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Archives for 177 – Church Planting

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.

By Micah Cobb

I first learned about discipling and discipleship from a conversation with Gailyn Van Rheenan, Mission Alive’s former Executive Director. In my first conversation with him, he told me about Mike Breen and 3DM’s approach to ministry.

I studied Breen’s Building a Discipling Cultureover the following weekend. The framework and insights contained in Breen’s writings excited me. Discipling was a way to further invigorate my ministry, providing a channel for spiritual formation, leadership development, and evangelism. 

Of course, any ministry would be blessed by a strong discipling culture. But anyone who tries to create and nurture one – something that multiplies beyond your own individual discipling-making efforts – knows that a discipling culture is more elusive than it appears in the books. 

For nearly eight years, I’ve been discipling college students as a part of my college ministry efforts. Alongside teaching the Word of God at our weekly gatherings, it’s my favorite part of my job. And I have seen tremendous fruit from it. Most of the students in our ministry are involved in discipling groups. And many would say that their discipling group is the most formative part of our college ministry. 

But creating and sustaining a discipling culture is difficult, and I imagine that each ministry will have its own unique difficulties. When I initially tried to implement Mike Breen’s ideas into my ministry, I ran into many difficulties. 

First, the timelines are different. Breen’s material, and a lot of material from other sources, is built around a full year. In college ministry, though, the timeframes are compressed. Each semester is about fifteen weeks long, most students are enrolled for two semesters a year, and most students spend four years in college. So, a discipleship curriculum that lasts a whole year won’t work well in college ministry; it’d take two academic years to get through the material. 

Second, student leaders are still immature. In college ministry, what passes for a wise and mature leader is a twenty-two year old. Of course, I love working with college students, but even the best student leaders have little experience and are still developing wisdom. Immature leaders slow down discipling group multiplication. 

Third, students come from diverse church backgrounds. In many cases, the student body of a campus ministry attends different congregations around town. The campus minister cannot assume a shared theological vision or even shared ministry practices, other than what the ministry can teach and practice itself. Discipling within campus ministries often has to worth in the midst of great theological diversity. 

Finally, working with emerging adults is challenging. Maybe it is not harder than working with other demographics, but it is still hard. Social media use distorts real flesh-and-blood relationships. Social anxiety is on the rise. Financial pressures are increasing faster than student debt load. And let’s not even talk about the polarization and confusion on political and social topics! So fostering discipleship among emerging adults often feels like an uphill battle. 

For all these reasons and more, creating and sustaining a discipling culture has been difficult. My ministry has switched approaches, structure, meeting frequency, and curriculum many times. But the college environment is so different from that assumed in many books on discipling that it is hard to find an effective approach. 

And so, I am grateful for the leadership and vision of people at Mission Alive like Tod Vogt and Steve Shaeffer. A few months ago, they gathered several campus ministers together and facilitated a discussion about our discipling efforts and the challenges we are facing. Since then, several of us have partnered with Mission Alive to do qualitative research on discipling in the context of a campus ministry. Each of us is coming up with a hypothesis to test, and Mission Alive is helping us construct an experiment this year to see how that hypothesis goes. 

My hypothesis is simple: I have noticed that the social networks of the girls in our ministry seem to be narrower but deeper than the social network of the guys. My hypothesis is that the discipling groups amongst the women would be improved if the size of the groups were smaller. Right now, our discipling groups tend to be four to six people. That has worked well for our guys. This fall we will experiment with our discipling groups for our women to be two to four people. We’ll see if our discipling groups work better when they are smaller. 

I am excited about this opportunity to be guided by Mission Alive in testing out new approaches to discipling. In my opinion, every ministry and ministry context is different enough that any structure or system that works somewhere else has to be adapted to the current context. And I suspect that other campus ministers will have different challenges with building and sustaining a discipleship culture than I currently face. But the goal is to foster relationships like Paul encouraged in Philippians 3:17: “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” And if those of us in leadership continue to contextualize our approaches to discipleship within our own unique situations, we will do a better job of building such relationships. 

