Key Challenges in Church Planting Today: Challenge Seven

 
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Challenge Seven: Leaders are Poor at Empowering Diversity and Leading Collaboratively  

Back in the late 90’s, I recall reading a leadership essay by business guru Margaret Wheatley called “Good Bye Command and Control.” Wheatley was predicting the rise of a more participative style of leadership that gave team members greater latitude to self-organize, collectively share ideas, and solve complex organizational problems. This stood in contrast to the prevailing “great man” view, which extolled the highly dominant [male] leader who exhibited both extraordinary gravitas and the capacity to deliver results like a shrewdly pragmatic CEO (kicking people off buses was a common metaphor). 

In retrospect, I think it’s safe to say that Wheatley’s call for a more collaborative way of leading has become the preferred style of leadership today. This increasingly applies to team leaders endeavoring to start new churches. As we face ever accelerating change and complexity in all of life’s spheres, contemporary church starters are compelled to collaborate across swaths of diversity, both internally and externally. Even for a "first-among-equals," diversity-seeking model of leadership, there are several values to keep in check as you develop your church's collaborative ethos:

  1. Who are your internal and external teams?

  2. How will you delegate? 

Who are Your Internal and External Teams? 

When it comes to collaborating in church planting, one aspect that’s often viewed too narrowly or superficially has to do with the “who” question. Who are we accessing or including to round out perspective on our internal team? And who are we accessing or partnering with in our city to keep us immersed in wider Kingdom endeavoring? The first question––who we access or add to our internal team as our startup gains people, resources and momentum––is critical to the DNA and health of our initiative, so obviously this is a higher priority in the startup phase than building external partnerships. But both kinds of collaborating are essential over the long haul. 

The internal collaborating helps us express and incarnate the gospel adequately within our context, while also informing how we apprentice our people in the way of Jesus (i.e. discipleship). The external collaborating helps us play our part in fostering new missional initiatives and expressions of church in our city, while also providing a flow of resources to counter the natural turn inward that too often plagues church startups.

On an internal team level, most of us today appreciate the value of empowering an array of leadership diversity. Plurality in leadership not only allows us to prophetically demonstrate reconciliation across many common lines of division, but it can also expand our capacities to cultivate true learning communities. Allowing outside perspective to permeate our leadership ethos and inform our communal learning requires us to cultivate humility and a learning posture. But that posture must work in tandem with leaders doing the work of clearly defining ways people can offer feedback and alternative perspectives. I’d say that half of the battle involves unblocking and encouraging the flow of feedback, and then giving visibility to whatever prophetic edge God may be trying to accent. 

In the building of an optimal collaborative mix, our discernment must be theologically, prophetically, and missiologically informed. We pay attention to what Scripture and the trajectory of the gospel prompts us to pursue. We give ear to whatever prophetic corrective the Spirit encourages us to assert in terms of who should be sitting at our particular leadership table. And we prayerfully listen to our specific contextual realities, who it is God is calling us to reach/serve, and the unique vision God has given us as a forming church. This “stereophonic listening” allows us to populate our teams with that mix of humanity needed to give the greatest advantage for the gospel in our setting.

Of course, we can’t talk about collaboration without also mentioning what Alan Hirsch calls “APEST symmetry.” If God has truly given gifts for the upbuilding of the body of Christ along the five Ephesians 4:11 orientations, we as team leaders need to ensure that we’re accessing all five perspectives in our decision-making. These five-fold orientations will optimally find expression within our lead team, though it’s not simply balancing the five but working to build symmetry of voice (i.e. a strong leader who tends to over-accent their orientation may need more than one offsetting counter-voice). A lot of teams will find, especially in the early phases, that their team mix is deficient in one or more of the APEST orientations. But team leaders can readily cover for any initial lack by regularly incorporating input from trusted leaders in partnering churches or outside entities who robustly express those under-accented orientations. 


How Will You Delegate? 

Getting beyond the “who” and into the “how” of collaboration, it’s important to mention the importance of good delegation on the part of team leaders. Too many team leaders work so hard and passionately to catalyze momentum for planting that they unconsciously settle into a pattern of over-functioning in their role. At the least this involves giving too much time and attention to areas that could be delegated to existing team members. At its worst, over-functioning can amount to a margin-less existence for the primary leader, not to mention a micro-managing style that stifles both the sharing of leadership and the development of leaders. Hoarding work in such a manner is a collaborative no-no for team leaders!

The truly collaborative leader will be motivated to share power because they realize they’re not omni-competent, nor are they necessarily best-suited to lead on given issues or at certain seasons of the church community’s development. But good intention often runs aground in the muck of poorly defined team roles and leadership decision-making protocols. Collaboration becomes so much easier when team leaders do the work upfront to articulate what decisions they are empowered to make, which decisions require input and approval from their sponsoring organization/denomination versus which ones that require input and approval from their team and/or core group, and who ultimately needs to be kept informed about the choices made. These decision-making protocols are often left so fuzzy in church planting that the ambiguity actually undermines the collaborative ethos leaders are trying to develop. 

In your church startup, you may be the primary leader who is building a complementary team around you. Or you may be one among two or three leaders who together form a collective point leadership (i.e. you share the role of orchestration). Whatever the configuration (single point leader or multiple point leaders), such strategic point leadership should ideally be situated within a wider team who are empowered to cover various aspects or domains of ministry, each with clear definition and real accountability. And these all supported by the agreed-upon infrastructure of leadership decision-making norms. 


In closing, I’ll only briefly mention the importance of team leaders collaborating with outside groups, organizations, churches, alliances, denominations, etc. The team’s vision for church planting needs to be couched within the wider work of God going on in their area. This can offer a wealth of resources and encouragement––and the team can also offer what they have, internally, to help foster mission and additional planting in the city. It’s never too early to build that outward reach into the newly forming community, as that posture almost inevitably creates wider berths for more leaders to step in and join the collaborative efforts to make a difference for good in the city.

Parting questions and recommendations:

  • How are you as team leader(s) working to discern your diversity goals and empower others to participate in leadership with you?  What measures are you taking to help your leaders understand and function well in roles that give them real authority? What as team leader(s) can you delegate in this season ahead and to whom, and what’s your plan to wisely hand off those areas?  

  • Who might you collaborate with beyond your project, toward the greater Kingdom good in your city and beyond, but especially toward the raising up of church starters?

  • To help leadership teams with practical skills in how to share power well, I highly recommend Making Room for Leadership, by Dr. MaryKate Morse (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2008).

Notes:

  1.  APEST is of course an acronym Alan Hirsch has coined for the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherd and teacher orientations the Apostle Paul claims (in Eph. 4) have been gifted to the body of Christ. For more on how to identify these orientations and how to deploy them in a balanced 5 point fashion in teams, see Hirsch’s book 5Q (Columbia: 100 Movements, 2017) and the accompanying 5Q Guide by Hirsch and Jessie Cruickshank (Columbia: 100 Movements, 2018). 

  2.  Co-leading or actually sharing the point leadership function can work well with the right mix of leaders, though it does demand quite a degree of maturity, experience, complementary giftedness, and trust among the point cluster. Sharing the point leadership role is much like a married couple who shares the responsibility for the growth of the relationship, letting each do the dance of co-leading, with each partner taking the lead role in certain aspects of married life as needed within a partnership of mutuality. 


written by Dan Steigerwald

Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash


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For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit: https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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Key Challenges in Church Planting Today: Challenge Six

 

“Shalom ‘doing’ flows from shalom ‘being.’”

