Orlando & Austin…

As you know we have planned “iSCPx” (Intro to Student Church Planting Experience) in 13 cities across the nation during the Spring. We’ve already made it to SoCal, and I will be heading to Orlando this weekend to be with our team there for “iSCPx Orlando”! The following weekend we will be here in Austin with our awesome group of “SCPx grads” from last summer. They will be helping me host “iSCPx Austin” here on UT’s campus! See http://studentcpx.org for info about the other cities! God is moving across the nation!

(Details for “iSCPx Austin” below)

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”.

The Church Planting Fad Continues…

“…Somewhere along the way the focus shifted OFF of the disciple and ONTO the number of new churches being started…”

I know those of you reading this blog have heard me harp on the issue of making disciples vs. planting churches many times. We can all agree that if we start with “church” we do not always, or might I say, very often at all, end up with a true Disciple of Jesus Christ. However, if we start with the Disciple we will ALWAYS see CHURCH planting follow close behind….

We have seen “church planting” become quite the fad in America over the last 20 years. In the past 5 or so years we have seen the trend shift a bit…Now, it’s not just planting a church, but planting a church that plants other churches. Somewhere along the line we decided that planting a new church is good, but we’re still just ADDING churches. To see the Gospel spread rapidly we need to see Churches multiply. For that to happen we must see the new churches planting newer churches, and so on and so forth. I believe that as the CP Fad has shifted, and we’ve created a new “scorecard”, or criteria for success we have still fallen short of the principle we agree upon in the first paragraph. Unfortunately, churches that plant churches are still not the answer…

In the past few years I’ve had the joy & pleasure of watching many of these trends unfold. I’ve watched myself fall into many of the traps myself, and seen behind the scenes of what happens to guys when we fall victim to an inaccurate metric for success in the kingdom of God. The very thought of a phrase like “metric for success”, or “scorecard” brings with it the illusion that we must perform to earn God’s favor. Obviously, this goes completely against the message of the Gospel, and purpose of Christ’s death on the cross. We must be VERY careful that we:

“…do not perform to earn God’s favor, but OBEY because we are overwhelmed that we ALREADY have His favor.”

There are obvious scriptural references that lead us to believe, as followers of Christ, our lives should bare much fruit. In order to bare fruit it is wise to have goals, and ways to “measure” the fruit of those goals. However, we must constantly be open to whether or not the goals we were pursuing were the right goals in the first place. Are they producing Biblical fruit based upon what Christ has commanded us to do, or a worldly product that men have declared as “fruit”?

What I am submitting with this post is that our “pursuits/goals”, & the “measurement system” that follow are still far from what Christ had/has in mind. (Perhaps the goal in and of itself is a good one, but the order, and/or route we choose to get there is where the problem lies…?)

The problem with the “new fad”/goal/measure of success being a “church planting church” (A church that intentionally plants more churches out of it) is that it STILL does not start with the disciple. Somewhere along the way the focus shifts OFF of the disciple and ONTO the number of new churches being started. Guys, we can TALK all we want about how we’re about “fulfilling the great commission” and “starting with the disciple”. However, our actions, budgets, time, energy, conferences, books, sermons, blogs, twitter posts, etc. PROVE that we are about planting churches (NOT the goal) and NOT about making disciples (The GOAL). Again, the D will result in CP. We have, once AGAIN, bi-passed the initial/root PURPOSE of focusing on the DISCIPLE-trusting that as we MAKE DISCIPLES Christ will “build His Church”.

Let’s face it-a large church with lots of money, people, & and an influential leader can plant lots of churches…and God help us, those new churches can be started without many TRUE Disciples of Christ being raised up. When the goal/fad that sells the books and gets the attention is on church planting-we, as sinful men, will do all that we can do to be successful in that goal-even if making disciples is set on the back burner.

I have been, and am still fighting against falling into this trap on a daily basis. Let’s face it: Intentional Gatherings looks much much more successful as an organization if I tell it’s supporters that we’ve seen “40 new lay-led simple churches started in the last year”. When that becomes the goal, how we measure success, and what causes people to believe in what we do we will accidentally start frantically trying to plant more churches instead of obediently making disciples…ouch.

The point here is that the professional staff of a church, or “church planting organization” continue to be the ones planting the churches. Money is thrown around like candy at guys in the name of “church planting”. No new lay-led communities of faith are birthing from the Harvest. The entire body of Christ is not being equipped to BE the Church & live out their faith in such a way that acts as a conduit for the Gospel to spread rapidly. In fact, you might find that if you interviewed “members” of a well-known “Church Planting Church” that “Church Planting” is foreign to them, and not “on their radar” at all. It may be an important goal/pursuit of the staff/leadership, but hardly thought about by the lay members.