For more information, you can reach out to me (micah@au4jesus.org) or Steve Shaffer, one of Mission Alive’s Mission Specialists (steve@missionalive.org).

The Sonoran ‘Wilderness’

This post is an exercise in “thinking out loud” as we read the Bible. It is a reflection on Matthew 4.1-11.

The Gospel of Matthew proclaims to today’s Gentile church, “Ya’ll cannot have Jesus without the Hebrew Bible and Israel. Ya’ll cannot have the person of Yeshua without his DNA. In fact Jesus, according to Matthew, is Israel in a very real sense. We see this clearly as Jesus is tested in the wilderness.

In Jesus’s baptism there is a voice that says “this is my Son” (3.17). These are words that had been spoken to the “son of David” for centuries as each son of David was anointed as King (Ps 2.7). But the reader of Matthew already knows that Jesus is the son for just a few short verses away the narrator quoted scripture, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (2.15). This is a quotation from Hosea 11.1 which speaks of Israel coming out of Egypt. But Israel is God’s son, “Israel is my firstborn son … Let my son go that he may worship me” (Ex 4.22-23).

God’s son went through the water. God led the people with a pillar of fiery Presence into the wilderness. God fed the people the bread of angels. Moses ascended the mountain and fasted forty days and nights before receiving the torah to proclaim to Israel. And God’s son failed. Instead of worshiping “me” (Yahweh), Israel worshiped the Golden Calf.

This story is ingrained in Jews in Jesus’s day. The Torah was read through every three years. It is narrated in Exodus. It is preached in Deuteronomy 6-12. The Feast of Tabernacles takes Jews symbolically back to the wilderness and highlights Psalm readings that speak of listening to Yahweh, avoiding “strange gods,” and proclaims Yahweh will personally feed “us” the finest bread (Ps 81). The story forms a critical part of Psalm 78 which ends with the Davidic king faithfully leading God’s people. And it forms a critical part of the Wisdom of Solomon. Israel failed.

Israelites in Jesus’s day were very conscious of the fact that “we” (our ancestors and ourselves) have failed. When the reader of Matthew comes to chapter 4 and hears (and they would hear it rather than read it) what is happening it is like a deja vu moment: here we go again, will Israel fail? Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness for testing. This recalls the Pillar of Fire, God’s visible presence. In Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach the Pillar that guides Israel is the dwelling and throne for God’s personified Wisdom (Wis 10.17; Sir 24.3-4).

Moses taught that Yahweh led Israel into the wilderness to “test” Israel’s hearts (Deut 8.2, 10). But as it turned out, Israel is the one who put God to the test. The test regards mere food.

They tested God in their heart
by demanding food they craved.
They spoke against God saying,
‘Can God spread a TABLE
in the wilderness?
(Ps 78.18; cf. Deut 6.16, my emphasis).

They did not believe God could, or would, feed them. The problem is hit on the head in Ps 78, “they had no faith in God and did not trust his saving power” (78.22). It is no accident that the first testing by the devil is after forty days of fasting (like Moses) and focuses upon food. Jesus knew this story, just as every Jew did. He had been in the wilderness during Tabernacles before.

But the story is not really food beloved, not in Matthew not in Deuteronomy nor in the Psalms (78 or 81). The story is about trust, it is about faith and faithfulness. Will Jesus/Israel trust Yahweh. The very text Yeshua quotes to the devil, Deuteronomy 8.3 is about both food and trust. The bread of angels was given to human beings to teach them to trust God. Here are Moses’s words, the caps are the quoted part by Jesus.

He [Yahweh] humbled you by letting you hunger [Jesus is famished], then by feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, in order to make you understand that ONE DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT COMES FROM THE LORD.” (Deut 8.3)

As Psalm 78 puts it, God commanded the heavens to rain down manna and “humans ate the bread of angels” (78.25) or as Psalm 81 (read during the Feast of Tabernacles) “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (81.10). Will Jesus test God over whether he can put a table out in the wilderness? Or will he trust Yahweh to command and the angels will deliver food to him. Will he trust in God’s saving power? Will Yeshua be the full of faith Son that Israel never was?

