Urban Church Planting and The Diaspora

If you’re a church planter and you haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will—soon enough. One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. Envision how airplane traffic controllers track flights.

The world is seeing great numbers of people shifting from country to country. Whether the movement is due to refugees—fleeing persecution, or for temporary visa status—for work—regardless, the peoples of the world are on the move—and God is doing something amazing! He’s bringing people to us.

What Immigration Tells Us

Western churches, especially urban church plants, will be forced to reach people of ethnicity—not that urban churches haven’t always done this—as cities become more diverse than culturally segregated (think Chinatown, Little Italy, etc.). The good news comes to us by reaching the diaspora of the nations.[1] Almost makes me think of Psalm 2:8, “All the nations you have made shall come…”

Immigration to the United States is the cause for population growth.[2] Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population, but declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).[3]

Being Great Commission Churches

Great Commission (Matt 28:19) churches will need to engage the diasporic peoples in order to see the gospel delivered domestically and globally. With the recent news of the IMB’s shortfall and need to release close to 800 people, churches will once again have the pressure of the Great Commission task. This may be a good thing (not people being laid-off, that’s always bad), in the sense that churches will be forced to evaluate their understanding of the missio Dei.

So, if we cannot send more missionaries overseas, what is the answer that God may be giving us? Here’s the bigger picture: there are immigrants who choose to return back to their homeland after getting settled within a new country; those who do return are known as the diaspora.[4] Reaching the diasporic peoples within urban communities is one way to help spread the gospel, while alleviating the costs of training international missionaries.

How Does This Effect Church Planting?

The immigration “game” and diasporic models play a huge role in urban church planting. Since urban areas across the globe are growing (urbanization) then planting more churches within the urban context is necessary. Domestic church planters will be expected to reach across cultures, socially and evangelistically. We call this E–2 to E–3 evangelism.

To see a true church planting movement (CPM) occur within the U.S., church planters must be prepared to contextualize the gospel with simplicity—for the purpose of reproducibility. The current model is not sustainable; meaning, we cannot expect to wait for church planters to graduate seminaries and become some type of dynamic leader. Only a lay leader style of bi-vocational (at best) ministry is simply reproduced through discipleship—much like the first century or any major CPM in history.

Regardless, things are changing, and if you’re an urban church planter or a pastor, you might want to begin considering how you are going to reach these people groups. But don’t worry, this stuff is what guys like me study and try to develop (working on it now!). Just think about it. Tell me your thoughts…


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

[2] Steven A. Camarota, “Projecting Immigration’s Impact On the Size and Age Structure of the 21st Century American Population,” http://www.cis.org, December, 2012, accessed September 3, 2015, http://cis.org/projecting-immigrations-impact-on-the-size-and-age-structure-of-the-21st-century-american-population.

[3] Susanna Groves, “Http: //www.diasporaalliance.org,” http://www.diasporaalliance.org, March 13, 2015, accessed September 3, 2015, http://www.diasporaalliance.org/americas-largest-diaspora-populations/.

[4] Payne, Pressure Points, 9-10.

How Should Church Planters Respond To Gay Marriage?

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This is the cover article for this month’s Church Planter Magazine.

The Reality

After twelve years, he was leaving his wife and kids, “I realize that I can no longer live in the shadows and secrets of my day-to-day life,” was the way that he revealed being gay. I’ll be honest—I saw it coming—it was just a feeling that I had. And so, I had waited for him to talk to me about it. I’ll also admit that as a pastor I felt torn inside, one part of me wanted to weep for him, while another had compassion, while yet some other deeper aspect realized that he had just entrusted me with a hidden secret, one that he knew would change his life. He wasn’t confiding in me to explain a struggle; this was a decision to live life. If you’re like me, you’ve had one of these conversations and if you haven’t—you will.