 
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Challenge Six: Shaping Evangelism and Natural ‘Awakening Spaces’

Let me start this post by revealing that I’m not a natural or gifted evangelist. O, like you I do heartily invest in long term connections with non-Christians in my relational networks. And like you, I am a discerner and starter who is not afraid to step into risk. But I have to admit that I’m consistently feeble when it comes to sharing Christ with friends and neighbors. Some of that hesitancy is fueled by the consumption culture in which we swim, where someone at every turn is always trying to sell us something. Even the subtlest evangelistic appeal can feel pushy in this environment. So, l would much rather join other Christians in “adorning the gospel” (cf. Titus 2:10) by living in estimable ways than actually explaining the good news by story or by some logical or word-based presentation. The character and outworking of our faith within the arena of everyday life, after all, speaks louder than words…so I tell myself.

Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin often asserted that the best translator of the gospel is actually a community that lives it.  Demonstrating what we mean is of critical importance, or as Newbigin put it, 

“The congregation must be so deeply and intimately involved in the secular concerns of the neighborhood that it becomes clear to everyone that no one or nothing is outside the range of God’s love in Jesus….It must be clear that the local congregation cares for the well-being of the whole community and not just for itself” (1).

Such a no-strings-attached serving posture allows us to collectively mimic the sacrificial, pursuant love God has for all people and all of creation. But, right on the heels of this statement, Newbigin adds another exhortation relevant to every church planting team:

“This involvement must not become something that muffles the distinctive note of the gospel. The church ought not to fit so comfortably into the situation that it is simply welcomed as one of the well-meaning agencies of philanthropy” (2).

As we attempt to demonstrate the gospel within our setting, most of us regularly perform beautiful Jesus-like acts, and many of those we do in the neediest of places.  And we likely engage in these acts of kindness alongside other community development efforts sourced within the fabric of our non-Christian ethos. This way of operating is vitally important to our discipleship and to our credibility as a local expression of the body of Christ. But to Newbigin’s point, in our efforts to make a visible difference in righting societal wrongs and responding compassionately to people in need, we must not shy away from speaking of the now and future hope we have in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ongoing interceding, and renewing of all things. 

Jesus is good news, not only what we do in Jesus’ name! 

A Visible Difference


So, how are you and your team doing at accenting the unique note of the gospel within your setting? That’s an important question to continually ponder!  And further, we have to ask ourselves how much time and energy are we actually committing to reaching disgruntled or de-churched Christians under the guise of evangelism?  Is our evangelistic ministry mostly about recruiting floating Christians, or is it truly about befriending and “good-newsing” non-Christians? Making new disciples must factor in prominently somewhere within our missional approach, or chances are we will grow like so many church plants do—primarily by transfers from other churches.  

In whatever ways we conduct our evangelistic ministry, I think we have to also attend to the critical pre-evangelistic work of cultivating awakening spaces. Most of us would agree that it’s often a process of micro-awakenings over time that prompt a person to explore and eventually make a commitment to follow Christ. These awakenings more often than not happen within places where people have experienced a sense of belonging and/or a sense that what the group is doing is enriching to them or others in need. The laughter, relational connectedness, and good feelings that arise from experiencing beauty, service and fun together often create “thin places,” experiential moments that the ancient Celtic Christians described as a co-mingling of heaven and earth. When they arise, we’re often cast us into spiritual conversations where our “being ready in season and out to give an account for the hope that is within us” (I Peter 3:15) is put to the test.  

 Yes, our team and core group can create spaces for our non-Christian friends to belong and spaces for them to co-participate with us in meaningful spiritual practices and service (some of these can dovetail well with our gathered worship and with special groups and events oriented to non-Christians). But I usually recommend that teams put a premium on finding causes and special interest groups to join that culture is already running. This helps our interface with non-Christian culture to be not only more sustainable, but it also benefits our personal discipleship as we have to venture out and discern where God/shalom is already at work.   

Living Out Shalom

Living out our faith by word and deed as we regularly interface with people outside of faith admittedly requires quite a lot of us as church startup teams. For one, we must immerse ourselves regularly in the gospel Story, both as a way to keep us motivated to overcome timidity and share our faith, and also as a way to help us remain so conversant with the good news that it flows easily and naturally from our lips. We must also work to cultivate discerning, prayerful hearts so that we can recognize where the Spirit may be awakening a person to move toward God’s love. And finally, in shining forth the good news we must pursue sane rhythms of life together that develop and feed us as a communal people. This includes approaching life as a journey involving ebb and flow, or times of engagement and times of disengagement.

In short, our demonstration and proclaiming of the good news must be counterbalanced by lived-out spiritual practices that bring shalom to the souls of our core team. Shalom doing flows from shalom being. If we fail to seek that balance, we end up projecting the journey with Christ as a performance treadmill that wears people out. That’s hardly good news for anyone looking in! 


Of course, so much more could be said on this subject!  But I leave you with a few thoughts and questions that you and your team might find helpful to process:

  • In your own cultivating of belonging and participative spaces where your team can deeply interface with non-Christians, consider our culture’s narrative of “not-enough-ness” as a rich onramp for the gospel (i.e. not the sin story). Brene Brown and others have hit a cultural artery by addressing the shame narrative so pervasive in our everyday lives - the narrative that we have to do more, be more, have more, serve more, etc. in order to be okay or acceptable. If most of us feel we don’t measure up to cultural ideals or even our personal ideals, how might you cultivate a culture of vulnerability that allows the gospel’s clear grace and acceptance note to ring out?

  • Who within your team and forming core seems to be evangelistically gifted? How are you a) positioning them within your relational networks and wider community to exercise that gift; and b) employing them to train the body in seeding the ground and sharing the hope we have in Christ?

  • Review Paul’s letter to Titus and write out the different relational spheres Paul instructs Christians to operate tactfully within so as to “adorn the gospel” and protect it from being “maligned.”  Talk about specific implications this could have for the way your core group operates in your cultural setting, and then develop your own plan to cultivate and co-inhabit belonging and participating spaces with your non-Christian neighbors.

Notes:

  1. Lesslie Newbigin Missionary Theologian: A Reader (Cambridge, SPCK, 2006), 145. 

  2. Ibid, 145.

written by Dan Steigerwald

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash


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For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit: https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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Why Cyclical: Chris Lopez and Darin McKenna

Darina McKenna and Chris Lopez are co-pastors of New Abbey NoHo, a new church that will take root in North Hollywood in the coming year. Currently they are working the the Cyclical LA Starters program as they begin their church-starting journey.


 
Darin McKenna and Chris Lopez

Darin McKenna and Chris Lopez

Every Sunday at New Abbey Church in Pasadena,

we begin with a unity and diversity prayer. We stand and hold the hand of the person next to us while a pastor reminds us of and affirms us in the differences we embody. In a sentence, that prayer is: we’re better together than we are apart. We believe this is true not only in our community, but also in our church’s leadership. Diversity in leadership is invaluable, and Cyclical LA not only affirms that, but is a valuable space where we experience that truth.

During our time with Cyclical LA, we have been reminded of and introduced to other church communities that are embodying their own unique way of following Christ. We value this network of church leaders both for the opportunities to learn outside of our church frameworks and for the mutual desire to learn from each others’ differences. It’s one thing to have church members value your perspective, it’s another to feel appreciated among colleagues.

