August 13, 2009 / David Fitch

Missional Church Planting Laboratory: A Report

When it comtesttubes1es right down to it, planting a missional community is simply asking 12-15 people to get up and move to a different location and go live into the Kingdom there in the same way that “you’r already doing here.” I know – easier said than done. Of course, you’re going to a strange place so you have to think about getting jobs and a place to live, if you have children, schooling and other issues. All this means is that you’ll be forced to trust God in ways you haven’t had to more recently. Of course, you’ll be alone so you’ll be highly dependent upon the friends and comrades that go with you. You’ll have to be intentional about community because, without your normal social busyness, the isolation of your life will be more apparent if you don’t. And of course, you’ll be forced to live life in the Kingdom because you will have moved here explicitly to seek God, His Kingdom, His working to “set the world right.” You’ll be coming together explicitly to see God work in redeeming lives and shaping a way of life that is rich in Kingdom relationships. In reality then, planting a missional community with 15 others is a spiritual discipline one should engage in if one really wants to have one’s eyes opened to the power of God released in His Kingdom thru Jesus Christ and to engage deeply in that. It is a rich way of life that cannot be surpassed in this lifetime. How else would you want to live life?
Of course I don’t want to over-romanticize missional church plantings. Many go on a missions trip overseas and come back changed for a time. Planting a missional community does this same thing for a lifetime. On a short-term missions trip however, you can romanticize God’s Kingdom for two weeks and then escape back to routine making that missions trip seem even more romantic (and of course I still highly recommend missions trips). In going and seeding a missional community you must face the boredom and disappointments that come with everyday life in the Kingdom.

All this to say, last night we had a kind of missional laboratory for exploring the seeding of two such communities in the next two years. We had a meeting with seven of us pastor/church planter/leader types. We met to talk about and pray over two potential church plants – “sendings” of missional teams to live life together as witness to the Kingdom. For any one who might be interested – here’s a couple of notes/reflections on what happened.

The APEST Assessment Tool: We all took the APEST profile assessment tool and brought our own profile for discussion. We talked about our highest aptitudes between Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher. We discussed each person’s assessment in terms of how each person saw themselves, and then how the rest of the group saw them as well. We were surprised with the overall accuracy of the assessment. We got to know each other better, especially Amy and JR who are newer (especially JR) around here. Since we’re looking to put leadership teams of three people (or couples) together, it was helpful to see how certain individuals would complement each others giftings.
Three Leaders?: We are seeking to put together teams of three primary leaders to lead each missional community who will then gather another twelve to fifteen people. We discussed why three? What does this say about the leadership of the other 12 to fifteen.
For myself, I believe sending one person out as primary leader is the former entrepreneurial approach of Christendom. For various reasons that dynamic worked in Christendom. In post Christendom – sending ONE SINGLE LEADER on his or her own will exhaust and even destroy that one person in the first three years. Jesus sent people in twos. The lists of Eph 4:11 and 1 Cor 12:28 imply a set of gifted leaders guiding the church community. The idea of a senior pastor is really a professionalization of clergy which won’t work (for various reasons) in the post Christendom contexts we seek to inhabit for Christ. Along these lines therefore, I contend we need at least three, along the lines of the 3,12,120 that I have discussed here. I contend that three people have a variance of gifts so one leader “doesn’t get gassed” doing all the things he or she just isn’t equipped for.
Furthermore, there is a support issue, social, financial and mental. On any given day or week the problems can overwhelm any one individual (or couple for that matter). Three people who are committed to a vision, who commit together to pursue God’s will in this place, who learn to listen to each other’s  thoughts, emotions, depressions, other struggles, speak truth honestly, can make it through many struggles together. As opposed to the one leader having to put the struggles of the entire community on his or her back, these struggles can be times of spiritual formation. These three will take on responsibility for organizing, leading (discussions and organization), carrying out the core functions initially (and of course training
other people to come alongside and take up these tasks over time). They will require the skill of mtual submission one to another so that they function as a body together and model that for the community. They will require a continuity of theological orthodoxy and a maturity sufficient to lead others into maturity in Christ. They will have to be “recognized” and
empowered by the wider sending community through an ordination process blessing them to lead theologically, pastorally.
Of course, the number of these foundational leaders could be four, five or more? Just not less than three.

