Tag: Church Planting

Diary of a Church Planter (Pt 4)

This series is taken from my personal diary during the first couple of years of church planting. The entries range from painfully raw to joyfully visionary. I hope they bring encouragement to anyone who reads them, especially church planters.




Austin, Texas                                                                                     September 8, 2007

I am slightly less scared and four months more experienced, considerable in church planting! I have interviewed four guys for Admin/Exec positions and none have panned. Instead, God brings me Nate, whose story of redemption is fresh and real, a burned rock star gone gospel hungry. A visionary in his own right, dreaming up places for us to meet and a launch weekend in March. Meetings are going well, a mix of community, discussion, prayer, and worship. God is at work.

4 Ways Church Planting Training Must Change

With missional ecclesiology in full swing, many of the current missional training structures are becoming outdated. If church planting networks and organizations are going to continue to stimulate deep, sustained mission to all kinds of peoples, then some our training structures will have to change.

1. We need to offer both information and experience-based training. Much of the church planting training today is based on theological and missional podcasts, talks, and breakouts. If we are to train a new generation of missional leaders that dive deeply into the 100s of American subcultures, training will have to be based in an experience of their missionfields. We need to offer training that sends church planters into their fields during their training. For instance:

  • Half a day is spent learning principles and half a day is spent in coffee shops and clubs getting to know the values, beliefs, and culture of hipsters
  • Half a day in a immigrant neighborhood knowing on doors, visiting ethnic restaurants, to learn values, beliefs, and objections to Christianity among ethnics groups
  • Half day spending time downtown among professionals, going to happy hour, and attending their power lunches to understand the demands, aspirations, and values of professional life.

2. We need to train planters on both traditional “core teams” and non-traditional missional teams. If we are to reach the increasingly divided people of America, we will need not just missional core teams that gather in living rooms to train, but missional teams that start workshops for the poor, new music venues among artists, new buisness ventures among professionals. Missional teams that create value, good will, and community around the felt and exisiting needs and working places of unreached peoples in the U.S. In some cases, it will be better to “launch” a business or venue before “launching a church.” For example:

  • Starting a workshop to train homeless in microfinance and job skills
  • Starting a music venue to engage musicians and artists
  • Starting a thinktank discussion group to address neighborhood issues

3. We need to equip planters to preach and to cultivate gospel-renewing environments. We need to think through how we not only launch services and small communities, but also how we sustain those people over a lifetime of suffering, adversity and change. This will require a depth of understanding in how the gospel addresses their whole human experience–family, vocation, stage of life. We will need gospel-shaped environments that foster personal and communal renewal over a lifetime not just over a meal or a meeting.

4. We need to cast vision for planters who plant not isolated churches but networked churches that partner for regional and urban renewal. Church planters need to mobilized to think beyond “their church” in order truly plant, multiply, and grow God’s church. If church plants are to effectively renew cities, they must think and plan well beyond their own borders. They will need to partner with other churches in order to effectively address the whole of city and region needs. Urban renewal will not happen one church at a time, but many churches working together at a time. Only then, collectively, can we leave an indelible gospel mark in history for the good of our cities.

3 Layers of Gospel & Culture

The relationship between Gospel & Culture is often fuzzy. I’ve recently been explaining the relationship between the two with three layering claims that build on one another.

First, we must understand the Gospel in light of culture. Second, we must understand Culture in light of the Gospel. Third, only then can we wisely Church the Gospel in our cultures. These three layers of understanding build on each other the way you plant a tree. We need seed (Gospel), soil (Culture), and growth strategy for your trees (Church). The seed layer is seminal and the second two allow gospel seed to grow into flourishing trees.

The challenge of mission is to so understand the dna of the Gospel that we are compelled to exegete our culture and grow indigenous churches that offer shade and strength to their cultures.

The Gospel Seed

The seed layer is: understanding the Gospel in light of culture. It’s impossible to conceive of the gospel apart from culture. So many people miss this, get in a tiff about contextualization, say it is compromising the gospel, and create unnecessary division. It’s so important that we get off on the right foot by understanding the Gospel in light of culture. This is our first, seminal layer. It’s more theological.

The Cultural Soil

The soil layer is: understanding Culture in light of the Gospel. Before we can sufficiently start, lead, and grow churches that spread the gospel, we need to understand and work over the soil of our cultures. Trees grow different in various soils. We must understand the soil of people’s values, rhythms, and beliefs before we can properly plant the gospel in their culture. This second layer is more practical.

Planting Churches

Finally, the third layer is our growth strategy for nurturing the tree(s), where we will consider how to Church the gospel in our cultures. How does the seed of the gospel grow in the soil of our cultures in a way that actually grows a healthy, reproducing church? How do we church the gospel in our culture? The final layer is our strategy.

