Monday, May 23, 2011

A Prophetic Word that Did Come to Pass

“In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”
~William Booth (Methodist preacher in the 1800's and founder of the Salvation Army)
This was a true prophetic word as opposed to Harold Camping's date-setting multi-million dollar campaign.

Aspire to live a religion full of the Holy Spirit demonstrated by love for widows and orphans. Desire Christ more than your Christianity. Repent and stop holding on to pain, hurt and unforgiveness. Without a changed life there is no salvation...walking an aisle, saying a prayer or raising a hand doesn't qualify you for heaven...only Jesus can offer regeneration and it involves a radical transformation. The kingdom of God is bigger than a Sunday service and is to be brought into all domains of society, even the political arena, but by mobilizing transformed agents...not legislative work or lobbying for conservative causes. There are consequences for sin and we should not damage people's souls by saying otherwise. There is forgiveness. There is hope. There is heaven for those who receive it...but it is not going to be forced on is always offered as a choice.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011 6PM not the end

"I'm waking up at the start of the end of the world, but its feeling just like every other morning before."
How Far We've Come

by Machbox Twenty
Well, like most others, I did wake up this morning and it did feel pretty much like every other morning before...except for the hot topic on facebook and twitter about Harold Camping's apocalyptic prophecy. The man is 89 years old, I have to wonder how many more false prophecies about the end does he have in him. Even most of his own family members and his media producer don't believe him anymore. Nevertheless many weak minded people did, and now they are hurt.

The thing is, the end will come and frankly this sort of stuff makes the true message of Christ's return sound like foolishness on a par with a guy walking the streets with a sandwich board sign saying "the end is near."

I tweeted a few days ago, "I'm not preparing for the end of the world on Sat May 21st, but today and every day." Actually, I think that is a better approach to Christ's return. I actually don't always succeed in living every moment with such intentionality, but I do think about my own mortality often and wonder what I would leave behind.

Live your life like this could be your last day...whether by rapture or by rupture...of a spleen, or a nuclear power plant, or even a blood vessel in your brain. In fact, this very day a funeral was held for a friend of mine so I guess the end is nearer than we think for all of us.

Solomon wrote many years ago "It is better to go to a house of mourning (a funeral) than to go to a house of feasting (a party), because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart." (Ecc. 7:2) While there are parties planned by atheists in the streets to celebrate the passing of another false prophecy we should realize that death awaits us all. George Bernard Shaw (likely an atheist of sorts himself) once quipped: "One out of one people die, that's a startling statistic."

It's not how we die that really matters but how we live before we die. The gospel is not just a get-out-of-hell-free card or eternal fire insurance. It is the good news that Christ is real, present and willing to heal and lead our lives now and forever. The gospel is as much about now as it is about then. Jesus came to bring love to the broken and lost, not condemnation. The condemnation we usually bring upon ourselves...or thrust upon others.

The Matchbox Twenty song quoted above makes a very pertinent statement..."Let's see how far we've come." Today pastors are debating the reality of hell. False prophets are announcing the end of the world. The church looks no different than the rest of the world, or worse. I don't think we've come that far really. In fact, the Thessalonica church of the first century was wrestling with some of the same issues. The Corinthians as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tozer on Simple Church

Margaret Feinberg put this in a post on her blog and pointed out that Tozer wrote this over 60 years ago. Today, in an even more complex world, people are starting to hear the call to simplicity.

"Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity."

–A.W. Tozer (The Pursuit of God, p. 17-18)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dealing with Bullies in the Body of Christ

A young organic church planter asked me how I deal with people who complain about my words and at the same time, manage to tactfully address sensitive issues in the church. Here is my response...

Hey Bro.

We live in a day where we publish thoughts instantly and permanently to thousands of people in little sound bites of 140 characters or less. And we do this several times in a single day! The potential for sin is enormous. The book of James talked of controlling the tongue, but today it is the thumb that gets us in trouble!