In a recent doctoral seminar, my professor stated, “Our culture is now living in the shadows of the Church.”[1] This means that the early church lived within a pre-Christian culture, not knowing anything about Jesus; however, this is not the case today. As George Barna asserts, ninety-nine percent (99%) of unchurched people are aware of Christianity.[2] As church planters and pastors, our calling hasn’t changed. The gospel must be preached, transforming hearts to turn from sin, while the compassion of Christ must be evident within our lives. So, we need to ask some important questions: (1) How do we exegete our modern culture? (2) What is the church planter’s biblical response to gay marriage? And (3), how do we respond, practically?

The Shadowed Life

While my friend described living in a secret life of the shadows, he actually didn’t know how right he was. In the twenty-first century, believers and unbelievers are living within the shadows of two thousand years of Christendom. In exegeting our culture, church planters must be able to discern it, comprehend it, and then properly engage it. This is a non-negotiable; it will be and must be an aspect of every planter’s toolbox.

Church planters are cultural architects; we’re the innovators and creators who navigate through any society and people group. So, first, let’s acknowledge that there is a dilemma within evangelicalism, one that we can’t look at exhaustively here, but one which must be mentioned, that of gay Christians. For our discussion, we’re going to assume that we’re trying to engage a gay culture of unchurched people, who know about Christianity. We also must assume that all culture will disrupt, influence, or change the liturgy or worship of the ecclesia, whether by music, clothes, food, art, or values and beliefs. Aubrey Malphurs clarifies, “Culture affects all churches. There are no exceptions.”[3]

A church planter cannot engage any neighborhood rightly, without first (1) understanding who the people are (discernment), (2) what they’re values and beliefs are (core values), (3) how they repeat or translate those values and beliefs (ethos), (4) and how they practice them (praxis). We must gauge all four of these before we can truly understand the people that we’re going to engage. Paul does this in Athens, as he walks around, he assesses their religious idols and liturgies, so that he can contextualize the gospel (Acts 17:16-31). So, in exegeting our Western culture, it is clear that there is a paradigm shift in sexual morality. We have to ask ourselves, what is the church planter’s biblical response to gay marriage, as we stand within the shadow of the church?

Biblical Response

First, let’s be honest, homosexuality is not a new practice, nor is it a new challenge to the Church. The Apostle Paul, arguably the best church planter ever, noted that the early church was filled with gentiles who practiced idolatry, drunkenness, or some form of sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:9­–11)—and somehow, the Church squeaked by in growth. I say “squeak by,” tongue and cheek because we know better, the Church grew exponentially. This meant that the gospel was more than sufficient to reach and transform any people group and sin-laden behavior. Admittedly, I view homosexuality as sin, I’m not going to apologize, but I do empathize with people who are seeking companionship in emotional and physical connections. As well, I view sexual immorality the same way that I view drunkenness or idolatry; I don’t categorize the yearnings of our flesh. Biblically and historically speaking, homosexuality was ingrained into the Greco-Roman culture and was engaged by the church head on. And even though it was not God’s intention, the early gentile church was filled with regenerated sexually immoral people.

Sometime near 30-33 AD, as recorded by Matthew (19:4), Jesus provided the creation mandate, that God created mankind male and female—even though the context’s question is about divorce—Jesus is not defending our current definition of marriage. What He is clarifying is that, pre-Law, God created two people who would come together in a duality of oneness. The distinct proponent of the marital bond between a man and a woman is not solely about a blessing or even abiding within the Law, but that the twoness of God’s design would become one “flesh.” For this reason, two like-sexes can never establish the duality of one (or twoness of one) because they only possess an innate design of the same gender. It’s really not about law, ethics, or marital rights; it’s about God’s design and illustration of the miraculous unity of two people—to become one flesh. God’s design is a harmonization of souls, which symbolizes the beauty and uniqueness of the Godhead.

