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If there was ever a time of people fighting and quarreling it is today – mostly online, far less in person. It is so tempting to think that the fights we engage in with people are the other person’s fault – or they made us angry…if only they hadn’t said that…but what about the fact that the fight or argument intrigues us enough to dive in and get in the mud with the other person? What does that say about our own inner intentions, thoughts, and appetites? I think it says a lot and that often goes unchecked.

James 4:1-3 

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” 

We need to own our own desires. No one makes you angry. You allow their emotions to bleed over into yours. That’s called enmeshment. It is emotional immaturity to be enmeshed with strangers…to desire approval or agreement from people you don’t even know, so much so you go out of control. No one forces you into an online or in person disagreement. There is something intriguing about a train wreck that is hard to look away from. We must keep our own evil impulses in check.

Why do people argue online? What is it they want? Or as Doctor Phil used to ask, “What’s in it for you?” Behavior is typically functional. It isn’t random. It has a purpose and on some level, even the craziest behavior “works” for people. Maybe you have a deep desire to want to be proven right and anyone who disagrees proven wrong. Is it possible to covet correctness?  I believe it is possible…not only possible…prevalent.

Instead of going to war over something with strangers, why not ask God to fill us? Why not ask God to take those empty places in our life and fill them with goodness – maybe it is an approval gap – ask God to help us find our approval need met only by Him! Maybe it is the deep need to be correct because we battle with insecurity and having our position challenged only makes us feel less than – pray and ask God to be sufficient for you. Maybe then we can understand our role in the system that is the online argument. They don’t happen in a vacuum and no, it isn’t always the other person whose intentions are impure. We must own that part that is ours to own. Only then can we find a path to wholeness. Only then can we see a train wreck of a conversation and freely move on without a hint of anxiety over what we missed or that they might think less of you.

By Scott Johnson

Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:36-37, NIV). I like the way Bob Dylan paraphrased it in his song Masters of War: “And I think you will find when your death takes its toll, that all the money you made will never buy back your soul.” There is nothing we can exchange for our souls.  No amount of goods, power, services, or money can secure them.  Only Jesus’ death and resurrection can. 

Yet here we find ourselves in the year 2020. As a people, the Church is scrambling for relevancy in post-Christian America. We are jockeying for power to maintain a kind of Christian status quo in the United States. We are shouting to still be heard over all the noise in our nation.  

I certainly understand it.  We’ve held a sort of “special” place in the United States. Just a few decades ago almost everyone went to church. We were a “Christian” nation if you will. I think collectively, we are grieving our loss of privilege and have begun to draw lines in the sand. We are now the minority, and in an effort to be in control, we are squandering the very thing that matters in pursuit of power: our soul. 

Let me be candid. We have been duped. We believed that good people who professed to be Christian should be put into power to preserve our way of life. We believed that those people really did believe in Christ and let Him transform their hearts.  Some genuinely did. We believed that those people were pro-life.  Some were. We believed these people of power cared about us and our faith. Maybe some still do. But our faith has been hijacked. 

Our faith has been commandeered by people that hold up Bibles in front of recently tear-gassed churches for a photo op. They scream against abortion while dropping bombs on innocent civilians on the other side of the planet. They create a system in which the poor stay poor while the rich get richer.  They perpetuate a justice system that sides with the person with the most money or the right color skin. In the wealthiest country in the world, people are starving.  

Are we siding with people who under the guise of “fairness” would take what another has earned and forcibly give it to another? Are we siding with people who believe it is okay to take the life of a baby in utero under the charade of “choice?” Has life really become all about convenience? Are we part of the cancel culture that indiscriminately obliterates anything contrary to popular opinion?  

Are we siding with people who routinely marginalize women, shut out minorities, are blatantly racist, and who are rotten from the inside out? Scripture says they “are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain” (Is. 56:11, NIV).  

If we find ourselves siding with any one of those things, then my brothers and sisters, we are in trouble. We say things like, “I don’t agree with everything that person stands for, but they are the lesser of two evils.” I disagree.  Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Of two evils, choose neither.” Evil is still evil. There is no “lesser evil.”  