Actually, I have always tried to walk the fine line of attacking the system that subjugates, not the people caught in it. I have unfortunately said some stupid things with twitter that I wish I could get back. As of yet, I haven't violated my own belief, but have said things that are not really going to be helpful but merely inflammatory...those are the tweets I regret. I have also lived to see people cold toward me and I'm pretty sure it was something I said. This closes off a potential area of influence and relationship in the future. That is the cost of saying inflammatory things that are not truly helpful.

The truth is Christianity is a sub-culture that is accustomed to and values harsh statements but also is easily offended. Finding the balance is more art than science. Those who are bold in their course statements are heralded as heroes who stand up for what they believe without compromise.

At the same time, churches are full of people with the spiritual gift of offense. These people live out their religion as though it is their calling from God to police others and let them know how wrong they are, and in so doing are even more obnoxious than the people they criticize (sorry if I just offended you...not!). It is this reason more than all others that I am glad I no longer preach a sermon every week in church. I DO NOT miss that! I actually do hope I didn't offend my dear friends at the church I used to pastor...I wasn't thinking of you. Those who claim to follow the silent Lamb of God should be the slowest to offense, but are often the quickest to find it.

The church is a strange sub-culture that must be wildly confusing to those who are not within...I'm confused by it and I am a part of the church (though many would disagree with that last thought). Perhaps the worst part of this sub-culture is the idea that we do everything we can to avoid all offense because "that's what Jesus would do"...Oh Skubala (that's the ancient Greek word for Sh#@)! Jesus was an outspoken, even sarcastic, leader who was not afraid to step on the toes of those who were keeping others in bondage to an old system. He spoke boldly, clearly, publicly, even mockingly, at the Pharisees for their self-righteous world view.

Paul did as well. To those who felt everyone needed circumcision to convert to Christ he said in Galatians 5:12: "Hey if you want to get real religious, why stop at the foreskin...cut the whole thing off and be even more spiritual!" (my own paraphrase...but the point is there, no pun intended). Have I offended some of you yet?

If we work so hard to honor the status quo to keep the boat steady we will never turn it around and we will be destined to drift off course in our "happy" little boat. The truth is these people will find reason to get upset no matter what we say or do not say. The result is that we are still offensive and no closer to being 'happy" but also way off course. So speak the truth in fact, shout it from the roof tops. Here are some thoughts to help shout the right things and deal with those who strike back...

The first thing to consider is the Scriptures. If the folks we know in the system are bible believers and the Scriptures are clear you can speak with authority–not your authority but the Bible's authority. Let the Scriptures speak for themselves...they are far better at it than we are (Heb 4:12). If the Bible is silent than we should be silent. That is actually where many Christian leaders blow it. If the people are claiming biblical authority for something that is not in the Bible than speak boldly and unapologetically against that. That said, claiming something as "biblical" or "unbiblical"can sometimes be overdone. It is perhaps better to simply ask..."Where is that found in the Bible?" I find it better to question the weight people put on things that are not in the Bible than the actual practice itself. Often a practice was born in relevance for a moment but after many years it became sacred even though it is not in the Bible. Honor the past usefulness, but raise awareness of the fact that it no longer has as much relevance and is not a biblical command. Emphasize freedom in the truth. Jesus said the truth would set us free, not make us religious slaves.

Second is to always move to relationship when a conflict (or potential one) comes up. Don't camp in the conceptual areas you disagree on...move to relational touch points and make the relationship more important than the issue, after all, we're supposed to be the most loving relational people...right? Ha!

Third, don't defend yourself when you are being only hurts your stance and empowers the one attacking you. Your friends may step up for you...that always feels good. If not, your Father in heaven will be your advocate...though perhaps not for a long time. That said, you can clarify things when someone rises up against you to make sure that they are understanding what you meant. But once that doesn't work (and often it doesn't) don't slide into self-defense. Ed Stetzer likens it to wrestling with a pig in the mud, you both get dirty but the pig likes it.

The remarkable thing is that in all my experience of receiving hate mail it is always addressed publicly without actually addressing me in private first. It is amazing how people can police others on their view of the Bible and totally disregard the Bible in doing so. The point is that they are not truly interested in what is true or is usually motivated by hurt, jealousy, envy or a divisive spirit in their own lives. Some people find empowerment by attacking others. You can't win that argument, so leave it be. There are far more important things to be about, get on with those things.