We are connecting with and being helped by church leaders in the Cyclical LA network who worked in the North Hollywood community long before we got there. Their perspective on the cultural rhythms of NoHo have informed how we discuss engaging the local community. We have access to leaders of racially diverse and differently abled communities, which informs our own conversations about inclusion and intentionality in our language.

We’re Better Together…

Church leadership can be one of the loneliest spaces in church community. The Cyclical LA network makes it otherwise, and provides helpful feedback and perspective along the way. They remind us again and again that we’re better together than we are apart.

Learn more about New Abbey on their website, or follow them on Instagram.

The New Abbey NoHo Team

The New Abbey NoHo Team

Key Challenges in Church Planting Today: Challenge Five

 

“A successful startup is not your crowning glory, rather it’s the legacy of you leading well and after the manner of Christ that’s your high prize. Let faithfulness be your metric…”

 
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Challenge Five: Point Leader(s) Undervalue Cultivating a Safe, Developmental Team Ethos

One of the ugliest team implosions I ever witnessed involved a huge church planting team that parachuted into a European context full of enthusiasm, ministry expertise, and resources. The team leader was exceptionally bright, communicative and full of vision, so much so that he was commissioned to lead with only a hasty intuitive assessment by our Mission’s president. Exuding an air of gravitas, he readily elicited followers from his teammates and could dazzle groups in any conference setting. Over time, we as the oversight body of our Mission began to get alarming reports from his team members. Within the private confines of the team, this leader was regularly resorting to coercive, manipulative, and shaming behaviors to get team members to toe the line. Eventually, we had to intervene and confront him, but instead of owning up to his “stuff,” he went AWOL and eventually joined another Missions agency. The team tried to salvage the project, but within months the initiative collapsed.

In this case, the team culture gradually became toxic due to the leader’s hidden character flaws, which became apparent in the crucible of planting pressures. He had decided early on against pursuing vulnerability and his own development, and as a consequence he placed little value on creating a team ethos conducive to undergirding the lives and callings of his team members. The bright and promising goal of a new kind of church in a city with few churches carried the team for two years, but ultimately that was not enough to compensate for the erosion of what I would call a safe, developmental team culture.

When Practicality Combats Team Cultivation

This situation may strike you as an outlier and not something that could happen to you as a team leader. To that I would say, be careful. To cultivate within your team the kind of respectful collegiality, openness, and concern for one another’s well-being and growth requires ongoing, persistent intentionality. And that intentionality is as much about the work of creating conditions within our team as it is about ongoing attentiveness to our individual soul formation as leaders (or, as Fuller leadership guru Dr. J. Robert Clinton used to say, “ministry flows out of being”).

With the clock ticking and the momentum and relational load rising over time, it’s not uncommon for point leaders to gradually shift their focus toward the product they’re trying to deliver at the expense of stewarding their own growth and the growth of a healthy team ethos. In other words, as a leader you can get hooked on responding well to practical urgencies because they offer more immediate rewards than the non-illustrious background work of leadership development, accountability, and team cultivation.

So, I would encourage you as a lead planter to carve out the time and space to undergird your own formation, and work to make this a high value within your team. Set aside specific times to share with one another how God is challenging you, what you’re learning, what specifically you need to confess or own, where you’d like prayer or tangible help, etc. The safe, grace-filled, transformative team culture you cultivate is key to seeding the same within the wider community you’re planting. A successful startup is not your crowning glory, rather it’s the legacy of you leading well and after the manner of Christ that’s your high prize. Let faithfulness be your metric, not whether or not you end up with a sustainable church.

Let Faithfulness Be Your Metric


What’s needed to create a team environment conducive to growth, perseverance, and effectiveness, of course, will vary from team to team. But the strands of practicing vulnerability, extending grace, and showing genuine concern for one another’s development and performance are a good baseline. On top of this, we need to give attention to seeding and maintaining a healthy team dynamic that fosters the kind of openness, communication, and understanding conducive to team effectiveness and satisfaction. To bolster this way of acting, I always encourage teams to articulate their own clear, agreed-upon guidelines for healthy team interaction and for handling conflict. Also, periodically set aside un-rushed times to hear one another’s stories and to affirm the gifts, passions, and unique personalities each team member brings to the table. The payoff for operating this way is deeper trust, respect, and mutual satisfaction, which invariably produces greater staying power and ministry effectiveness over the long haul.

Lastly, to steward our maturing as leaders, it’s always a good idea to proactively seek a mentor or two to keep us reaching and growing. It’s also wise to develop safe relationships with peers outside the project, especially friends who will tell us the truth when we’re off base or deceiving ourselves. I can’t say enough about the value of enlisting both an appropriate therapist and a spiritual director for whatever season of life we’re in. Ultimately, whatever effort we expend in the direction of helping ourselves flourish and grow will help make us more grounded and safer as people. And this will bleed into every relationship our leadership touches.  

Some thoughts and suggestions for further study:

  • What does your commitment to leadership formation look like in practice—for yourself and for your team? What basic practices might your team agree to share to foster safety, vulnerability, accountability and your mutual development as servant leaders?

  • To promote healthier team interaction, study a few “rules of engagement” examples devised by effective teams. As a team design your own. Also, articulate your process for addressing conflict, not simply stating Matt. 18, but flesh it out! Have your team interact over it - explore how it works specifically, including its suitability as a church-wide process.

  • Excellent resources: The Emotionally Healthy Leader, by Peter Scazzero (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015); The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002); The Leader’s Journey, by Herrington, Creech & Taylor (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).

Also, this is a brilliant and practical current resource for church starters: “Why Character, Why Now?”
See also “16 Questions” for a host of helpful ideas on 16 crucial features that truly formative organizations tend to possess.

written by Dan Steigerwald


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For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit: https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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Top photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Why Cyclical: Brian Terrada

Brian Terada is the founder and director of Be Free, an LA community that “believes in sharing and listening to one another's stories because it is the only way we can use our differences to unite rather than divide. We believe that love begets freedom, and everyone should be free.“ Last year, Brian was a part of the Cyclical LA and 1001 NWC summer cohort. We’ve been privileged to see Brian grow into his role as a leader and community-shaper. Keep reading to hear more of his story!


 
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Ever since I joined Cyclical LA a year and a half ago,

I have been constantly surrounded by terrific influences that spur me on toward love and good deeds. As Be Free has grown, largely in part due to the support of Cyclical LA, I have had consistent meetings with mentors who hold me accountable to taking care of myself, loving myself, and doing my work from a place of humility and excellence. I've received monthly coaching sessions from Cory Marquez, in which I receive care and direction for myself personally, and for the work that I get to do. I've received bi-weekly coaching sessions with Whitney Warnes during my apprenticeship, in which I was consistently challenged to make personal and professional goals to meet. My mentorship meetings with Beau Wammack, pastor of NVC, every other month for the last eight months have been formative in my health and maturity, especially as a Christian leader in my community. My spiritual direction meetings with Bethany Mckinney Fox have also been formative in developing my personal relationship with God and how that effects the work that I do. I always know that Nick Warnes will make time for me, so I've been able to meet and consult with him many times, from which I always receive encouragement and inspiration on how Be Free can move forward on its own, and with Cyclical LA's support. 