So, what are we to do? Throw up our hands and walk away?  Stop voting?  Step out of politics?  No.  However, I think a deep look into our priorities and whom we support is in order. We just might find we have been worshiping on the altar of nationalism.  In creating a dynamic where we are dividing churches over political parties, we have effectively begun to kill the witness of the American church. Worst of all, we’re hurting each other. 

My brothers and sisters, we have gone the way of ancient Israel, demanding an earthly ruler who will save us. Instead of the Good Shepherd leading us to pasture, we’d rather be corralled by a human authority.  Rather than be led by the Spirit, we’d rather play games with the “principalities and powers of this dark world” so long as we can remain comfortable and “at ease in Zion.”  

Instead of seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God we have turned to partisan politics to feel validated and safe from the encroaching “liberals, socialists, right-wingers, and communists.” We “went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them” (Judges 2:17, KJV). Those gods are the gods “Republican” and “Democrat.”  

What’s worse is that a watching world sees us biting and devouring each other on social media about these things.  We have turned into an “Us vs. Them” culture and church.  We must change. We must repent. We must turn back to God! Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

The world will not know you’re a Christian by your political affiliation.  They will not know you’re a Christian by where you live.  They will not know you’re a Christian by how loud you are about your opinions.  They will only know that we Christ-followers by how we love. 

I’m tired of politicians abusing my faith to get votes. I’m weary of a system that tells me what I want to hear and then does the exact opposite.  No, Washington, D.C., you may not use my faith to further your agenda anymore. I’m a Christian. I follow Jesus. I am not of this world. I will non-violently resist when you conflict with my God. Do what you will, but I will not bow down any longer.  

I understand the repercussions of making such statements.  I’ve thought long and hard about it – believe me. We must wake up, brothers and sisters. We are heading down a dreadful path. We are about to lose our collective souls.  

Jesus stood face-to-face with the Empire and declared to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36, NIV). Kings and rulers will all die. Nations will fall. But the Kingdom of God reigns forever. Stop playing the games of this world and its authorities. You are subject to a higher law – the law of Christ. Let us not gain the whole world and lose our souls.

Do We Dish It Out?

One of the most radical texts in the Bible is one we Christians seemingly do not really believe. This text is not in Paul though it is as radical as anything he ever wrote. The text has a two fold thrust and both tend to not be believed.

Believing, our author insists, something is not determined by whether we claim to believe it or have an intellectual idea of it. Believing something is determined by how we live it.

The text is actually in the Epistle of James, that little Epistle by our Lord’s brother. Most Protestants know it for one, half understood, text in chapter 2, that says something about faith and works and the like. But right smack in the middle of that very context is our revolutionary text. The first part of the text says,

For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy …” (James 2.13)

Of course, James is channeling his big brother on this point. Jesus did say judgment without mercy will be directed towards those who do not “dish out mercy.”

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5.7)

For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you do not forgive others
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6.14-15)

For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7.2; see the Parable of the Wicked Servant, Mt 18.21-35).

Mercy and Judgment, Judgment and Mercy are intimately connected. Those who dish out judgment James – and Jesus – says will reap judgment.

Where is it?

From the way a lot of us live, it is clearly evident we do not believe this text. Christians are known for many things in our world, but a reputation for dishing out mercy is not one of them. But we do seem to have a reputation for dishing out judgment.

Are we merciful toward the divorced? A preacher friend of mine once said it is easier to commit murder, be thrown in jail, come out with a “testimony” and be received by the brotherhood than get a divorce! … was he wrong?

Are we merciful to gays? Based on what we see we have to confess that “merciful” is not the first word that comes to mind.

Are we merciful to the those “out there?” Are our sins safer sins than theirs?

Are we merciful to the homeless?

Are we merciful to Aliens?

Are we merciful to Muslims?

Are we merciful to those created in the image of God?

Are we merciful to each other?

Do we not routinely “tar and feather” one another? Do we not suddenly divorce the elders or the preacher or the family of God because some one did not jump when we demanded they do so? Would anyone reading most of our online conversations come away and say “Wow, what beautiful mercy can be found here?”

