I had the opportunity to speak on the Holy Spirit and covered three areas: the Personal Spirit, Powerful Spirit, and Creation-Perfecting Spirit. Most of this content will be available in my forthcoming book, Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit who Creates, Sustains, and Transforms Everything.
In this video, I discuss how to avoid the neurotic pace of discipleship that tries to juggle holiness and mission.
If we’re honest, many of us treat the Holy Spirit more like a silent partner than the third person of the
Trinity. We are so cautious of the Spirit that we eliminate him from our leadership. Instead of relying on the Holy Spirit, church planters often rely on one of two directions to plant churches: apostolic moxie or academic models and methods. When we lean on either of these, we lean away from the Spirit-led center of church leadership.
Reliance on Apostolic Moxie
Moxie is that self-starting, self-motivating quality, often present among entrepreneurs, which enables them to push through the odds of failure with a determination for success. When moxie is linked up to apostolic gifting, you get a type-A church planter. Sin results when we possess moxie without humility—a determination to plant and lead the church without leaning on the wisdom of others. The planted church will likely be unhealthy. Why? The church is treated like a task to be executed, not a people to be shepherded. It was planted in dependence on yourself not dependence on the Spirit. It’s planting by making little of the Spirit and much of yourself. Church planting takes more humility than it does moxie. We need less moxie and more Spirit.
Discernment in Planting Location
Self-reliance in planters is often expressed in a of lack discernment. Instead of asking “What is the Spirit already doing in this city, town, and village?” moxie-driven planters barrel into town with a “vision from God” and in the process burn their family, polarize their community, and disregard their city. Planters that depend on the Spirit, however, learn to listen to others, to God, and to the city.
Reliance on Academic Models
There also are planters who, instead of relying on self-determination, rely on information. They diverge from the Spirit-led center by resting on academics or personal knowledge. Those who depend on models and methods are, perhaps, more submissive to God’s call, but slowly attach their significance and success as a planter to what they know and not to God’s calling. They think to themselves: “if I learn enough then I’ll be ready to plant.”
Discernment in Mission
You have a plan to reach your city. That plan does not include the Holy Spirit; it includes your research. You pull out your strategic plan and your church planting model and methods and say: “This is what God is doing in the city.” You over-think and out-plan the Holy Spirit. What we need is fewer books and more prayers.
The Spirit Leads through (and away from) Methods
Following the Spirit does not mean we abandon methods and planning. The Apostle Paul clearly had a strategy for planting churches in urban centers, spinning his disciples off to lead and plant in rural areas.
When I arrived in Austin I was armed with a prospectus and timeline. I was also ready to protect my wife, son and baby to be in the womb. As if all that wasn’t enough change, I soon discovered a different church planting methodology. A friend told me I was more wired for Organic Church. I had previously blown off a lot of Neil Cole’s writings because of his weak church governance and polity. As I began to read Organic Church, however, I became convinced of the value of decentralized church and its fit for urban Austin. Indie church for an indie city.
As much as I like the word “organic”, I began to realize that it was not a process but a Person that was guiding me in all of this—the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who creates and directs the church, not models (organic or traditional). The Spirit should be free to change your expression of ministry, the way you plant Christ’s church.
The Spirit Leads through Suffering
Expect the Spirit to lead you into unplanned change in order to accomplish the mission of God. For example, Stephen’s stoning led to the Eastward expansion of the Church (Acts 7; 11:19). Paul’s planting strategy was directed westward, towards Rome. If we had stuck with methods, only half the globe would have heard the gospel, but the Spirit made sure that the church expanded eastward through the martyrdom of Stephen. The blood of the martyrs made church planting a global movement. It was unplanned change, suffering. How many of us have martyrdom written into our church planting timeline? How will you respond when suffering comes? Will you ask the Spirit for direction when it comes, or will you blow through in moxie or ignore it by taking methodological detours around the God-ordained suffering?
Planting churches isn’t meant to happen by might or by power but the Spirit of the Lord (Zech 4:6). We need planters that are less pridefully cautious and more open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we open ourselves up the Spirit’s leading, remarkable things can happen on the mission of Christ!
See the audio and notes from the original Acts 29 talk: Spirit-led Ecclesiology
For more on the Spirit check out Winfield Bevins booklet.
Almost finished with my review of the Hirsch’s very fine book Untamed: Reactivating Missional for of Discipleship. See Part 1, Part 2. If you’ve been tracking with me, I’ve had very good things to say about this new work. It combines the theological and the practical in a very creative, helpful way. I will offer some constructive criticism in my next and final post.
Spirit-led Discipleship (most of us don’t experience it)
As someone who aspires to a robust trinitarian faith, I gravitate to good treatments of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 3 offers us just that, not in a work of pure theology or exegesis, but as a compelling, creative, and culturally savvy reflection on the person and work of the Spirit in the missional church. The Hirsches write: “Discipleship is birthed in the Spirit, but it is also very much maintained in the Spirit.”
Unfortunately, there are theological camps that cut him right out of spiritual life. Even some of the circles I run in, I find a serious neglect of the Spirit, as if “the gospel” substitutes for the Spirit. The gospel is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel of God, a trinitarian God–Father, Son and Spirit. I have addressed this at length in Spirit-led Ecclesiology: Following the Spirit through Church Planting (new article on this forthcoming). But perhaps the more threatening aspect of missional church to Spirit-led discipleship is our reliance on models, methods, and books. In a word, “technique,” which is a terrible substitute for God, the Spirit. The Spirit does much more that regenerate.
The Creative Holy Spirit
“The Holy Spirit is the most creative person in the universe.”
This quote has stuck with me for weeks. It prods me to write more, dream more, create more, rely on the Spirit more. On Sunday I was praying that the Spirit would stretch his wings over our congregation and flap new life and healing into our people. He did it in the beginning (Gen 1); he did it with Israel (Deut 32); he did and continues to do it with the Church (Acts 2).
The Hirsch’s point out that the “Holy” Spirit is set on making more than our morality holy. The Spirit wants to release powerful, creative waves of mission through disciples of Jesus, but before he can, we must repent of our sinful dependence on comfort, convenience, and technique. Once we do, the Spirit can release a “sanctified imagination” that envisions and enacts an entirely new way of living that brings hope in all places to all people. The Spirit produces “lots of little Jesuses” that bring hope and renewal into our present world.
Let’s repent for neglecting and assuming the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s turn to his creative, sanctifying power to envision new neighborhoods and cities, wonderfully transformed by the Spirit of God through the disciples of Christ.