I am building a community that means the world to me,

and with that comes a lot of responsibility that I am still learning to handle. However, through the multi-tiered cyclical system that Cyclical LA provides me, I am able to receive spiritual direction, organizational direction, divine affirmation, and connection to a network of people who are in the same boat as me—making me feel less alone in my endeavors. Without Cyclical LA, I don’t know where I would be or if my organization would even still exist. Because of all the positive influences that Cyclical LA has given me, I feel confident, supported, and loved as I continue to strive to bring about more love and freedom through the work of Be Free.

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Key Challenges in Church Planting Today: Challenge Four

 

Making ends meet, side hustles, and second jobs—is making it work really working?

 
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Challenge Four: When Funding Limitations and Outside Work Demands Restrict the Point Leader(s)

When I finished seminary outside of Amsterdam, I had a lead on my next vocational step. A pastor friend in the States invited me to join the pastoral staff of his church, which seemed like a great place to land after several years of cross-cultural ministry. And so, my loving spouse, two baby girls, and I prepared for the big move, even donating our car to a local ministry. And then...it all fell through. The elders of the church weren’t ready to hire me after all. Here we were, ready to jump with no landing place in view. This precipitated an unnerving “Oh no, God, how will we make it?!” kind of week.

Thank God, the Creator rose to the occasion and did some flash creating. With no knowledge of our latest news, the couple on the receiving end of our car donation suddenly called one evening with a surprising invitation: “Hey Dan, we’re moving to the UK! Would you and your wife please consider taking over as pastoral wardens of the Dovecote Hostel in The Hague?” With quite a bit of back-and-forth negotiating, my initial resistance to the idea finally melted when their board agreed to provide us with an apartment, a stipend, and the leeway to prioritize work I was doing at a new church in Amsterdam—work that I hoped would mature into a funded pastoral position.

Little did I know the hostel job would become a critical piece of a larger unfolding drama. As we cared for international students attending a local grad school, we began to meet all kinds of Dutch and expat folks who wanted to be involved. The work we were doing became an easy talking point in conversations with strangers. In contrast, I avoided mentioning my role in the Amsterdam church as that usually led to an abrupt end to any conversation.

WHEN MORE THAN ONE JOB MAKES SENSE…

Without planning, this “secondary job” became the chief avenue through which we were eventually able to start a church in The Hague. That role gave us credibility with unchurched folk in and around the school, who loved the idea that my wife and I were meeting practical social needs of visiting students. It provided us with income and housing, while also bolstering our reputation with local churches. It took about a year and a half of working this job to awaken us to the idea of church planting among our growing relational networks. Soon I resolved to get out of both my volunteer church job and my paid hostel job to attain the crowning role of “full-time church planter.” It took some effort and a lot of fundraising, but in time I managed to get what I wanted. A new international church eventually took root in the city, and it’s still thriving today.

In retrospect, I don’t think I ever gave due credit to that hostel job for helping me succeed in planting. I viewed it only as a stepping stone. Now I recognize that it was a relational stage-setter for starting a church, and it could well have become an ongoing complementary part-time job. But that never entered my mind, as in those days (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), full-time vocational ministry was the dominant paradigm. Today, that’s obviously not the case. Fewer and fewer church starters are able to find the funding needed to support a full-time startup role. And even if funding could be found, many don’t want to operate that way—and for legitimate strategic reasons!

Staying involved in more than one vocational trajectory can actually make good sense, even throughout the entire planting experience. For one, it can help team leaders move in greater financial freedom, as fundraising among friends and sponsoring churches generally requires time, travel, and a commitment to developing mutually-beneficial relationships. A second job can also provide the planter with relational bridges into culture, enabling a sense of solidarity with the average Jane or Joe who, in a like manner, have to juggle multiple jobs just to stay afloat (1). And, besides providing more latitude for the planter’s vocational satisfaction, bi-vocational arrangements can make room for other point leaders to step in and share the rigorous demands of a church startup. Two or three leaders running on point means everyone has more room to breathe and cultivate momentum.

Nowadays, being a lone point leader pouring out 60+ hours per week into church planting may not be the optimal way to lead a startup. Perhaps you’ve already decided that in your situation.  I noticed recently that a friend who was doing a great job overseeing church starters in his denomination recently recast his role as “director of co-vocational church planting,” drawing attention to the reality that a mixed-role platform is increasingly the preferred option for lead planters in American contexts today (2). While this may be a trend, if you’re a church starter who wants to operate this way, you’ll need to take measures to ensure your outside work does not squelch the generative momentum needed to get a church started.  

Corralling and synergizing the people and resources needed to plant a church that’s attentive to new discipleship and multiplication requires a great deal from leadership teams. There’s not much way around that reality. If you allow the demands of other jobs to siphon off too much time and energy without somehow complementing or fueling the planting process, you as a planter may struggle to deliver the leadership presence and intensity required to get a faith community established. This is likely even more true if your team is working in a disadvantaged neighborhood, where you regularly encounter radical brokenness and needs.

BE SHREWD

When choosing vocational roles to supplement the planting roles, I encourage starters to be shrewd in leadership focus. You as a team leader generally need to view your church startup role as the priority against other vocational roles. In other words, your heart must remain steadfastly committed to planting. If your passions lie elsewhere or get too dispersed, the project will most likely suffer (3). One starter I worked with in my city decided to take up a chaplaincy in addition to leading his church planting team. The people he served through that work had little natural interface with his neighborhood and the core group, and that was already a small red flag. It soon became apparent that his heart was really in the chaplaincy job and the planting initiative would have to play second fiddle. Within a year, he bailed on the project and it never reached viability. This is not an uncommon storyline, believe me.

If you’re underway with a planting initiative, creative vocational outlets may be a wise strategic alternative to intentional fundraising. Or you may be wise to factor in both, given that funding limitations do pose a real threat to church startups. Much depends on whether you have other seasoned leaders on your team to help lead the project forward. If you do, you’ll likely have more flexibility. If not, fundraising may be a worthwhile option for you to pursue.

Though many loathe the idea of support-raising, such partnerships can be vital to freeing up a leader’s time and energy for planting. And they also can be formative to those giving. Grants are out there for church planting too, and often these can be used as seed money that others can be challenged to match. As the project begins to get traction, your forming community may need to start supporting its leaders sooner rather than later (i.e. not simply relying on limited grant monies or what you as the leaders can provide). Keep in mind that this giving value is usually harder to instill in a community that is used to NOT bearing much financial burden to start their church. People need to own their faith community, and giving is part of fostering that ownership. Lastly, do remind yourself regularly that what you’re attempting to start is well worth supporting. You don’t have to apologize!

Some questions and suggestions:

  • How might you reorient your vocational platform so that as many aspects as possible might be congruent or complementary with your aims to plant?  

  • If you’re working bi-vocationally as a team leader, what is your plan for sharing leadership and insuring that startup momentum, new discipleship, and needed rhythms/structures for growth are not compromised?  

  • Consider personal support-raising and pursuing grants as ways to help undergird your availability to the planting initiative. If you have reservations about fundraising, please read Henri Nouwen’s little booklet The Spirituality of Fundraising available as a free pdf: https://www.perceptionfunding.org/uploads/1/6/8/9/16891606/spiritualityoffundraisingbyhenrinouwen_267.pdf

written by Dan Steigerwald


For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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NOTES:

  1. According to a LinkedIn article released this past month, by 2020 50% of the American workforce will be working as independent contractors or freelancers (see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/2020-50-americans-expected-working-independent-zubair-alexander/, accessed May 6, 2019).