Perhaps we are like Commodus in the classic movie Gladiator. After destroying a human, but leaving a pulse, we get in their face and scream, “Am I not merciful!!!

Triumph over Judgment

The first line in James’s inspired word, is a nuclear bomb. Mercy is not an idea. Mercy is not a notion.  Mercy is not simply one more doctrine to assent to. Mercy is not reduced to hymnody.

Mercy is an action that we live. Mercy is done. Mercy is a weightier matter of the Torah of God. When we come to mercy we have reached the true depths of God’s torah. There is heaviness when it comes to mercy.  On at least two occasions James’s brother scolded those who thought they had mastered the depth of God’s Word with the words

“Go learn what this means,
‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9.13)

If you had known what this means,
‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’
you would have not condemned the guiltless” (Mt 12.7)

The reason that mercy is the heaviness of the Torah, the reason that mercy is the weighty part of the Torah, is because the whole point of the Torah is mercy! Not condemnation. Hosea (6.6) understood this.  Jesus understood this. James, as Jesus said to do, went and learned it. Thus he writes,

“Mercy TRIUMPHS over judgment.

James makes this statement based on the character of God, not nature of humanity. Nothing in Paul is more radical than this. Over and over in the Hebrew Bible, the Creator God subverts the adage of “you reap what you sow!” Our self-inflicted death is not the end of the story. MERCY triumphs over judgment at every point in the Hebrew Bible. Each word merits prayerful meditation.

Mercy
Triumphs
OVER
Judgement

Perhaps, no one understood the existential need for mercy over of judgment more than James, the brother of Jesus. James grew up in the same home as Jesus. He rubbed shoulders with Jesus, ate with Jesus, played with Jesus … and he did not believe in Jesus.

The Gospel of John records explicitly that Jesus’s immediate family did not believe in him.  His brothers, perhaps with a nod to the Joseph story in Genesis, even mock Jesus. The brothers mock Jesus, telling him he needed to be at the Festival of Booths so he could display his works, “for anyone who wants to be well known does not act in secret” (John 7.4). Then the Gospel writer declares forthrightly, “For even his brothers did not believe in him” (John 7.5).

James needed mercy.
He received it!

We have received mercy. We have received everything. We practice mercy because we receive mercy.

James, it seems to me, is making a statement regarding how we treat one another. In the context we are all transgressors (2.8-12). How do we treat other transgressors? Does it reflect how God has treated us who are also transgressors? So James states,

So speak and ACT as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (2.12)

What law is that? Love your neighbor as yourself (James cites the Torah of God in Leviticus 19.18 referring to it in 2.8 and 1.25). If we speak and act according to this law then we will be merciful. We break the law of God when we fail to dish out mercy.

Do we believe James 2.13? If we did then how we often treat people, both Christians and non-Christians, would change drastically.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment. Let’s start extravagantly dishing it out.

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

If a title like that, about a subject fraught with angst, anger, heartache, frustration, and loss doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

Years ago, in what seems another lifetime, I worked under an elder who was a highly trained and successful psychologist. In meetings and conversations, he occasionally referred to a medical condition called JPN.

Truthfully, I was often intimidated by this man and prone to nod and smile as if I knew exactly what he was talking about. Meanwhile, I ginned up a fierce search of what this particular malady was with absolutely no luck in the answers department.

Eventually, in a moment of confusion, I managed to work up the nerve to ask exactly what JPN was. To my humiliation, the room erupted in laughter…

JPN? Just Plain Nuts!

If I were you and had no clue what could possibly be meant by suggesting or questioning the idea of pandemics are wonderful, I’d be inclined to pass on an official diagnosis: Just Plain Nuts!

But if you can get past your predisposition to consider me JPN, I’d like you to think about it.

I recognize that people we love and care for have been gravely ill and some have died from this terrible scourge. Please don’t hear me talking about this pandemic in a way that lightens or somehow lessens your grief and agony. In fact, as I write about this, it’s from a different place that looks at the disruptions we have faced and how we have dealt with them.

Like many others, I have tried to take this pandemic very seriously:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Socially distancing
  • Being considerate of those at a higher risk
  • Not judging those who are legitimately fearful of this disease and its consequences
  • Not judging those who see it as far less serious
  • And grieving with those whose lives have been altered forever by death and other consequences.