Not everyone is called to be a “church planter”, or “apostolic leader”. However, EVERYONE IS called to make disciples. If we KNOW that the result of disciples being made will be new communities of faith being birthed then we should be seeing thousands of new faith communities starting all over the place as the Gospel invades the lives of unbelievers.

I have seen tons of churches started in the past few years, and even started a couple myself in name of “church planting”…Did God use them for good, and His glory? Of course. Were some disciples made, and others matured in their faith? Of course. Is it good? Yes. Could it be better? Always. Should we pursue GREAT? I want to. If we know that it starts with the Disciple, and the “church plants” will follow as disciples are made then why in the hell won’t we start focusing on the Disciple, and stop focusing on the church? Again, most of us want praise, recognition, etc. You don’t receive that type of recognition/praise for doing this…

Another Point of View…

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From Lauren, the student in Austin who desired to see a SCPx take place:

“I must say Student CPx Austin far surpassed my expectations. I always
hear people say, “If you’re vision seems possible to accomplish, then
you’re not dreaming big enough.” Real visions should be so extreme, so
ridiculous, so unlikely, that only God could do it. What happened at
CPx was so extreme, so ridiculous, and so unlikely, that looking back
I know it was all God who did it. I’m like, God I couldn’t even dream
that up if I tried.

So this is how I measure fruit- not by how powerful the worship was,
not by a number count of how many people came to Christ, nor by how
many people came to the training…. real fruit = personal
transformation. And that’s exactly what we saw.

Short memories pass through my mind of moments that are hard to think
about without crying. The tears that came from a simple prayer
breaking off generational curses. The intense freedom and joy that
released God’s children into dancing as two students got baptized, not
as a ceremony like the first time, but as a celebration. Guys, yes
guys, weeping at the effects of the church coming together in genuine
care, relationship, and fellowship; the profound contrast between
being used in order to advance someone’s ministry… and being
loved… in order to be loved. I remember Jesus baptizing some
students in ways that we couldn’t… with the Holy Spirit and with
fire. And the grateful response to being healed… by the One who’s
favorite activity is to heal every type of sickness and disease.
Students leaving with new outlooks on life, with testimonies bound to
be repeated, with a vision that chills the flesh, and a hunger that
cannot be satisfied. Three teams forming, one that will shake and
transform Joplin, Missouri, one that will fill TCU with God’s glory,
and one that will usher in the long-due revival at UT. And we will
never forget that night of prayer when we lingered in the presence of
Jesus together till our bodies demanded sleep. “His presence is life.
His absence is death.” We heard it from Brian, but we learned it from
experience.

I can’t handle the history. I just freak out. Two students named
Joshua and Caleb begin to pray and preach, longing for a move of God
they never saw with their eyes… but something was shifting the
spiritual realm. Simultaneously Lee Myers begins to bring the kingdom
of God to earth, walking in faith and healing the sick… before
disease attacks back and takes his life. God marks the students. And
then He calls forth fathers and mothers. They all begin to see the
vision that was in His eyes… all at the same time… and by destiny
they find each other and start the first Student CPx. One year later,
there are three Student CPx’s. And two of those who attended were the
first fruits of the first CPx. The story continues. The weave of divine
appointments continues to tangle, and the tree that started as a tiny
seed continues to grow, until soon all the birds of the air will find
shelter there. Sam Lee said at the first CPx, “If we were to witness
the glory of God’s plan, we would die.”
Just a glance into a fragment
of it, and I’m feeling sick. All I can say is, prepare the way of the
Lord.

There is nobody who can do what our Jesus just did. I can hear Kirk
Franklin calling…”Can I get a witness in the house?!”

Attention “Austinites”!

We just realized that many of you weren’t registering for Student CPx because you didn’t want to pay the full $250 to stay in someone else’s house when you have your own place right down the road. Duh. So, we decided to extend registration, and offer Austin locals who stay at their own place a discounted price of $150 for the ENTIRE 10 day training! On top of that you can receive an additional $50 off if you open your home up to house 2-5 CPx students for a total of $100. GO REGISTER NOW!

That’s $100 for a 10 day experience of a lifetime that will empower, and equip you for a lifetime of kingdom impact. Not to mention there will be some incredibly special people there spending time with us who have been such a blessing to this movement.

