In Matthew 13:33, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like leaven worked into flour that raises the whole batch. No one notices leaven but it somehow it infiltrates and raises an entire lump of dough. Jesus says that’s one picture of what the Kingdom of God is like. It is simple and understated. In works its way into every corner and affects the whole thing. It is subtle but powerful. That’s what church feels like for me these days. This (the first picture) is what church looks like for us. We were meeting for church in a student’s (tiny) apartment.
Church isn’t what happens in most college apartment complexes. I’d love to see that change.
Our student host told us that when she washes dishes, she prayed over this view in the picture above. She has a desire to have a church start out of the harvest in this complex.
Survival is one thing, but reaching a city is quite another. When it comes to missional effectiveness, our model is just too expensive. The math is there for any who would have the courage to push the buttons on the calculator.
I repeat often: We must lower the bar of how we do church and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple if we want to reach this world with the good news. We need to be about the reproduction of healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements––in that order. I am not suggesting we shut down churches or sell off all our property. I am suggesting we invest more energy and attention to simpler and more profound opportunities all around us. We cannot focus on complex and expensive systems and try and reproduce them if we do not first reproduce the simple and more basic entities first. If reproducing disciples is too much to ask, then certainly reproducing churches full of them is impossible, right? Don’t start churches to make disciples. Make disciples…and churches will start far more easily. It doesn’t cost a dime to make a disciple; it only costs your life.
I was infected with this idea 6 or 7 years ago when I first read Neil Cole’s book, Organic Church. I’ve done the math as he suggests and it is shocking. It is also hard to square it with the New Testament. Let’s do the hard thing and wrestle with this reality. It’s too important to let it slip by and just keep working on reinforcing the familiar.
A Church Planting Movement (CPM), according to David Garrison is:
a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.
From: Garrison, Church Planting Movements, 21
We’ve gotten to the point where the tools use us as much as we use them. This new reality means we need to re-examine our relationship with our New Tools.
The tools we’re now addicted to have been engineered for a simple purpose: To keep us addicted to them. The service they provide is secondary to the addiction.
The first step towards a solution must be to understand the reality of this new ecosystem.
I’ve been reading and thinking a lot more about the tools I use and the effects they have on me. The fact that I can publish this so simply is incredible. But I am more aware than ever that our tools shape us as much as we shape our world with them. Give it some thought.
Church in the Harvest is a fun life. Sometimes it feels like wandering around in the wilderness, but days like today are pretty amazing. Wesley grew up in church but until last week, he had never decided to follow Jesus. Once he did, he immediately wanted to be baptized. I love seeing rapid obedience in the harvest like this!
Thankful to call him my brother now!
Wes had family, friends from home, and friends from Church in the Harvest joining us!
Nothing goes with baptisms quite like feasting as a family!
The more time we spend out in the harvest, the more important it is that we work hard to track the hard work we’ve done. We never want to let any of the fruit the Lord provides slip through the cracks, so we need a system.
This is a simple tool for tracking weekly harvest engagement that I got from Josh Reed (NPL RDU). It’s the size of a business card.
The blanks refer to the following:
- Homes/people engaged
- Received prayer
- Gospel shares
- Red lights
- Yellow lights
- Green lights
- Discovery Bible Studies
The back is for recording follow ups and location information.
I love how simple this is.
GIFTS & BOXES
I used to think I was a teacher.
As I wrestled with a calling to ministry, I naturally looked for positions where I could Teach and Pastor. Over the years I’ve taken lots of spiritual gifts inventories (and here and here and more info here). My “number one” gift was always Teacher followed by Pastor. I loved the energy and possibility of planted churches and thought maybe I should Pastor a church or plant one.
The existing tradition of established churches sometimes felt like a box to me. Questions nagged at me, “Why are we in this box? Why can’t we break out of this box? Why does no one else see that we are in a box?” I would fluctuate between frustration and pride – frustration that we were content to be held down – prideful that I saw things more clearly than everyone else.
Both of these attitudes were coming from something much deeper that I hadn’t yet been able to identify. Years passed by and I still didn’t know why I felt the way I did. Over the last year or two I discovered a passage of scripture that I knew about, but had never really understood.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is a the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
(Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)
Since Teacher and Pastor always showed up on my spiritual gifts inventories, I had no reason to entertain anything else. The neurosurgeon keeps focus on the brain while the cardiothoracic surgeon keeps focus on the heart. There may be some benefit in cross-pollinating, but if I need a surgeon, I would rather that they each keep their noses down focused on their specialty. That’s how I thought about my gifting. Why give attention to gifting that I didn’t have? They are important to the Body, but not to me.
What I couldn’t see was that I was a part of a system that leans heavily toward Shepherds and Teachers. Our churches, church planting networks, missions agencies, and seminaries are training people to lead in and from the legacy church setting. Even the most front-line engagement work being done in legacy church settings didn’t speak my language. It turns out, I’m not a Teacher or Pastor. I’m actually an APE.
WOLVES, DOGS, AND APES
A baby wolf is basically a puppy. For a while, you could even keep a wolf cub in your home like a pet. Sooner or later, this scene will turn from kid’s movie to horror movie and the only one not at fault is the wolf. It is in its nature to do what it does. When it is small, it could be confused for a dog, possibly. But as it grows, the similarities will shrink and its true identity will become more apparent.