So, what I’m trying to practice and teach is putting Gospel seed in Cultural soil, with a strategy to Church the gospel in your culture. This is all vague and introductory, but if helpful, I will fill in this framework with future posts.

When Church is a Mistress

It’s become hip to rip on the church. People like to blame their problems on “the church.” You can hear these criticisms in popular culture. Take, for instance, Arcade Fire’s song “Intervention”:

Working for the Church while your family dies
You take what they give you and you keep it inside
Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home
Hear the solider groan, “We’ll go at it alone””

The song paints the church as a militant institution, driven by discipline and an over-bearing work ethic. The central character sacrifices his family on the altar of “church” or ministry. This is often true. Churches all too often have more in common with Wall Street than they do Scripture. They enforce a merciless work ethic in the name of “mercy” or “gospel” ministry. All work no play.

There’s a Mistress in the House

My first year of church planting I started a new, full-time job, a new city, a new daughter, and a new church. Guess which one got the least attention? Family. As all these new things filled our lives, they began to crowd conversation with my wife. What was once natural—inquiring about my wife’s hopes, fears, and joys—became unnatural, even absent from our conversation. She patiently continued to ask how I was doing, but I was “working for the church while my family died.”

As my wife began to wither without the invigorating love of her husband, she revealed the affair. I’ll never forget her crushing comment: “I feel like there’s a mistress in the house.” I was alarmed and frustrated. How dare she make such a comparison! After all, I made a point of being home by 5:30 and on weekends. I made sure we had good family rhythms—breakfast and devotions, dinner and downtime. How could she say there was a “mistress” in our home? Then it dawned on me—you can be home without being home. I was present but absent. My thoughts, emotions, and concerns were with another Bride while I was home, not with my bride.

I had felt the gradual distance growing between us, but chalked it up to two kids under two and the important demands of church. I was wrong and Arcade Fire was right. The spark of love cannot live without a home. A house isn’t sufficient. Being present doesn’t cut it. What our relationships need is a home, a place where families can laugh, play, cry, and talk deeply together.

Recovering Your First Love

What was once natural became a discipline. I began to discipline myself to turn conversations away from church, work, and ministry and towards her and our children. I began to love her by asking about her hopes, dreams, fears, to encourage her hobbies and friendships. I relearned how to empathize and suffer, rejoice and laugh with her. Slowly the spark of love began to kindle. The warmth of friendship began to return in our resurrected home. My thought was that discipline could give way to desire. But discipline wasn’t enough.

What my wife wants, what every wife wants, is not a disciplined, duty-driven husband, but a loving, desire-driven husband. A husband whom, when thanked for a weekend get-away without the kids, says to his wife: “It’s my pleasure” not “It’s my duty”! Our wives want to be desired, cherished, valued. In fact, all people want to be cherished, but until we clear the shelf of our hearts of subtle idolatries, discipline will not give way to desire. We must put away our “mistresses.”

Repentance is Good News

In order to put away our sinful lovers, we need a power outside of ourselves. We need the power of repentance and faith. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus calls the seven churches to repentance. For example, he writes to the church at Laodicea: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” In love, Jesus calls us to zealously repent.

I repented from loving the worth I received from my work, the significance I gained from serving my church. To repent is to turn. When we turn, we turn away from one direction toward another. The proof of repentance is not in our confession or resolve but in turning from our lovers and turning to our Savior. Where do we get the power of repentance? How do we conquer these lesser loves? By Spirit-empowered faith in the promises of God.

Jesus continues: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. ​If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, ​I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (3:19). The call to repentance is followed by the promise of satisfaction in Christ. Leave your lovers and turn to your one, true Love. Open the door and Christ will come to you, not only that, he will dine with you. Repentance is a call away from the famine of idolatry to the feast of table fellowship with Christ. Repentance is always good news.

All who over-work and under-love need to repent. We need to confess the idolatries of worth-by-work, of significance-by-service, and turn to face the loving, all-accepting, never-ending significance offered to us in the arms of our Savior’s embrace. Through Spirit-empowered trust in the promises of God, we can draw near to Christ and receive his perfect love, acceptance, and grace. It is from this position alone that we can truly love our wives and families. When we are satisfied in Christ, we can satisfy our wives. When we cherished by Christ, we can freely cherish others.

We don’t have to work for the church, the corporation, or the business while our families die. Every spark of friendship and love does not have to die. We can build a home that is filled with love, if Christ takes center place. When we embrace the practice of repentance and faith in Jesus, the idolatries of work can be cleared away with Christ at the center of our affections. Then and only then are we free to truly love others. When we do this, we will adorn the gospel of Christ and restore the reputation of the Church, revealing the glories of the gospel in gift of marriage.