Kingdom Partnership

Pictured above are 3 of our Appalachian State students surrounded by the #NoPlaceLeft team based in South Florida. One of our students has family in that area and the 3 of them were visiting them over Spring Break. During their in South Florida, they visited the SFL NPL team church. This team has blessed me in many ways, and this took it to another level. They welcomed our students in to their church, gave them responsibilities during the meeting, and laid hands on them and prayed over them.

One of the challenges and opportunities in doing #NoPlaceLeft movements work on a college campus is that we have a limited time with every student who comes our way. We have to have a vision for them that exists before they arrive and doesn’t end when we launch them off from graduation. One critical component in this vision is how we launch them when they leave. There are many #NoPlaceLeft teams across the U.S. and we want to mobilize kingdom laborers to embed in local strategies in cities all across the country.

We represent separate #NoPlaceLeft teams, but we are running after the same vision in different places. We are family and I’m so grateful for this family.

Decentralize or Die

fire

The biggest mistake I ever made in ministry was starting a worship gathering. I had 35-40 students between 4 campuses and the only thing they all had in common with one another was me. We needed connection, and what could connect us better than a weekly worship gathering? When I pitched the idea of starting a combined worship gathering at my church (which was roughly equidistant from each campus), they got excited about it.

Two students led worship. One ran sound and lights. The rest attended – most of the time. Attendance ranged from 20-45. Then 12 on one night. I preached to 12 students in a cavernous sanctuary one night. This all took place in a sanctuary with scarlet carpet that could seat as many as 300 if you packed in tight. Think about that.

The reason it was such a mistake to launch this worship gathering wasn’t because we didn’t have enough students yet (we didn’t). It was a mistake because the moment we launched the gathering, it took us 10 miles away from any campus. It capitalized on my time and took my focus away from the reason I was there in the first place — to reach students who were far from God with the gospel. I told myself that the gathering would help us reach students more effectively and that it would unite all my students across campuses.

None of the students ever really connected with anyone in a new way, and we became less connected with campus life. The weekly gathering quickly became our biggest distraction from mission and our biggest barrier for community. It hijacked our mission. Simply ignoring this fact would be a convenient negligence on my part.

What would you do if you had no ministry facility, no budget, no tradition, and the campus wouldn’t grant you Registered Student Organization (RSO) status? In my time starting that campus ministry in Ohio, I never had these luxuries. If our ministry model demands that we fit everyone in the same room at the same time, our response to ever-increasing campus restrictions might be simply to resist and fight for “our” territory. I never had territory in Ohio. I suggest an alternative. Let’s stop fighting the loss of territory and reconsider how we structure our ministry. We can either be proactive and prepare for the future now, or we can be reactive and wait for our campuses to squeeze us ever tighter.

We are currently multiplying to a new campus and we haven’t created any promo materials, we are not seeking RSO status, and we aren’t seeking to start a weekly worship gathering. Rather, we are relying on a simple process for multiplicative disciple-making.

Decentralizing a ministry isn’t a choice of preference. It is about the end-vision. Our end-vision is that we want to see no place left without a gospel presence on our campuses. If we truly want to saturate our campuses with the gospel, we cannot truly believe that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. It hasn’t yet. Why should we expect that to change? I think we can do better. Ideology is the fuel for a decentralized organization. Without a shared ideology, a decentralized organization will simply fall apart and wither away. Our vision is our ideology.

In a centralized ministry, evaluation is often based on attendance at the central gathering. The assumption is that if attendance is high, something must be working. We are successful. If it is low, something must be wrong. In a decentralized organization, metrics for success must be reevaluated. A decentralized organization is built on a network of circles (we call them “Gospel Communities”), so we must evaluate not just the number of circles and number of circle members, but we must evaluate engagement with outsiders, activity of circles, multiplication of circles, etc. Note that this is not a plea for more “Small Groups” or “Community Groups” or “Sunday School” etc. What I am talking about is a network of self-contained, self-sustaining, totally independent and autonomous groups, each containing our complete DNA.

