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.
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?
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?
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: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations
by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
- “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
- When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized.
- It’s easy to mistake starfish for a spiders.
- An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.
- Open systems can easily mutate.
- The decentralized system sneaks up on you.
- 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.
About three weeks ago I became a support-based missionary. Kelly and I have considered a number of support-based ministry positions going back to 2009, but we never took the plunge. In fact, it was the support-based component of some of these positions that sometimes scared us off. We knew that support raising was a biblical concept and had no real intellectual hangups, but we simply weren’t ready to take the plunge.
When I accepted the call to relocate to NC and lead BCM, I was accepting a salaried position in a place with an established ministry and had not just an office, but a ministry facility. If I’m being completely honest, while I wasn’t motivated by those things, I wasn’t disappointed by the prospect of a salary and a more established role. It didn’t take too long to realize that for BCM to transition into financial stability it would require that I make a major decision. I could avoid support raising personally if I cut our budget drastically and limited the amount of ministry and leadership we could afford. I’ve never been a fan of such a retreatist mentality, and thus, the whole organization would need to evolve into a support-based organization. With one staff person already serving at BCM and operating as a support-based missionary, even if I wanted to avoid support raising, I couldn’t avoid the inequality if I maintained my salary while I had a growing staff team of 100% support-based missionaries. Not to mention, how would I be able to relate with them and unite with them? Some friends and family have wondered if I’m nuts to lead our organization directly into support-based ministry. I’m thankful to have people who care enough to wonder about my sanity. They are godly and caring people.
Over the last three weeks I’ve been waist-deep in support raising. I’ve sent out letters, made phone calls, and had face to face conversations. I have already been astounded by how God works through a ministry like support raising. In facing a rather large number as a financial goal I’m attempting to raise, I have quickly realized that while I do need monthly financial support to feed my family and pay my bills, the real focus in support raising is building partnerships with people. As a result, I have decided to adopt a familiar phrasing for support raising for our staff team and ministry – “Ministry Partnership Development.” The term “support raising” is good enough, but the focus is more on finances, similar to the term “fund-raising.” What I have experienced so far is that this is more about the relationships than the resources. I’m not looking for financial backers so much as ministry partners. I have a long way to go and a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I am already thanking God that I get the opportunity to put my faith in God’s provision to the test. He is faithful.
Yesterday I reflected on remembering the risen Lord Jesus. The Monday after Easter is when our belief is tested. What do we do now? Peter returned to his previous life of fishing after Jesus’ death, but then Jesus came to him again. Like Peter, we return to our lives at the end of Holy Week. What makes us as Jesus followers any different from the rest of the world the day after Holy Week is over? Our response to the resurrection of Jesus should be a renewed vision for the directions Jesus gave us after he rose and just before he ascended.
He simply said, “Make disciples.”
If we view the Easter as simply a meaningful and moving religious observance, then we have grossly misunderstood and undervalued it. As I stated yesterday, this is exactly what the disciples did in response to Jesus’ death. They thought it was all over. Jesus was dead and they might have felt foolish for thinking that Jesus had come to overthrow the government and to establish a new and holy theocracy. But he was killed.
Jesus didn’t scold his disciples. He lovingly invited them in again. Once they started understating what was happening, Jesus then gave them their marching orders.
Speak the words.
Proclaim the kingdom.
Teach them to obey Jesus.
In the same self-sacrificial, misunderstood, loving, selfless way that Jesus was commissioned into the world, so we are sent like him (John 17:18).
Yesterday, we reflected on the meaning of Easter after Easter is over. The resurrection was something for one day; it was the inauguration of a totally new way of life. Today, we must reflect on those marching orders Jesus gave us.
For now I’ll leave you with 2 questions:
- Are you a follower of Jesus?
- Are you making disciples of Jesus?
For 40 days leading up to Easter, many people (however religious they may or may not be) observed the season of Lent. The crescendo of this period of waiting, hoping, and fasting, is Easter – the day when God raised Jesus from the dead. Yesterday many crowds of people marked this special day, and yet it is today that we live the reality of the risen Lord Jesus.
Who can blame Peter for returning to his lifestyle of fishing on Saturday? He was a fisherman when Jesus interrupted his life and called him to follow and to fish in a whole new way. It isn’t so difficult to see that Peter had no idea what he was getting himself into when he chose to follow Jesus. That should come as a relief to us who follow Jesus today. None of us expected to be interrupted by Jesus, and certainly none of us knew what it would mean to follow Jesus. It’s no poor reflection on Peter that his response to Jesus’ death was, “I’m going fishing,” (John 21:3a). This period of death, burial, and resurrection was filled with doubt for Jesus’ closest disciples, but he still returned to them.
I can’t blame Peter or the other disciples for wavering faith and some misunderstandings about who Jesus was and what he was doing because I am guilty of at least as much doubt and misunderstanding. We can get caught up in the religious ceremony of Easter like much of the Christendom world can, but today is the day to continue living in the light of the risen Lord Jesus. If we don’t live in light of the resurrection today, then what did this weekend mean to us who celebrated this resurrection? Who is this Jesus to us? If he is truly the risen Lord, the conqueror of death, the forgiver of sins, the one reigning at the right hand of God, then let us respond accordingly! Let us not simply pay him lip-service as our lives have been forever changed by his triumph!
Yesterday I was having a discussion with Molly and Anna, the BCM staff here at our ASU office, about strategy and mission, when a couple of guys walked in the door. I had met them once before. One was a BSU (Baptist Student Union – what BCM was many years ago) grad from 20 years ago and the other was a colleague of his. They are teachers at a high school down the mountain. They were up for the day to speak to some Education classes, so they decided to come see us, say hello, share some news with us, and pray with us. I was already encouraged when I met these guys last year. They knew one of our recent alumni (who is now serving as a full time missionary in London with the IMB for 2 years) and had both taught her and coached her. They were excited to hear that she was a missionary and we were excited to hear that they had such an impact on her when she was growing up.
When I think of all the ways BCM (or BSU) has changed over the years and decades, it is hard to imagine that legacy that walked in our door yesterday. I often say, “Campus Ministry is a forgetful institution.” Every 4 years we have a whole new batch of students and in that time, lots of little things change on campus and in our ministry. One thing has not changed – God is impacting students lives through BCM. If you’re a student, know that what God is doing in you right now can have a ripple effect for decades to come. If you are not a student or a campus person, this is a good reminder of just how important the campus is as a mission field.
Thanks Matt, for being such an encouragement to us, and thanks to all of you who pray for us on a regular basis! We could do this without you all!