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…