Stop Thinking Numbers, Start Loving People

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Not necessarily beginning with, but accredited to, Donald McGavran and C. Peter Wagner, the Church Growth Movement compelled churches to grow by utilizing sociological analysis.

I’m not one of the critics that thinks the church growth movement was evil. It was nearly 60 years ago! At the time, there were applicational questions that McGavran and Wagner presented, and I think that most will agree—the “status quo” was lackluster.

As well, I don’t think it’s evil for a church to count heads and know who they’re reaching and how many. I don’t like polarizations. I’m usually more of a both/and type of person (except in salvation—that’s black and white) than an either/or.

My point in this brief article is to help church leaders see people for who they are—people.

People need Jesus.

People need love.

People need healing and redemption.

Sometimes leadership can become so obsessed with bringing in more people that personability is lost. Numbers become personified—taking the place of people.

One of the first questions I get at conferences is “How big is your church”? As if this is relevant to anything? Must I explain that I took over a revitalization—that I work with church planters? Why are we justifying “numbers” with success?

The beautiful aspect of church is that it’s the only organization on earth that collects dysfunctional, hurting, pain-ridden, broken, and sinful people with an anticipation of being perfected (in Christ). An anticipation of redeeming love.

The overall premise of the church is reproducible disciple-making to bring about rejuvenation, renewal, and reconciliation (in God).

Once again, I don’t want to discredit churches that are doing amazing work—but let’s not get distracted from the goal—disciple-making. I speak to numerous church planters and pastors who see their work as a failure because they’re not growing at the rapidity of others.

These leaders read way too many books, listen to far too many podcasts, and see too many social media posts regarding numbers, programs, and the “quick-fix.”

The main goal of the church has always been about making disciple-makers(Matt. 28:18–20).

I wonder if the Thessalonian churches were envious of the Philippian church’s size—for they had deacons and bishops (Phil 1:1)? The Philippian church had wealth—they supported Paul on his church planting mission—perhaps they could show the other churches the “right” model?

Or, perhaps, the Ephesian churches wrote letters to the other churches with the best program “to reach the masses”? Maybe they distributed scrolls for, 8 Simple Ways to Be Awesomeor Grow Your Church Like Ours?

I never pick up on any of that in Paul’s writings. I see in Paul, a person who was a devoted disciple-maker (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Tim. 2:2). Paul was a servant who was dedicated to two words, “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23, 2:2; Gal. 2:20). And, Paul’s motivation was to see the churches reach maturity. I’ve never read a single statement from Paul consigning numbers over people.

I think in today’s church, leaders can sometimes make things more difficult than they are—instead of keeping it simple.

What if the church focused on only two things? (1)The gospel. (2) Reproducible disciple-making.

The gospel and reproducible disciple-making are centered in Christ and focused on people—the dysfunctional, hurting, pain-ridden, broken, and sinful people. If the church begins to look at people through the lens of Christ, growth will occur—naturally.

Let’s not over complicate the gospel. In the same manner, let’s not over complicate disciple-making, either.

If we do life together—as the called out gathered ones (ekklesia)—our lives will be centered in Christ, releasing us to live out our lives within the world.

If we focus on gospel transformative reproducible disciple-making, our hearts are directed at people and for people.

If all we’re solely interested in numbers, then we’re neglecting the missional mandate to love one another and make disciples.

Let’s not reinvent the wheel—but simply, go back to the basics.

When Does Discipleship Begin?

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Let’s be candid and free the air about some misconceptions regarding disciple-making.

For most of the church age, the comprehension that disciple-making begins with relationship building has been foreign.

Without delving into the early church—which I’m more than happy to do (I’ll save you the homework)—reproducible disciple-making was never designed to begin at conversion, baptism, or church membership. It also was not designed for categorical stages, but instead, was a commission to reach unreached people groups.

Disciple-making was always (and is) about continually making disciples from unbelieving people groups for salvific reconciliation harmony with God and a sanctifying journey through life to exalt Christ. (Matt. 28:18–20).

Pre-Conversion Disciple-making

Jesus called Twelve men, “disciples,” prior to their revelation of his identity. It was clear that these new followers of Jesus—at least to the Pharisees—took the identity of “disciples” (Matt. 9:14). It’s understandable to make an argument that they were covenant Israelites, looking for the Messiah—but not even Peter’s renowned profession happens for some time (Matt 16:13).

Likewise, a person can be seeking God, but not be a Christian. For instance, Apollos was an adherent to the baptism of John, and knowledgeable in the “instruction in the way of the Lord,” but Priscilla and Aquila “took him aside” and discipled him “more accurately” (Acts 18:25-26). Of course, we have no idea of how long Apollos was in Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila or how long they discipled him—but to “explain to” Apollos the “way of God more accurately,” denotes more than a quick conversation.

Therefore, all Christians are disciples, but not all disciples are Christians.

The discipleship process shouldbegin pre-conversion—at building relationships, explaining, reasoning, walking, and living with others—hopefully, while they are in the searching process.

Unfortunately, when the church shifted to a more didactic form of “discipleship”—between the late second to early fourth centuries, mainly due to heresies—the communal life-on-life aspects of reproducible disciple-making changed.

Disciple-making doesn’t occur in stages

I’ve read many times and, in several publications, that disciple-making is about getting to, and recognizing, specific stages. Here’s some of the problems and arguments I have with stages of discipleship.