As well, evangelicals recognize that all people are sinners (Rom. 3:23) and in need of God’s grace. This means, just as the early church, in our modern culture, church planters must acknowledge that sin exists and is defeated by Christ’s work on the cross. Yet, we must also destroy the hierarchal structure of “forbidden” sins, which keep people from the grace of God. This means that we cannot pick and choose which sins we tolerate and which ones we do not. One of my biggest objections to those who strongly oppose gay marriage is their quick defense of heterosexual fornication and co-habitation. Their defense states that it is “OK” to have two church members of the opposite sex living together and engaging in sex (i.e. “we’ll look the other way”), but God considers two people of the same sex engaging in the same sexual behavior, as an abomination.

My point: no sin is justified. The biblical response demands that the Church not turn a blind eye to sin, but have compassion to those struggling with sin, and create relationships with all people, for the sake of the gospel. So, whether hetero or homosexual, the holiness of God demands that each person examines his or her own “body” (1 Cor. 6:12–20). As an ex-drunk, I realized that my drinking was idolatry. This does not mean that consuming alcohol is idolatry, but it certainly was with me. I allowed alcohol to take the place of God. In retrospect, I was saying that God could not handle my stress load, or relate to my hard work and anxiety, but the cold beer or glass of wine, could. Likewise, in this case, there is no distinction between drunkenness and someone’s sexual immorality; both are not God’s intended creation for the body or relationship with Him.

Practical Engagement

If we’re engaging an unchurched gay culture that has knowledge of Christianity, to some extent, then let’s assume that most gays have a presumption about judgment and sin. It’s pretty safe to say that gays have heard the fire and brimstone message of Hell. I’ll also assume that they’ve shut that door—pretty hard. They’ve probably also heard about the biblical Leviticus, Romans, and Corinthians’ arguments and know how to navigate those confrontations. So, why are we trying to engage a culture with confrontation, debate, and argumentation? As if winning a debate has ever brought anyone closer to Christ? Let’s try another way.

One of the beautiful aspects of the gospel is not only the grace provided through salvation in Christ, but the connected deliverance, freedom from sin, and joy in which it brings. A recent Barna poll showed that Americans are increasingly lonely, stressed, and worried about their future.[4] The gospel meets all of those needs; that motivates me. We live in a day and time when gospel engagement is not only necessary, but is vital. So, how do church planters practically engage the gay marriage issue?

The honest and right answer is to respond to gay marriage in the same way that the Church engaged it within the first century. With love, grace, and truth. Each new convert to Christianity was called to embrace holiness, acknowledge grace, receive forgiveness, and rest in the hope of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus. In the first-century, the gospel was infectious within a perverse and immoral culture, and it always will be—as long as the people presenting the gospel acknowledge their own sin and communally express the love of Christ. Church planters can engage the gay marriage issue in the same way that they engage any immorality or sin—through the lens of Christ coupled with a fresh recognition of their own salvation (Eph. 2:8–9).

For us, it must be about praxis. Jesus made a point of going to the demonized, outcasts, prostitutes, and extremely diseased. He touched them, sympathized with them, and embraced them. Jesus ate with them, walked with them, and sometimes even defended them (though, not their sin). Our difference in ministry is that we are presenting Jesus, being incarnated within community, to those who are affected by sin, sickness, or culture. We expect sin-blinded people to “get it,” even though we, ourselves, never “got it.” We must admit, there is no little girl that wakes up desiring to become a prostitute one day. We exegete culture because sometimes culture causes people to become things they do not desire to become. Jesus was the best example of how to read and incarnate into culture.

So, church planter, —it is your calling to exegete the culture. You should contextualize the gospel and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help transform a broken and hurting heart. You should assist a gathered community of Christ-followers to help, not hinder, reconciliation. Church planters are bringing a resurrection community into a worldly society. And, while some in the gay community may not be “struggling,” certainly we acknowledge that, but we do not change the way that we present gospel truths or compassion, empathy, and the reality of sin’s captivity. Therefore, church planters are bringing with them the kingdom of God and must view the gay marriage issue as every other sin—redeemable by the blood of Christ.

