly after that, we connected with some people who were already doing this kind of church planting and God led me to some really great books and online resources that have been invaluable as God is preparing us for our return to Togo.
Exponential & Verge Conferences
I’ve never been to either of these conferences (though I’d love to!), but I have listened to countless hours of the audio from the Exponential podcast and now I’m slowly working through some of the videos and other resources from Verge. What’s really neat is that each speaker seems to have unique perspectives and ideas about church planting, but they all have the common goal of seeing disciples and churches multiply and be on mission for the glory of Christ. I have especially benefitted from most anything by Francis Chan, Neil Cole, Dave Ferguson, and Alan Hirsch.
Church Planting Movements
This is a term that is being talked about a lot right now, usually describing the rapid multiplication of churches in a region within a short period of time (such as the underground church in China). Ed Stetzer, I think, is the one who made this term popular, but church planting movements have been happening for quite some time now. There are some people, mostly foreign missionaries, who have been teaching Church Planting Movements (CPM for short) as a method or model of church planting. I hesitate to use the word “method” because it really is so much more than that, but you get the idea. I was able to attend a CPM training conference about a year ago and it was amazing. CPM focuses on making disciples and planting churches in the simplest possible way so it can be easily reproduced and multiplied in any culture. Unfortunately, there’s no single CPM organization that puts on conferences and provides resources; it seems to be a loosely connected group of individual missionaries and church planters, so it can be a little tough to track down CPM resources. But, a good place to start is the CPM Awareness teaching done by David Watson, who served in India and saw thousands of churches planted and multiple generations of disciples made. A word of warning though, don’t listen to this if you don’t want your comfort zone stretched!
If you’re looking for one book to quickly sum up what Church Planting Movements are all about, read the book entitled…wait for it…”Church Planting Movements!” David Garrison studied many church planting movements all around the world and attempted to identify things that are common among them. What he found was quite eye-opening. It’s honestly not the most well written book, but the content far outweighs any publishing flaws in my opinion. Neil Cole has quite an interesting personal story about how God transitioned him from a traditional church planter to the catalyst of the fastest multiplying church planting movement in the U.S. Organic Church explains some of that story and much more. He calls our attention to making disciples and pushes our understanding of what church can be (and where they can meet!). There is a church planting movement going on in East Africa in which they saw 5,000 new churches planted in 5 years time. One of the missionaries involved in it, David Hunt, wrote his doctoral thesis about the movement. It can be downloaded on David Watson’s blog.
It’s really awesome to see how God has led us to these great resources, but I was just telling a friend today that the greatest church planting strategy is nothing if it’s not lived out day by day empowered by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the whole CPM strategy is one that values prayer and the leading of the Spirit above all else, not methods or theoretical ideas. So, what I’m desiring to see is complete transformation in my life. I spent many years just sitting in church listening to somebody tell me I need to serve God. God is slowly teaching me how to be an obedient disciple of Jesus and not just a church goer.