First, the Thessalonian church was only 3 weeks old when Paul and Silas were snuck out of the city—but no older than six months (Acts 17:1–9).[1]How could this church grow in reproducible disciple-making, with a city of a hundred thousand persecuting them, in only a few short weeks? The truth is—reproducible disciple-making requires Holy Spirit gospel transformation, not programs or categories. In the case of the Thessalonian church, they would have been considered “babes in Christ.” Today, none of them would have been selected to lead or facilitate our modern small groups. Yet, Paul was encouraged by the report of their “faith and love” (1 Thess. 3:6).

Second, the dilemma with stages reduces disciple-making to a course to be completed. As if we enter a final stage of maturation. Believers are always learning and always growing. The Apostle Peter was rebuked by the Apostle Paul for representing a false gospel—what stage would we have placed Peter into during that period (Gal 2:11)? I’ve seen some models of discipleship list a requirement for a “mature disciple” to possess full knowledge of the gospel—guess that leaves Peter out? Paul asserted that Peter stood, “condemned” (Gal. 2:11). I’ll rest in the words of the Apostle Paul—that God is not finished with me, yet (Phil. 1:16).

Third, similar to my second point, when disciple-making is viewed as a program within the church, what happens to those who are not involved? I’ll tell you. Those “disciples” do not view themselves as disciples because they’re not in a “discipleship class.” The modern church values Scripture memorization more than Scripture adherence. Disciple-making is a continual life-on-life journey, which should begin at pre-conversion.

My point? Why bother with trying to measure believers up? Every believer is going to go through times of doubt, anxiety, turmoil, bitterness, error, sin, and so forth—perhaps the church should focus on being more like Christ—in unity—communally—not individualistically?

What if?

If the church could have a renewed vision of reproducible disciple-making, looking back at the early church, not trying to reinvent the wheel, perhaps evangelism and growth would be the outcomes? Perhaps the church could reach unreached peoples in communities, cities, and countries—beginning the reproducible disciple-making process.

The concept of reproducible disciple-making is not about finding a believer and discipling them, but a non-believer. What if each believer focused on discipling a non-believer? What would that look like?

It would look like multiplicative new conversion growth: salvation, baptism, identity in the Godhead, teaching to obey the commands of Christ. It would look like gospel transformation. It would look like communal life-on-life—sharing in troubles, failures, and successes. It would look like accountability and personal relationships, with God and man.

Is that so bad?

[1]Fee, Gordon, L. The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians(TNICNT) (Eerdmans: Grand Raids, 2009, 6).

Leadership Pipeline: How to Utilize Outreach to Recognize Gifting & Develop Leaders

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Not long after arriving at my revitalization position, I envisioned the church distributing invite cards within their neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities. This seemed to be an easy, low stress, and high impact, approach to evangelism. In turn, the evangelism initiative would work as a cyclical driving force for outreach. The outcome was average, probably as good as expected. But I learned from it.

I’m not one of those people that believes that the church is either missionalor attractional—I believe it is both—and always has been. So, when conceiving the invite card engagement, it was to be more effective than mailers—a “no brainer.” But, there’s much more potential here—stick with me.

The Workings

For 4–6 weeks, a deliberate church-wide initiative is set forth. The purpose is to garner support from every member to participate. The pastor expresses to the church the importance of total involvement in the new project.

The design is to invite as many people as possible (hopefully unchurched, unreached, nones and dones), with invitation cards. This event should be less stressful than walking door to door or street evangelism, seeking a high impact opportunity. The invitation cards should have the proper information regarding the church, website, address, times, and other essentials. Each member is expected to personally hand the cards out within their surroundings.

The Measurement

Now comes the fun part—if you like validation, team building, and leadership development. An outreach for the sake of outreach is still good works, and an outreach for Christ’s sake is edifying and glorifying to God—but what if we utilize and measure the initiative for greater purposes?

I learned something in my doctoral work—there should always be quantifiable or quantitative evidences. How do we know what we are doing is working? In this case, we could possibly count heads of new arrivals and/or, ask. But, for this article, we’d like to utilize the information from our initiative to create something greater within the church—leadership development and gift recognizability. How do we do this?

Every time a member arrives at the church building, they log in to an easily created program, which asks several questions: (1) How many cards did you hand out this week? (2) Where did you distribute the cards: a. neighborhood, b. workplace, c. community; (3) Have any of your invitees responded: a. small group, b. home Bible study, c. church Bible study, d. Worship service.

The questions are straight forward, they should take no less than two minutes to fill out. This also can be done by logging into a dedicated Facebook or website page. If your church has some tech savvy people, this initiative contains numerous possibilities.

The Key Results

Here’s the good stuff—utilizing the data. People have begun logging in and posting their results. We now have real identifiable and measurable information. We can see where the cards are going, who is taking them, how many each person gives out, and perhaps, what we’d like, the giftings of members.

Example: let’s say that our leadership is reading the church’s weekly data and notices that “Bob” has handed out a whopping 150 cards in one week! This sounds amazing—as a leader, he’s someone that I want to keep my on. Let’s also say that “Mary” has handed out 15, but 10 of the 15 are attending a Bible study in her home. Next comes “Kirby, Logan, Kim, Shania, Deb, and Tracey,” they all live within the same neighborhood. The leaders notice that none of this group’s cards have been distributed within their neighborhood, some were distributed at workplaces, and in the city, but none in their collective neighborhood.

How may leaders use this information?