Not knowing the future and what this pandemic yet has in store is difficult. And as much as I’d like to know what lies ahead, I am reminded anew of James’ words in 4:13-17…

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So, it is sin to know the good and yet not do it.” (CSB17)

Personally, I need to be reminded that I’m not in control of what life brings. And, I need to be reminded that I am prone to an arrogance that says I can control my life and the lives of others.

So, what do we do with a time such as this? Beyond learning how to control our actions and reactions, what more do we need to see?

Over the years, I have had a love/ hate relationship with Paul’s words in Romans 8:28…

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (CSB17)

After the events of almost nine years ago—the murder of a wife and son—I hated this verse. I hated it because so many well-intentioned friends and acquaintances tried to convince me that in some weird convoluted way, the horrific loss my family suffered was somehow good.

I rejected that then; I reject that now. As I have written elsewhere, you can never tell a kid that the loss of his mother and brother is good. Not going to happen.

In the same way, if you are experiencing great loss as a result of this pandemic, I am not doing to you what was done to me. You can’t make the losses we experience good.

However, I’ve come to love this verse because I have a much greater appreciation, love for, and understanding of our great Redeemer—Restorer—Reconciler God who can take the worst of situations and use them in some way, some fashion for good.

In the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, we know that he experienced a lot of hardship as a result of his brothers selling him into slavery. We also know that God used Joseph in a mighty way to save lives and further his redemptive plan. Hopefully you’ll remember what Joseph ultimately told his brothers when they reconnected many, many years later…

“…Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.” (CSB17)

I particularly like how Max Lucado said it: “One of the most potentially frightening aspects of being a Christian is knowing that when you put your trust in Jesus, all of Hell takes arms against you intending evil upon your life. And, yet what trumps that fear and evil is knowing that, no matter what comes, God is the Master Weaver. He takes what was intended for evil and reweaves it for good.”  https://tinyurl.com/y524nd7q

All of that to get back to my premise: can we somehow see the good in this pandemic time? 

Admittedly, this current situation we are all living in has been a huge disruption. As a preaching minister, I had a whole year of theme related stuff planned out for our church. And even as we shifted away from that, my work has changed dramatically—particularly in learning a whole new skillset (yes, old dogs can learn new tricks).

In spite of that, I see some wonderful things in these trying times. For instance, a lot of people have realized how badly they want to worship together. Some have come to see a greater value in Bible classes. A lot of us have realized just how much we depend on each other and the fellowship we share. Some of us have truly recognized that the church is not held hostage to a building.

That is wonderful to see—God does reweave our circumstances.

But even better, many of us have been awakened spiritually to our need/ desire/ purpose/ reason for dwelling in Jesus—and in that dwelling, to trust Him!

  • To see opportunities to be His hands and feet
  • To recognize that the church is bigger than our narrow inward focus
  • To better understand how we can be a light in our own immediate communities.

From that perspective, pandemics can be wonderful opportunities to count our blessings, to realize the true source of our hope, and to really be the church—maybe for the very first time.

I wish no one would suffer as a result of this pandemic. I pray peace and blessings upon those who have. 

And, I pray that together we grow in love and maturity—to move beyond our building-oriented issues and lives—to really shine like Jesus!

If we can do that, then we can say yes, God can do wonderful things even in the midst of a trying pandemic time!

May Paul’s words be true of us…

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (CSB17)

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Paris, MS 


The book of James is the proverbs of the New Testament. Chock-full of wisdom. Echoes of his half-brother Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount…it is one of the most practical books of the Bible for daily living.

James and John are two books I regularly refer new believers to. The insights are simple and practical.

James is also a book I keep going back to for study and reflection because James will straight up spiritual sucker punch you and get your heart in check.

We are studying James this month and I pray the articles are a blessing to you!

Thank you for reading!