[1] J. D. Payne. Contemporary Issues Facing The Church. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. August 7, 2015.

[2] George Barna, and David Kinnaman. Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishing), 48.

[3] Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 74.

[4] Barna, 20.

Hi-Jacked! What To Do When Believers Move In To Steal The Vision of The Church

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This article is a cover article for Church Planter Magazine. Get the App for your iPad and iPhone here.

Hi-jacked!

“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”[1] was the voice from Captain Jason Dahl and then another voice came over the plane’s loud speaker, “Ladies and gentlemen: here the captain. Please sit down, keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.”[2] That was the voice was Ziad Jarrah, one of the hijackers from the United Airlines flight 93 on September 11th, 2001. While this was such a tragic and mortifying event and hardly one comparable to churches that are “hijacked,” the fact that churches are sabotaged may have the same mortifying feeling to the church planter or pastor.

Whether you’re a mega-church pastor or a church planter with a small core team, there will always be other believers who will come in, as the Apostle Paul put it, “to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus…” (Gal 2:4). Perhaps their intentions are not as severe as to bring in damnable heresies, nor with malice to destroy and kill; nonetheless, when transfer growth occurs within a core or within a thriving church, believers can even subconsciously, attempt to hi-jack the vision of the church. From experience, let me list three ways to protect the vision of your church.

Be Very Observant

My wife and I once belonged to an Acts 29 church plant. At the time, I was in my early seminary years and should have been listening more than I was thinking and talking, but one essential that I noticed, was the way that the pastor soaked everything in. He was a hawk. He knew who everyone was and when a visitor came in, he made sure to ask where the visitor came from, if they belonged to another church, were unchurched, visiting, or seeking a home. At first, I thought this was a little intrusive, but one day we took a long ride to a conference and along the way he taught me an invaluable lesson about vision and people—especially other believers. It’s no secret to many pastors, but I was young and inexperienced—that when believers leave a church, they tend to bring their problems, concerns, and soon-to-be corrections, with them. Basically, they want to make your church their perfected home. This is when believers can hijack your church’s vision.

For some smart church planters, they may employ a policy of “no believers,” and while I have never taken things to that extreme, I do ask all of the right questions. The need to have the hawk eye is for the purpose of protecting the vision and the flock. Other believers who “know” church may have good intentions, but they may not understand what you’re trying to accomplish for the kingdom. Over the few years of building a church from a core of 20 to over 120, one of the main aspects I focused upon was conversion growth. I have become very proficient at spotting church hoppers and believers seeking out a new church to fit their mold. When I’m told that they’ve come from another church, I try to ask why they chose not to attend it that particular Sunday. The observant eye and ear can pick up on body language, tone of voice, and content/context of words. Sure, it takes discernment, but the last type of person that you want coming into the fold is someone who is already bitter, holding a grudge, and a sewer of discord. Inevitably, that person will eventually sow the same discord, division, and bitterness into your church. As well, the visitor may be very well intended, but completely miss the vision altogether—this is when they want to be hands on in everything, or perhaps an arm chair quarterback (i.e. you should do this, you should do that, etc.). Be observant of people.

Be Ready To Introduce People To The Door

I read a quote recently accredited to Tyler Perry, which stated, “It doesn’t matter if a million people tell you what you can’t do, or if ten million people tell you no. If you get one YES from God, that’s all you need.” That pretty much sums up the fortitude that a pastor needs to have. While people are surely important and we love them (regardless), those who come in with their own agendas need to be shown the door—the quicker the better. I realize this sounds harsh, but for some believers, they are coming “to” church instead of being the church, and while that, too, may sound cliché, they just won’t fit in with how your church is following its intended vision for growth and outreach. In the end, it will be better for all to part ways. You may be able to help them find another church in the community, which is more suited for their beliefs, but be polite. There is a time when this becomes apparent and the use of discernment is vital.