Building A Leadership Pipeline

Noticing Bob’s amazing ability to hand out the invites, I want to reach out to him. It is highly likely that Bob has a gift for evangelism—at least we know that he’s not an introvert. Bob may be more comfortable in handing out cards than speaking, so it is vital that we encourage Bob and begin to edify his giftedness. We want to bring out what is already there. I would team Bob up with our evangelism and missions team, as well as, work one-on-one with Bob is disciple-making development.

For Mary, it seems that she has the gift of hospitality—she enjoys being with others. She’s invited people that she knows, or at least that she feels comfortable being around. According to the data, Mary has begun a home Bible study. Leaders should target this information to help advance Mary into a home group leader. It’s time to get Mary connected with the Life Groups leaders. While she may be intimidated by the idea at first, encouragement and cultivation will bring out her natural ability to facilitate, be hospitable, and organize.

Lastly, and these are only three examples, the last group of people may tell us that Kirby’s, et al., neighborhood may be an area of un-fallow ground (i.e. hard to reach). Leaders may gather these neighboring members to assist them in launching a church sponsored outreach (block parties, door to door, etc.). Bringing these members together and walking them through the stages of creation, organization, engagement, and implementation of neighborhood outreach will create future leaders when impacting other communities.

As you see, the church can utilize technology for the good and to help create a leadership pipeline. These are just a few examples; the ideas and implementations are almost endless.

The Western World As The Mission Field

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Western Christianity is hemorrhaging!

70% of the U.S. population reports a connection with Jesus Christ, yet according to David Olson, on any given Sunday, less than 17.5% of the population actually attends an orthodox worship service.[1] Even more sobering is the reality that American churches would need to plant 2,900 new churches a year, just to keep up with the current pace of population growth (some research states 15,000).[2]

In an interview with a Liberian church planter, he revealed that God called him to come to the United States to plant churches; he’s not the only one among the diaspora missionaries from Africa.[3] With 80 to 85 percent of churches in America either plateauing or in decline,[4] there is an urgent call for church revitalization and planting. For this reason, the church must re-engage the missio Dei, the sending of God, and shift to a missional praxis. The Western world has once again become the mission field.

When relating to Western culture, I understand the ambiguity involved in such terminology; therefore, for the purpose of this article, the term “Western culture” refers to the United States of America. I hope to illustrate our culture’s need for an apostolic movement and a call for a reestablished Trinitarian mission.

First, I’ll address the historical and present reality of the Western church’s decline and imperative nature as a mission field. Second, I’ll explore a biblical and theological reflection on the Western church within culture.

Historical and Present Reality of The Western Church

We don’t need to go too far back into American history to notice that a transformation has occurred. Just one hundred years ago, back to the 1920’s, Christianity was once was so enmeshed within its culture that capitalism and faith were nearly inseparable—it was virtually improbable to receive a bank loan without church membership.[5] John D. Rockefeller, who organized the Interchurch World Mission (IWM) once proclaimed, “A Christian is a Christian no matter what church he belongs to…What nobler aim can a man have in life than to be Christlike?”[6]

Studying Rockefeller’s business practices, it would not be against popular opinion to question his biblical faith, but as many Americans, Rockefeller assumed that everyone in American society were automatically Christian. Alan Hirsch clarifies, “In the American expression, Christianity was not married to the state but is nonetheless seen to be an inextricable part of American culture and identity; until the last thirty years or so, if you were American, you were a Christian.”[7] Church membership was more about being a part of the social norms and values than it was conviction of the heart.

An interesting statistic from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) shows research concerning American churches. NAMB found that in 1900 there were twenty-eight churches for every ten thousand people; by 1950 that number declined to seventeen; by the year 2000 it declined even more to twelve, and by 2004, it was down to eleven.![8] There are no current numbers, at least that I have discovered.

As stated, Olson’s statistics display that only 17.5% of the population in North America is attending Sunday services, but Doug Murren of the Murren Group, declares that number to be too high and suggested Olson’s 2008 numbers were lagging a bit behind—his ghastly number of only 12% is staggering.[10] Furthermore, Murren’s research indicates “20% of people leave their church every year, which would require a visitor rate of at least 30% of a church’s size per year, just to grow.”[11]

The Western church is surely in decline and hemorrhaging, as the culture pulls away from Christianity. The Barna Group assesses that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.”[12] With a population of roughly two hundred forty million Americans, one hundred seventy million of them (71%), either consider themselves as having no religious affiliation at all or Christian in name only.[13] As JR Woodward observed, “Functional Christendom has given way to a ‘spiritual,’ secular and pluralist society where a growing number view the church with suspicion and some with downright disdain.”[14] The Western world is officially a mission field and is in dire need of apostolic movement.

However, while it’s good to recognize numbers and statistics, the church should not become depressed—only motivated. As the culture shifts, the contemporary church must be reminded that it’s not in the first-century. As early church historian Michael Green notes, “They lived in a world more relativist and far more pluralist that our own.”[15] Of course, to some, like Ted Turnau, who projects in his book, Popologetics, that “each idolatrous cultural act inspires another that is darker and more deceptive,”[16] this would place humanity into a more darker culture than ever before.

It’s probably safe to say that humanity is, well, humanity, and a depraved unregenerate people will not flock to the gospel, but toward sinful tendencies. One cannot fault culture for shifting, nor for humanity in embracing relativism, new age spiritualism, or even atheism. If the church is not spreading the love of the gospel and making disciples within its community then the current culture cannot be faulted for failing to possess a Christian worldview. David Hesslegrave defines, “A worldview is formed by hearing and learning a big story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”[17]

The church is failing to present a transformation story in Christ, filled with the Scriptures, and the application from within our current lives. Society is only doing what is expected of it, to live life according to the desires of the heart. Western culture must be a mission field engaged by a missional people with a passionate and harmonious unified church at its core. The culture has shifted from the church to the workplace—hence, the church must engage the marketplace—and engage it as a movement.