By Dr. Stanley E. Granberg

What’s the future of Churches of Christ? The Covid-19 is like a change accelerant on a fire for churches. Covid is causing us to do things that it may have taken us ten more years to do, if at all. Many church leaders are feeling like they’re leading phantom churches; it seems like our members are still “out there,” but what if they aren’t. When we can meet again, who’s going to show up? Churches that felt healthy pre-Covid are having that idea tested. Churches that were not healthy may struggle to survive at all. As much as we hope that by this time next year things will be back to normal—our old normal is forever gone.  

During this fire of change Wineskins asked me to reflect on the state of Churches of Christ, particularly on our mission activity of stateside church planting.  As one of the 21st century pioneers in church planting in our fellowship, I want to take an autobiographical approach to this task that may bring a more nuanced insight and raise some different questions for Wineskins readers.  

For the last fifteen years I’ve led the Kairos Church Planting ministry. My experience includes involvement with hundreds of churches in our fellowship coast to coast and acquaintance with many of our thought leaders. Kairos has worked with hundreds of people involved with starting new churches across our country, from lead church planters to brand new Christian believers. This firsthand experience provides a unique viewing platform I think you will find both interesting and informative.

Beginnings: 2003 to 2010 

My journey into domestic church planting was very unplanned. In 2004 I was teaching Bible at Cascade College in Portland, Oregon. Cascade was a very small, regional college that catered primarily to students who came from small Churches of Christ dotted across the Pacific Northwest landscape. Over and over again I had students come into my office, often in tears, with two ideas on their hearts. First, they really loved and respected their home churches and the faith their parents reflected. But second, they were not going to go back to those churches for their spiritual nourishment. I was troubled. 

In October 2002 the Crossroads Christian Church in Portland hosted a Restoration Unity Forum meeting. Our family friend, Marvin Philips, was speaking and I had time to catch Marvin and the session before his. In this session I was completely intrigued by Dean Pense’s presentation on the church planting the Christian Churches were doing in California via the Northern California Evangelistic Association (NCEA). They were using a system of recruiting, assessing and training entrepreneurial church start-up leaders that was very successful for them. From my mission training and experience in Kenya it made great sense. I struck up a friendship with Dean that led to invitations in 2003 and 2004 to join their NCEA team in assessing and training events, seeing the launch of Our Place Christian Church in Portland, and being part of their first training workshop for leaders of church planting ministries. The NCEA staff, led by Marcus Bigelow with Roger Gibson, Phil Claycomb, and Dan Slate were gracious hosts, knowledgeable trainers and friends. 

In 2004 my wife and partner Gena and I took five couples from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia to an NCEA planter bootcamp. Also at the training were Jimmy Adcox and Larry Deal from the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, AR. They were a church looking for a new dream; Gena and I were a couple being called by God for a dream wondering how to make it happen. God had worked ahead of us all for years to bring us together at just the right time.  

In June 2004 the Southwest church, in an amazing act of faith, committed a million dollars from a capital campaign to fund the start of Kairos in January 2005. I resigned from my tenured faculty position at Cascade and Gena and I launched Kairos Church Planting. Scott and Kim Lambert joined us a few months later, Scott resigning from his role as campus minister at Pepperdine University. Our purpose was to help reignite a church planting movement in the US originating from Churches of Christ. 

Our first major Kairos event was the St. Louis Summit in the summer of 2005. We invited the church researcher and author Dr. Thom Rainer as a guest presenter and gathered over seventy leading preachers and influencers from across our fellowship for a three-day gathering to ask the question, “Can Churches of Christ successfully plant new churches?” We really did not know. It had been a generation since our fellowship had planted churches with any sort of regularity or intentionality. Did our fellowship still have the entrepreneurial leaders needed to start new congregations? Would the existing churches see the planting of a new generation of churches a valid and needed mission? Would a sufficient number of existing churches create a synergizing center that would generate the vision, the commitment and the experience to mobilize enough of our then 13,000 congregations to launch a church planting movement?  