Hope that helps some.

Pressing on,


Friday, May 13, 2011

Is there a Church Planting Movement in America?

I have given my entire adult life to trying to discover the secret to starting spontaneous church multiplication movements. It has been an obsessive curiosity that has become a life calling. Unhappy with anything less, I have abandoned much in its pursuit. One of the things I figured out through many failures along the way is that the potent DNA of a movement is not found in books, seminars or with elite scholars or specially gifted personalities. The true ingredient necessary for a movement is not just in China, India and certain third world countries. No, the potent mix necessary to release a real spontaneous multiplication movement of God’s Kingdom is found in the most obvious but least expected place of all. All along, the secret has been under our nose! The ingredient most necessary to start a spontaneous movement of God’s expanding Kingdom is found in the heart of every follower of Christ. It is inside of you. It is inside of me. It has been in us all along, every one of us who follows Christ and is indwelt by His Spirit. The “mystery” is “Christ in you,” which is the true “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). We have refused to see the potent seed within us and have actually prevented it from spreading without even realizing it. That’s an amazing thought when you let it sink in.

Inherent in the kingdom of God itself is the impulse of a movement. God Himself is missional and has been in pursuit of lost people since Genesis chapter 3. Missional impulse does not need to be manipulated or added to for a movement to happen, but simply released to be what it was made to be. We must get our confidence back in the Kingdom itself rather than in our strategies and mechanisms. How many times did Jesus shake His head and comment with a sigh of disappointment, “Oh ye of little strategy?” It is not more strategy, but more faith in the King and His reign that we need.

If indeed this is true, I am convinced that a true movement of God’s transformative kingdom can be released in any nation on the planet, including the US. I not only believe it is possible; I am convinced it is happening at this very moment.

There is definitely a movement in North America, but is there a Church Planting Movement (CPM)? I’m hearing a lot about the organic church movement lately because it has become very noticeable. Recently Newsweek, Associated Press, USA Today and Time mentioned it. Christianity Today also mentioned it. Even Brit Hume mentioned that he is part of a home church last year. ABC News sent a correspondent to one of our organic churches in New York recently doing a piece on the phenomenon. According to one of the above articles 7 percent of Americans are in a house church. Anyone reading this article knows that this was not the case just a few years ago. Some are saying that organic house churches out number traditional churches in many countries (that’s actually not news), and would be considered in the top three of the US church groups, alongside Roman Catholics and Southern that is news.

I am part of Church Multiplication Associates. We have grown from a handful of Christians in 2000 to having trained 40,000 people in how to make disciples from the soil of broken lives to form churches in these past ten years. We conduct more than one weekend training event every week somewhere in the world using a growing pool of 50+ experienced organic church trainers. With our trainings, and the multiple generations of churches started from them, we estimate the start of 2-4 churches every day, and that number is increasing annually. This is not counting the thousands who access our training anonymously though our many books or web content (

I’ve heard some experts say that we are not a CPM…yet. David Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements has consistently said so, though he is always careful to mention that if there is one we are it. Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird in their book Viral Churches that says that there is not a movement in the US, but that if there is one that is closest it would be us. Bob Roberts said in a blog post that we are not a movement.

So what do I think? The term movement can mean all sorts of things. We are definitely moving and, so far as I can tell, we are going in the right direction. We are out of control. No one can point to the person in charge, though there is a short list of the most influential leaders of the movement. No one can accurately count the number of churches within the movement. There is not a single organizational label that can be applied to this “movement;” it runs across denominational lines.

I believe there are a few reasons why people do not want to put the label movement on what is happening, and I will share these below with some of my own thoughts to why I think we are indeed a CPM.

Why Not in the US?

When one simply looks at the characteristics mentioned in Garrison’s work Church Planting Movements all the characteristics of a CPM are found in our current work in North America, so one has to investigate further to find the reasons for excluding the US from having an identifiable CPM. In my experience the best reasons given for these statements are usually summed up in three categories:

1. We have a much smaller percentage of growth through evangelism/conversion.
2. We lack multiple generations of churches beyond the third generation.
3. The lack of transformation of culture and society. If all three of these observations are true than I believe we are not a CPM. The question is: are these observations valid?

