Further thoughts on my “plant a church” post

I wanted to follow up on my post from yesterday about young(ish) mainline pastor types planting churches because there is a thought that I want to flesh out a tad more. I am struck by the reality that we want to “play like its a new church, yet be paid like it’s the old church.”

“Old Church” sets its benchmark with the questions “How many? How often? How much?” (hat tip Reggie McNeal) When you can track how many people are showing up for your programs and how often they are showing up, you have a pretty good guess as to how much they will be forking over. In cash. Not time or talents. We’re talking treasure here. And so “old church” tries to maximize the many, the often, and the much. That’s the way the game is played, and that has defined “success” for as long as any of us can remember.

“New Church” hopes to not fall victim to that mentality, but those interested often hold on to one significant piece of it: Old Church Salary and Benefits. Often, it’s because we go to get trained to “be a pastor” before we’ve done anything else in our lives. We’re scared to death of not having the security of the (even meager) paycheck. So we try to convince others to let us play a different game than the one that brings in the cash. We don’t want to sully our hands with that Old Church score card, but we’re willing to take the “support” and we justify it by saying they told us this is what they wanted us to do.

So all of this was bouncing in my head today when I stumbled upon a couple of posts from the Tall Skinny Kiwi, Andrew Jones. I used to read him all the time, but had stopped a number of years ago. I’m glad I found him today. Here’s the two posts I glommed onto:

9 Reasons NOT to plant a church in 2012

Practices of a New Jesus Movement

In the first post, Jones lays out much more clearly than I why we should not pursue “church planting” if it even remotely resembles “Old Church.” His basic thesis is that “church planting” seeks to maximize the Old Church Scorecard (my words) to the detriment of measurable society transforming practices. Because of this, church planting ignores those who are not rich and without status. Church planting sets up a consumer mindset among new members and promotes competition among and within churches.

“Boo,” I say. That’s not a church culture I want to be a part of.

Luckily, Jones offers some hints of a better way (yes, I said “better”)  in his second post.

I’ll encourage you to read it for yourself, but he lays out 11 practices of what he’s calling a “New Jesus Movement” (NJM) that seems to be catching hold in Asian countries that he visited over the last year. I’d like to see how they fit with Mainline sensibilities.

1. Bible Study

Done and done. Mainliners (quite to the contrary of what our Evangelical friends think) take the Bible very seriously. When I teach folks using the Historical-Critical tools I learned in seminary, they eat. it. up. Taking the text seriously, but not coming to it blindly has transformed many peopel’s lives. I know it did mine.

2. Open Houses

Hospitality is an assumed way of being for the NJM. Jones talks of people crashing with others allover the place while they were being loved and their lives were bring transformed. Jones described a decidedly non “what’s mine is mine” culture. What’s mine is yours – freely and unreservedly.

3. Fringe Focus

These communities were not the pretty people. “Christians” have bought the lie for too long that we’re supposed to be popular and loved. Well Constantine lied to us and we believed him. We’re the freaks on the fringe called to love other freaks on the fringe.

4. Simple Habits

Things were simply done and one didn’t need to be a “professional minister” to lead anything. Jones relates that Bible Study, for instance, consisted of reading the passage and answering 3 questions: 1) What does it say? 2) What does it say to me? 3) What am I going to do about it? And then we hold each other accountable for our answers.

We’ve made this too complicated (not complex, there’s a difference).

5. Good Business Products

I love this one. These are not NPR/Public Television Pledge-a-thon organizations. They were financially stable from running a micro-business.

6. System for Rehabilitation

For the NJM, “sanctuary” is not the place where worship takes place, but where people could come and be nurtured and loved into Christian maturity.

7. Native Flavor

Whatever was done had a decidedly indigenous commitment. the practices and gathering reflected the place they inhabited. In the Asian countries Jones visited, “Western” things were conspicuously absent to his eye. The NJM allows the incarnation to radically influence the life of the community.

8. Daily Rhythms

Jones found people were together almost every day, usually around meals. This was not a once a week kinda thing.

9. Not outreach TO but outreach WITH others

For the NJM, being a Christian is a way to be a decent human being, and they would often organize outreach to the poor and marginalized with their Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and atheist neighbors.

10. Something for the whole family

It seemed, from what Jones observed, that there was a concerted effort to minister to the whole family a person came from and not just the one.

11. Prayer

Prayer was a casual and normal part of everything they did.

Notice that worship is nowhere to be found. It seems to fit nicely with Jones’ thesis in the first post I listed. As he says,

Also, the intentionality of the movement was focused on impacting people’s lives with the gospel and NOT on creating community or starting churches which they saw as a natural outgrowth.

When I say to Young(ish) Mainline Pastor Type People, “Please go plant a church” these are the kinds of things I mean, and I am grateful for Jones giving better words to the idea.

So… Are you up for it?