From 2004 to 2010 Kairos assessed over 100 leaders in five-day Discovery (assessment) and Strategy Labs (training). To encourage involvement among leading churches in our fellowship and to expose those churches to church planting we strategically held our Strategy Labs in host congregations in different parts of the country: Cascade College in Oregon, Vancouver Church of Christ in Washington, Durham in North Carolina, Harpeth Hills and Brentwood Hills in Nashville, Pleasant Valley in Little Rock and the Conejo and Simi Valley churches in the Los Angeles area. We trained 103 people for 19 new church projects, like Renovatus in Washington, Cascade Hills, Soma and Agape in Oregon, Way of Life Village and South County in California, Ethos in Nashville, Kainos in Pennsylvania, Gateway in New Jersey, Bridgeway in Maryland and missionaries for Angola, Panama, Australia and Guatemala. 

During those years Kairos in the Northwest and Mission Alive in Texas both experimented, learned and developed resources that church planting leaders could use to fulfill their God-given calls to plant new congregations. By 2010 we had answered the question, “Can Churches of Christ plant new churches?” Absolutely yes! Our fellowship could raise up, train and deploy start-up church leaders who were evangelistically reaching new people across our nation. 

The planters that chose to work with Kairos mostly had backgrounds in the Churches of Christ. They held a deep respect for our fellowship along with an objective understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. They were not mad at our fellowship (we spoke with many younger leaders who were mad, they chose to work with other fellowships) nor were they disenchanted. Like us, they were hopeful our churches, their churches, the churches they often grew up in and had worked for as ministers, would catch the dream, welcome the opportunity, and partner with them to reach more of God’s people. 

We worked hard to develop those partnerships with congregations. Our thinking was if enough regionally influential churches got the vision for church planting, they would be able to bring other churches to the work and a movement would arise. Kairos asked planters to work under the elderships of partnering churches. We worked with them to find these churches, cast their vision, and asked these churches to partner with these planters as domestic missionaries. It was hard. Most churches had not heard of church planting at that time. There was suspicion that these were church splits in disguise or that the planters were simply young bucks wanting to do things they couldn’t do in the existing churches. Yet despite the unknowns, over seventy-five established congregations did step up and we saw some amazing work of God in those new churches. 

Midstream: 2011 to 2020 

By 2011 we knew Churches of Christ could plant new churches. We began to ask a new question, “Would the Churches of Christ do this?” By this time the Kairos team had grown to three full-time and three part-time people. We were energized and awed by the work done by the planters we were blessed to work with. Still, it had been a hard road with our existing churches. No matter what we tried the typical responses we and planters received from those by now less than 12,000 existing churches were apathy, resistance or hostility. 

With this new question in mind—and some bewilderment as to why our fellowship would be apathetic, resistant or hostile towards the idea of reaching new people for Jesus in new churches—the Kairos team invited a small group of our fellowships’ leading influencers to the Hoover Institute on the campus of Stanford University for what we called the Hoover Summit. Randy Lowry, president of Lipscomb University, led this group of university presidents and teachers, business entrepreneurs, and political and social leaders to investigate the purpose, processes and results of our Kairos work and the responses we were encountering from our fellowship. 

For three days we investigated, asked questions, worked in focus groups to look at specific areas in question. In our final session, after compiling the insights of these brilliant people, Mike O’Neal, then president of Oklahoma Christian University, summed up the answer to our question, “Would the Churches of Christ step up to plant a new generation of churches in the US for the twenty-first century?” Mike’s answer, given with a heavy sigh, was, “It will be very hard.” 

Where are we now? 

From 2004 to 2020 Kairos assessed 212 leaders (couples and individuals) for church planting, trained over 230 individuals for new church leadership, and helped resource hundreds of existing churches through seminars, workshops, lectureships and strategy training. One goal we had was to mobilize one percent of our existing churches into supporting church planting. By 2020 over 160 congregations (1.3% of 12,000 congregations) had made financial commitments to new churches through Kairos. 

When I look back at these fifteen years our fellowship has certainly made progress. Today there are several hundred congregations that have engaged in planting new churches through Kairos, Mission Alive, some university-based initiatives or on their own initiative. When Kairos began in 2005, most churches had never heard of church planting. Today, most church leaders in our fellowship have at least heard of or have been exposed to new churches, if not from Churches of Christ, they have seen new churches growing up around them, sometimes exploding with growth. 