The call for an apostolic movement is vital. If as Malphurs stated, “Only five to twenty-five percent of pastors are equipped to turn around churches”[18] then only a paradigm shift in thinking will work. J.D. Payne rightly observes that the American church, which once was filled with missional church planters has developed into a pastoral missiology of “maintenance and conservation of structures and organizations.”[19] Hirsch adds to this line of thinking, “We forgot that it’s not so much that the church has a mission as that the mission has a church…missional church is apostolic church.”[20] To combat the decline of Western culture, the church must reengage its apostolic past, while communally embracing its missional future.

Biblical and Theological Reflection on The Western Church

            As Lesslie Newbigin so eloquently, yet blatantly put it, “The Christ who said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,” also said to those same disciples, “As the Father has sent me so I send you,” and showed them the scars of his battle with the rulers of the world (John 20:20-21).[21] John’s passage reveals the Greatest Commission;[22] the missio Dei, it’s theologically steeped foundation within the Omnibenevolence of God.

To know God is to love him. Jesus told his disciples that they must love their neighbors as they love themselves; this is the second greatest commandment (Matt 22:39). When questioned as to whom was their neighbor (Luke 10:29), Jesus responded with a story pertaining to the Jews’ detested race of people, the Samaritans (Luke 10:30-35).

In connection, the story of the Good Samaritan is an applicable imperative to know and love those within our culture. Christ’s incarnation provides an example of not only understanding culture, but tabernacling within it (John 1:14). In Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Everyday Theology he explains, “Cultural literacy—[is] the ability to understand patterns and products of everyday life—[it] is thus an integral aspect of obeying the law of love.”[23] To effectively engage Western culture, the church must not abandon the ancient faith, striving to embrace secular values to become relevant, but adhere, apply, and act within Trinitarian koinonia.

At the heart of the reconciliation of all things, whether Western culture or otherwise, is the love of the Father, explicitly sending the suffering Son, to vicariously be victorious over sin and death for humanity, “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14). The love of God cannot be disseminated from the three persons of the Trinity, nor divorced from the missio Dei, as the conceptual understanding of homoousis underlies the Christ as the same eternal substance with the Father; so to, Christ is the head of the church.

Robert Webber’s book, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World expresses the church’s role and functions within a changing culture— “Our calling is not to reinvent the Christian faith, but, in keeping with the past, to carry forward what the church has affirmed from its beginning.”[24] The church was given a mandate to make disciples while going about life (Matt 28:19), through the worship of the Father (Matt 4:10; John 4:23), obedience and submission to Christ (John 14:15), by intentionally heeding the Holy Spirit’s voice (John 14:26; Acts 1:8).

Making disciples means that the church expresses,reveals, and manifests to culture the reality of the Trinity’s nature, by the gospel of Christ. As Adam Dodds confirmed, “Jesus cannot rightly be identified without describing the triune nature of God…Although the gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ, this gospel begins with the Father sending the Son who is conceived by the Holy Spirit.”[25] Therefore, for the church to engage the Western culture with the gospel, it is to reveal God’s Omnibenevolence with the missio Trinitas. A call back to understanding that the Godhead propels and sustains the missional church community is at its core. Woodward validates, “since the church is the icon of the Trinity, true personhood is found in community.”[26]

When the Apostle Paul was called to go to Macedonia, he first made plans to go to Asia, but as Erwin McManus linked, “The entire Trinity got involved in keeping Paul from going to the wrong place.”[27] Currently, the Western church is not listening and it seems to be going to the wrong place. The church abides in Christ, having its resolve to fulfill the missio Dei, as the Imago Dei. As Christ’s body on earth, the church’s missional DNA (mDNA) exists in Jesus as Lord.[28]

Enculturation occurs when “an existent, prevailing culture influences” a church to “imbibe its accepted norms and values.”[29] By enculturation, the contemporary church has separated itself from the imago Dei. Rather than retaining its innate DNA (2 Cor. 5:17), Western Christianity has lost the power of the cross, the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, and the fear of Almighty God. The church’s enculturation has stripped it of the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit (John 16), causing, in part, the West to become the mission field.

However, all is not lost. As Jesus stated, “I will build my church, and the gates of hellshall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18b). The church, from its earliest inception, faced political, religious, and even internal opposition with councils, proconsuls, governors, kings, and tribunes, but the “powers that be,” hinder as they may attempt, could not and cannot cease a missional movement of God.[30] When the church relinquishes control of all earthly things to God and basks in his presence, it can expect an apostolic Trinitarian movement to occur.[31] During trials, tribulations, and opposition from society, the New Testament (NT) church was in the midst of an expansion explosion, and God was on the move.

The church must re-engage Western culture by relinquishing its boundaries to the missio Trinitas. Rolland Allen expresses this as the church’s primary fear, “There is always something terrifying in the feeling that we are letting loose a force which we cannot control; and when we think of spontaneous expansion in this way, instinctively we begin to be afraid.”[32] As the Apostles Paul and John declared, “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7) and respectively, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a). Therefore, in moving ahead within the cultural divide, the church must relinquish its thoughts of controlling Christ’s body. The church has all the resources, power, vision, people, and God-given authority to reach the West for Christ—may we be so emboldened to do it!

[1]David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.