The last test follows this Exodus story as well. Israel bowed and worshiped false gods in the Golden Calf. The devil promises what Psalm 2 promises, the inheritance of the nations. The “Son” is supposed to inherit the nations (Ps 2.7-9). Jesus can be King yet. Just “fall down and worship me” (4.9).

But Jesus, who has been living in the Story listens to Moses. He is the faithful son. Jesus’s retort is “worship the Lord and serve him only” quoting Deuteronomy 6.13.

God called his son, Israel, to worship him. Instead Israel made a calf and bowed before it. They did not trust in Yahweh. Jesus will do what Israel failed … he will worship and serve God only.

Jesus relives the Story of Israel in the wilderness. It is a familiar story for every Jew. Our ancestors failed to be the loyal trusting Son. But Yeshua, the Son of David, will trust, he will be faithful, he will worship. He will lead the people … as Psalm 78 closes with (78.70-72).

It is not without significance that Matthew ends his testing narrative with the strange to Gentiles words, “then the devil left him and suddenly the angels came and waited on him” (4.11). Jesus/Israel did not stumble in the wilderness and God did in fact spread a table in the wilderness and the angels “waited” on Jesus. They brought the bread just like God rained it down on the faithless Israelites to take care of his Son.

We too are invited to live in the Story each day and be faithful sons and daughters. Just some thoughts.

By Sam Garner
Vice President for Spiritual Development, York College

Though York College sits in the middle of the Great Plains, our students regularly arrive here from over twenty states and at least a handful of other countries. They represent a wide array of cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds, which contradicts our otherwise rural Nebraska setting. Because of this diversity, our student body relocates to York each August with an array of stories, representing the intricate contexts that have formed each of them. Our college’s mission is “to transform lives through Christ-centered education.” From the moment I arrived on campus five years ago, my primary task has been to consider what an intentional process of discipleship that leads to transformation entails on our diverse campus.

After I arrived in Nebraska, I quickly realized that most of our transformation occurred in informal experiences, which can be powerful. For example, students’ close relationships with faculty, coaches, and other students can lead to deep, ongoing conversations about faith. Similar to other small schools, York College fosters an environment where people on campus develop tight bonds with each other. These relationships offer the students immense opportunities to grow as disciples. Relying on informal experiences, however, is not enough. We do not possess enough faculty and staff to form deep relationships with each of our students. Also, despite our best efforts, mentoring relationships alone are limited. Our students’ diverse backgrounds create barriers that we as faculty and staff cannot always overcome through informal relationships. 

I joined a Mission Alive cohort because I sought to address the lack of an intentional discipleship process in my own ministry context. What I discovered was that I needed to be discipled myself if I was to cultivate a movement in my own context. Each week last fall and winter I gathered with a group from around the country and sought to discern both the presence of God in my life and how I might adequately respond. This was not a foreign concept to me, but it was the first time that I received continual accountability and encouragement to make necessary changes. In my discipleship cohort I discovered a safe, yet challenging environment to pursue my own growth as a Christian with intentional purpose. 

This past January I led four different cohorts at York College. These groups were intentional opportunities for our students, and some faculty and staff, to discern their response to God’s presence in their own lives. No matter the cultural, racial, and religious background, each participant was able to develop important rhythms of spiritual disciplines. I have sought to establish the same safe, yet challenging environment of my own cohort experience for the diverse group of participants here. A few of the students, and a faculty and staff member, will begin training this fall to lead their own cohorts. We have discovered that when we expect God to be active in our lives and seek him through consistent rhythms, then we can begin to process together how our diverse stories are becoming a part of God’s story.  

If participating in a group like this interests you, all you need to do is go to Mission Alive’s site and read more about their Discipleship Cohorts. They are making a difference!

“You’re unlikely to get everything you want. That’s a good thing, because wants are part of what define us.