In 2005 my recruiting conversations with ministers, youth ministers, and graduate students in Churches of Christ began with an explanation of what in the world did I mean by church planting. There were no classes taught on church planting, let alone specialized degrees, in the Bible departments of any of our Christian universities or colleges. I taught the first church planting course at Harding School of Theology. Gailyn Van Rheenen added church planting to Abilene Christian University’s offerings before he left his tenured professorship to begin Mission Alive. Today, most of our schools at least have a domestic church planting course or two and Harding University now has an endowed chair for church planting.

Today we have processes and training that developed through the hard work of Kairos, Mission Alive and others within our fellowship. Today we have examples of successful new churches like Ethos in Nashville, The Vine in Kennewick, Washington and The Feast in Providence, Rhode Island. Today young leaders have role models to follow that didn’t exist fifteen years ago. 

Yet despite these advances, Churches of Christ have not yet responded in a significant way to God’s call to plant a new generation of churches. For the rest of this article I will give some perspective for this lack of significant response and provide some possible avenues Churches of Christ can pursue for the future. 

Earlier I said that the responses we have typically received from our now 10,000 or so existing congregations have been apathy, hostility or resistance. Let me elaborate some on each of these responses.

Churches that met our overtures with apathy were a minority. When I say apathy I am talking about their response to Kairos, not their response to God’s work. Actually, these churches were often quite active, but active in ways that made them apathetic towards the Kairos’ mission. These churches tended to fall into two categories. The first category are those I would call cutting edge planting churches. These congregations wanted to plant churches, but they had already decided to partner outside the fellowship of Churches of Christ.

Most looked towards the Christian Churches who have had dynamic expressions of church planting through their fifty or so state or regional evangelistic associations (the best known of which is Stadia, which was originally the Northern California Evangelistic Association), the Exponential Church Planting conference, and influential local churches that have inspired and resourced church planting (such as East 91stStreet Christian Church in Indianapolis and Community Christian in Chicago). Others looked to networks outside the Restoration Movement, such as ARC (the Association of Related Churches), North Point, and Acts 29.  

These churches looked outside our fellowship for networks that gave them more recognition and resources. These churches saw a partnership with Kairos as a step backwards in their progression towards something else. Sometimes they exhibited the big church syndrome. Because they were successful, they sometimes felt they did not need help; they could replicate new churches using the methods they had successfully employed. Those efforts most often did not replicate well. 

The second category of churches in the apathy response were those who had decided to prioritize a specific issue. The three typical issues were social justice, gender inclusiveness and instrumental music. These churches had already committed their attention and resources to these issues. Adding church planting didn’t make sense to them as a mission because it did not advance their particular focus. One such church whose focus was social justice said to me, “If you were Catholic, Methodist or almost any group other than Church of Christ, we might be interested.” Sometimes the mere fact we maintained connection with Churches of Christ was reason to not partner with us. 

The next largest group were those who met us with hostility. This group often identified themselves as “defenders of the faith.” These churches attacked anything that did not look, sound or feel like them. They saw the new churches as threats to their accepted standards of practice.  

Leaders in these hostile churches actively worked against church planters. One of the saddest experiences I ever had was sitting with the elders of one such church talking about a planter who had grown up in their church. This planter had asked them to join with him and his wife as financial and spiritual partners to go to a highly unchurched area in the same general region. We talked through what this planter was proposing. These elders acknowledged that the people the planter was focusing on would never come to their church, that this young man was well equipped for this task and that they loved him as one of their own. We also recognized that the church he was envisioning was not going to look or practice exactly like theirs. Finally, one elder, with tears in his eyes, said, “We know these people are lost and we know that this young man will probably be able to reach some of them. But we would rather those people go to hell than support this young man because he will not do church like us.” The point at issue was instrumental music. 

The majority of churches responded to our church planting work with resistance. Where the hostile churches actively opposed the new churches, the resistant churches were simply not going to support, recognize or encourage planters or their new churches. Sometimes this was out of fear that some of their people would end up going to the new church (our experience is that very few long-time church people find a home in a new church). Other times the perceived lack of control they would have over the new churches was what they resisted. Most of the time, though, their resistance arose out of the thought that “this really doesn’t concern us.” Their plates were already full. Involvement in church planting was going to take people, money, or time that they were not willing to give for an outcome they would not be able to control.  