[2]Ibid., 181.

[3]J.D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigrations, Migration, and Mission(Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 151.

[4]Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.

[5]Charles Edward Harvey. 1982. “John D Rockefeller, Jr and the Interchurch World Movement of 1919-1920: a different angle of the ecumenical movement.” Church History51, no. 2: 203. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed July 7, 2015).

[6]Ibid., 200.

[7]Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 130.

[8]Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 9.

[9]Olson, The American Church in Crisis,181.

[10]Doug Murren, “De-Churching or Re-Gathering,” themurrengroup.com, March, 2015, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.themurrengroup.com/de-gathering-or-re-gathering.html.

[11]Ibid., 5.

[12]George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless:Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 16.

[13]Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For the 21stCentury: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, 3rdEd. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 12.

[14]JR Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 30.

[15]Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 21.

[16]Ted Turnau, Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective(Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012), 65.

[17]David J. Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 146.

[18]Malphurs, Look Before You Lead,173.

[19]J.D. Payne, Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 24-25.

[20]Hirsch and Ferguson, On the Verge, 130-132.

[21]Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 124.

[22]Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West(Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 19.

[23]Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, and Michael J. Sleasman, eds. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 19.

[24]Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 17.

[25]Adam Dodds. “Newbigin’s Trinitarian missiology: the doctrine of the Trinity as good news for Western culture.”International Review Of Mission99, no. 390 (April 1, 2010): 17. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed July 6, 2015).

[26]Woodward, Creating A Missional Culture, 91.

[27]Erwin Raphael McManus, An Unstoppable Force Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind 2001 Publication(Loveland, CO: Group Pub. Inc., 2000), 77.

[28]Hirsch and Ferguson, On the Verge, 158.

[29]Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church, 18.

[30]Steve Walton. “What Does ‘Mission’ in Acts Mean in Relation to the ‘Powers That Be’?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society55, no. 3 (2012): 546.

[31]Grant Osborne. “Moving Forward On Our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society53, no. 2 (June 2010): 259.

[32]Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: and the Causes That Hinder It(Grand Rapids, MI: Wipf & Stock Pub, 1997), 13.

The Giving Tree

This is a guest post from my daughter, Kathleen Fretwell. She resides in Bilbao, Spain, and as a “millennial,” has some first-hand insight into the generation, culture, travel, and the Christian faith. I am grateful for her input and willingness to have her articles posted here, but, should you feel inclined, you can always follow her other writings or get more information at her blog, Just Trying to Blend

By Kathleen Fretwell

I had an awesome friend say to me once, “You know what?  You’re really nice. I hope later in life you get what you deserve, because you are always giving.”

Even though I am ashamed of most decisions made during the previous years of my life, and not everyone who knew me could whole-heartedly describe me as “the nice girl,” one thing is for certain … I have always given unto others.

But, I can’t help to get bogged down sometimes.

Oh, no. In no way, shape, or form am I claiming to be Mother Teresa; however, when people are in need and I can be of assistance, I do all in my power to help.  I feel a pang of guilt when I know I cannot help “better” the situation. I can not help, but to help. I give things I do not have, and I will more than likely never have enough money to be considerably rich for the sole reason being that I am constantly paying for people, with of course, money I do not have to spend.

I can’t help but to get upset when people are unlike me.  I get a harsh, hard-to-swallow feeling in my chest and something that feels like a sucker-punch to the heart—not when my efforts go unnoticed—but when they go unequaled.  I give, give, and give, but my efforts are not correspondent, and the sad reality of the world is that not all people are like me—but [more clearly] mostly not all people are like God.

I fail my emotions in thinking people are as like-minded as I am. I am disappointing only myself when I come to realize that they are not.

When I feel this way, rather than get deeply saddened and possibly turn to anger to sort out my depressive emotions, I remember these words:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

I have to remember that people were made in the image of God, but it is when I give people “God-like-qualities” that I find myself becoming most disappointed. I need to remember what lies ahead for me, and trust that good people really will, someday, be rewarded.

I thank my friend Isabelle that day, for not only giving me a compliment I will never forget, but for also setting my heart down the right path. She helps me move forward—into the right direction when I am feeling down.

People, please continue to give, even when you feel your efforts are not equivalent. Give, because there are people like me who notice your efforts, and there is a God who promises to reward our selflessness, in due time.

3 Things I learned at Exponential

Last week I attended and lead an equipping lab at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme this year is Heromaker—based off of Dave Ferguson’s new book. At first glance one may assume that Hero-maker is only a marketing angle for book sales—to the contrary. A hero-maker is a multiplier, a reproducible disciple-maker, a mentor, coach, and/or a person who invests their time, resources, and life, to see others grow in Christian maturity. The leaders at the conference stressed that they were not the heroes, but hero-makers—desiring to see others become leaders in engaging and growing in the Christ-life.

But, let me clarify something I recently read—there’s a misconception regarding the definition of Hero-maker—as if the conference were promoting “superheroes” or creating prideful people—that’s far from the truth and even farther from what I experienced. I saw dedicated individuals humbly pouring out their time and life—selflessly. The main reason I wanted to write this article was to point out three things that I observed—and they’re all very encouraging.

Lostness

Exponential was sold out—10,000 people jam-packed into the First Baptist Church of Orlando. There were numerous Spirit-filled speakers on the main stage, not to mention the numerous breakout equipping labs. One thing that I loved, I didn’t see dry ice vapor-clouds, hear thumping music, and bump into hipsters. I networked and met with a myriad of believers, differing denominational leaders, and church planters—each demonstrating a kingdom-minded attitude.