***Neil Cole, Brian Orme, Tony & Felicity Dale, Jack Allen, Michael Stewart, Jackie Markovich, Sam Lee, Erik Fish, Lauren Nanson, Dawn Delaney & MORE!***

“Good Teaching…?”

CB064071What is “good teaching”? There is one class of people who would name their favorite pastor, or conference speaker to answer that question. (Usually based upon how that person measures up on the laughter meter, or how “deep” & theological that person can dive with their eloquent sermons) Others would say that “good teaching” is a non-negotiable when searching for a “church home”. Many venture out on a journey to find a church with “good teaching”, never to find what they’re looking for. The sad thing is that the phrase “good teaching” is usually measured with an improper “scorecard”. It is usually a question of, “good entertainment”, or “did the person on the stage say anything in particular that caused me to perk up in my seat-based upon excitement, or conviction?” Or, “Did the sermons elicit any emotional response?” What then, really, is “good teaching”, and how can we shift our minds away from an inaccurate perception to a healthy, Biblical one?

My friends Tony & Felicity Dale, along with the help of George Barna, have recently come out with a book I have been reading called, “The Rabbit & the Elephant”. As soon as I am finished reading the book I will be posting a more extensive “review” if you will. Today, however, I wanted to share with you a bit of what the authors have to say about this topic of “good teaching”. I need not add anything to their words…

“Let’s look at the Apostle’s teaching first. If our simple churches are going to multiply rapidly, we no longer have the luxury of taking several years to train a Bible teacher. Anyway, the goal is not a few gifted teachers but a lot of hungry learners. Paul the apostle faced this dilemma as well-in some instances he was forced to move away from the new believers almost immediately. For example, in Philippi he only ‘stayed there several days’ (Acts 16:12, NIV). Therefore, we like to use an approach that allows the Bible to teach itself, enabling even young believers to lead. In New Testament times, teaching was far more interactive. For instance, the word used for Paul’s lengthy teaching in Ephesus is the Greek word dialegomai, from which we get our word ‘dialogue’ (Acts 20:7). Jesus’ informal teaching was frequently discussion-based and interrupted by questions He either posed Himself or was asked by others. Evangelical Christians tend to emphasize the importance of good teaching, but we believe that this is missing the point of helping people to genuinely learn Scripture and apply it to their everyday lives. Statistics show that we learn far more by actively participating than we do by hearing alone. People remember approximately 20 percent of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see and hear, and 70 percent of what the say themselves. In simple church, everyone is involved in the learning process. More than once, we have had people tell us they have learned more in just a few months of simple church than in years of listening to good sermons!”

The authors then go into a few methods of scripture study and teaching they’ve experienced in different simple churches, but you’ll have to get the book if you want to learn about those! Many evangelicals get worried that this type of teaching is dangerous, and allows potential heresy to creep in…

“Many who come from traditional church backgrounds are concerned that such an approach opens the door to heresy. We can attest that in the dozens of groups we’ve been part of over the years, we have never seen anyone sidetracked by wrong teaching. Even with the youngest Christians, we’ve found that when anything too outlandish comes up someone will usually point it out.”

Some other good tidbits from the book:

“Larger groups may run more smoothly if someone acts as a facilitator-to make sure that the study keeps moving, that everyone is taking part, and that no one (particularly the facilitator) dominates. It is not the facilitator’s job to answer questions but rather to direct the questions back to the group…by continually pointing people back to the scriptures, the facilitator ensures that the Bible remains the authority.”

“…The Bible itself is the teacher, and everyone in the group is involved in both the teaching and learning, as well as applying what is learned to daily life.”

“…The hard fact is that listening to long discourses does not turn people into disciples!”

“…Research by the Barna Group has revealed that in conventional churches in the  US, within two hours of having left a church service, the typical attender cannot identify the topic of the sermon, much less the key points communicated within it!”

“While there are many people who appreciate well-crafted and flawlessly communicated sermons, there are even more who appear to get little value from them.”

***All exerpts from “The Rabbit and the Elephant” – Chapter 10: Simply Reproducible***

Click Here to purchase the book!

Student CPx is coming to AUSTIN!

“Join us August 10th-20th to engage the diverse communities of Austin with the Gospel through a kingdom lifestyle of encountering God in community and planting churches among the lost.”

SCPx Austin promo simpleAugust 10-20. Cost: $250 (meals & lodging included)

Click Here for more details & info. about Student CPx Austin.

Click Here to register for Student CPx Austin.

