Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'm Smiling Now: A Response to Geoff Surratt's Response

Geoff Surratt has posted a response to an article made up of some blog posts I did a while back about the multisite church model. I appreciate his tone and would love to meet him and converse more about the subject. In his response, however, there are a number of things that are not adequately reflecting my own thinking. It may actually be better to read all the blog posts to get a complete picture of what I think, as the article is only a portion of my thoughts.

I will respond to his response simply to clarify, but will probably let things stand where they are after that. We are brothers and, while we do the kingdom work differently, we are both serving the King and I am glad about that. Everyone that I know who speaks of Geoff speaks highly of him, so I have nothing but respect for him even if we do church differently.

Anyone who has actually read my books or knows me would understand that I do not believe that a church must have a preacher up front (whether or not he or she is in another room several blocks away). I also do not think that a church must have independent resources or not rely upon a larger organization in order to be a church. My thoughts are that in order for the church to spawn a multiplication movement it must have its own independent ability to reproduce and not be dependent upon another organization. I have no problem calling a congregation a church if it is dependent on a larger organization. Whether the pastor is preaching in front of the crowd or several blocks away is irrelevant to me as to whether or not it is a church.

Actually, I do not see a Sunday worship service as paramount to defining a church. If the people are just an audience it isn't a church in my book. I have always said a church is "a spiritual family together on Christ's mission." Of course a multisite church can be a church, but I do not think the Sunday service is what makes it so.

I have committed my life to releasing church multiplication movements. That is what I was writing about, and I do not think multisite releases true multiplication movements...addition, but not multplication. I believe multiplication is proven true when the fourth generation and beyond is manifested, something we have yet to see from the multisite phenomenon. But hear me when I say that church addition is a good thing, especially when the churches are started by transforming people from lostness in to light. Transferring membership from one church to another doesn't really count as even church addition, does it?

Now to be fair, there is a difference in my mind between multisite and video venue, and in my article it is the video venue approach that I am taking issue with the most. I do believe it accentuates our dependency upon personalities and encourages our consumeristic problems and celebrity status in Christendom. I know good men are preaching the gospel in this way, I am not doubting that, in fact many people I consider friends are using this method. I don't question that in some cases lives are being changed and leaders are being developed. I do think, however, that there are longer term implications that should be considered when looking at this approach.

I do have one curiosity though: Is multisite "church planting" or is it "one church in several locations"? It seems like Geoff wants it both ways, and I'm not sure that is helping to clarify the issue. Why is it called church planting when we are counting missional results, and then it is one church when attendance and offerings are being counted? I am not questioning whether or not a multisite church is a church, but I do not think it is a good church planting model, and certainly doesn't release multiplication movements. It is really the logical conclusion of 20 years of church growth strategy, but when compared to church multiplication strategy it is not so sound. Addition is still better than division and subtraction, but multiplication is the only way we will fulfill the great commission to the ends of the earth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Fool's Word Spreads Farther Today

There's an old proverb: "It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." This statement isn't from Solomon's proverbs, though he had something similar to say: "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise." (Prov 17:28) Again he says, "Where there are many words, transgression is unavoidable." (Prov 10:19)

With air travel, hyperfast trains, cell phones, satellites, instant global news coverage on TV and pushed right to your cellphone we are in the midst of a shrinking world. Globalization is connecting us all so that every news story affects everybody almost instantaneously.

Thomas Friedman, in his book The World is Flat, tells us that the world is not just getting smaller with modern technology, but it is also getting flatter. What he means by this is that everyone can now publish their thoughts creating a world where we can all stand on somewhat equal footing. Whereas it used to be that only a privileged few could be published, today with Youtube, facebook, blogs, twitter, myspace, print-on-demand and anyone can publish their ideas. If you have a good idea it can get published and be available to the world.Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, it is amazing how many stupid things are being published today.

Ignorant and naive people who have strong uninformed opinions are able to publish their views anytime they like with little or no repercussions. I'm amazed at how often reviews are posted of books that have obviously not been read. Accusations that have absolutely no basis in truth can be spread instantly and the one who starts the lie has no penalty, in fact, he or she may even gain encouragement for it. Recently I have been accused of plagiarism, being against relationally strong churches and of not believing in elders or deacons...all of which is false. Anyone who actually knows me or read any of my books would no otherwise.

So how does one respond to a fool who spouts off without any true foundation for their thoughts? That is not always an easy question to deal with.

I learned a long time ago not to argue with a poor review or a loudmouth fool. Solomon does write: "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him." (Prov. 26:4) I like what Ed Stetzer once tweeted: "Don't argue with angry bloggers. It's like wresting with a pig-- you both get dirty, but the pig likes it." Getting in the mud with a fool is not usually a worthwhile experience.

But just to demonstrate the tension of what to do with such things, Solomon says in the very next proverb: "Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes." (Prov. 26:5) I guess there is a time and a place to say something, but I do not recommend arguing with them. If you can say something to expose how uninformed and foolish the comment is, without getting into a debate, than I suppose that is the way to do it.