Married Couples Versus Singles We got into a discussion on whether married couples count as one in the triad of leadership or two? There was no common agreement and more discussion is needed. For my part, I tried to make the case that we should count the married couple as one and the single person as one. BTW, THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT BOTH THE WIFE AND THE HUSBAND CANNOT EACH TAKE ON ONE OF THE KEY LEADERSHIP TASKS OF THE APEST PROFILE. Instead, I was concerned that for the support we need to lead a community, we need a diversity of perspective and experience. Often married people are blinded to each other’s gifts or dysfunctions because they are closer to the other person on a daily person. Often their finances and other issues are joined together (it is good to have three people so that hopefully not all are going through financial crisi at the same time). There is a dynamic created by having three distinct perpectives with no agendas – becuse it is often an issue of two people having to tell the one what he/she is not seeing. Imagine a disagreement going on in “the meeting of three” and this three is one married couple and one single person. Just imagine with me the dynamics here. I see the conversation gets tilted in ways I don’t see as happening (at least as regularly) if there were three people unmarried talking, or three married couples or a mixture of both. (BTW we need single people in leadership to balance the numerous ways married couples get bogged down in various inertia – single people should be viewed as premium leaders for missional community). I think that looking at “the three” in this way insures the diversity of perspective and support that is needed during the struggles of birthing and nurturing a missional community. But I’m open to be wrong on my understanding of the group dynamics.
Steps Along the Way: We outlined the following steps in preparing for a church plant. These are very basic and up for discussion.
a.) First the three. Find the right complement, the right mixture of three leaders to be ordained as the pastors responsible for the overall guidance and leadership of the “missinal order.” Although there will be other leaders among the total missional order team, these leaders will be charged with ordering their lives financially, rhythm wise to take up the tasks of ordering and leadingt eh day to day life of the community.
b.) Locate the place. The leaders of “the Vine” have already located places where a.) that lack the gospel often because the church has fled to more affluent places, b.) mid to lower middle class where we can live beneath our means, and c.) where we can live in proximity. This is along the lines of the Missional Order approach we are following. We talked about how step a.) and b.) go together. The leaders, after several visits, discussions, prayer and envisioning, agree on a vision for this place that God is calling us to. There will be factors that matter like can the people who are moving get jobs? Are there other indications that God is opening doors here for us?
c.) Write up a simple plan. Take time to pray, walk through the neighborhood, and get a sense of things. And even then, most of the planning for how one will engage this place missionally will only take shape after a year or so of living there. Yet we can sketch what the rhythm of “life together” look like in the first year? We can sktech how we will establish the rhythms together that we talked about here. How will we begin to get to know the community, the people, where the hurting are, the places where the gospel is ready to be ministered?
d.) Call 15 more in. The next step will be to call 10-15 people into this new community. It is amazing how we move all the time in our society for career or better weather or something else. But we are scared to move with 15 other people to live life in arich and deep and significant way in God’s Mission. Of course there will be hurdles, and frankly some people will not be able to uproot. But many more should be able to.
e.) Get jobs, find housing, set up budgets
f.) Move! And spend the first year establishing rhythms, knowing the neighborhood, seeking out the poor and the hurting, learning how to manage life in the Kingdom including how will we grow spiritually, how will we nurture community, how we will shape our lives to participate daily in God’s mission. How will we do these things in ways that are sustainable and a joy to be a part of?

This is the outworking of the various “missional order” ideas we have been talking about for several years around “the Vine.” This is planting churches as missional orders. What are my naïve expectations? I expect a full year to get these communities on the ground. I would say, in about ten years, that if issues of financial survival, initial expectations, and missional rhythms are properly prepared for, that each community should have be thriving community of 120-200 practicing peace, living the salvation we have in Christ and sharing that salvation as gospel to all we get to know and serve in this community. And then, if we have continued to bless, empower and send out leadership, we start er up all over again until Christ returns.

Of course, this whole thing could surprise, and the multiplication might take place a lot quicker. But this is the work of God. The times are in his hands. Amen, and may God bless these and  bless all the other efforts to seed missional communities around the world.

If you have any questions, suggestions and added wisdom … please comment. Hopefully others at the merting will chime in and lend some balance to my account of this whole process.