Why “church planters” Suck at Reaching the Lost
(This one might hurt…it hurt ME to write)
Previous blog written on May 14th, 2008
This is follow-up from part 1 of the “Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost” entry. I couldn’t just pick on the everyday Christian, and had to ask, “well, who is responsible for training, and leading these everyday Christians!?” (I want to start off by saying that I have been one of these “church planters”, “trainers of everyday Christians”, etc. I am guilty. I repent daily. I beg the Lord for something different, something fresh, and something new…heck, something Biblical.) I was recently in Orlando with a large group of “church planters” at Exponential 08′, which is one of the largest church planter’s conferences in the country. I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with a few of the key speakers/authors outside of the conference. These are guys who are introducing new thoughts into the picture for what life as a disciple of Christ looks like according to the scriptures, and the implications that result for those of us who claim to be disciples. We sat around chatting about things, and it led me to the following thought…”church planters” (Me) suck at reaching the lost. There are many reasons for this. I will attempt to touch on a few of them…
We have been planting churches for the already churched for years. Most of our plans, strategies, models, etc. include language and practices that the average Christian is familiar with, or can relate to. However, those outside of the church, who do not have any church background or Christian upbringing are lost in the mix do to a HUGE language/culture barrier. Most of our “church growth” is a result of Christians transferring from one church to the other. We MUST stop planting churches for ourselves, and start being Disciples of Christ who focus on being missional in our communities. We MUST stop kidding ourselves into thinking that the large numbers in our weekly services are a legitimate measure for success. Are those numbers bad? NO. But are we reaching the lost, or simply entertaining a tragic game of “musical churches” for Christians?
I will not be so arrogant as to think that some disciples are not being added to the kingdom as a result of our current form of church, and church practices in America. However, I would submit that we have things backwards. We “plant churches” thinking that it will produce disciples. The opposite, in fact, is what we find in scripture. Jesus COMMANDED us to “go and make disciples”. He never even so much as suggested that we go “plant churches”. Interesting. I have experienced personally that when we start with the disciple, “church” naturally happens. When we start with the disciple those disciples become The Church; they don’t start going to church. They become a part of The Body of Christ. Of course, a natural result of people becoming radically transformed by the Gospel, and living missionally in the context of community, are the “church practices” that follow. Notice though, that these “church practices” are merely a RESULT/REACTION of transformed disciples; they are not the “end”, but simply a “means to the end”. In America we start with the “church practices”, invite others to join those practices, on our terms, and hope that a disciple is produced. We accidentally get consumed with those practices, so much that a team of professionals now has to manage those practices. Typically, those managers of “the practices” must have extensive Biblical Degrees, and demand control of this finely tuned machine, lest they lose control. Ladies and gentleman…ding ding ding: church planter. Me, if I’m not VERY careful. (Except I don’t have a seminary degree…ooops)
Do we find anyone in the Bible ever intentionally “planting churches”? Not that I can find. Interesting. I realize that Paul went to new cities, raised up disciples of “The Way”, and then left. I would submit that he went to those cities to raise up disciples of Christ, and the result was people living in the context of tight-knit community. The followers of Christ in those cities were naturally led into certain “church practices”. His follow-up letters are addressed to “The Church at (fill in the blank)”. He was referring to the people, or community of believers when he refers to them as The Church. He also addressed The Church by the CITY the people lived in. Not by denomination, or what building they attended on a weekly basis. “When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1) There are verses all throughout Acts that describe this idea of The Body of Christ being together within the cities they resided. They were defined in their city by the way they lived their lives. The outsiders actually labeled them as “Christians”, or “mini Jesus'”. They didn’t even place that label on themselves! They simply lived out the Gospel of Jesus in community with one another, and received their label from others. They were the Bride of Christ, they were The Church. I fear that we have lost the art of being, and raising up disciples in our attempt to “plant churches”. When will we begin to raise up disciples who will go to, or be in their cities in order to truly reach those who do not know Jesus? When will we stop creating machines that busy the “Christian” with programs, and choke out the movement of the Holy Spirit because man takes total control? (If the previous statement does not apply to your church then do not let it offend you. If you feel offended then it might apply, and require some issues to be addressed. Please hear my heart, and receive this gently. I pray for the day when we can all have mutual accountability within the Body of Christ, and “spur one another on to goodness”.)
When will regular, everyday Christ followers feel the freedom, desire, and responsibility to live the Gospel outside the walls of an institution? Is the institution bad? No. Does it do good things? Absolutely. Is the church (little “c”/institution) as we know it in America a catalyst for a movement of the Holy Spirit that sweeps through communities, and transforms the multitudes as we read about it the scriptures? Tears come to my eyes as the hard truth leads me to answer that question with a broken…. “NO”. (There are some RARE exceptions to this statement). This is not an easy realization to come to. It challenges, and changes everything I have ever known about “church”. However, I cannot escape the fact that much of what I see in our “church practices” in America are nowhere to be found in the scriptures. I wonder what it would look like if those of us who call ourselves “church planters” allowed that label to be placed on us AFTER we have raised up disciples in the cities we inhabit? After all, in the scriptures The Church is The Body of Christ. How can we go to a city with a name, budget, location, website, core values, prospectus, mission statement, staff, and plant a “church” with no disciples!? No people? No Body? It seems a bit presumptuous doesn’t it? It’s time we start going places with the intentions of raising up disciples, be led into missional community with one another, and then look back and say, “Praise Christ! Look at THE CHURCH that was planted!”
I do not want to be a mere complainer, someone who tears down and deconstructs. So, please know that I believe there are answers and solutions to the above issues. As my close friend, and mentor Lance Ford told me today regarding this entry: “…include some answers…we can deconstruct until we’re blue in the face…”, and as Alan Hirsch says, “the best critique of the bad is the better.” I have several more entries to follow up the ones I have posted so far. God willing answers and solutions will be formed in the entries to come. Stay-tuned.