With nearly every person that I met, there was a sense of urgency in reaching the lostness of their communities—worldwide. With each story I heard, people pouring their hearts out about the lostness within their community and desiring to see their churches engage mission. There were seriously devoted believers seeking practical ways to reach the lost.

But, another beautiful aspect concerning a conference such as Exponential—it’s not merely North America, or a specific denomination—it’s global and multi-denominational; not to mention, multi-diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Everyone is working together for the common goal of reaching the unreached—to engage lostness. This one thing gave me confidence in the universal Church.

So many times, we hear dismal numbers of failure, church decline, and the ever increasing amount of closed doors—but Exponential was different. It was a breath of fresh air—Spirit-filled air—breathed out through the lives of the many who attended.

Disciple-making

My doctoral work was in reproducible disciple-making, explicitly for church planters to reach new converts. I studied and researched ecclesiastical history and what went wrong and what was done right. I studied and research many contemporary discipleship models. I studied and researched small groups, immersion groups, home groups, community groups, and all kinds of missional gatherings. I researched a few North American church planting organizations, too. I also studied and read nearly every book written in the last 100 years, pertaining to discipleship.

I mention that because I was excited to see what was happening at Exponential. While the organization that I’m the director, New Breed, plants churches via reproducible disciple-making, most do not—at least that was part of my doctoral findings. Needless to say, I was somewhat discouraged about the state of the current church—until I hit Exponential.

At the conference, there was a sincere ground swell of thousands of people and leaders dedicated to seeing things change—not for the sake of change, but to see Christ exalted and the church engaged in making disciple-makers. There were speakers who were championing the small church, movements, and innovation—all within the realm of re-discovering disciple-making.

Kingdom-mindedness

While I wished that I could report everything was awesome and smelled like roses—that’s not altogether the truth. I was able to see one thing that I didn’t like—namely, empire building. There are some organizations which are not team players—they’re focused on their own agendas—but, be relieved, I want to help you navigate toward kingdom-minded opportunities.

If you’re like me—a networker, mobilizer, and catalyst type, who yearns to see people grow in Christ and communities reached—then your best opportunity to collaborate is with the smaller organizations. The larger ones may not give you the time of day, nor be invested in true collaboration. It is what it is.

However, I can’t speak for every large organization—but I can say that the smaller ones are hungry for working together, sharing secrets and models, and seeing Christ magnified at any expense—even if it means sharing inside information which may be utilized and adapted by another organization.

The fact is, the smaller organizations are not in it for money—or better stated—they don’t have an overhead to payout. Most of them have passionate volunteer staff—they have a vision they believe in and are committed to see God bring it to fruition. As I stated, I’m the Director of New Breed, but when I met with Patrick O’Connell from New Thing, he was as excited to connecting as I was—even though we both serve in like capacities. I saw this of enthusiasm time and time again.

The smaller organizations seem to be more kingdom-minded because they are collaborative—working with other believers to reach the ends of the earth. Needless to say, I met some fantastic people and would encourage you, if you’re seeking collaboration and encouragement—attend of the next upcoming Exponential conference (www.exponential.org).

5 Great Reasons Why Christians Should Observe Ash Wednesday & Lent

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The Church’s Lenten season begins tomorrow. Lent is a period of 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (before Easter). Lent was designed as a time for reflection, repentance, prayer, fasting, and meditation on Scripture. It became a time when new believers prepared for baptism and joining the Church.

Some believers view Lent as a move towards works-based righteousness or ritualistic traditionalism. However, the early church fathers expressed the importance of church “seasons,” to help believers navigate life. Similar to the calendar we all use with holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and such, the liturgical (church) calendar provides seasons for believers to reflect in their Christian life.

On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the forehead as a symbol of mortality, remembrance of salvation by grace, and the dust from which man was created.

Here are five reasons why Christians should observe Lent.

#5        Reflection & Mediation on the Word of God

It’s no surprise that there’s a lack of biblical literacy within the church.

Lent devotes 40 days in recognizing the importance of the Word of God to transform the soul. Meditation on the Scripture is not Yoga or some ancient mysticism, but a deeper spiritual awareness. Studying and meditating on the Word of God assists believers in knowing God more, creating discipline, and transformation. In reality, this should be done 365 days, but it may be a good start for some.

#4        Setting Aside Time for Prayer & Fasting

These two disciplines are connected throughout redemptive history.

Placing the spirit in command of the flesh is vital. In a world where food, beverage, and technology rule the flesh, renewal is imperative. Fasting should not be seeking prosperity from God, but placing the soul under God’s control. He is Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Fasting should be joined with prayer—when pangs of hunger arrive—the believer kneels in prayer.

The basic principle: the spirit is in control of the flesh. Pray about your strongholds. Do you have a vice that “owns” you? Lent is the perfect time to begin afresh. Pray through the Psalms. Prepare your heart for remembering Christ’s sacrificial gift on the cross.

#3        Explore The Inner Self

Examining oneself is biblical—not for a better you—but for repentance. The Apostle Paul stated that we should examine ourselves prior to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28). What is nobler than examining our motives and actions in daily life—to glorify God?

Why not examine your actions, motives, and thoughts for these 40 days? Ask the Lord to reveal your heart. Is there any unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, or anger in your life? Choose Lent to release ties of bondage. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring beautiful conviction—to draw you closer with God.

#4        Reach Out to the Community

During the Lenten period, dedicate some time to giving to the needs of the poor, hungry, or homeless. Paul declared that he was asked to “remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). We should be eager to humble ourselves, serving and loving others (Phil 2:5–8).