In another church, I once had someone join and then after a few weeks make ultimatums and demands of change, none of which were aligned with the vision that was designed for that church (note to self: make sure you go over the reasons for joining and the candidate understands the vision). And yet, through many conversations, this person just couldn’t understand what church planting was about and how we were reaching people. It was time for me to spell it out for them—“this may not be a good fit for you, I’m sorry.” Did they look surprised, yes—but it was for the best. Does it hurt? Yes, it definitely doesn’t feel good, but just like Moses had the vision to lead the people towards the Promised Land, those few men who spied out the land did not follow that vision, nor believe that God was capable to achieving it through them. In return, it took Israel a lot longer (40 years) to achieve the vision and mission that God had for them.

Be Prepared to Lose Income

Sometimes, not all of the time, but I have definitely noticed the fickle nature of people and the dark side of vengeance, that when things don’t go a certain way, people become jaded. I once had a good friend when I was a kid. We played all kinds of sports together—you name it, we played it. However, if we picked teams and he didn’t like how the outcome was going, he was taking his ball and going home—no joke, he did. My other friends and I were stuck to face the music. Eventually, we came to play with a back-up ball, we learned from our mistakes. Sometimes, we just need to realize the fall of humanity, that some believers are not going be a good fit for the vision of the church. But when this occurs, do not be surprised for them to tell other people rumors, half-truths, or made up stories, in an attempt to have them leave too. And by the way, they’re taking their wallets with them; so don’t shout out, “Mayday! Mayday!”

Whatever you do, do not be intimidated by a wallet. Some believers actually think that their money matters (or that it is actually theirs); that God is not in control, but instead, the Bank of Bob Smith. This can be especially true for the small church planter who has only 20-30 people and one person with the deep pockets. That one person, if he or she is not gospel and Christ-centered can fracture a core if they do not get their way. For this reason, do not ever allow the offering of one person to be so significant that you lose your focus on the mission and vision. That doesn’t mean that you ask someone to give less, it means to become less dependent upon their offering—maybe put some away in a separate fund, and use a certain amount for general funds. Either way, Christ comes first, every day, all day.

If you always have this mindset, you are essentially preparing yourself for anything that comes along. However, let’s be honest, this scenario intensifies when the church grows to about 80-100 and the church plant takes on some debt or a pastor’s salary (like yours!). Now, all of a sudden the real anxiety filters in. In the restaurant business, we use to say, do not bite your nose off to spite your face; meaning, you never wanted to wash dishes, so you were careful about what you said and how you treated the “dishdog.” But once his work was done, then it was ok. Don’t be like that. You’re sending a false signal that money trumps vision—it doesn’t. A true authentic move of God happens when obedience and surrender to God are present. This doesn’t mean that there will a gravy train of money flowing in when Daddy Warbucks leaves town; no, it may just be that God will bring you through a difficult stage for later understanding. We don’t always need to be in a growth stage. Remember, there are seasons of planting seeds, growing, cultivating, and harvesting.

So, I believe that if you apply these three things: being observant, ready to release, and prepared to lose income, your vision should remain intact and passionate. And that is the main goal that Christ is always glorified and His mission is met with full unity, accord, and love: “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1-3 ESV). God bless.

[1] “Summary of Flight 93″. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Retrieved June 23, 2008.

[2] Hirschkorn, Phil (April 12, 2006). “On tape, passengers heard trying to retake cockpit”. CNN. Retrieved June 23, 2008.

When is failure is not failing

Featured cover article in Church Planter Magazine

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Ok, I’m going to do it, (cue the music) I’m dropping the old school beat from L.L. Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years…” We all love a great comeback story. Rocky, Rocky II, and well, then it just gets ridiculous, but all of our movies are based on comebacks. Whether love stories, or actions type thrillers, we love them—some more than others. For instance, in Star Wars (known as episode IV) the squadron of “good guys” goes up against the dark side to try and hit the two-meter opening of the exhaust port of the Galactic Empire’s evil weapon of doom, the Death Star (cue James Earl Jones’ deep breathing). Luke is optimistic, “But it’s not impossible. I used to bull’s-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home, and they’re not much bigger than two meters!” Luke turns off his targeting gear, uses his experience and relies on “the force,” sending the perfect strike to annihilate the enemy’s weapon. The comeback worked!