In every church there are likely some people who might be categorized as a different species. In fact, we might call them APEs. They see the world and the church a little differently than others. For many pastors and church leaders, these APEs may be frustrated and frustrating. They can often be identified by their discontent about the right things.
There are plenty of people in the church who are discontented troublemakers, but what I’m talking about is frustration that we are not reaching more people, that we are not getting outside of the walls of our churches, that we have lost the missionary heart of our faith. These people often long for something bigger. In the worst-case scenario, these people are treated like nails that have worked themselves out of place on a staircase. Standing out is harmful and they need to be pounded back into place.
APEs are simply one segment of gifts God has given to the church. They are Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists. We can cage them or we can release them.
In the church at large, we haven’t always done a great job recognizing important differences in the giftings of our people.
When people are misunderstood, they are also usually mistreated. This situation is good soil for dissension and division to emerge. But as we remember the passage above, all five gifts are just that – gifts from God to his Church. Their purpose is equipping the church for the work of ministry, building the Body, attaining unity, and maturing and growing up into Christ. The intended result is hefty and we ought to see in that the importance of understanding and making room for these gifts in the church.
The cornerstone of the church is Jesus Christ. The foundation of the church are the Apostles and Prophets. The Evangelists are the hinge between the Apostles/Prophets and the Shepherd/Teachers. The Shepherd/Teachers are what we know best – and we all know about Evangelists and feel guilty that we aren’t all Evangelists or better Evangelists than we already are. If that rings true for you at all, then you, like me, have lived with an incomplete and unhealthy view of the gifts God has given to his church.
What could happen if we committed to broadening our view of God’s gifts to the church, looking for those gifts, and then doing everything we could to empower them? This is the difference between caging APEs who are already in our churches and releasing them for the good of the church and the expansion of the kingdom.
First published on Change Your Neighborhood
I’ve only recently discovered that I’m more of a “Church Planting Movements” guy than I am a strictly “Collegiate” guy. When I look at a college student, I don’t see their year in school, their major, or their age. I see a potential church planter and movement catalyst.
Today was a special day that reminded me of something important. In the center of the picture above is one of our guys who is graduating in just a few short weeks. He has spent this last school year with us, leaning in from the very beginning. Every time we would go out into the harvest, Jordan was with us. He’s quiet, huble, and committed. Over the course of this year, he has been faithfully (and quietly) reproducing our training and practices in his home church in Ronda, NC (pop. 417). Today, he had arranged for a small group of us to come down the mountain to model Entry Strategy for them.
A wide-angle of this picture would reveal that in this group are his pastor, his parents, one of his Timothys (a disciple he is intentionally mentoring), and his Timothy’s grandfather, among others. As a young man not even out of college yet, Jordan is helping to lead his legacy church into the harvest to make disciples.
If we raise the bar and set higher expectations for our students, they will turn the world upside down. We will still coach him and connect with him from a distance, but he is a great example of one way God can use college students post-college to spark movement beyond their campus for the gospel and the kingdom of God.
I’ve never been all that good at celebrating. For better or for worse, I don’t dwell. Not long back I heard someone say that what we celebrate gets replicated. Similarly, I heard someone else say we get what we count. I can’t remember where it was that I heard those things, but they got me thinking.
One thing we have been working to build into our culture is a habit of broadly sharing the gospel. It occurred to me – what if we counted gospel shares and celebrated each one? For a while, I kept track of our gospel shares (among other info) in a pocket notebook and everyone reported it all directly to me. It didn’t take long for that to become difficult to maintain or keep up to date.
Each week in our campus church we would celebrate what we’ve been seeing Jesus do during a time we called Stories from the Harvest. Each week I would write the updated numbers on the board to celebrate as we told the stories behind the numbers to keep everyone up to date – this way we could celebrate the quantities and the quality.
Towards the end of our first semester sharing the gospel more broadly, I knew I couldn’t keep track of everything myself without slowing the whole process down tremendously. We had to do something different. Because everyone was reporting to me, it felt like they were engaged in my mission, not their own.
How could we give away ownership of the mission and still celebrate it well?
I decided to put together a simple Google Form that automatically filled in a connected Google Sheet. Here’s what the form looks like:
With a little bit of web-magic we have the total number of gospel shares displayed on an unlisted page on our ministry’s website. This is what we see:
In between these two things is the spreadsheet that gets auto-populated with the information shared through the form. It is dead simple. The timestamp is recorded automatically and the other two items are the required options on the form. The next image is the cumulative info from the form – no one else sees this. The web-magic (talk to my web guy – I couldn’t do it myself) totals out column B and displays it on the website as you saw above.
We give the link to the form and the link to the report to our students so that we can all share and celebrate as we go. One simple way to access either one is by bookmarking them in our phone browsers so that they just pop up:
To make it even quicker, some will turn the form into an “app” by tapping the share sheet like this:
You add it to the home screen like this:
Then you get this simple “app” which loads the website with the form and it is always at the ready:
The whole point is making it simple to track gospel shares. The point isn’t that I know everything all the time. The point is that we can all celebrate better when we do the work of stewarding our work.
This process won’t be right for everyone, but I would encourage you to consider what it is you want to replicate and how you can better count it and celebrate it. I wrote a little about clarifying important metrics here. I hope this is helpful to you – let me know what works best for you!