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On Planting Churches That Do Not Cannibalize: The Luke 10 Project

For much of post World War 2 North America, we have planted churches by using strategies that depend on drawing upon a market of already existing Christians (see this article where I expound on these dynamics). One way or another, church planting in North America has been taking what’s left of Christianity and creating new versions of church over against the failures of existing churches. We organize ourselves as “the next new thing” to make up for what some other churches lack. (Here I argued this is another form of  “organizing ourselves over against what we are not”)
This has been the modus operandi since the break up of Christendom. It began with the protestants telling the Catholics that they had lost justification by faith. Then the holiness/pietist churches told the established Reformer protestants they had lost the deeper sanctified life of God’s people. In N. America, we started Bible churches when the liberals took over mainline Protestantism in the 1920’s. They had lost the authority of the Bible. In the 1980’s we started seeker churches when the Bible churches became too entrenched in their own Bible speak and Bible rituals that they can no longer make sense to lapsed Baby Boomer Christians. They had lost their ability to speak the gospel in relevant ways. In the last fifteen years, we started progressive “Emergent” churches when the seeker churches become consumeristic and distanced from challenging injustice in the world. They had lost their ability to engage the world for God’s justice. And on and on it goes. We organize ourselves against what the other people aren’t.

One of the points of The End of Evangelicalism? is that we’ve reached the end of  this long history.  We can no longer expect to successfully cannibalize on ourselves in the planting of new churches. We’re running out of Christians/churches to reform to some truer, purer more relevant form of Christianity. As I said here, lets stop funding church plants (has anyone noticed it ain’t working?) and fund missionaries here in North America. We need to seed fresh expressions of the gospel that engage those outside the faith with the gospel and create the space for God work to bring people to Himself.

With this in mind, I’ve been working on a framework to fund and nurture missionary church planting in North America. I am doing this in partnership with Ecclesia Network and Fresh Expressions here in the United States. What I sketch below is a starting point for this effort.  I put this framework out there as a starting point to invite people to let me know how they would change it/develop it (in the comments). If you’re candidate to participate in the program, either through funding it, partnering with it (say if you are a denomination), or being an actual missionary in the program, let me know through e-mail and I’ll keep you up to date on opportunities, and set up meetings when we can.

So here goes! My first shot at laying out a structure for the Luke 10 Project!

Luke 10 Project

THE GOAL

We seek to plant missionary communities/new expressions of the gospel in North America. We desire to plant missionary communities. Over against the patterns of the post WW2 years of franchise church planting where churches were either competitive, ordered towards extending a particular brand/denomination of church, or revising the church for relevancy, ALL OF WHICH CATERS TO ALREADY EXISTING CHRISTIANS, we propose to embed missionaries to plant churches that will reach people outside of Christ with the gospel of the Kingdom. We believe all people are ultimately lost until they are reconciled to God and living their lives as life with God and His mission.

WHAT WE DO

Plant three leaders/leader couples in a context. These leaders will know each other (their respective gifts/callings and how they work in complementarity). They will know how to submit to Christ through submitting to each other as a model for discerning life with God in His Kingdom. These leaders will understand the basics of ecclesiology, gathering a people into the Kingdom as a witness to the context.

Give them two years – of housing stipend and health insurance. They will be coached to get a job that can sustain them within this context for the long haul. Yet, with this aid, they can afford to go into a lower paying status where they can learn a skill, grow with the job and become indispensible with their skill. In two years they will be viable, sustainable without any further support. The goal is not to have a financially self-sustaining church organization in 3 years. The goal is to have 3 financially sustainable missionaries/missionary couples inhabiting a context in 2 years.

These leaders will then do the following:

  • Exegete/get to know relationally the nooks and crannies of this context. Listen. Get to know people. Get to know where the third places are. Get to know where the hurts are. They will be immersed in a context as a rhythm of everyday life.
  • Begin Rhythms of Inhabiting – strategies of living life with intentional inhabiting of third places, places of ministry (like hospitals, food sites. Etc.)
  • Begin Rhythms of Mission: Having located places of hurt, or third places, we will join in. We shall be prepared to proclaim the gospel when the Spirit leads. This could take years.
  • Begin a Rhythm of discipleship: We will cultivate a discipleship practice among us.  We will work with, contextualize the discipleship shapes of Mike Breen and the missional practices of David Fitch, as well as other sources and means of developing a discipleship culture.
  • Begin Rhythms Together: of prayer, gathering for worship/eucharist/ sending, discipleship pods, acts of mission engagement all as part of a way of life.
  • Start to Gather and Relate: These three leaders will be getting to know other church leaders in the contexts so as to work in concert with them. We seek a renewal of the church as a whole. There will be those who have left church because of its hollow shell. We shall call them back into the Kingdom. There will be people who go to other churches. We refuse, SIMPLY REFUSE, to take them from their church home. But we will invite them to join in with us in Kingdom living in the neighborhood. There will be many outside the gospel who we will invite to join in with various mission engagements we are doing.