Many of you are familiar with the Student CPx (Church Planter’s Experience) training that we, in partnership with several other organizations, host in different parts of the country. You may remember the “concentrated” version of SCPx we hosted in Vegas in January 09′. (More on what happened there HERE & HERE) Or, if you go way back with “aholydiscontent” you might remember me mentioning the first ever Student CPx training in Lawrence, Kansas last summer. You may have even watched powerful Baptism videos from these training experiences.

Either way, the Lord has been moving in the past year, and ordaining relationships that will hopefully lead to Student CPx trainings all over the country many times each year. The dream is that these training experiences would be led primarily by students who have gone through a previous SCPx.

That is exactly what has happened with the upcoming Student CPx in Austin. Lauren Nanson, a UT student who has gone through SCPx, had a vision to see this type of training experience brought to Austin. Many of you in the Austin area have already been pursuing this movement, and have been training students to start campus churches; we are BLESSED to partner with you in the city, and grateful to the many of you who have committed to being a part of making this happen!

I hope you will all check out the information about Student CPx, and consider being a part of this experience. If you know anyone who might benefit from SCPx please send them our way, or to the website for info/reg. If you are closer to Kansas then we encourage you to register for the SCPx in Lawrence, Kansas, which is taking place July 19-31.

Details:

Student CPx Austin: August 10-20. Cost: $250 (meals & lodging included)

Click Here for more information.

Click Here to register.

Feel free to email Lauren Nanson: l.nanson@mail.utexas.edu OR Aaron Snow: aaron@intentionalgatherings.com for more information.

Where’s The Value?

This will NOT happen if we’re worried about how we will answer when asked the question, “how many churches have you started, or how big is your church?”

I am convinced that we do not value the things that Christ valued. He intentionally poured into a small number of guys who went on to change the world. Yes, there are times when He interacted with, and encountered large groups of people. However, the majority of His time was spent with these 12 guys. He took them with Him everywhere He went, constantly asked them questions, helped them reach conclusions, and prepared them to carry out a great task. Are we trying to do the task ourselves, as if it’s up to us to do? Or, are we preparing others to carry out a task that’s too great for us alone; ushering in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

We say we value discipleship (As noted above-Jesus’ “model”), but our actions prove otherwise-across the board. We are trapped in a way of doing things in the west, and the expectations of man keep pulling us back into that trap. Man simply does not value individual people enough to actually disciple those individual’s. We want to do the things that “make it big”, or “bare MUCH fruit” in man’s eyes. We also tend to mysteriously do the things that can be traced back to being a result of what WE did; those things usually “make the papers”, ironically.

Pouring ourselves into the lives of a few people for a year’s time does NOT make the papers…but it’s what Jesus did.

So, what do we do? I am a big fan of seeking solutions to problems, and not just complaining about them. I am also a fan of DOING, and not merely talking. A lot of people are talking about a lot of this stuff, but few are practicing. I have made a commitment to the Lord this year. Against all outside pressure, and expectations to grow a kingdom of my own while calling it the growth of God’s kingdom I have decided to spend more time with less people. This is tough for many “Type A Leaders” with “strong personalities”. After all, hasn’t the Lord called us to be vessels through which He changes the world!? Doesn’t that mean we start, and grow HUGE churches!? (Or, start LOTS of churches…right?)

The problem is that we have lost the art of the heart of Jesus’ ministry; discipleship. This is the bottom line. We call ourselves “disciples” of Christ. I find it interesting that Jesus spent the majority of His time pouring into twelve ragamuffins, which eventually turned into eleven. The point is that Jesus was constantly bent towards individuals, or small groups of people.

I realize that in Acts the Holy Spirit fell on the people, and 3,000 came to know Jesus in one day! I simply feel that we have accidentally allowed the pendulum to swing too far towards “reaching the multitudes”, and in the midst of our efforts lost the art of relational discipleship. Which, in the “big picture”, would lead to reaching the multitudes. Once again, some of the most powerful stories we know from scripture involve Jesus showing favor to, and spending time with INDIVIDUALS. He then expected these individuals to RESPOND in such a way that illustrated their encounter with the Gospel.

Picture it; Jesus is walking through a large crowd of people, and ONE woman touched the edge of His cloak. He stopped and paid her the attention that only the God of the universe could. Later in Matthew Jesus is, once again, walking in a crowd. Again, He parts ways with a LARGE amount of people to call ONE man down from a tree. He then goes to have dinner with that man. As a result, the life of Zaccheous was transformed. Jesus meets the woman at the well. He extends grace to the woman caught in the act of adultery. Over and over again in the Bible Jesus shows His concern for individual people. He spends time with them. He blesses them. He pours into them. The result was people who were TRULY transformed by the grace of Jesus, and not just hit with a pellet of the Gospel spread thin as if exploding from the barrel of a shotgun.