I have often tried to keep my ministry as neat and tidy as I can. I seek order and try to contain and eliminate chaos. I don’t think we always understand the messiness of ministry. In a manner of speaking, Proverbs 14:4 says that we should expect a healthy and growing ministry to be messy. We must tend to the mess, but we shouldn’t avoid it. Decentralization recognizes the messiness of ministry, and sometimes even empowers it, especially as movements break out. In a decentralized ministry, if we try to control everything, we will stifle and kill it. We must trade control for cultivation.

Sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than sitting around a campfire with close friends. A campfire is safe as long as it is contained. Some campfires are large; others are small. I am proposing that we abandon our controlled campfires and start unleashing wildfires. Wildfires are not controlled and they can barely be contained. They are a living example of the power of a decentralized movement. May God engulf our campuses with uncontained wildfires of multiplying gospel impact!


I wrote this post initially for the No Campus Left blog and it was then published on Collegiate Collective.

Family From Mission

The last 2 years have been difficult. We came realized that BCM wasn’t making disciples and it broke our hearts. Week in and week out I would teach from the scriptures and press our students and our ministry toward missionary engagement with the campus. All the while we were meeting for baptist services in a baptist church. None of our meetings were taking place on campus. We had no intentional or consistent pathway for making disciples. We hadn’t seen a single person decide to turn and follow Jesus in 5 years or more. We were sending fewer students on overseas missions each year. Our ministry was shrinking.

This fall, we turned the corner. We are deeply engaged as missionaries on our campus. We go out into the harvest consistently and often. It is more natural for someone in our ministry to share the gospel than not. It isn’t even unexpected when we hear of another student deciding to turn and follow Jesus because two of our students had shared the gospel with them and were discipling them towards Jesus.

We have just celebrated our annual Thanksgiving Feast as a BCM family. It is an exciting and encouraging event because our family gathers around the table and we enjoy one another and what God has done to bring us together. This year, we experienced something different and beautiful. We had to go around the room and introduce ourselves and share how we got connected with this group. What we experienced was a living generational map (or “gen map” for short). There were 4 new believers in the room with us, each with the person who led them to Christ standing next to them. As we listened to each person share how they were connected, we heard stories like this:

“She shared the gospel with me out on Sanford Mall and we’ve been meeting ever since.”

“I was sick in some girl’s bed and he shared the gospel with me, and we’ve been meeting ever since.”

“I was found on a House of Peace Search in my dorm.”

It was a powerful moment for me. I got to meet new believers our students have led to Christ. I’m not “the guy” for any of these people. But we are family nonetheless. We often try to build family first and then go out on mission together. Tonight, it was clear that we went out on mission together, and God turned us into a family.

Link: Think like a Starfish

This post by Scott Kindig and T.J. Joy on the Collegiate Collective is an excellent perspective  on decentralized ministry. Transcending buildings and the need to gather everyone all at once could very well be the key to a much broader and more effective mission. I certainly believe that it is. 

If you are able to decentralize your leadership and get the disciple making DNA of Christ into the students, the location problem will take care of itself. As we help students leverage their ability in Christ to make disciples, the gospel moves from the church building to the dining halls, classrooms, and dorms on campus. We must give our ministries away to the students and mobilize them across campus.

“I believe that every believer has the potential for world transformation in them. If you think that is such an overstatement then think of this … a seed is a potential for a tree and a tree is a potential for a forest but it is all contained in a tree; all the potential of a forest is contained in the one seed. In the same way every believer has the potential for world transformation. There is an “ecclesia” in every one of us and in every “ecclesia” there is a potential for a movement. When we begin to see the church this way, everything changes. It is a massive shift in the way we see ourselves as God’s people.”