Friends, may I simply suggest that we be a little slower to publish thoughts that are not thought through or substantive? We've all said things we wish we could get back, but in today's world, those regrettable words go farther and last longer. We should also stop giving any credence and audience to the fool. Those who hear the fools message and receive it become fools themselves. When they pass it on they multiply foolishness.

Paul also has some wise counsel for us: "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses." (1 Tim 5:19)

Unfortunately, TMZ, People and US magazine and the many tabloids are showing us that bad news and false news are often more desirable than wisdom and truth. I do not want to shut down the right to free speech, but WE are the ones who need to create an environment of health and wisdom, and we can do so by simply being wiser in our own comments.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Church Planting is Messy, by Guy Muse

Church planting is messy because people are messy. Four nights of every week are spent training four different groups of church planters. All are in various stages with their newly forming house church groups. Anyone engaged in church planting will quickly find they are up against some messy situations.

We usually approach the tough messy questions from three angles. I admit to having used the first two, but believe the third is the best.

1) The urge is often to run to my library of heavily marked writings and see what David Watson, Neil Cole, Curtis Sergeant, Wolfgang Simson, Tony and Felicity Dale, Steve Atkerson, George Patterson or Frank Viola have to say about the matter. After all, they are the CP experts, right?

While I have greatly benefited from the writings and teachings of these, I have learned that each case is fairly unique to the particular situation. Therefore there are few copy-and-paste answers that work neatly every time.

2) A second solution is to come up with a string of related Bible verses. Sew these together into a logical argument, and voila! you have a Biblical answer taken straight from God's Word. Most times this approach will be accepted because no one wants to be seen as questioning God's Word. But is this an accurate way of handling Scripture and answering people's real life questions?

While I admit that we have used both of the above ways to answer problem situations, I'll save the third approach until after describing some of the kinds of issues and questions we deal with on a weekly basis.

What follows are just some of the dozens of practical questions we dealt with in last week's training times.

  • When we had the Lord's Supper this week as a meal, like you said was the NT practice, we had mostly non-believers present. We felt bad leaving them out of the meal so we invited them to share with us. Did we sin?
  • We have eight people ready for baptism in our house church. When I shared this with my pastor he told me I had done a good job, and that the church was planning a baptism service for late May. Since we were taught in the training that it is the responsibility of disciples to baptize ASAP those they win to the Lord, I asked him if it would be all right for me to baptize them myself now? He said no. The church would get into trouble with the denomination if he allowed such a thing without proper credentials of the one baptizing. So brother Guy, "What do I do? Obey my pastor like Hebrews 13:17 tells me (in the most widely accepted Spanish translation 13:17 literally says, 'obey your pastors and be subject to them')? Or do I do what I think is the Biblical mandate for disciples to baptize their disciples? Who do I disobey? If I choose to disobey my pastor, there will be serious consequences for me and my family in the church."
  • In one of the most exciting new church plants, it was revealed this past week to be led by a brother who has destroyed the last two churches he started due to his immorality. With the training received from us, this brother has now started a third church. This week we were confidentially made aware of the situation. While the brother seems repentant for his past sins, do we allow him to continue with the new church plant? Who decides what should be done in these situations? Are we who have been invited to train some kind of authoritative ruling body to decide these kinds of issues? What will this do to their faith once the ugly truth comes out? Who will take over the new group and continue the work with them?
  • If the Bible speaks of bread and wine as being the two symbolic elements of the Lord's Supper, why do we substitute the Biblical wine for grape GatorAide, grape Kool-Aide, grape juice, grape soda (all very common practices in evangelical churches here)? If we can substitute anything purple in color for the Biblical wine, what is to keep us from doing the same thing with the bread? Can rice or cookies be substituted for the bread, and mora juice (black berry) if we don't have wine and unleavened bread?
I bet you are curious as to how we answered each of the above! How would you have responded? With quotes from church planting experts? Or with sewn together "proof texts" taken from related Biblical passages? None of the above were hypothetical mind exercises. They are real questions from real situations that came out of last week's training sessions.

So what is the third way we approach matters in giving answers to these kinds of questions?

3) Rely on the Holy Spirit for his wisdom and guidance into all truth. He is the author of truth. For dozens of years I have read His Word, and read countless books on subjects related to God's Word. The Spirit living within brings to mind all this stored knowledge and experience. When asked these kinds of questions, I trust the Holy Spirit to speak through me and answer in a way that brings Glory to God and honors His Word.

Some questions are pretty straight forward as revealed in Scripture. For those situations, it is a matter of speaking the truth in love. But for most of the situations we encounter that aren't clearly addressed in the Bible--such as the above kinds of questions--we must be careful to not just tie together a bunch of Scriptures from Proverbs, Luke, and Acts and make them say what we think should be said. I can certainly do this. I know God's Word. But this approach to Scripture has been extremely harmful to the Body of Christ in my opinion, and has gotten us into more tangled messes than even the original problems.

Will you pray for us that the Lord would give us much wisdom and humility in all these matters? We simply don't have the perfect answers for all the questions that get sent our way. But I do believe we have the Holy Spirit who was given to us by Jesus to help lead and guide us into all truth.

What do you think about all these matters? How do you go about answering the tough and messy questions that arise from your own ministry and church planting?