  2. A “covo” planter, according to Brad Briscoe, is “one who has a clear and definite calling in the marketplace that they never intend to leave. They know God has called them to be a teacher, mechanic or doctor and they desire to weave that calling into the plan to start a new church.”  See Brad Briscoe’s free ebook available at www.namb.net: Covocational Church Planting: Aligning Your Marketplace Calling with the Mission of God (Alpharetta, GA: SEND Network, 2018), 25.

  3. If two or more bi-vocational leaders join you in sharing the point leadership burden, I’d say at least one of your leaders needs to make the planting initiative their priority role.   

    Top photo by Lucas Sankey on Unsplash

Key Challenges in Church Planting Today: Challenge Three

 

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV

 
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Challenge Three:  The Startup Team Lacks Capacities to Lead Forward and Steward the Outward Impulse

In recent years, I had the privilege of working closely with the leaders of two local planting initiatives. One was an excellent teacher and naturally facilitated his team’s involvement in community development initiatives across the neighborhood. The other had a strong relational woo strength that allowed her to easily connect with strangers and even get them to show up at parties and theme-focused groups. Though the two starters stepped out boldly and gave their best, sadly, neither initiative lasted beyond two years. In retrospect, I’d say two related issues hindered the longevity of these projects, and it may be well worth your time to consider if these might need addressing within your own situation.

The first issue relates to the ratio of outward to inward energy present within startup team. In order to see a new missional church emerge out of whatever cultural subset(s) God has us working among, we know that we must generate a persistent lean into culture and into the networks and social havens of people outside the church. This posture enables us to plant the gospel among people living life way beyond any church-culture enclaves. Teams don’t always have the ability to maintain that kind of “outstretch,” as it can feel more natural and immediately rewarding to focus on nurturing the internal ethos of our forming core group. And yet, it’s precisely that turn inward that can erode the momentum needed to make new disciples and be an incarnational presence within our given cultural setting.

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outward vs. inward

Alan Hirsch and others assert that it’s the Ephesians 4:11 apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic (A.P.E.) orientations that enable a team to maintain this steady reach outward. For healthy churches to emerge for the long term, Hirsch argues, these functionalities need to be brought into an integrative balance with the nurturing, people-development strengths of shepherds and teachers (1). On the front end of church planting initiatives, however, this balance of energy, must be [at least temporarily] skewed toward outward engagement.  

The lead planters mentioned above had trouble maintaining that outstretch, even though they did move in certain A.P.E. gifts.  The first was strongly prophetic, the other highly evangelistic. Both, however, were truly shepherds at heart, and this orientation continually skewed the energy of their core groups toward encircling and nurturing people. Over time both their groups were unable to keep up the ongoing missionary engagement and witness needed to see more than a couple of house church fellowships emerge.

In all fairness to these planters, they also faced another depleting factor common to church startups. Both of them, to varying degrees, were not able to garner the influence and team decision-making needed to mobilize groups of people toward some preferred future. In short, they were not leading with enough consistency and savvy. Let me explain.

…every member of the body of Christ can from time to time engage in a “leadership act”

Like you, perhaps, I see leadership as being primarily about influence. Now, arguably, any person can influence others in some way, and hence, in a certain respect, it is accurate to say that anybody can lead. As one of the top Christian leadership guru-types, Dr. J. Robert Clinton, once put it, every member of the body of Christ can from time to time engage in a “leadership act”—a group-influencing behavior that changes the way the group acts or thinks. However, Clinton also adds that having the capacity to carry out leadership acts doesn’t mean a person has a gift or calling to lead. Only those who frequently and persistently engage in leadership acts can rightly be called “point leaders” (2). 

Church planting is more than simply rallying together and cohering a group of Christians into a house church or a Sunday gathering. In order to form and animate a local body of Christ into a visible, sustainable and accessible local expression, starters must become adept at a number of repetitive leadership behaviors. They must continually cultivate the core group’s grasp of its identity—its calling, its unique vision and values, and its theological non-negotiables. They must continually be champions of all aspects of that identity, inspiring all involved to live into it even as they themselves live into it. And they must continually be able to mobilize groups of people into activities and processes that are meaningful and that tie into a greater communal whole. Carrying out these kinds of functions requires adaptive, strategic leading, ideally within the ethos of a collaborative point team, where one leader’s deficiency is covered by another’s strength.

In order to form and animate a local body of Christ into a visible, sustainable and accessible local expression, starters must become adept at a number of repetitive leadership behaviors.

In summary, starting sustainable [hopefully reproducing] missional churches requires both an enduring outward stance and also regular acts of catalytic leading. In the early stages, the initiative may be mostly about missional discerners teaming together to get a lay of the land and hopefully establish some relational/locational beachhead. Eventually this team will need to evolve or be amended to include load-bearing leaders gifted at overseeing groups and activities that nurture missional engagement and the forming of a solid core group.  All the while, the startup must maintain a high degree of A.P.E. activation, at the least to help counter the natural inward-turning force that Christians quickly generate when they taste authentic community together.  

One parting disclaimer I feel needs to be added to all I’ve tried to pack in a brief blog post. Startup teams deficient in leader strength or A.P.E. functionality should not be dissuaded from initiating the planting process. If they are willing to learn some needed skills along the way, access good coaching and mentoring, and create a berth for additional leader(s) to eventually emerge or join them, they may well be able to establish an enduring expression of church that suits who they are and what they have to bring.  

Some questions and suggestions for team leaders:

  • How would you evaluate your team’s “outstretch”? It’s leadership savvy? What measures could you take to undergird both elements within your startup initiative?

  • If you feel daunted by the entrepreneurial and leadership behaviors needed to start a missional church, consider seriously:  a) hiring a coach-mentor familiar with the terrain of leading startups - it’s almost like having a trusted out-of-context teammate;  b) identify a local A.P.E. network in which to participate (e.g. Forge http://www.forgeamerica.com/ or any regular gathering of entrepreneurial types). At the least you may find a ripe field for recruiting those with stronger outward orientations, and maybe some of that A.P.E. sensibility will also rub off on you.  

  • Be on the lookout for potential load-bearing leaders—those in your forming community who often influence others to take action or adopt new perspectives. Give them ministry-related assignments and see if they can: “be faithful in the smaller things;” prioritize being available to the project; and demonstrate a humble, learning spirit.  

written by Dan Steigerwald


For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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Notes:

  1. For more on defining and deploying these 5 Ephesians 4:11 gifts, I highly recommend Alan Hirsh’s 5Q (Columbia: 100 Movements, 2017). Whatever we may think of A.P.E.S.T. as a taxonomy for releasing balanced diversity within the body of Christ, it has to be one of the better ways to help animate local churches into a more full-orbed expression of their calling.  

  2. J. Robert Clinton, Leadership Emergence Theory (Altadena: Barnabas Resources, 1989), 34.  An important sidelight here: if you’re an American, you’ll probably agree that we’re overly enamored with “leadership” or the importance of being a “leader.”  We ought to regularly remind ourselves that the calling or gifting to lead is only one functionality among many that are needed to activate healthy communal bodies or organizations.  The Apostle Paul even puts the gift of leading toward the end of his list in Romans 12:6-8. This doesn’t mean leaders don’t play critical roles, or that we should dumb down the concept of leadership, suggesting that anyone can do it.   But as with any gift or calling we’ve been given or to which God has summoned us, we ought to intentionally work to develop and season it over time - just as Paul exhorted Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God,” a gift that appears to have involved a commissioning for apostolic leadership.