–Alan Hirsch

Becoming Storytellers

Over the last year BCM has gone from a traditional model of a single staffer, a building as the central meeting place, and a budget funded by the denomination to a multi-staff, decentralized, support-based organization. There is much to share about why this transition happened, growth points, and what we’re learning along the way. I want to do a better job of sharing the things I’m learning and the resources I’m using. 

I’ve written a little about decentralization here, here, and here. Without a single time and place where our ministry “happens,” we have discovered some pain points. It is rare for us all to be on the same page with what is happening in our ministry naturally. We are learning how to be a (somewhat) distributed team. 

Formerly we all attended the same large group gatherings. Now we are all involved in different Gospel Communities spread across the week and across the campus. In a decentralized ministry it can be deceptively easy to lose touch and be out of the loop. The single tool that has helped us the most is Slack. It is our asynchronous communication hub. It’s a group messaging platform. We create “channels” based on the topics we need to address so that our conversations remain unified and (somewhat) coherent. It has eliminated nearly all email and text messaging for us. 

 Each of the words in left sidebar represent the various channels we currently have active. Each staff accesses Slack from their phones and their iPads – they could even log in on the web from any computer. Since we are only in the same room all at the same time once per week at most, we have to work a little harder on communicating consistently and clearly. 

Every month everyone on the BCM team is sending out their own personal newsletters to their supporters. It can be tough to recall what happened over the last month, but I am finding that Slack can be really helpful for this. In Slack you can “star” any message to save it for later. My list of “starred” messages is my list of celebrations and a list of potential topics for future newsletters. We are committed to improving our ministry, but we must be just as committed to telling our stories well. 

How do you communicate with your team, and how do you record things to celebrate as a team and with your supporters?

How I Decided to Decentralize

It took over a year to decide to decentralize BCM. Before we ever started talking about anything like a decentralized model, we started with the vision that drives us now. 

No Place Left. 

We were asking ourselves and our students, “How can we reach so widely across this campus that there will be No Place Left without a gospel presence?” What would it take to start a multiplying gospel presence in every dorm and every department? How can we do ministry that works equally well with undergrads, grad students, faculty, and administration alike?

We could either provide programs for the students looking for Christian programs, or we could mobilize every Christian possible to reach their own networks and neighborhoods. The only way we saw to really engage with the No Place Left vision was to flatten our ministry and focus on engaging, training, and releasing. 

We didn’t have it all figured out when we started this process, and we still don’t, but we knew this was the right direction. We thought decentralizing BCM would be a shift in our model. It turns out, it is an entire culture shift. How we think, talk, plan, and act is having to change to line up with this vision. 

No Place Left is biblical and compelling enough to make it worth the difficulty of such a major culture shift. 

BCM Thanksgiving Feast

Last night we celebrated Thanksgiving with a gaggle of students and staff at the Puckett house. There’s nothing better than a table full of food and a living room full of friends.

As BCM is becoming more and more decentralized, this family meal setting is going to be more and more important. I’m really thankful that I get to do what I do.

Release: Decentralizing Means Letting Go

The opposite of “release” is “gather.” Most of what I’ve experienced in ministry leadership has revolved around gathering. We celebrate the number of people we can gather into a room for a weekly “gathering,” and we work ever harder to build up those events that aren’t doing such a good job of gathering people. The most compelling ministry story is one that chronicles an event of seam-bursting attendance. 

We can trust God to protect us and save us, so why can’t we trust God to work even when we take our hands away from something? Gathering people is a biblical concept, but the size, location, and purpose can often become a major bottleneck for multiplication.

There can be an unhealthy dependency in a ministry that breaks the moment the leader is absent. That’s a failure. 

How long is it appropriate for a child to ride a bike with training wheels? Only as long as needed. But not a minute longer. And the child probably doesn’t make the decision to take off the training wheels. But they are released to discover their ability to do something they never thought they could. 