You never know, being missional may open doors to network for Kingdom growth in your community. But, make sure you do it with a heart of joy, serving others as Christ served. Remember, Jesus washed the feet of Judas, too.

#5        Listening to God’s Voice

By far—this is the number one reason! Many believers lack quiet time with God and have no idea what His voice sounds like. The whisper in the ear while in prayer, the wondrous beauty of the Holy Spirit’s presence in walks, or the sweet surrender to His power. Why not take a vow of silence for a day?

Try a long walk instead of using the car—listen for God—take in His awesome creation (Rom. 1:20). While driving to and from work, turn down the volume and talk with God. When you get home from work leave the television and computer off. Turn off the cell phone and take the ear buds out your ears—take the time to hear the voice of the Almighty.

He loves you and desires intimate time. Choose these next 40 days to transform your spiritual journey with Christ. (Feb. 10—Mar. 26).

How Being Bi-Vocational Engages Better Disciple-Making

For the record, every follower of Christ is a disciple-maker. As well, every follower of Christ is in—quote, un-quote—ministry. None are exempt (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18). Even though I serve as the Director of Operations for New Breed Network, a church planting training organization, this article pertains to all those who serve within the context of church leadership.

I’m not a big fan of the term, “pastoral” ministry, as if there are hierarchal castes within the ministry of the gospel. But, I get it, and from time to time, and I will use the term. While I adhere to a plurality of elders in relation to bi-vocational leadership, I realize that some people view ministry as something only a pastor performs. However, to be biblically correct—pastors train and equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:12).

I mention the aspect of pastoral ministry because I believe, like many others, that the church needs to get back to its first-century roots. We (the church) need to be more focused on disciple-making then church growth (btw, disciple-making done right encompasses evangelism). However, we can’t do that if the focus is solely on pastoral ministry.

Disciple-making occurs the best when normal, everyday, relational life, becomes the Christ-life. As my good friend Peyton Jones admits, “I’d sat too long holed up in my office, locked away from the world that desperately needed Jesus, but you can’t change the world from behind a desk.”[1]

Inspired by his words, I’d like to offer two brief ways in which being bi-vocational better engages disciple-making.

  1. Corporate Cognition

Some pastors are forced to become bi-vocational—it is what it is. But, as someone who’s been bi-vocational and still is, I know the up-side is better than the down-side. A bi-vocational (bi-vo) pastor/elder/leader will become missional without even thinking because of the immersion into the environment.

No longer behind a desk or chained to the duties of traditionalism—you’re set free to engage the rest of the image-bearers on the planet. One thing I always celebrate with the church I serve—it is when they ask me to pray for their co-workers. I immediately thank them for loving like Christ and being on mission within the work place.

Corporate cognition is not about businesses, but about the reality that we’re all created for relationships. For a bi-vo leader, an awareness should exist that you are not a time clock puncher, you’re a servant of the gospel—doing all things for the glory of God—surrounded by lostness.

Bi-vocational leaders have a “leg up” in the disciple-making field because of their corporate cognition (i.e. work environment). A higher tendency to speak to unreached people already exists.

Just as the Apostle Paul served as a tent-maker, along with Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, and Silas (Acts 18), working within the community presents us with more lostness-engaging opportunity. And with more opportunity comes more ability.

  1. Cultivating Gospel Trades

Within New Breed, I have labeled (and coined) certain jobs—as “anchor trades.” Anchor trades are professions that meet a community need with the possibility of having the greatest amount of exposure to lostness. While most people don’t think about their jobs in this way—plumbers, barbers, store clerks, chimney sweeps, builders, and even IT gurus, are being utilized in this manner.

At New Breed, we look at disciple-making as a two-fold opportunity. Not only can a bi-vocational leader make disciples of Christ within their profession by meeting new converts, but he/she also has an opportunity to disciple within the trade.

Cultivating gospel trades is a term that I use to identify a profession in which a person can teach a trade, while tandemly making gospel-centered disciples. I perceive that the Apostle did this (although I have no solid proof).

For instance, if I’m hired as a wood worker and have a few helpers to build a table—while we fasten the sides of a table together, I may begin to explain how the Holy Spirit works within my life, or how the wood reminds me of the cross of Christ, bringing humanity and God together. Or perhaps, if I’m sanding down the top, I may suggest that sometimes God places people in our lives that act as our “sandpaper”—somewhat abrasive—but developing our maturity in humility. Regardless, you get the picture.

Mostly any profession can be rendered into a cultivated gospel trade. While we’re teaching the trade itself, we’re also making disciple-makers. These are merely two ways in which bi-vocational leaders better engage disciple-making.

[1] Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017)

Beginning All Over Again

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Becoming disengaged in the faith is a common fatality for unfruitful discipleship. In our culture, many things desire our attention and hinder our ability to hear God. Jesus informed us that a believer must be able to hear and go wherever the Spirit leads (John 3:8). A Christian who is unable to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice can only proclaim faith—not live it.

This new year,  start over with the basics, from the beginning. Begin with fresh, new eyes. Below, I’ve listed three practical ways to reinvigorate and jump start your faith.

  1. Intentional Slow Down

In John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, he advises that the challenges of the world test the depths and elasticity of the soul. When I was young I had a stretch Armstrong doll; it was filled with a gooey gel, and was pliable and very stretchy. My brother and I tried to rip it apart and couldn’t (boy tested and approved). However, when we put in the freezer, the gel congealed and became hard—the elasticity was gone. That’s what has occurred to many believers—they’ve grown cold and become hardened by the world’s busyness and possessions—no longer pliable to hear from God.