Top photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Second photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

Key Challenges in Church Planting Today: Challenge Two

 

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.”

Ephesians 4:3-4 NIV

 
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Challenge Two:  Point Leaders Define Themselves More By What They’re Against Than What They’re For

When’s the last time you caught yourself railing on some church for its faults? “I’d never consider taking my friends into that environment.” Or, “Wow, they’re the most cutting edge 90’s-style church in the city.”  Or maybe it was a broader condemnation: “Most churches talk a lot about Jesus without acting much like Jesus.” These kinds of words may slide off your lips too easily if you’re a church planter. And when you get together with other planters, you know too well the sarcasm can get downright ugly.

If you are a contrarian when it comes to the way churches typically operate or portray the faith journey, you’re in good company. That push-back mentality in starters is often a legitimate “holy itch,” a Spirit-imbued agitation prompting one to step forward and bring some needed change. The inherited Church obviously needs many correctives, or we wouldn’t have so many DONEs floating about! (1) And given that many churches have earned their own bad reputation, it’s easy to want to avoid any guilt by association.

Author and missiologist Alan Hirsch’s work on Ephesians 4:11 helps us better understand some of the roots of this non-conformity and reactivity. (2) Hirsch’s research shows that those of apostolic, prophetic or evangelistic orientation often move into church planting and other outwardly-engaging ministries/vocations. Ideally, these “APE” leaders are able to stay in healthy, reciprocating relationships with local churches, as they help protect congregations from turning inward as they themselves find needed support/wisdom from these sponsors. Unfortunately, APE leaders are too often suppressed within a still-prevailing Christendom paradigm where shepherds and teachers are the dominant favorites, Hirsch asserts. (3) And we all know what penned up wild horses eventually do.

Habitual negative contrasting inevitably serves to nurture a core message that emphasizes what you’re against more than what you actually want to stand for.

Maybe you’ve felt like a bridled horse yourself?  You can’t wait to get outside the walls and demonstrate your improved version of church—a version that you will resolutely insure won’t be like the church(s) in which you’ve been underutilized. Or maybe you’re just plain uninspired by church as you’ve known it. Whatever the case, it’s not hard to understand why you may feel highly reactive against the established order. But it’s also not hard to see where this can begin to work against your passion to plant a healthy alternative.  Habitual negative contrasting inevitably serves to nurture a core message that emphasizes what you’re against more than what you actually want to stand for. People fed up with conventional church or Christianity will indeed find it reassuring to know you see the same faults they see. But there’s a time to turn and face the future and let your dreaming pull you ahead and fuel your rhetoric; a time to channel that reactive energy into crafting a captivating message about the faith community you’d love to see emerge.  

To make the turn from defining yourself by what you’re against to what you’re for generally requires intentionality and a good dose of humility.  In my experience, crossing that threshold involves two motions, both of which take time and occasional revisiting. The first involves a process of coming to grips with what you’re reacting against, being able to state it clearly and working to release any hold it has on you.  The second involves some deep reflection where you capture for yourself a) what you truly love and appreciate about Christ’s body, the Church; and, b) what your version of a local expression of this body might look like when done well, including the intended impact it could have in people’s lives.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Cor. 1:25

If you’re still wondering why all the fuss about defining what you stand for in reference to the body of Christ, you might consider this.  The work of cultivating a healthy, biblically-informed, ecclesiology (that’s what’s in view here) generally leads to healthier discipleship. (4) As a leader you will bleed off the toxicity that you allow to cling to your soul, and that can taint the mix in ways that could be hard to undo in the future.  And we know from Jesus, Paul and other biblical writers that it’s darn near impossible to collaborate for Kingdom gain across a city (cf. John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:2-6) without working alongside existing churches. We can take the high road and practice what Brian McLaren calls a deep ecclesiology. “A deep ecclesiology seeks to honor the church in all its forms, from highest (most sizable, historic, hierarchical, institutional, liturgical, traditional) to lowest (most ephemeral, relational, small, innovative, grass-roots, organic, disorganized).” (5)

Hopefully, you can see the value of cultivating both a healthy and a deep ecclesiology. Both require a love for the church.  And, as per my previous blog post, I hope you’re also firmly embracing the missional vocation of the church in the world. Imagine what your faith community could be like if these were defining elements: 1) we reach toward a high view of what “church” can be; 2) we lock hands with existing churches to express both the Kingdom and Kin-dom of God; and, 3) we invite the triune God to fuel us and send us, by the power of the Spirit, to plant the gospel in the soil we’ve been given to garden. This full-bodied ecclesiology—one that's healthy and deep and missional—is surely a pursuit we can passionately stand for!

Some questions and suggestions for team leaders:

  • What measures might our team take to articulate a positive image of the body of Christ?  Consider: a) exploring as a team the NT writings to see “church” with fresh eyes; b) interacting over the essay “Church Beautiful” by Glasgow planter, Wes White.  

  • In reference to my own attitude regarding the church, what do I need to come to grips with, forgive, let go of, or even repent of?  To whom will I look to process this, so that I can be freer to help my team boldly define vision in terms of what we’re for?  

  • How might we as team cultivate a healthy, reciprocal relationship with some churches in our city?  How might we help them be involved in our experimenting? What strengths do they have that we might tap into to help fuel the culture we are trying to create?

written by Dan Steigerwald


For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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Notes:

1. DONEs again are those who have left the church (not Jesus or God) and have no intention of returning - for more, see Josh Packard’s Church Refugees (Group Pub, Loveland CO: 2015).  Given that a high percentage of planting attempts are aimed at DONEs, it’s easy to see why team leaders targeting them end up casting visions full of anti-church rhetoric.

2. A healthy dose of non-conformity is actually consistent with the persona of most entrepreneurs. In his latest book, Originals (New York: Viking, 2016), social scientist Adam Grant argues that it’s the non-conformists who move the world.   They see problems with the status quo, and they push against it, creating new, innovative businesses, nonprofits, communities…you name it.

3. Alan Hirsch brings out well this suppression of the “APE’s” in the body of Christ in The Permanent Revolution (San Fran:  Jossey-Bass, 2012), and in latest book, 5Q (Columbia: 100 Movements, 2017).

4. Ecclesiology relates to one’s understanding and appreciation of the “church” - its nature, purpose, and core practices, including the diverse ways it manifests itself as a visible, accessible form or body.

5. Brian McLaren, "The Strategy We Pursue" for the Billy Graham Center Evangelism Roundtable "Issues of Truth and Power: The Gospel in a Post-Christian Culture" April 22-24, 2004, as quoted by Andrew Jones May 31, 2005 blogpost (accessed 3-27-19): https://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2005/05/deep_ecclesiolo_2.html.

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Key Challenges in Church Planting Today: Challenge One

“Missional at its core involves an identity.”

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Challenge One: Superficially Grasping Missional Theology and its Range of Application

This past year I’ve frequented a church that pours incredible energy into all kinds of justice and compassion ministries throughout our city, and even nationally. They strive to give fair representation up-front to diverse voices often not heard in the body of Christ. They send missionaries to serve both locally and in distant lands. Through preaching, teaching and diverse short-term focus-groups, they constantly challenge us to engage the powers oppressing our “neighbors.” Clearly, in many ways they are living well into their slogan: “Seek the peace of the city” (Jer. 29:7).