It’s entirely possible that you’ll get most of what you need, though.

The trick is in being clear about what you put into each category.” – Seth Godin

Isn’t that the truth. Our wants are an outgrowth of our identity and the things we are likely to take action on.

If we want to see the lost saved, that displays part of our identity and will move us to reach out, plant churches and make disciples. We would be asking what sort of things are we doing that are barriers to reaching the lost? Then we would remove them because we want to reach them so badly.

If we want to keep everything exactly as it is (wanting security and stability) we will make every effort to make that happen and that displays something about the inner quality of our life.

Take a good look at your wants and consider what kind of person has desires like yours. Consider if you are ok with, not just the desire itself, but the identity beneath it all.

By Diane Reynolds

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  

2 Corinthians 3:18 

Are you being transformed? I want to be transformed. I long to be transformed. I pray and plead to be transformed. Looking back on my life, I certainly see the work the Spirit has done in me, so why do I doubt that more change awaits me? Yet, I do doubt and am always looking for new ways to put myself in a place where the transforming power of God can work in me.   

My invitation to join a Mission Alive Discipleship Cohort came with some pressure. Of course, I had a choice, but it would be awkward to refuse the invitation, so I willingly enrolled. 

I began the Discipleship Cohort like I do most things that are meant to help or change us, with a great deal of skepticism. I was going to meet on Zoom with five other people, none of whom I knew, and talk about personal and spiritual things. This did not seem like a recipe for deep, meaningful change, but I was in for a surprise.  

Despite my skeptical personality, I committed myself to the process from the beginning. I would do the homework, test the ideas, and lean into the personalities. I was surprised to enjoy the first session. I admit to holding back a bit; my story was not nearly as transparent as others. Honored by the honesty and trust, I was immediately committed to protect and support them. I was no longer just in this for me.   

Very quickly, the group seemed familiar and safe. A place where personal things could be safely shared. A place of encouragement and thoughtful input, but also a place of hard questions that required soul searching and brutal self-honestly. A place of accountability where each person shares their spiritual goals for the week with the expectation that someone would inquire as to their results. 

For most of my life, there has been a deep longing to know God, to hear God, to experience God with all my being. But my fellowship, dedicated to scholarship and trusting only in tangible things, had discouraged my quest for emotional and spiritual experiences as part of my faith journey. When the leader of my cohort began to speak of mystical things, mysteries unsolvable by human knowledge and experiences beyond understanding or explanation, I was intrigued.   

Working through the weekly assignments with a renewed confidence that God had much to teach me and reveal to me, I began to find new peace and joy in my prayer and scripture reading. The suggestions for new ways to pray, interact with scripture, and listen for the voice of God were welcome, and I was eager to try them all. 

It is not easy; the questions posed are challenging. If taken seriously, they require soul searching. But herein lies the path to spiritual transformation. 

Mentoring, or discipling, others does not come easily to many of us. While we may have the love and commitment required, we might lack the skills. The Mission Alive Discipleship Cohort is a tried and true process that is easily learned and replicated. If a person commits to work the process, they will experience change. But, more importantly, each participant will be exposed to a process that is easily replicated. 

If you long for continued spiritual growth, I encourage you to try a Mission Alive Discipleship Cohort.

Diane Reynolds 

V.P. of Finance 

Halftime

Mission Alive is one of our sponsors this month. We appreciate their support. We have an ad on the right side of this site to point you to the good work with discipleship and church planting Mission Alive is doing. I hope you will click that link or the one in this article to check out what they are doing!

By Craig Cottongim

The direction this article is taking: Address why church planting is more relevant now than ever in recent history, why many plants fail, clarify what a church plant is, and discuss the nitty-gritty of church plants.

Why planting matters now

With the Covid-19 crisis, many churches will run low on funds, fold their tents and shut down, but there will still be many believers and ministers with a fire in their bones who want to see the kingdom of God continue to expand.  The traditional format of a church owning property and having a fulltime, fully loaded staff is waning and has been at risk for decades.  

