Occasionally I am asked how to prepare a church planting proposal or prospectus. In this post, I want to tell you not to write a church planting proposal. Some of you may feel excited about planting a church, about making an impact in a city or community. Perhaps you have some friends who are excited with you, ready to risk all possessions and security for the sake of Christ. You have been talking with some guys about what the church would look like, where it would be, what kind of theology it will espouse. You envision a tight, missional community. You have some of your pastoral team picked out. Your dreams are starting to get onto paper.
St Augustine experienced a similar thing. He discussed and deliberated over the troubles of life with his friends. A group of them decided that they would form a community. This community would share possessions and would be significantly funded by Romanianus. They selected two officers and were ready to initiate this new community, and then they considered their wives. Augustine writes: “As a result, the whole project, which we had worked out so well, collapsed in our hands; it was completely broken up and thrown aside.” (Confessions, VI.14)
Some of you need to consider your wives as you consider church planting. Your calling is to your household first (1 Tim 3:4-5; 5:8). If your wife is not ready for church planting, you are not ready for church planting. Honestly explore any reservations your wife may have about your vision, your dream. Submit to her in love and listen closely to God. Some wives, however, will approve of your vision to plant a church but not have a clue what it really takes. Just because you have spousal support doesn’t mean that God has called you to plant a church. Like Augustine, you may already have your prospectus but you have neglected your wife, the Church, or God in honestly discerning a call to plant. Save yourself some serious heartache and converse deeply with your wife, speak honestly with the church, especially a group of men who can wisely assess you for gifting and calling to church planting. And don’t project your pipe dreams onto God.
Even if you are not called to plant, your preparations do not have to be in vain. Like Augustine, you can respond to this realization by resting in Proverbs 19:21 “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.” Don’t cling to your plans; cling to Christ. Cherish the perfect counsel of the Lord, which may be discerned through spouses, assessors, blog posts, circumstances, failure, or private encounters with the Lord. In doing so, you will position yourself for greater joy and purpose in the kingdom of God. Like Augustine, you will be able to conclude: “Out of that counsel you derided our plans and you prepared your own, according to which you were to give us meat in due season, and to open your hand and fill our souls with blessing.” Heed the counsel of the Lord; put down your church planting proposal and receive the meaty blessing God has for you.
Austin City Life has been planted with the conviction that in order for our community to “be the church to the church and the church to the world” we must live in the tension of mission and community. As a very new church plant, we have felt this tension from the beginning. At times I could feel the need for more connectivity, prayer, and sharing. Other times I could sense the decline in missional passion and practice. Instead of creating two meetings, one for community and one for mission, I shared the tension I felt with the group but told them that I thought the best thing to do was to live in the tension of imperfect community and mission, not to resolve it. As a result, core team meetings eventually became a hybrid of community and mission (though there were several months of organic community before official core team meetings). Some nights we would connect relationally other nights we wouldn’t. Some nights we strategized mission for two hours with very little interpersonal connection. However, both forms of core team meetings afforded us the opportunity to develop and experience missional ecclesiology, to understand and experience what God has called us to as a church: Jesus-centered, missional community.
Now that our church has moved beyond core team meetings and into structured, organic growth we have launched our City Groups: local, urban missional communities that share life and truth and redemptively engage people and culture. City groups are geographically-based, inter-generational communities of Christians and non-Christians that gather together weekly to share food, discussion, and mission. Each CG develops a Social Strategic Partnership (SSP) with an area organization, i.e. Capitol Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House, in order to bring the whole gospel to the whole city.
City Groups face the same tension of community and mission as our core team did. It is up to the me and the City Group leaders to learn how to shepherd others through this tension. One way we deal with it is thru our current CG material. I have written an eight week study called The Story of Scripture and Our Place in It, which is intended to acquaint those old and new to the faith with the basic plotline of the Bible: Creation/Fall/Redemption/New Creation. The material is largely discussion-driven, tapping into the felt needs such as sense of brokenness (Fall), longings for justice (New Creation) and so on in order to show that God in the Word offers us a world and life that fulfills and surpasses what we all long for. So, the material is both missional and communal in theme. It’s like we are constantly reinforcing the mission-community tension. Some groups are more missional than others and others more communal than others, but we don’t expect perfection; we expect tension. However, this tension can be peaceful; if embraced from the position of our acceptance and salvation in the gospel of Christ. So, we keep coming back to Jesus…for forgiveness, direction, community, grace. It’s an imperfect model that is in desperate need of a perfect Savior.
We are in our first year as Austin City Life. We are City Group driven but have a Sunday service. City Groups and services are intergenerational. Now that we have the Sunday service, people are beginning to look for “ministries,” ministries to singles, ministries to couples, ministries to women, and so on. People are understandably concerned that “they get ministered to” according to their stage of life needs. I am resisting this impulse for several reasons:
1. Ecclesiology Proper: It is our conviction that in order for the church to be the church, to one another and to the world, generations must intentionally cultivate community and practice mission together. We must deprogram the church from ministry shopping and “program” the church to be intergenerational, communal, and missional. How does the Body function properly if the hand says to the foot, “I don’t need you; I just need my generation” (1 Cor 12)?” How does the Temple bring the Cornerstone glory as living stones if the stones don’t live together (1 Pet 2)? The church should not live on generations alone.
2. Functional Ecclesiology: We have pushed our ecclesiology proper into a functional ecclesiology that largely relies on City Groups. City Groups are local, urban missional communities that meet weekly to share life and truth and to redemptively engage peoples and cultures. They are comprised of 6-12 people who commit to living out Four Practices based on Four Principles. They share everything from tacos to tears. City Groups are our foundational ecclesial structure; therefore, they have been programmed as geographical, intergenerational, redemptive communities that hold gospel and mission in common.
- Programming versus Program-driven: Just because we are an organic church, doesn’t mean that we avoid programming. All organisms are biologically programmed with DNA. As that DNA replicates and produces a maturing organism, it naturally takes on a clearly defined structure. Likewise, Austin City Life accepts programming as a natural part of healthy church growth; however our DNA includes an element of anti-program. In order to avoid becoming program-driven, we are striving to keep church simple. We are programming for less programs and more relational connections. Thus, we are against organizing the church around various generational ministries, divvying up the church into life-stage specific ministries, and we are for the generations to sharing life, truth and mission for more than an hour or so on a Sunday.
3. Realistic Expectations: As a church that is less than a year old, we have to guard against doing to many things, against being all things to all people. Why? We don’t have the volunteer power to service every need or want. Instead of spreading ourselves thin across numerous ministries, we have decided to focus on a few things and attempt to do them well in order to be the church. These things have largely been determined by our congregational profile. For instance, although we are a city church, we are not largely a singles or young couples community. In fact, we currently have more families than singles. Therefore, in order to responsibly shepherd the flock we have, we have developed a Children’s Ministry not a Singles ministry. However, if we were largely singles we would not have a Singles ministry; we would be pursuing ways for singles to share community and mission with non-singles, while addressing singles issues from the pulpit, discipleship, and City Groups.
Neil Cole’s new book is now out Search & Rescue: Becoming A Disciple Who Makes A Difference. Cole’s previous book, Organic Church, was immensely influential and, in some circles, a tad controversial. Apparently, this book repackages some of the ideas from OG and from his lesser known book Cultivating A Life for God. The strength of this book will likely be Cole’s insights on how to connect with unbelievers as well as now to grow missional disciples Comment if you have already read it.