We must slow down our thoughts. For some of us, slow is not an option—in that case, we should be intentional about our time. We cannot hear from God without reading the Word or setting aside time for prayer. We must intentionally slow down our minds to soften our souls—to stay pliable. Say to God, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).

  1. Having Everything, Dying of Starvation

There’s an old story about ten people sitting around a round table with platefuls of food in front of them—however, they had no elbows. While having healthy amounts of food, they slowly starve and die because of an inability to get food into their mouths. As the story goes, if they would have fed each other, death would have been averted.

Christianity is starving—yet engorging itself in everything. While the technology age fattens us, we lack love, fellowship, and mission. Intentionally gathering with one another is imperative for spiritual growth and maturity. Church is not about attendance, but gathering with the body of Christ to share in worship, love, and encouragement. Isolation is a form of starvation—don’t possess everything of the world, and die of starvation.

  1. Location, Location, Location…

I’ve shared this many times—The Celtic Christians called their connection place with God—a thin place. A strategic location that was set aside as holy. Derived from Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, he declared, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). A thin place is where heaven and earth collide, a place where you and God meet. Find your thin place—removed from distractions—an intentional location of solitude—to arrive at the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).

It is only in the silence of God where you will hear gentle instruction. It is only in the love, fellowship and mission of God where you will find calling. And, it is only in a dedicated thin place where you’ll enter the presence of God as never before.

Make this new year intentional—make it a new beginning.

Church, Millennials & The Growing Divide

The music plays softly in the background. Emotions are stirring within the hearts of the crowd. Reverberating through the seats, a thunderous summoning for the people to rise to their feet. A tearful plea. An appeal for the listening multitude to accept Jesus, “Come. Walk down the aisle for personal salvation!”

The great crusades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had success in the proclamation of the gospel. Especially regarding the Great Awakenings. However, concerning discipleship and the ecclesiastical community—not, so much.

Nearly two hundred years removed from the remarkable orations of George Whitefield and John Wesley. One hundred years since the preaching of D. L. Moody, or even just a decade of the marvelous Billy Graham crusades—we still hear it … You need a personal salvation.

Observations are only observations. Sometimes we can learn from them and sometimes, not. Observation does not necessitate a cause—as many factors may contribute—especially regarding the Western church decline.

However, I perceive—by research and observation—that some of the Western church’s dilemma resides in “personal” salvation. There is a growing divide between church importance and millennials, and it’s not getting any better.

Growing divide

Only two in ten millennials (ages 30 and under) believe that church is important.[1]While we could equate spiritualism, intellectualism, humanism, evolutionary science, and other factors into the equation—59 percent of millennials who grew up in the church, no longer attend. Why don’t we be honest—the problem is the within the church, not within culture.

The truth is—the Western church is horrible at reproducible disciple-making (less than 20% of Christians partake in discipleship[2]). Why are believers horrible at following the one chief command given (Matt 28:19–20)? I believe there is a correlation between “personal” salvation and the collective imperative of the ecclesiastical community.

Failure to be connected

Almost 90 percent of individuals who claim to have faith in Christ do not attend church.[3] There is an overwhelming majority that believe they can “love Jesus” but not love the church. Unfortunately, this is an erroneous human construct. The Church is the body of Christ—you can’t hate the church and love Jesus.

Jesus declared the “gates of hell” ineffective against his church, not the individual believer (Matt 16:18). Our faulty understanding of the word church, has much to do with our dilemma. Without diving into a Greek ocean of vernacular—the term church is defined as gathered, called out ones.

There can be no disconnect between salvation and service—at least according to the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 2:8–10, Paul distinctly declares salvation as a work of God, by faith, because of being created for good works. Paul’s Epistle professes an overall appeal for the unity and praxis of the church.

I believe a major factor in the growing divide between church relevance and faith is caused by some of the teachings of a “me” centered gospel. Let’s face it, if God solely focused on personal salvation, he’d “rapture” people at conversion. Albeit, believers represent the incarnate body of Christ on earth—a collective living and breathing—relevant—body.

Factors for change

The Millennial generation is larger than the Boomer generation—can we say, “Houston, we have a problem”—an astronomical problem!

Barna states, “Millennials who are opting out of church cite three factors with equal weight in their decision: 35% cite the church’s irrelevance, hypocrisy, and the moral failures of its leaders as reasons to check out of church altogether. In addition, two out of 10 unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church.”[4]

I would agree that the church does not maintain a healthy balance between charismania and academia. But after all, the church is a gathering of sinful people cleansed by Christ, but not perfected—we know we have our faults and dysfunctions.

Regardless, to close the door of the divide, the church must relate the importance of salvation for the collective community—the power of God on display—through prayer, proclamation, and praxis.

[1] “Americans Divided On the Importance of Church,” Barna.org, March 24, 2014, accessed, https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/.

[2] David Kinnaman, “New Research On the State of Discipleship,” http://www.barna.org, https://www.barna.org/research/leaders-pastors/research-release/new-research-state-of-descipleship#.VqDcJFJQmDU.

[3] “Meet Those Who “love Jesus but Not the Church”,” Barna.org, March 30, 2017, accessed, https://www.barna.com/research/meet-love-jesus-not-church/.

[4] “Americans Divided On the Importance of Church,” Barna.org, March 24, 2014, accessed, https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/.