Jesus poured into the twelve. He lost one, and was left with eleven. Those eleven would go on to change the world. What does that look like for us as Christ followers today? Many of us write off individuals as unimportant, or view the thought of any large amount of energy spent pouring into one person as ineffective/not a good use of time. I am beginning to believe just the opposite. I feel the Lord challenging myself, and Christ-followers in the West to spend more time with less people. I have begun this pursuit, and have discovered a new way of living. A way that only the Lord can receive recognition and Glory for the results. George Barna calls this the practices of a “revolutionary”. Will you join me in this new Revolution of what it truly means to follow Christ, and live out the Gospel of Jesus that we claim to cling to?

It’s time we stop being slaves to what man sees as valuable. It’s time we start valuing what Christ values. May we stop performing to make a name for ourselves, and our ministry/church/organization? May we start doing the things that go unnoticed, and fly below the radar trusting that our Father in heaven sees our good works? May we trust that if we TRULY make a disciple who we KNOW will make another that somewhere down the line we will begin to see exponential growth?

This will NOT happen if we’re worried about how we will answer when asked the question, “how many churches have you started, or how big is your church?”

Can’t Stop the Spirit…

This past Sunday evening was beautiful, and refreshing for me and Morgan. We were in Ft. Worth visiting family, taking care of business, working, etc. We got to hook up with our old simple church community on Sunday night for their weekly worship gathering. It was SO encouraging to see what the Lord has been doing through them over the past year and half since we’ve moved. Reconnecting with them to pray, worship, and seek the kingdom was extremely rejuvenating…not to mention how encouraging it was to see a room FULL of new faces who we’d never met before…

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Before we moved from Ft. Worth I had thrown out the idea of seeing new communities birthed out of ours-multiplication. However, it just didn’t seem to be the right “timing”. So, we moved, and the issue wasn’t discussed much more. I found out a few months back that a group of the “adults” from that community had branched off to start a new one…I believe they refer to it as “I.G.O.F.” (Intentional Gatherings Old Folks) or something like that. That was encouraging to hear. Then, this past Sunday night Keri’s dad, Bob Crowell, shared a word he had received from the Lord. He said that the Lord was telling them that they were going to multiply, and see new communities started out of that one. My heart lept for joy as I realized that the Lord, in His timing, and through His Spirit was doing what He wanted to do. The rest of us in the room got excited, and I listened as several others began to beg the Lord for wisdom/discernment/guidance in how to go about seeing new disciples made and new communities started. I could do nothing but PRAISE CHRIST for His sovereignty. Pray for the I.G. Ft. Worth community, that they pursue the Lord, and see multiplication…

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***Oh, they Baptized Ioana, who has been a part of the community for quite some time now, a couple months ago in a Hotel Lobby Fountain the week after several of them had been in Las Vegas for Student CPx. I thought that was pretty rad. They also Baptized a guy in the front yard a couple weeks ago who’s now become a “part of the family”. LEGIT***

“I praise you Christ for your activity in our lives, and the lives of our dear friends in Ft. Worth. May you continue to rock our worlds in supernatural ways. Have your way Lord!”

What Would You Say…?

I know that a lot of you out there are brilliant, and have learned a ton about making disciples to produce movements in the past few years. So, I thought I’d get some input from you…I’m in Austin, Tx. right now, and will be chatting with a group of college students tomorrow who are “movement minded”. They get the theory, and many of them have already begun pursuing starting “simple churches” in the area. What are 3 things you’d say to a group of young people who are sold out, and passionate for seeing a CPM in the states? (Practical Steps, how to avoid potential roadblocks, etc.)

1, 2, 3….come on, don’t be shy.

Next week I’ll be heading out to Orlando with my close friend, and mentor, Lance Ford. Lance has partnered with Alan Hirsch over the past few years to start www.shapevine.com

In Orlando we’ll be putting on the “missional track” at the annual “Exponential Conference”. This will be the second year in a row that shapevine heads up the “missional track”. During that track I will be participating on a “panel discussion” with several other guys. We will be discussing many issues, mostly revovling around CPM’s, and making disciples. There is room for 500 in the missional track, and it’s close to being sold out. This makes a 24 year old guy a bit nervous. If you could share 3 things with a room full of pastors about ANYTHING what would they be? (Let’s get creative here please…)