1. We are not seeing the conversion growth rate that Church Planting Movements are seeing in other parts of the world. This is true, but I question if that is cause to disqualify what is happening as a CPM. While I would wish that we would see more conversions, we are in a country where the predominant faith of the people is Christian. That has to change the way we view CPMs in the US when compared to nations where the gospel is a new idea introduced to a people with centuries of bondage to false ideas. While I am not really wanting a renewal movement as much as a true spiritual awakening of lost people, I for one, am not going to tell Christians that they cannot join us. To see the conversion growth rate found in China or India we would have to exclude Christians from joining the movement, and that is not healthy or realistic. That said this could easily derail the birth of a true movement if we spend all our time, resources and affection on the Christians that come in.

Church Multiplication Associates is seeing more than 25 percent conversion growth rate in the North American context that has a residual Christian understanding, which is pretty high in a Western context. A recent study of urban organic church movements rates the conversion growth higher, closer to 50 percent. Can we do better? Yes. Should we do better? I suppose, but “how do we do better?” is the real question. I am not going to tell Christians that they cannot be part of our movement, especially given that much of the transformation of lives we are seeing is from people who claim to have been Christians. I am also not going to start pushing evangelism with external drives that produce guilt-ridden evangelists and false conversions. I will just continue listening to the Holy Spirit and trusting Him as the only true evangelist to usher in the new life. Deepening the spiritual life of the disciples so that they are unable to keep quiet about their love of Jesus is probably the best way to mobilize evangelists.

2. Reproduction of churches must be beyond the third generation. Those who know me know that I myself say the same thing. It is not until we see fourth generation disciples, leaders and churches that we are truly a movement in my opinion. This is really an absolute mathematical equation, to see real multiplication each unit must be reproducing. If we are not multiplying we are not the movement we want to be. That said if we are multiplying, counting the churches and getting accurate information will be impossible, always leaving us vulnerable to pundits who sit on the sideline criticizing us.

What we have found out from an independent survey conducted by Ed Stetzer’s group is that we have a very high rate of reproduction (near 100 percent as 52 out of 53 churches surveyed in one account had daughter churches in that same year). 30 percent of the churches that have started churches in our movement have started 6 or more churches! 30 percent have also seen granddaughter churches started, so I would say that we are indeed seeing reproduction to the third generation and beyond.

In 2004, only five years into starting the first Awakening Chapel in Long Beach, CA I was able to track the growth of only this one church. After five years we found 75 churches started. There were five networks of churches that trace their roots to the first Awakening Chapel, which we began in 1999. We were able at that time to track the growth down to five generations of churches. I am still part of one of these churches that started in 2000 in the home of a drug dealer who began to follow Christ. This church is a granddaughter of the original Awakening Chapel. This one church has sent 40 people out to start churches all over the world. In the past year we have seen about 7 or 8 churches started and are easily spotting third and forth generation churches in just the past year. This sort of growth is not typical in the house church movement in the US today, but it is also not rare. Within CMA we can spot several networks that have the same type of reproduction occurring.

3. Transformation of society is the true mark of a movement. This I agree with whole-heartedly. As I have said to many who question our legitimacy as a movement, it will not be our contemporary critics and experts who will give us our validity, but future historians. I often think of the future historian and what their perspective will be when I look at things, it helps to gain a bigger and broader perspective.
David Watson has mentioned that it takes longer in contexts with traditional church presence for CPMs to get started. He also states that it takes about four years in developing nations for a CPM to go from initial missionary contact to a rapid movement, so perhaps in the US we are looking at a decade or longer to see the same type of exponential growth and transformation of society. Well, we are a decade in and all the major news outlets are beginning to notice something, so perhaps we are indeed at the beginning of a North American CPM.

If we truly saturate our society with vital followers of Christ capable of making disciples, the world will change. But of course, this will not be evident for a little while. I am willing to wait for it. There are ways to have a more noticeable impact immediately such as large social programs, political lobbying by a few motivated individuals, aggressive and vocal assertion of our values in society. We could do that, as others are, but I believe that simply connecting God’s children to their spiritual Father in such a way that they listen to His voice and courageously follow His lead will transform society in much broader, holistic and longer lasting ways.