15 thoughts on “Further thoughts on my “plant a church” post”

  1. Landon, I was going to point you to “9 Reasons…” but you already got there. I’ve been the pastor of a small strong church in Rocky Mount, NC since 1990, and I see all kinds of possibilities for the future. Just last night I went over to our local community college to a seminar on starting businesses, and hope to attend more seminars to learn more. I told the leader that I’m thinking about two things: how to assist new pastors to develop other sources of income (be bi-vocational) and how congregations might form microbusinesses, perhaps in the way some monastic communities do, such as providing some kind of much-needed service. I said that I thought we might need to form partnerships between our seminaries and community college experts like the ones I met last night.
    I’m working on two posts for my blog on church planting. One is to commend the “9 Reasons…” post, but another will be on “Seed Catalogs and Church Planting.” We need to learn from the world of farming and gardening when we talk about planting. My mind just goes ga-ga over all the seed possibilities that I see in the catalogs that flood my mailbox this time of year, and I admit that the heirloom varieties interest me the most. All kinds of factors come into play when you are planning what to plant: local conditions and much, much more. Hope to get these posts up soon. Thanks for what you are doing. I’m a “late baby-boomer,” and I’m a dreamer, and I want to work with you “young-ish” people who love God and love the church.

  2. Landon, lots of good ideas here which I plan to “glom onto” both for a church revitalization which another pastor and I are attempting as Co-Temporary Supply Pastors (an experiment) and at the Foundation. Keep ’em comin’, bro.

    Also, you might want to see a video on the Duke Div. School site on adaptive leadership. Got the lead from a church consultant in NC.

    Grace and peace,

  3. My initial reaction to this is that the gospel isn’t just for those on the outside either. If we phrase our efforts for forming Christian community by saying that true Christians are “freaks on the fringe called to love other freaks on the fringe” then we ignore the message from Paul that, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Or we ignore Jesus when he said that he came that the “world” might have life…not just some…not just the outcasts…but the “entire world”. Advocating for leaving the entire “old church” system behind to start a “new church” system that leaves some out is no different than those on the polar extremes of the denomination that are asking people to leave the denomination for other theological differences. I don’t see how this challenge calls us to uphold the “unity” of the church, and I challenge us to find value in the wise elders in our church communities that have devoted their lives to loving each other and sharing God’s grace for many years. I would challenege us to be careful to pay attention to our years of history. I challenge that there are many “not-youngish” pastors and lay leaders in our churches that also desire to see God work in new ways in the 21st Century. I would challenge that we be careful not to completely discount the sweat and tears shared by many for generations. We are a denomination that is “reformed and always reforming”…not “leaving behind the old and always leaving”. Biblical witness teaches us that God’s Spirit transforms from within…that God can make dry bones move…that what looks dead or dying can be brought to new life in Christ. I do agree that things must be done differently in the 21st Century. But, I don’t agree that completely leaving the old system to start a new one should be the mandate from a leader of our denomination. Instead, I believe that a better more faithful mandate would be one that challenges us “all” to work together, in Holy Communion, toward God’s grace-filled kin-dom…for we are all “one” in Christ Jesus.

    To be transparent: I am a 28 yr old Presbyterian minister in Toledo, OH, and an advid dreamer about God’s possibilities to transform our world in the 21st Century.

    1. “like.” (i totally draw the line at getting a tattoo of ezekiel and the dry bones, though. way too zombie-conducive)(and a phoenix is just way too mainstream anymore, too)

    2. I’m youngish (32) elder in a reasonably flourishing (by the Old Church standards) DFW-area congregation, who’s been spending a lot of time thinking about this kind of thing.

      I find myself spending a great deal of time struggling with the tension between my love and respect for the “wise elders in our church communities that have devoted their lives to loving each other and sharing God’s grace for many years”, but also recognizing that those same “wise elders” and I don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye about the present and future of our denomination.

      Just about the time that I reach for the Prilosec to kick down the heartburn, I realize that it’s because of the “wise elders” and their nurturing love for me in my most formative years that I’m even capable and passionate about these things….and the vision that I have for the 21st century church, while it may not be exactly what they had in mind, honors that great cloud of witnesses.

      These discussions don’t discount the “sweat and tears” of our elders, they are the fruits of those “sweat and tears”. The only thing that we could do to discount the generations before us would be to allow ourselves to quietly fade away…..

      1. well said. it is indeed true that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we owe it to them to continue describing the horizon we see.

    1. From what I gleaned from Jones’ posts, the folks living what he calls the NJM are in countries where public worship makes them subject to retaliation from the state or other authority.

      This is one point where I think a NJM in the modern West will differ,but I find it interesting that a regular worship service was not necessary for the effectiveness of those communities.

      1. Or maybe it just looks different from what we think about as worship… there is much worship to be experienced in the elements you outlined above, if we think about worship being the created offering glory, thanks and praise to the creator.

  4. Added for the American version:
    12. Mostly being a slacker.
    13. Not having any standards by which I can be evaluated.
    14. Thinking I’m a success because I showed up.

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