Monday, July 02, 2012

201. Apostolic Ministry and the crucial AND

Most people will tell you that when you plant a church, you are typically reacting to your previous experience of church. This was partly true in my case. I say partly because I had already been a part of an urban church plant in Montgomery AL, that used a missional-incarnational approach to church planting. In fact, our strategies were both missional and incarnational and we didn't even know it! That language would have been really helpful to us back then, but we just lumped it all up into the concepts of evangelism.

I moved from that church plant to do campus ministry for 3 years in Clarksville TN. At the end of that 3 years, we felt the Lord calling us to plant a church. So entering into this 2nd church planting venture I had a healthy respect for a church planting model front loaded with missional-incarnational forms of evangelistic ministry. However...going into the 2nd plant I had a certain reactionary vibe in me in regards to leadership, centralization, the size of our gatherings, and organization. Because my typical experience in these areas was...typical, I wanted to experiment with what it would look like to engage these things in an unconventional way. Being bi-vocational when I planted stretched out the pace at which our community evolved, and therefore extended the learning curve on my end as the leader. At the end of the journey, I have pretty much come full circle on most of these issues, but it is with a wealth of experience and practitioner wisdom that can only come from experimenting, failing, and learning from your failures. The basic flaw in our church planting strategy was that we took an either/or approach on these issues rather than a both/and. Here is a quick break down of where we needed the AND approach, but didn't have it.

Leadership AND Followership: We were coming out of a situation where people were not given the freedom to pursue their callings without a lot of red tape. The leaders kept a tight control on who could and could not play a role in the church. We did not want that to happen in our church plant. We thought the best way to create a leadership culture was to say everyone was a leader. This turned out to be unwise for two main reasons. First, not everyone wants to be a leader. Some people want to follow a leader and have no desire to be out front. Calling people leaders does not make them leaders. Second, someone needs to model healthy leadership in order for other existing or potential leaders to know what a leadership culture looks like. This is imitation 101. To make good leaders, you have to have a good leader to imitate. (See blog post here.) 

Centralized AND Decentralized: Because we were hyped up on creating a movement, we thought the key to seeing it happen would be to decentralize our ministry efforts and give a high level of autonomy to people on the front end to pursue what they felt the Lord wanted them to do. However, if we take a look at the ministry of Jesus, he structured a period of centralization for 3 1/2 years with the 12 before they decentralized for mission. This centralization around the leader(s) is where the DNA of the gospel, mission, community, discipleship and leadership is embedded through discipleship. Without this period of centralization, decentralization turns into dissipation and an overall fragmentation of the community (see blog post here.) It is hard to build momentum and get traction in this kind of scenario.

We also took an overly decentralized approach to being on mission. We told everybody to go and be Jesus in their social networks, and bring people back to the group. This sounded good, at first. The more entrepreneurial people in the group liked this idea and did well, for a season. But the less entrepreneurial folks did not last long with this approach. People got discouraged and felt alone on the mission. We needed to have a specific network or neighborhood that the group could organize around and call that their mission focus. Without a clear mission focus for the group at large, everyone eventually felt alone and discouraged. They needed synergy with others and a sense of accountability to make it work for the long haul.

Home AND Temple:  We started the church plant off with 6 people (2 of which moved after about 6 months into it....yikes!!!) In an effort to keep things simple and reproducible, when numbers got up to around 18, we multiplied into 2 house churches. We thought that as long as we kept the church in the 10-15 range, we would position ourselves for multiplication. We neglected moving into larger gatherings because we did not want to drift into a Sunday event style church where it was all about the worship service. However, what we didn't take into account was that a lot of the people in the community needed the larger gathering for momentum, and a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves. This decision to only do personal space frustrated our development and momentum as a community. We needed larger and smaller gatherings. 

Organic AND Organized: This basically has to do with our aversion to structure and organization at the front end of the plant. We were over reacting to a rigid environment we were coming out of. What we needed was structure and organization that functioned like a trellis in a garden. The structure would support the life of the community, not the other way around. My own preference for a lack of structure highly influenced the culture of our church plant. Now that I am aware that it was purely a preference, I can bring balance to the next venture and design structures that will focus our energies and attention on what matters most.  

Failure is one of those things no one wants to experience, but it is probably one of the most fertile places for learning things about ourselves and what it means to live in a covenant relationship with the Father. It is through failure that we learn some of our most valuable lessons. 

One thing is for sure, if you never fail, you are probably not taking risks. And without taking risks, we will never be able to move beyond the present reality. Experiment...but learn as you go. 


Joshua Lee Henry said...

Great insights Tim. I especially agree with the balance of "home and temple".

Tim Catchim said...

Thanks for the feedback Josh - Tim