Planting Jesus, Multiplying Disciples

I used to want to be a church planter because I wanted to be cool. I wanted that stage and cool-guy mic. I wanted people to tweet what I said and I wanted a brand.

Then I took the red pill.

At least, that’s what Neil Cole would say.

“There is a red pill of sorts that opens our eyes to a more vivid reality of the Kingdom of God” (Organic Church, xviii).

His book Organic Church impacted me more than I think I even realize. It has a way of simplifying things that we Christian leaders tend to overcomplicate.

Jesus didn’t send us to plant churches. He sent us to plant the gospel. When we plant the gospel, we get disciples. When we multiply disciples, we get the church.

I have a tendency to overcomplicate things. The most difficult thing to do is fight for simplicity and stay laser-focused on the most important things. My focus was on me. Cole’s book was the first one that challenged my perspective of the kingdom of God and called me to meaningful simplicity. Most importantly, he called me to step down from the stage in my mind and put Jesus on the throne. He reminded me that Jesus called me to be a disciple who makes disciples, no more, no less.

Students Launching Missional Communities

“Jesus wants to see students live their lives as their mission.”
“what vehicle (structure) are you using to give students the opportunity to be disciple-makers and live their lives as their mission? This is an important question because you can say things like, “You are the church, be the church,” and “go and make disciples,” and “live your life as your mission,” and “serve your friends in Jesus’ name,” all day long. But, if you don’t have a vehicle built into your ministry that allows students to actually do those things, then your words will eventually get old, lose their meaning, and cause confusion.””It’s imperative that your vehicles and structures allow your mission and vision to become reality.”

This is from a really interesting post on Collegiate Collective by Mike Suit. I love how focused he is on building the ministry to accomplish the vision. My INTP nature makes it easy for me to get stuck in the 30,000ft conceptual. Mike challenges us to bring it down to systems and vehicles. 

Multicampus Ministry

We weren’t ready.

The Lord had called me to multicampus ministry. Is he calling you? Is your vision bigger than your campus? Will you pray about where God might be calling you to go?

Steven Crawford of The Navigators at USC wrote these words for a post at the Collegiate Collective. This mentality is exactly what it will take to see #NoCampusLeft. Have you considered the questions he poses? We weren’t ready to start something at Lees McRae College, but we went for it because it was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. The truth is, I think we would never have been “ready” anyway. 

Fixing “Missional”

the problem with buzzwords is that they come and go, and often, the idea they represent comes and goes with them. It seems that in the past year or so, the same people working the word “missional” into every sentence suddenly stopped talking about it. The frequency of the term slipped from buzzword territory into near non-existence. It’s time we reclaimed the idea of living missionally without using it just as a watered-down church term.

Jarod Grice addressed a key shift taking place in Christian circles in an article for Relevant Magazine. “Missional” may have been a buzzword that is fading out of our language, but it should never fade out of our identity and practices. 

On Under-programming 

Nearly every evangelical, when pressed, would insist that the church is people, not a place. A building is not a church. A set of programs is not a church. A structure is not a church. Christians together are the church. A local church is a local community of Christians covenanting together under the biblical pattern of sacraments, fellowship, discipleship, authority, and mission. But surely this is harder to say with integrity in the bloated attractional church.

Jared C. Wilson has written this insightful post about under-programming the church. I’m all for simplifying and strengthening our focus. Many of his points resonate deeply with me in this journey to decentralize BCM. Let’s learn to do just a few things well. #1 for us is multiplying disciples. 

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?

Thinking About Social Media

My friend Evan Blackerby shared this link today from Time about an Australian gal named Essena who apparently was an Instagram super-hit (500,000+ followers) and just locked down her platforms and plastered them with the message, “Social Media is Not Real.” She was about as successful as you can be and felt empty nonetheless, prompting her to do this shut-down.

If Essena pulled herself off of social media, Seth Godin was never on social media. He’s written something like 17 books and has a massively popular daily blog. And he’s been doing it for years without interruption, and the blog isn’t his biggest thing.

I have a range of thoughts about social media, from whole-hearted endorsement to deep reservations, depending on the use case and platform. Social media has become so ubiquitous so quickly that, by and large, we have no idea what it is doing to the world and what it is doing to us. It offers us some unique ministry and networking opportunities, for sure, but what would break without it? Is it breaking us?

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.

Future-Proof Ministry

Recently I participated in a thought experiment with some fellow collegiate ministry leaders. We were all given the same scenario:

“In 12 months you will be dead. After the first 9 months, you will no longer be able to leave your house. List the steps you will need to take to ensure the future stability of your ministry after your death.”

Our responses spanned from simple preparatory actions to a long list of paradigm-altering shifts in a very short time. I was somewhere in the middle. It was surprisingly clarifying for me as I looked at this giant yellow wall-sized Post-it note filled with actions needed for my ministry to survive me. It was equally sobering to see the ways in which the ministry I lead is dependent on me. If I died, it would too.

There’s something about ministry that makes it hard to release to others – even those we trust. We pour ourselves into it for the sake of life-change and we hold on so tightly, we can end up choking it, or at least being too controlling. Most of the time, we don’t even realize it’s happening.

What if the most strategic thing I can do as a leader in my ministry is to lean back rather than lean in? It challenges my team to step up and take ownership and it challenges me to learn to take my hands off of as much direct leadership and start focusing more on empowering other leaders around me.

A couple of questions are bouncing around in my mind:

  • Am I intentionally replacing myself?
  • How am I going about future-proofing my ministry?

What are your answers to these questions?