I firmly believe that all of the above is to be carried out as a sustainable way of life, not as an excessive work of human effort that consumes and destroys people’s lives. Each leader is to order his/her life so that he/she can work a job of 35 hours a week, and give 15 hours of labor to the cultivation of the Kingdom as everyday life in the context (see my post on the 15 hour rule)

Commit to This Place for Ten Years I firmly believe, if we put three leaders/leader couples in one place, committed to a context for ten years, there will be a fresh expression of the gospel in this locale until the Kingdom is consummated in Christ’s return.

PRINCIPLES

1.) We Work With All Denominations For the Renewal of the Church of Jesus Christ in North America

We will work with all Christian denominations for “evangelical renewal.” By evangelical we do not mean traditional mainline evangelicalism. We mean a vital commitment to the gospel, the whole gospel of the Kingdom of God in Christ. This of course includes personal conversion, and the forgiveness received oin and through Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. Yet this conversion is also a turning into what God is doing to make the whole world right, not only one’s individual relationship with God. By “evangelical” we also mean a renewal of submitting to Christ by His Spirit for a fresh expression of God’s Kingdom via planting communities in each unreached context in N America.

We seek a commitment to a.) creedal orthodoxy, b.) the inbreaking and coming reign of Christ to renew the world as made manifest among us by the Holy Spirit c.) the fresh expressions of the gospel that result. We uphold a high view of Scripture, the commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord, the commitment to transformational salvation available to all by invitation into God’s Kingdom in Christ via reconciliation with God and all relationships through the person and work of Christ in the cross and the resurrection, d.) the commitment to the church as God’s means to bear witness to the world of God’s work to reconcile the whole worl to Himself.

2.) There must be at least Three Leaders/LeaderCouples

We seek to embed (at least) three leaders and/or leader couples in places that have need for a renewed witness to the gospel or have been previously resistant to gospel. Our belief is that if we can locate three such leaders in a context, have them committed to the context for ten years, so that they learn it, love it, engage relationally with it and begin a rhythm/way of life out of the gospel, if these same leaders cultivate/discern the Kingdom andsubmit to the Spirit and what he is doing, there will be a fresh expression of the gospel in this context in ten years.

We believe that contraints such as building a self-sustaining ministry that pays a single pastor’s entire salary plus all costs contrains true missionary work. The planting of churches via these means most often devolves into competition for other church members, competition for best religious goods and services to already existing Christians, depletes and exhausts most church planters within three years because such a model is not sustainable (in post Christendom contexts). One person cannot meet the needs that engendered from such a calling of gathered people in.

These three leaders must have a solid foundation theologically in order to stand and plant and discern God’s work in a context. Yet so often, the seminary education that gets a person to this level, trains them to go get an established position in church or try to make their entire living via the church which counteracts mission. Instead, we need to find a way to fund these leaders long term, less stress financially, as well as train them to understand bi-vocationality as a way of life that has flexibility and capability to resist the demissionalizing structures of the church.

AT THE END – I ENVISION TEN YEARS – THERE WILL BE BY GOD’S GRACE AND THE WORK OF HIS SPIRIT – A NEW VISIBLE EXPRESSION OF THE GOSPEL AND HIS KINGDOM IN OUR MIDST UNTIL HE COMES.

FUNDING

To start such projects, we need funding for three plus leader/couples for

a.) housing stipend/health insurance for two years.

b.) part time theological education.

c.) Coaching/assessment for each team

d.) Theological education provided within a context for each leader/couple according to need.

IN CONCLUSION

LET ME JUST SAY THIS!! I know there are organizations already out there doing this. If you are one of them, feel free to list your organization and web site on this blog post’s comments. Get the word out! Let us spur on this kind of development.

If while reading this, you can think of anything to add to this document, any missing pieces, please comment in this post’s comments.

And, if you are interested in participating in this either as a leader or denomination or just knowing more about it once we get this started, pleas e-mail me with your name address and brief three line description of how you’re interested (being a pastor-leader-church planter, being a funder, being a denominational partner etc.). I’ll keep all the names and contacts in a file when we’ve got opportunities!

Blessings on this foray. Let us see where it goes!