Going to Camp – Brazilian Church Retreat 2007

This evening after I get home from work we plan to head out to Pennsylvania to spend the holiday weekend (Monday is Labor Day in the United States) at the Brazilian church of Newark’s annual retreat. Either Saturday morning or Monday morning (we still don’t know which) I’ll be speaking on “I am the resurrection and the life.” That’s the theme I am supposed to use for my message, and of course it is from John 11. I spent every evening this week working on it, and though I like the result, I am afraid it will be far too long for 30 -45 minutes. We shall see.

Lord willing, I’ll be posting again by Tuesday morning.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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Lord of the Aisles

This news report really disturbs me. Employees get a threatening phone call at a store and start wiring store money overseas for fear of a bomb. The worst part, what really bothers me, is that the anonymous caller at one point told people in one store to cut off a manager’s fingers one by one if he didn’t comply…and someone went and got a butcher knife!

Gees! Are people really such sheeple? How is the brainwashing being done to make people act in obedience to any and all commands given by perceived authority while in group? This apparently overseas caller is making himself a lordling of U.S. stores with very little effort or resistance.

Zoning, Private Homes and Worship

A Rabbi of an ultra-conservative variety of Judaism is being harrassed by the New Jersey township where he lives. Apparently, they don’t like it when people meet in homes for worship. They are using zoning ordinances against him, saying that bringing the necessary 10 men together in his home for Sabbath prayers is a violation. It is prohibited in that township for residential homes to be used as house of worship.

This troubles me deeply. I was almost certain that, besides the First Amendment to the United States constitution, which guarantees the rights to assembly and worship, a Federal law had been passed several years ago making it clear that zoning laws cannot be used to prohibit worship in private homes.

Don’t local authorities there have anything better to do? It’s this sort of thing that got me involved in the Free State Project.

The Rabbi is being represented by The Rutherford Institute. Let’s all hope and pray the Jewish worshippers win their case.

Thinking About Transfer Growth (7)

A while back Blind Beggar posted “A Missional Short List” that describes what a missional church should look like and do from the very start. This is good information, and needs careful thought, especially if someone is going to be doing church planting. When I was in Brazil working to plant a traditional church, I frequently reminded the two men I worked with that today’s practices are tomorrow’s traditions. What we do now for expediency will be considered virtually immutable later. That’s just reality, and all the more reason for thought and attention.

Thinking About Transfer Growth (6)

It wasn’t until I was driving home from work yesterday that it dawned on me. I’d had over two years to mull it over, and had come close to this realization a few times before, but the chip didn’t drop until last evening. When I was working with the church in New Mexico I was employing the same essential strategy I had in Brazil, rather than the maintenance model that makes churches grow rapidly. What was I doing? I was trying to reach people who were not yet Christians or who had a very weak commitment and no church membership rather than attract disaffected members from other churches. Baptisms were my goal, not presentations of transfer members at the end of the Sunday service. This was part – only one part – of my downfall at Sunrise Christian Church.

I’ve blogged on this topic before, but now it seems clearer than ever. The church in Farmington, New Mexico had built up a fund to bring in a preacher and pay him for at least a year. Once that fund ran out, there would have to be enough in regular offerings to keep his salary going, or else. The only way to have enough in the offering plate to pay the preacher would be for him to bring in a lot of new members during that first year or so. This, as most seasoned ministers will confirm, is nearly impossible. The only way I can think to do it would be by drawing members from other churches.

Though I find bivocational (or, in my case, trivocational) ministry extremely difficult, I don’t see any other way of doing things that can work well with the missional approach. First, the whole idea of missional is reaching people where they are. Granted, there is a place for fully-funded missionaries in drug rehab settings and the like, and this is definitely missional. In general, though, what we are trying to model is a lifestyle of ministry that any and all Christians can adopt and adapt to their own lives. Second, not hanging on to the church fund’s teat can liberate one’s ministry. If you don’t get paid for increasing membership numbers, you can focus your time and attention on making God’s reign manifest and bringing people into His covenant family through faith and baptism.

You can make disciples rather than mere converts.

Thinking About Transfer Growth (5)

I have to confess that I am pretty much clueless about the church planting methods generally used in the United States. It mystifies me to hear planting teams talk about spending a year to prepare for the first worship service, then wonder the “day of” whether anyone will show up. Good grief! That’s certainly not a thing like what I did in Brazil, and though the method may be effective (is the proof in the pudding?) it doesn’t appear to be the apostle Paul’s approach. Since I don’t know much about this style of church planting, I can only assume that it involves advertizing, inviting and organizing. Further, I have to assume that most of the first members are going to be transfers from existing churches, or people who had been active in some church in the past and are only coming back because this new thing might be good.

If I were planting a church now, especially if it were to be a missional church, I wouldn’t work to form a nucleus of members who are already believers. Sure, I’d want to have a team of like-minded people, but when you are trying to do something so radically different as a missional church, members from existing maintenance (or traditional) churches are only going to be a liability. They are going to think the idea of a missional church is cool in the beginning, but soon enough they’ll be asking why there aren’t more programs to serve them.

It was in high school that a teacher mentioned the truth that people are creatures of habit and used the fact that we as students sat in the same seats every day even though we didn’t have assigned seating. The truth of this observation hit me pretty strongly, and over the years I have observed its truth in numerous circumstances. Church planting would be no exception to this general rule. If you start a church with a group of people transferring from other churches, most will bring with them maintenance ideas rather than missional perspectives.

So, how to avoid this danger? In my previous posts in this series I’ve tried to share my observations on what keeps people from drifting in and out of certain churches. The core issue is distinctives. If you make very clear that a church is like this and not like that, and further that this church has no chance of becoming like that, people who don’t like it will stay away.

“Wait a minute,” someone objects, “what about Joe and Jane from New Creation Community Church? If they visit a missional church they won’t feel welcome?”

Ah, there’s a big difference between being kind to visitors and bending over backwards to keep them as members. If it is a missional church you are planting, of course you will be welcoming towards all visitors, but you don’t want the mission taken completely off track because Joe and Jane expect a Pastor to greet them and a multi-million dollar facility to take them in (or at least have a future building project in the works). Joe and Jane do not live in a country without options. They can stay at New Creation or continue on to one of the many other evangelical churches in their town.

You, as a missional leader and church planter, are trying to reach the truly unreached. You’re headed into the jails, the workplace, skid row, the immigrant neighborhood, etc. You are not looking for people who already believe in Jesus and attend a church…at least not primarily. You are looking for people that no one has ever invited to church, or who don’t believe that “someone like them” could go to church. You are looking to activate workers for the reign of God, disciples transformed by the grace of God and empowered to use their experience and skills (even new skills they may learn after becoming disciples) to show something of the truth and power of God’s coming new heavens and new earth.