The future of how churches are structured and operate is fluid, and it will look different in 10 years than it does today.  Many churches, even those with 200 members or more will see an increase in having a bivocational staff.  Giving is down,  based along generational lines, and many churches face shrinking budgets.  Therefore church plants which can streamline, simplify, and operate with a minimalist structured format will become, more and more, a better option over time.  Church plants can operate on a smaller scale, with less financial resources, and they can generate more enthusiasm than an established congregation.  

Also, many people in and out of church are disillusioned with how established churches have handled their resources and people.  They long for something that feels more authentic and real.  They aren’t looking to their churches for where to have funerals and weddings, or where their kids can find alternatives to sports.  People want to make a difference and be a part of something that gives them a sense of belonging and purpose, and they aren’t finding that in declining churches who argue “over the color of the carpet.”  

We are entering, or have entered, a day and age when planting churches is necessary to replace congregations whose doors have closed, and to open doors to people who wouldn’t necessarily visit an established church.  I see this transition in how the church will look sort of like when we moved from horse & buggy to the automobile, but now somewhat in reverse.  Imagine a world where we no longer had paved roads, and cars pretty much became obsolete, you would return to horseback rather quickly.  That is what our landscape reflects in the realm of church and ministry, we have plenty of automobiles, but the roads are washed out and unnavigable.   

Nothing compares with starting off with a clean slate and pursuing a God-given dream to reach lost people.  But, after the dust settles and the new wears off, nothing can prepare you the cycle of the highs & lows either…. 

Why plants fail (and the overwhelming majority do in the first few years)

There has been a lot of ink split over how to launch a church plant, but the reality is there is no “one-size” fits all church planting formula.  There are many books & seminars on church planting, but don’t depend on those resources too much, if you do you won’t last long.  Many plants fail because having consulted their resources and 3-ring binders, they only see the need to raise money, find a location, aim for the attractive bells and whistles, and generate the initial excitement of a launch… without a vision for the future or comprehending what church plants should eventually become.  

Your church isn’t a carnival, it isn’t a slip & slide park, it’s not an outdoor concert venue or an inflatable castle in the park.  The old axion, “What you win people with is what you win them to” is extremely applicable in planting a church.  Fads, gimmicks & tricks are not synonymous with evangelism and they will not sustain your church plant for long.  You are doomed from the start if you think your plant will grow when you base it on anything less than a Christcentered community.  

Find your niche and reason for planting a church that goes beyond what you are against or what you don’t like about other churches in your region.  Plants fail because their vision of ministry was limited only to how everyone else was doing it all wrong…

Also, planting a church is a lot of hard work and seemingly unrewarding work.  It gets lonely for the leadership team and there are plenty of feelings of being unappreciated to go around for everyone.  For example, talk about boring, think about filling out the paperwork for your 501 c3 exemptions/status, drafting your articles of incorporation, and building your website…

Church plants also fail when conflict goes unresolved, just like in an established church.  The difference is, in a church plant you experience magical-thinking that deceives you into thinking you’ll never disagree with your “dream-team.”  Sometimes, core members work overtime and never rest, and they experience compassion-fatigue which wears thin on patience, which is a tinderbox for conflict.  Share the load and keep an open line of communication.  Your leadership team needs to spend time relaxing together, playing games, going out to eat, and talking about other things in life other than just the plant.  

The independence of a church plant comes at a cost, and people forget to count the cost until it’s too late.  For example, your relationships with former churches and members will be strained, especially when members or extended families are separated by “loyalties” to one congregation or the other.  Your reputation will be on the line too, people will question your motives and methods.  None of the planting process is ever easy.  

What usually kills a church plant though, is contentment.  When the dust settles and the hard work seems over, people slow down, they invite less friends, they back off in participating.  Planting a church is hard work, the hardest perhaps.  

What is a church plant?

