There are a variety of models for church planting that have proven effective. Church Planting Village lists five main models:
Ed Stetzer includes all but the Program-driven model, but notes that only 19% of planters (among Baptists) actually identify themselves with a model. My guess is that this low percentage is a product of post-modern scorn of models, as well as ignorance regarding models. Whether you like it or not, your church plant methodology will put you in the orbit of some kind of model.
Relationship-driven models are on the rise and include House, Cell, and Missional Community churches. Because of their relational emphasis, these churches are typically drawn to the more Organic method of church planting. Early in our core team phase, Austin City Life was thinking organically but still held onto “the Launch” as a part of our methodology. Most Organic churches jettison “the launch” in favor of a people-focused ecclesiology. We did just that, but the reason was more Spirit-led than “organic”. I’ll take a stab an explaining what I see as the difference between Organic and Spirit-led church.
As I see it, there are two main types of Organic Churches:
- Unintentional Organic: clueless organic church planting because you like stuff that is different. A kind of “wherever it grows” attitude.
- Intentionally Organic: informed organic church planting that builds structural lattice for the plant of church to grow on. Relies on gospel soil, relational stalk, and thoughtful structure.
Although we certainly appreciate #2 more than #1, we have sought to cultivate a Spirit-led organic church, which fosters slightly different growth. I’m not saying that the Spirit is absent from the approaches above, so bear with me. The Spirit-led church places its emphasis on relationship/community underneath its reliance on the Holy Spirit to grow and mature a missional church. Spirit first, community second, not community first, Spirit as an holy nod.
The more I learn about being a Spirit-led community, the more I realize I have to learn about what it means to follow the Spirit, not just the organic growth of spiritual disciples. Craig Van Gelder defines the church as: “a people of God who are created by the Spirit to live as a missionary community.” For Van Gelder and for us, Spirit-led is more than a nod; it animates decision-making, structure, organization, community, and mission. Van Gelder lays out his theoretical ecclesiology in Essence of the Church and a functional ecclesiology in The Ministry of the Missional Church.
One of the strengths of being a Spirit-led church is the emphasis on church as our identity, not our responsibility; its nature over its function. We need to plant and grow churches based, not on function (organic or otherwise), but on nature—Spirit-led missionary communities. On this Van Gelder writes: “Failing to understand the nature of the church can lead to a number of problems. Defining the church functionally—in terms of what it does—can shift our perspective away from understanding the church as a unique community of God’s people.”
Our models and methods should be determined from our ecclesiology, not form our ecclesiology. This is why I make a distinction between theoretical and functional ecclesiology. Others would call the latter a Philosophy of Ministry. Whatever you call it, you models and methods should be primarily governed by the Holy Spirit and a biblical understanding of the nature of the church. In my next post, I’ll try to unpack and illustrate this from our own experiences.
As I continue to struggle and learn about leading a new, organic, missional church I have found that revision and change are quite common. This goes against my grain, as I want to have Austin City Life “figured out,” for which I am repenting. The church is not a problem to be solved or a company to be run; it is a community of Spirit-led disciples. The challenge for me is to keep coming back to the Spirit-ledness of my own discipleship and leadership, instead of relying on my well-reasoned plans alone.
Van Gelder’s The Ministry of the Missional Church has been a real help. His book integrates biblical theology of mission with organizational theory. In his chapter on Spirit-led growth and development he surveys the growth and development of the early church in Acts. His observations have been liberating and instructive in helping me follow the Spirit while leading an organic church. They have released me from self-imposed pressure to have the strategic plan nailed down and church ryhthms and structure perfected. Van Gelder notes that Spirit-led growth and development occur:
- In the context of conflict (Acts 6), where widows are neglected and, as a result, deacons are appointed. They did not have deacons figured out; the church responded to the Spirit in the midst of conflict in order to lead the missional church. It is okay to not know everything about everything, to have your entire leadership structure figured out, but look for the needs and meet them with Spirit-led, biblical paradigms.
- In adverse circumstances of Acts 8, the church was disobeying its missionary charge by remaining in Jerusalem. Persecution broke out that scattered Christians into Gentile territory, advancing the mission of the church. I run into adverse circumstances every week that drive me to prayer, but do they drive me into mission?
- From ministry in the margins in Acts 11, Jewish Christians began to learn more about the gospel and mission by sharing the faith with ethnically and culturally different peoples. As a result, the full breadth of mission began to take shape. This is really true in my experience. As I have been spending some time with Burmese refugees, God has been correcting me and my notions of church through this fledgling group of marginal christians and non-christians.
- From intentional strategy in Acts 13-19, where Paul and others sought converts from the culturally and theologically near people in synagogues. Most of us don’t need to hear this; we are too intentional in our strategies, so intentional that we strategize God out of our plans.
- From divine intervention in Acts 16, where God redirected Paul from Asia to Macedonia. In other words, be prepared to change, expect God to redirect, chuck your pride and open your eyes and ears to God’s providence in leading your church.
- From new insights into gospel and culture in Acts 10 & 15. Peter’s major shift on secondary issues like unclean and clean things after encountering Cornelius. See my comments on the marginal (#3). When I asked the Burmese house church leader if we could buy them Bibles (they only had six or so), she said: “Pray that they would be hungry.” This Burmese woman discipled me on the spot from her fresh vantage point of being a resource-dry pastor. She knew that buying Bibles doesn’t make disciples; God makes disciples by giving them a hunger for him.
“It is essential to have a strategy, but it is also essential to be alert to the disruptions and interruptions of the Spirit.”