A couple weeks ago I helped lead a workshop on missional communities for church planters in Pawley’s Island, SC, along with Steve Cockram, Doug Paul, and Brent Barger. (Another one is scheduled for Sept 13-14 in San Francisco. Watch the 3DM website for more detailed info soon.)
It was a really great time of meeting some quality people, talking about the vital foundation of discipleship, and discussing strategy and tactics for planting churches with MCs from the get-go. Here are a few of my reflections from the two days.
I was frankly blown away by the humility of everyone I met. There were some seriously gifted people there, doing some amazing things, and yet there was a palpable humility about each of them. People were very open to learning and thinking in new ways, as evidenced by the multitude of questions I heard. These planters were a delight to hang out with. I wish I lived closer to them!
HUNGRY FOR SPIRITUAL INVESTMENT
This is probably a slight overstatement, but I think most church planting conferences and events focus mostly on strategy and tactics, helping planters achieve their organizational goals. If you’ve been around 3DM for any length of time, you know that they always bring it back to a “heart level,” and their focus on discipleship as the foundation of everything occasionally puts off people who are simply looking for the latest program to help their church grow.
But these church planters seemed to be in a different place. They were hungry for some real spiritual investment in their lives, discipleship rooted in relationship and accountability. These folks weren’t just looking for consultants to help them tweak their organizational structure, they want to grow as disciples of Jesus and learn how to make disciples of Jesus. We actually saw quite a bit of emotional healing take place over the two days, actually. People are desperate for the sadly rare occurrence of someone coming alongside them and truly investing in their growth and discipleship.
OPEN TO PIONEERING WORK
All church planting is pioneering in one sense, but most of the well-developed models were designed in another era, for a different world (and usually didn’t have a functional plan for making disciples). As such, most of the training church planters get is for a world that is disappearing. At the beginning of the workshop, my friend Doug Paul compared our present situation with the story of Noah, who spent a long time building a boat in the middle of a desert. It didn’t appear to make any sense, but Noah knew a flood was coming. If we know a cultural “flood” is coming, if we know the world is changing, we had better learn how to build structures that will make sense for the future instead of continuing to build what’s familiar in the hope that things will go back to how they were.
Planting with discipleship and mission at the center isn’t “efficient” or easy. It starts slow and stays small for awhile. But in the future that’s coming, we need lightweight/low-maintenance models that allow us to quickly mobilize, equip, and commission people to make disciples, lead communities, and join with God in the renewal of all things. We can’t keep spending money like we have been, with so little spiritual return.
Right now there is very little practical training out there for people who want to do things differently than what has come before. Stepping out to plant like this is very pioneering work, and it was great to see how many people were open to start building “boats” instead of “houses.”
From the look of some websites and conferences, one can get the impression that planting churches is something that only 20-something hipster men do. But at this workshop we met a delightfully wide variety of people planting churches: men and women, old and young, rural, suburban, and urban, black and white, Indian, bi-racial, Asian. We need all kinds of church planters to plant all kinds of churches, and it was refreshing to see people from so many different backgrounds coming together to learn and innovate for a wide variety of contexts.
You may also want to read Doug’s reflections on the workshop, which are quite similar to mine (we talked about it a bit). It was a great time hanging out with a diverse bunch of humble, hungry, and open people.