When a church of 500-1000 peels off 100-150 members and relocates their “team” to the other side of town, that’s not a plant.  That’s a transplant.  By the way, some of the largest and most successful multi-campus churches are paring down their multiple locations and restructuring to accommodate members at their central campus.  When you get angry and leave your “home” church with the rest of the correct members to start a church, that’s not a plant, that’s a spant (split-plant).  

“It’s easier to birth a new body than revive a dead corpse” – Anonymous

A church plant is when a group of believers establish a new congregation.  They might own a building, rent a school gym, or meet in someone’s basement.  They might have paid-preachers, they might have a crew of volunteers.  It’s doubtful your community “needs” another church, but they probably do need a better/contextual church that can reach your community more effectively.  

The nitty gritty, down and dirty…

Most of church planting isn’t glamorous and it doesn’t reflect what you’ve read in a seminary textbook.  It doesn’t take long to discover there’s nothing beneath you, from setting up chairs in a rented space to picking up donuts for worship.  Soon, you’ll be delivering groceries to people who hear about you, you’’ll be serving in your local foodbank, running errands for people who can’t afford a car, and you’ll help out in a soup kitchen run by people with polar opposite theological views.  

You’ll be a cheerleader to the troopers who helped you launch, a promoter of your church in your town, a vocal recruiter, and chaplain to any local group who needs you, what you won’t be for long is super excited.  Planting churches is exhausting and it’s mostly uphill work, one step forward and two back.  Yes there’s forward movement, but it’s not all peaches and cream.  And eventually, your church needs a new identity beyond being a “plant.”  When the dust settles and you pass a certain threshold of so many years, you’re no longer a plant, you’re just a plain old simple church.

Also, you’ll find more ministry will take place in your small groups and informal settings than in your temporary space where you gather.   One of the biggest drains on your energy and time will be “Sunday morning,” which is fine, but the return on your efforts will more than likely be from what happens during the rest of the week.  

Even though in a church plant you can do whatever you want, there are no traditions you have to worry about violating or established ways of “how we’ve always done it”, you don’t do whatever you want.  Church planting teaches you to respect people in ways established church ministry can’t.  Suddenly (picture in your mind those Forest Gump memes “just like that…) contemporary and traditional struggles evaporate.  You see the need to blend music genres and topics, for the benefit of the whole body, not just those you “want to” reach.

A church plant doesn’t need anyone’s approval or acceptance to be authentic, quit looking for permission to begin a very biblical practice.  A lot of church members think planting a church is exciting, but it’s not for them.  Hogwash.  I think everyone should participate at least once in a plant.  It will stretch your faith and hone your skills.  It requires a deep trust in God, an ability to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit, and a desire to see people experience Jesus in new and fresh ways.  

PS: One piece of advice I want to pass on as far as preaching is concerned to a church plant.  I know most of us feel Exegetical/Expository preaching is the only authorized style of preaching, i.e., Book by book, chapter by chapter — that’s fine and has its place, but not in a plant.  Topical preaching becomes the best form of preaching in a church plant because your audience is shuffled from week to week.  Even your team will be in and out of the worship service, and expository preaching will increase the difficulty of people following your trajectory.   Topical preaching is more flexible, adaptable, interesting,  and it can be relevant to whatever the current situation is with an audience that is shifting from week to week.  

Craig Cottongim, Minister at New Song Church, Kingsport TN

craigcottongim@gmail.com 

Teach sound doctrine?

Worship correctly?

How about plant more churches? That’s what I am talking about. If we don’t plant more churches, we are effectively gone in 30 years.

99.9% of churches don’t last 100 years. Most of our churches are 60-80 years old. That means, if we don’t plant new churches we are gone in 30 years.

We aren’t planting enough new churches. We are averaging less than 20 per year, which pales in comparison with how many churches are dying each year.

We need a “Walk This Way” moment where church planters and established churches work together and pool resources to start new churches.

If we don’t, we die. Simple as that. I don’t mean to start August on a downer. I do want to get your attention.

This month we will have articles from church planters, church planting trainers, church leaders, etc on the blog, podcast and YouTube. Buckle up and start praying for revival!