Jesus didn’t gather, he empowered and released. He said, “Go.” Jesus reversed the common expectation of glorifying the gathering by regularly speaking hard truths to the big crowds to filter out people who wouldn’t follow him. What if we focused less on the big group and more on equipping people to release them on mission?

Decentralizing: End Vision

Every time I hop in my car, I have a destination in mind. There are a few times when I have driven just to drive, and I was young enough and unattached enough that I could do just that. When I did, I never got lost but I never ended up anywhere either. I just used up some fuel and time. It is easy to get so focused on doing ministry that we lose sight of our end vision. It can feel like driving just to drive. Sometimes we give little attention to key questions like:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What is success?

Without a crystal-clear vision we cannot know if we are always on the right track. It can be surprisingly easy to let the means become the end and the end becomes the means to the end.

A program might be a means to achieve the end vision, but it should never become the vision itself. God has changed the lives of many students through worship services on my campus and so many others and I am so thankful for that. On my largest and most central campus, there are around 10 solid evangelical campus ministries. If you add up the number of students who attend any of these campus ministries along with the number of those who attend church, only about 1,000 of the 18,000 students on campus identify with Jesus. It’s not a scientific count by any means, but lostness on campus is so vast that it’s impossible to miss. I can’t ignore it and I can’t pretend that what we have been doing will ever be so successful that we could expect to have a significant impact on that lostness.

Why do we exist?
BCM of the High Country exists to equip students to multiply gospel communities.

What is success?
We will be successful when there is No Place Left without a gospel presence on our campus and No Campus Left without a gospel presence in the High Country. We have 18,000 students at Appalachian State University and a combined total of 83,283 students on our 14 campuses. Most of these 14 campuses lack a gospel presence and they aren’t on anyone else’s radar.

Burning the Ships
This year we cancelled our weekly gathering, returned our keys to the church facility where we hosted those gatherings, and sold our sound equipment. It hasn’t been a welcome shift with some students, but this is the right way forward. We will focus all of our time and attention on multiplying disciples and movements. The need is far too great to do the same old things, assuming they will make a significant impact on lostness. I believe this is such an important move for us and I am learning so much along the way that I want to share this with you in hopes that you might find it useful and encouraging.

The Starfish and the Spider – Quotes, Principles, Distinctions

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations

by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

Key Quotes

  • “This book is about what happens when there’s no one in charge. It’s about what happens when there is no hierarchy. You’d think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.”
  • “The absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization once considered a weakness, has become a major asset.”
  • “In a decentralized organization, there’s no clear leader, no hierarchy, and no headquarters. If and when a leader does emerge, that person has little power over others. The best that person can do is to lead by example.”
  • “Starfish have an incredible quality to them. If you cut an arm off, most of these animals grow a new arm. And with some varieties, such as the Linckia, or long-armed starfish, the animal can replicate this magical regeneration because in reality, a starfish is a neural network – basically a network of cells. Instead of having a head like a spider, the starfish functions as a decentralized network…”

Major Principles of Decentralization

  1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized.
  2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for a spiders.
  3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.
  4. Open systems can easily mutate.
  5. The decentralized system sneaks up on you.
  6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.

Distinguishing Between a Starfish and a Spider Organization

  • Is there a person in charge?
  • Are there headquarters?
  • If you thump it on the head, will it die?
  • Is there a clear division of roles?
  • If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed?
  • Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed?
  • Is the organization flexible or rigid?
  • Can you count the employees or participants?
  • Are working groups funded by the organization, or are they self-funding?
  • Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?

Implications for Collegiate Ministry

The implications for collegiate ministry are many; too many to elaborate on presently. I will be delving into these in some depth in the future. Every step of the way there is something to be learned, considered, and implemented from this book for those of us who serve on one or more campuses. There is an invitation implied in this concept; there is also a great challenge involved. The invitation is to spread whatever it is you do (for us, the gospel) more effectively and more widely. The challenge looks squarely at our most tightly held systems and the assumptions behind them offering another path.