What Are We Aiming For…?

“We must stop being so worried about the “sustainability” of churches, and focus on the quality of the disciple due to their time in that community…”

A few days ago I mentioned I was going to continue with what I felt was one of the most important lessons we learned during our time in Las Vegas. To get caught up, Click Here to read the previous post…the following is among many of the things we have learned in the past two years, but something I have been thinking a lot about lately. It will shape & mold how we do things from here on out, and have a tremendous impact on how we will pursue “things” once we arrive in Austin…

Overall, I have determined that Christ is TRULY concerned with the individual Disciples who make up His body (the Church). He is concerned with the growth of those “parts”, knowing that if they are healthy then the body as a whole will be healthy. Many of us fall into the trap of caring/worrying/pursuing more about the “sustainability” of the new “church” or “community” that the health of the individual disciple can be overlooked. The fact is if the disciple is not healthy the church is not healthy. The truth is while most simple/organic churches will not (in many cases SHOULD NOT) be in existence for more than a couple of years, the quality of the disciple will live on forever no matter where they are geographically. (This has been our experience thus far)

As many of you know, at Intentional Gatherings we do like to see new faith communities birthed as a result of discipleship. However, we must constantly fight, and remind ourselves that these new faith communities are a means to an end; they are not an end in themselves. The hope is that they would produce and foster healthy, mature, and reproducible disciples. As disciples are reproduced the Body of Christ (Church) grows and is made more pure for His return. This is a beautiful thing.

I know what some of you are SCREAMING right now: “Aaron, are you saying you aren’t concerned with the actual church that is made up of those individual disciples, and are you saying Christ is not concerned with each individual church!?” I am saying that I feel Christ is extremely concerned with each individual disciple, and their obedience to whatever particular community of faith they are a part of for that time in their lives. We must remember that while there are individuals inside of different communities of faith there are also communities of faith that make up THE CHURCH. We must start with the health of the disciple. From there we will ALWAYS get a healthy community of faith (Healthy does not always mean it will “live” forever=), and thus a healthy body as a whole. If we skip the disciple and try to have a “proper” or “sustainable” faith community then we “chop the legs” out from under the Body as a Whole.

I’d rather have a church of 10-15 made up of extremely healthy kingdom-minded Jesus followers that lasts for 2-3 years than one of ANY number that lasts for decades. You see, I know that wherever those 10-15 go throughout the  rest of their lives they will continue to be that disciple, or potentially start a new church of their own.

“We must stop being so worried about the “sustainability” of churches, and focus on the quality of the disciple due to their time in that community.”

May we all begin, and continue to focus on the disciple more than we do the “entity” (whether big, small, mega, or house) in which we call, “church”. As we pursue individuals gaining a deeper understanding of the Gospel, and fall more in love with their Savior, Jesus, may HE do the rest…”build HIS Church”.

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1…A?

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.

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Intro

Previous blog written on April 15th, 2008

This journey of life has brought me to many places, and beat me up enough to teach me some great lessons. I am not quite sure if that is a good or bad thing seeing as how I am only 23. I guess it is both, bittersweet if you will. I suppose it means that I have quite a bit more life to do, lessons to learn, beatings to take, etc. But in the end I simply hope to be closer to the one who has stolen my soul. Obviously, my wife has done just that, but in a way only a human can. However, my Jesus has taken this thievery of the heart to a new level. He has stolen it in such a way that I cannot describe. Therefore, I am not even going to try at this point. I say all of this to preface the thoughts to come. Please know that it is the Spirit of Jesus in me that produces such words. I am also not so arrogant to think that any of these ideas are fresh and new. In fact, they are centuries old, and thousands of books have been written about what I am about to share. Many of these thoughts have come straight from my personal communion with God, conversations with friends, life experiences, reading books, and much more.

The Lord has blatantly taught me three key principles over the past three months since Morgan and I have lived in Las Vegas, Nevada. As I jotted down some notes before writing this I realized that I had some things out of order. At first these key ideas came out of my head, and onto the paper as follows: 1) Spend more time with less people 2) Man’s expectations have crippled, and continue to cripple the growth of the kingdom 3) Christians suck at reaching the lost. After writing the three down, reading over them, and thinking through them I realized that the third idea is actually what has led to the need to bring attention to the first two. We now have a new order: 1) Christians suck at reaching the lost because 2) Man’s expectations have crippled, and continue to cripple the growth of the kingdom so 3) We need to spend more time with less people. I would love it if you would allow me to expand on these ideas a bit…

Parts 1, 2, & 3 to come…thanks for reading, and I hope you will continue to follow this essay over the next three entries.