On the surface these resistant churches were polite and well-wishing, but they were never going to provide any support, nor would they encourage any other congregations to provide any support or encouragement. Our experience has been that the most encouraging churches to our planters have (and I’ll make a big value judgment here) always been churches that were not associated with Churches of Christ. 

Planters struggled with this lack of acceptance and support from the people they knew, loved and respected. Sometimes, like a planter couple in the upper Midwest who was rejected by every Church of Christ both he and his wife had grown up knowing, this lack of acceptance pushed them to other religious fellowships for support. Sometimes this lack of support contributed to the closing of the new church and the loss of that new kingdom lighthouse. Most times the planters simply chose to grit their teeth, try to maintain connection, and do what God had called and prepared them to do the best they could. Can I say it again? Church planting in our fellowship is hard. 

A Look to the Future 

When I look to the future it is with uncertain clarity. These past fifteen years have, however, given some perspective.  

First, what do Churches of Christ bring to the church planting table? When I look over our Church of Christ fellowship, I see three incredible gifts that we bring to God’s great kingdom work for planting new churches. 

The first of these gifts is an amazing system of Christian education. The pursuit of Christian based education through our schools and universities is a hallmark of our fellowship. These schools have provided us with gifted, committed church leaders. Our schools have been fertile and fruitful providers of strong Christians who have settled around the globe for the cause of Christ. For the future, we do need to change the model of church minister our schools are producing. For at least the last fifty years we have produced pastoral ministers who, typically, feel most comfortable in their study and presenting thoughtful, Bible-based lessons. What we need are action-oriented ministers who use their strong, biblical education to address the deep cultural challenges of our rapidly changing world. 

Second, we have an almost unique relationship with scripture in the Christian world. From my observations during my years on the mission field in Kenya, then in the domestic mission field, I state it this way:  

We are a people who desperately desire to obey the God of the Word and who implicitly trust the Word of God to creatively engage the World of God. 

At our best it is hard to imagine a more powerful platform from which to work. In our darker moments the pursuit of ecclesial purity based on the case law approach of command, example or necessary inference has let us feel justified in shaving off our fellowship those who did not practice church just like us. In the realm of church planting that dividing line was most often over a cappella or instrumental worship. We might retain a cappella worship as a helpful practice for spiritual development, but not to hold it as a theological imperative for fellowship. 

Finally, God has blessed our fellowship with an incredible wealth of resources. From our inception in the 19th century we have been a pioneer movement. In less than 100 years the movement stretched coast to coast and was counted as one of the major American Christian movements. This spread created an amazing network of cooperation for many years, where brother helped brother and church helped church. 

This resource blessing is also counted in dollars. Churches of Christ hold billions of dollars of assets in the lands and buildings of our existing churches. Financial gurus say that the largest exchange of wealth the world has ever seen will happen in the next ten to twenty years as the Boomer generation retires, then passes on. It is entirely possible that we will see the same happen among churches. Most congregations have a lifespan about the same as a person, seventy to one hundred years. Today, most congregations in Churches of Christ are at that age. We have already seen almost 3,000 congregations close their doors in the last twenty years. We can expect to see many, many more churches close. Our question, then, is not will churches close, but what will closing churches do with their God-given resources? Will at least a portion of that money be used to seed a new generation of churches or will it be used for what may be good works, but not reproductive for the kingdom of God. 

For better or worse, it is our generation that gets to decide the trajectory of our fellowship’s future. 

As I reflect on these past fifteen years, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to step into the challenge God set before me years ago. I am thankful for those hundreds of churches and hundreds of men and women who responded to that same call. Churches of Christ today are aware of church planting today in ways they were not fifteen years. I believe that Kairos was a major contributor to this shift.  

What is the future of the Churches of Christ? Is it too late? Have we begun an inexorable decline like many other groups around us? Perhaps. We live in a completely different kind of world than the one most of our existing churches were planted in. After 15 years of seeking to engage our fellowship in a significant way in the mission of God with the planting of new churches as one measurable result, I have to agree with the conclusion of the Hoover Summit: it will be hard.