As much as I appreciate and support this church’s outward stance, I see them falling prey to a common tendency that also plagues many church starters. They seem to superficially or narrowly interpret “missional” to mean any outward, culturally-engaging behavior in the name of Christ. We’re missional because we prioritize outreach, proclaim the gospel, engage in good works in the city, oppose injustice in our world, invite non-Christians to specialized programs and events, etc. Indeed, such behaviors are consistent with being missional. However, I’m convinced this overused adjective actually covers a great deal more. And I would even argue that those other under-accented layers are actually key to making our participation in the missio Dei more sustainable, satisfying and complementary to Christian discipleship.

Here’s what I’m getting at: missional at its core involves an identity.

Here’s what I’m getting at: missional at its core involves an identity. It’s not primarily an extra set of behaviors we add on to our work of building koinonia and meaningful worship into our gathered life – you know, completing the triangle so that we have a fair distribution of activities in the UP, IN and OUT categories. It’s also not only practices we bring or do in culture, but it involves a co-participation with culture that takes into account where God is already at work in us and ahead of us—note that I just said “in us” and not only out ahead of us in culture.

Missional gets back to the vocation or calling of the church in the world (1). Our gathered worship and community are meant to sustain and fuel us for God’s mission (the missio Dei) in our local contexts and further afield. Flip the UP, IN and OUT triangle on its side with mission on the point—like an arrowhead in motion—and you’re getting closer to how the Scripture narrative portrays God’s people in the world. Using a strong NT metaphor, the “body of Christ” in its local and ecumenical expressions is meant to be an animated body, moving as a visible sign and foretaste of God’s renewing of all things—a renewing that is now underway, with the Spirit of God as Catalyst, that will one day be brought by God to fullness in the new creation.

Most church planting teams can grasp this profound missionary calling of the church. And they can run with it. But what they often neglect to do is to wisely channel and steward all that outward-focused energy/behavior. When teams fail to work smarter as they plunge into the needs and opportunities of their context, this can lead to a slow burn-out of the core group and little lasting missional impact.

Choosing where to invest our energies and with whom to do that requires us to practice discernment on multiple levels. We take stock of the gifts, interests and experience God has placed within our core group. We inquire and listen to discern the needs of our local context, including what people and what ground that God may be stirring our hearts toward. And we simultaneously lean in to hear/see where God and goodness are already at work. At the intersection of these circles of discernment we find our unique zone for missional creating and cultivating.

This way of operating allows us to be:

  • People of shalom (remember, you can’t give away what you yourself don’t have);

  • who bring shalom where it’s missing (think also in our cultural climate of the harder prophetic action of loving our enemies);

  • who work with the shalom that’s already present;

  • and who bear witness along the way to the ultimate Source of shalom.

“Mission is faith in action, hope in action, and love in action”

—Lesslie Newbigin

As church starters help their forming communities move into their calling in the world, and as they practice the kind of multi-leveled discernment mentioned above, they position themselves for more sustainable and satisfying engagement of their neighborhoods, city and world. Missional becomes more than an exhausting array of outward activities and practices. And more often than not, God surprises us along the way with the discovery of shalom wells, sometimes in the most unexpected of places. How many of us, for example, have learned to drink deeply from the wells of natural and artistic beauty; from deep friendships and partnerships; from the consoling solidarity we find with heartaches and impulses for good in our fellow human beings? Such wells are graces that strengthen our souls, even as we give away what’s given to us in an often-grueling servanthood within broken American culture.

Missional is not a passing fad, it’s a holistic way of life that locks onto hope and accesses Holy Spirit, God’s tangible down-payment guaranteeing our inheritance in the new creation coming (Eph. 1:13-14). It’s worth the time and effort to infuse it into our DNA, our discipleship, and our life in and with the world. As Lesslie Newbigin once said, “Mission is faith in action, hope in action, and love in action” (2). Perhaps these three ideally form the sides of the moving triangle noted above, with love as the driving force and faith and hope as sides of the arrowhead. Imagine what we might be as a people, if we could express missional in such a full-orbed way!

Some coaching questions to deepen missional inspiration and practice:

  • What core missional stories and texts does God have your team focusing on? How are these integrated into your vision for a new church expression?

  • How might you balance the team’s prophetic unction, so that decision-making in context is based on APEST discernment and not only prophetic imagination?

  • What measures are you taking to infuse a healthy missional theology and lifestyle into your lead team and forming community? How will you measure progress in these?

  • How do you practice leadership discernment, and how does your creating and

    cultivating of shalom correlate with your team’s gifts and passions, what you’re

    learning from cultural “insiders” (esp. non-Christian truth-tellers) regarding needs and

    opportunities, and the evidences of shalom-sowing already happening before you?

written by Dan Steigerwald


Dan Steigerwald

Dan Steigerwald

For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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References:

1.Michael W. Goheen, The Church and It’s Vocation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2018).

2. Newbigin’s The Open Secret (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995) actually has chapters devoted to each of these: Mission as Faith in Action, Mission as Hope in Action; Mission as Love in Action. I highly recommend the book!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Key Challenges in Church Planting Today

“What if you could identify some of the most common challenges faced by church-starters?  And further, what if you could also take measures to disarm or reduce their effect? “

If you’re truly immersing in your local setting, you’re regularly encountering people who’ve decided they’re finished with church (the DONES) or who claim no religious affiliation at all (the NONES).  The research tells us these populations are on the rise, perhaps eclipsing the 100 million mark in the US alone (see note).  These fellow humans experience shalom whether they know its Source or not.  Much like you and me, they yearn to experience love, justice, community, hope, purpose, etc.  They feel the deep angst of falling short, of not being enough or acceptable in their present state.  And they’re just as stymied as we are about the fragmentation of our culture and the false promises of consumerism, civil religion and identity politics.  

Some of these people are your friends and neighbors. Their lives rub against yours and create that ache you have to show them another way to be human – the way of Christ. You’re discerning what this could look like and what your part might be in it.  Or you might already be underway with cultivating a new expression of church that NONES and DONES could readily inhabit. To capitalize on the potential before you, you know this sacred work will take much more than good intention, courage and entrepreneurial energy.  Many obstacles dot the horizon, and you wish you could get a better bead on those that could slow or even take your initiative down.

What if you could identify some of the most common challenges faced by church-starters?  And further, what if you could also take measures to disarm or reduce their effect?

It’s to that end that I’d like offer a series of posts over the coming months. These will attempt to describe, address (on some level), and invite discussion over twelve specific challenges team leaders typically encounter on the road to missional church planting. Twelve is not a magic number, but in my experience as a practitioner as well as a coach, mentor and trainer to many hundreds of church-starters these past 25 years, I see teams repeatedly wrestling with these.  

We’ll start the process today with a tight list of the twelve top challenges. In subsequent posts, I'll address each challenge one at a time, including a description of the challenge, suggested action(s), and some key questions a leadership team may want to process with an experienced planter coach.  I welcome any input from practitioners along the way, as leaning into these is more an art than a science.  One last thing worth noting is that the work of befriending and creating participative spaces for NONES and DONES is generally much slower-going than big-splash, event-based church planting.  This reality when coupled with the challenges we’ll be covering underscores the critical need for point leaders to cultivate the interior "grit" or staying power to persevere.