Comebacks Are Not Failing

Ah, but as church planters, we have more than the “force;” we have the Holy Spirit. But much like young Luke, we also have innate skills, or gifts of apostleship, that we rely on—yet sometimes, it seems like in all of our heard work, we fail—and from the smaller picture, it might seem so. When Paul went to Lystra to preach the Gospel, he was relying on his gifts, experience, and the power of the Spirit (Acts 14).

There, a man was crippled, and you know the story, the man was healed, the people declared Paul to be a god, he refused, then Jews come in and eventually stir things up so much, they bounce rocks off of Paul’s head, nearly stoning him to death. Then the story continues that the elders lay hands on Paul, he admits defeat, hangs his head low, and goes on to another town. No, wait—that’s not how the story goes at all. Paul walks right back into Lystra (Acts 14:21). Luke records, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV).

Paul knew what he was called to do, and it seems there were many more converts in Lystra than we know about. From the text it appears like the apostles were there for one or two days, but when further study, we realize that Paul was church planting and placing elders in leadership, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23 ESV). Paul did not fail.

Times of Regrouping

Assuredly, Paul needed healing, it was obviously a super natural healing, but he regrouped and then went back to encourage those that he had worked so hard to bring into the Kingdom. Failure is not failing when you don’t give up. Failure is not trying. Regrouping is not failure.

Perhaps you started a church plant and after you launched, you realized that you went about it all wrong—wrong parachute, wrong timing, wrong attitude. I did that. We had a group that met in my home, and we just knew that God had called us into it. We thrived, sang, shared in fellowship, and grew.

But we did it all wrong—everything—it was horrible (or so it seemed). For whatever the reason, there are times when we may need to take a step back and let God do His work. Whether you return to your Lystra, or not, is God’s will—only time will tell if He opens the right doors. However, there may indeed be a bigger picture that is taking place during the regrouping phase of your life.

Overcoming Fear

Failure is not failing when you overcome a fear. I can’t speak for my wife, but I do know that the day that we finally caved in and knelt together by the sofa in tears to pray, I was terrified. I knew God had called me into church planting—but I was impatient, and to be honest, I was very fearful. I was fearful for several reasons: I had many life “events:” my father had recently passed away, I just graduated seminary, we had a newborn girl, I knew there wouldn’t be any salary, unlike the associate pastor salary I was receiving, and the unknown, plus my own pride.

However, God provided a great job a hospice chaplain, so that I could be bi-vocational. And since I had taken the plunge I had a “peace that passed all understanding.” What I didn’t understand was the growth that we had in the house, would fail miserably when we launched too soon and for the wrong reasons. I ended up shaking my hands to heaven on an early morning run, yelling, “Seriously! What’s up with this, God!” But what happened in the long run was amazing.

I was directed to small dying church of 20, miles away, a 110-year-old church plant—they wanted a church planter and I regrouped in humility. I learned something valuable; that it was not the actual “plant” that God was directing me through, but through my fears. I often speak to guys and tell them, “If you’re called to ministry, you must be rid of fear first.”

You’ll have a hard time being sold out for Christ, when gripped with fear. Through all of the trials, I overcame my fears, realizing the big picture. And while I didn’t make a “comeback” plant into that area, I did regroup, and now the saga of this story has begun to spark something completely amazing—something I never would have imagined.

But the facts are, failure is not failing when God owns the story line. God is the director of your life. The overall picture is not about us anyway—is it? It’s about Him and Him glorified, as we reach others, bringing the good news and new life to organic community. So, seize failure, make a comeback, regroup, or overcome.