Starting a sustainable church that grounds its life in Jesus is a messy, often uphill journey.  But the process doesn’t have to be soul-depleting.

And now the list.  Here are ten key challenges church planters commonly face:

1. The core team has a superficial grip on missional theology and how to apply it.

2. Point leaders define themselves more by what they’re against than what they’re for.

3. The startup team lacks capacities to lead forward and steward the outward impulse.

4. Funding limitations and outside work demands restrict the point leader(s).

5. Point leader(s) undervalue cultivating a safe, developmental team ethos.

6. The team neglects to share the gospel and cultivate safe spaces for awakening.

7. Leaders are poor at leading collaboratively and empowering diversity.

8. The startup initiative projects an attractional public face far too early.

9. Leaders fail to prioritize spiritual discernment in their decision-making.

10. The team adopts vague, imposed, or poorly-discerned progress metrics.

Again, we’ll expand on these one at a time in coming posts, so please feel free to leave any relevant comments or questions along the way.  

Let’s see where this conversation goes.

Written by Dan Steigerwald.

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For more about Dan or to get in touch with him, visit https://artesiaresourcing.com/about/

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NOTE: The “Dones” according to Josh Packard in Church Refugees (Group Pub, Loveland CO: 2015) are those who have left the church (not Jesus or God) and have no intention of returning (for a tight summary of Done characteristics, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZICtBMBKAI). In more recent research, “Exodus of the Religious Dones,” Packard estimates that as many as 65 million Americans fit this description, with another 7 million who are “almost Done.” The “Nones,” coined in 2012 by the Pew Research Center, refers to those 46 million+ who classify themselves as having no religious affiliation (see http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/).

Beloved Everybody Church

Beloved Everybody Church started meeting in October 2017 as a community committed to welcoming the full participation and leadership of people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities, collaborating and worshiping together. It was important to us to include shared leadership across abilities as essential for our church, because too often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are considered objects of ministry rather than co-laborers in the work of the gospel. We recognize each person as an essential member of the body of Christ who is a gift in themselves, has God-given gifts to share with others, and whose presence makes every community more complete. We all need each other.

…too often people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are considered objects of ministry rather than co-laborers in the work of the gospel.

For a number of folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities, worship gatherings that are more passive, and emphasize lots of words, listening, and abstract theological concepts can be inaccessible. For some, these kinds of practices don’t allow for real engagement, mutual sharing of gifts, or discipleship. So at Beloved Everybody Church we continue to find ways to gather and worship that create space for all of our members – both with and without disabilities – to engage God and one another in ways that are accessible to them, and to be transformed in the process. Our gatherings tend to be highly interactive, relational, participatory, multi-sensory, and embodied. For example, we’re likely to embody a scripture text either by assigning roles for characters to dramatize a narrative or to create movements that correspond to what’s happening in a non-narrative text. I don’t think any of us will soon forget Jesus blowing on us (as his disciples) after his resurrection, or the movement in Psalm 23 from fearfully huddling as we went through “the valley of the shadow of death” to sitting up tall as we declared that we would “fear no evil, for you are with me.”

We all need each other.

We are a community that intentionally welcomes people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (and other types of disabilities), because without this intentionality our practices and spaces would almost certainly not be truly accessible. But even though this is a stated focus, the space we have created has proven to be a place where others – who may have not even thought much about disability before – are finding deep welcome and encountering God. A number of people who have not been to church in years have found their way to our gatherings, and found there a nourishing space where they can belong, and have a experience of God in the midst of community. We are not perfect, but by God’s grace we continue to grow to embody our name, as we recognize that everybody is beloved and to strive to treat them that way.

Blog post by Bethany McKinney Fox, MDiv, PhD.


Check out Beloved Everybody Church on their website, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram: @belovedeverybody.

Bethany also has a book coming out in May 2019 titled, Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church.

Check it out here if you'd like more information or to pre-order

You Don’t Know Which Will Succeed (Wisdom from Ecclesiastes)

I definitely over-planted my garden this spring.

I started off with radishes in nice neat rows. But once my row was planted I still had a half packet of radish seeds. So I scattered those over the garden bed with no regard for planting distance or depth. Then I did the same with my kale. And again with lettuce and tomatoes and beans. I thought, I can always thin them out later.

After a couple of weeks, some seeds that I planted grew into sprouts. Some seeds were eaten by birds. Some just didn’t come up. At the same time, “volunteers” came up from last year, most of which were growing better than the ones I planted: tomatoes in my lettuce and squash in my potatoes. And I didn’t even plant squash last year!

As we’ve been on the journey of nurturing ecosystems for starting new churches and worshiping communities, I’ve noticed a similar progression. At the beginning, there’s a voice inside me that says, “Be careful about which ideas you invest in. Don’t invest in the ones that are too far fetched. We should focus our energy on the ones we know will work.”

I don’t think I’m the only one who hears this voice. New church development in the 20th century has largely been marked by the preference of predictability over chaos, viability over experimentation, and strategy over tactics. There are certain locations, time periods, and demographics in which a new church will work. We’ve been planting in neat rows.

But as new and unexpected leaders, ideas, and partnerships emerge and show signs of vitality and congeniality in our ministries, assessment centers, churches, discerners groups, or core group meetings, we need some wisdom. We need to know how to go forward because our context has changed and it no longer feels like a straight rows anymore. Here’s what the writer of Ecclesiastes has to say.

“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the maker of all things.” Ecclesiastes 11:4-5

The reality is, even though I think I know which ideas will work and which won’t, and even though it seems like prudence and wisdom has been driving my preferences, I’m really much more likely to waste valuable time and ignore what the Spirit is doing. Perhaps true wisdom is to not waste time under the sun trying to predict an unknown future. Wisdom is working hard to nurture it all, unlikely as it may be.

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” Ecclesiastes 11:6

Who would have guessed that a few Christians patronizing their local bar would encounter spiritual conversations on a regular basis?

Who would have planned a group of middle aged adults would find joy adopting a nursing home to bless them, play with them and pray with them?

Who would have anticipated that my most carefully planned strategy for transforming a Christian small group into a missional community would flop?

Who knows when our ideas will take root? Will it be this year? Will it be next year? Will we get the job we need to support ourselves or will we be able to raise funds? Will our vision be shared with others? Because we cannot predict the future, we root ourselves in the present and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.

High pneumatology means that the powerful winds of the Spirit are not only sovereign but extremely unpredictable. Wisdom says to let go of the future a little bit, to try lots of things, to be unafraid that our efforts will be wasted on an unlikely idea, and to simply start something and allow the Spirit to grow what the Spirit wants.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll have squash this year.

McClenahans.jpg

Blog post by Brendan McClenahan. Printed with permission.

Giving Birth

I am sitting in Verdugo Hills Hospital right now, looking at my 2 day old son, and trying to type quietly so as to not wake up his sleeping mother next to me. Having just been through it, I am reflecting on the difficulty of giving birth. . .

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The Plant vs. The Garden

Our region has been on the front edge of the PCUSA with regard to starting new churches. For this, I am grateful and feel proud to be a part of such a community..To encourage our tribe to the next level, I would like to introduce the metaphor of a garden vs. a plant into our narrative.

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