I guess I am willing to say, we are a movement, but our best days lie ahead.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hanging Great Weight on Thin Wires: Can Small Groups Become Missional and Make Disciples?

Pastor Brian Jones tells of the response he got from one ‘nationally recognized’ pastor when Brian told him that he hadn’t figured out the whole small group thing yet. Brian said the pastor’s response was something like this:

“Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago—small groups just aren’t working.”[1]

It is true that we have been trying to make disciples in small groups for a few decades now and are no closer to seeing the world transformed by missional agents than before we started this experiment.

Groups don’t make disciples; disciples make disciples. It is my contention that for far too long we have placed the burden of sanctification on group meetings that were never meant to transform a soul, but to give transformed souls a place to join and interact in a healthy manner.

Your church is only as good as her disciples. A hot band, dynamic preaching, state-of-the-art facilities and wonderful programs do not make a great church if the disciples are simply consumers and unengaged in the grand work of making disciples. But if the disciples in your church are empowered and engaged in mission, than your church is strong and healthy, even if you do not have laser lights or fog machines. We have done things backwards for too long. We must reverse the order. We think that the solution to having good disciples is to make better churches, when in fact the way to have good churches is to make better disciples.

Correctly applying the activity and behaviors of discipleship in the correct grouping can make significant impact on the overall life of the church as well as her impact on society as a whole. The absence of key groupings robs the church of a needed interaction and participation in significant spiritual behaviors.

The Base Unit of Life: 2 to 3 People

Both the Old and New Testaments use the phrase “two or three” repeatedly. At least ten times “two or three” is suggested as an ideal size at which to conduct ministry. The Bible does not say “two or more” or “three or less,” but regularly “two or three.” The following are all strongest in groups of 2-3:

· Community (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).

· Accountability (1 Timothy 5:19).

· Confidentiality (Matthew 18:15–17).

· Flexibility (Matthew 18:20).

· Communication (1 Corinthians 14:26–33).

· Direction (2 Corinthians 13:1).

· Leadership (1 Corinthians 14:29).

· Mission (Luke 10:1; Acts 13:2-4)

God has designed all of creation to reproduce at the level of two. If you cannot reproduce disciples at this level you are not likely to reproduce them at all. This grouping is the beginning of all life.[2]

The Family Unit: 12 to 15 People

Small groups of 12-15 are a much better size for caring for one another’s needs and feeling a part of an intimate family. It is small enough that all parts can intimately know one another, yet large enough to have significant diversity and shared responsibility for one another. It is a natural sized grouping to opperate as a spiritual family on mission together.

In the church, we often run into problems because we expect too much from this sized grouping. The Western church is littered with dysfuntional and disgruntled groups of this size. Viewing a group of 12-15 as the only one necessary and capable of doing all God desires of a church is like trying to be able to have the performance of a sports car yet carry the passenger load of a minivan combined with the toughness and luggage capacity of an SUV. You really cannot find such a car, or group of twelve. If we have strong life growth and accountability in the group of 2-3 then a group of 12-15 can relax and be the family it is meant to be. But when the only group we have for everything is this group of 12 we are expecting way too much.

A small group of 12-15 alone will not be able to accomplish the work of missional disciplemaking. But if disciple-making groups of 2-3 are already at work transforming souls out in the fields of life, then gathering those disciples into spiritual families will be far more productive. We need to put less weighted expectations on small groups and reorient the responsibility of disciple-making to the right context–a disciple in relation to another disciple. Small groups do not make disciples; disciples do. If your disciples are missional then your spiritual families will be missional, but, as we have all discovered, this will not work the other way around.

My book Church 3.0 has an important chapter on the variety of group sizes using the Scriptures, sociological theories of group dynamics and even some historical examples to determine what are the best sizes for the variety of demands and needs in Christ's kingdom.

[1] Brian Jones “Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups,”

[2] My book Ordinary Hero presents a thorough explanation of the power of groups of 2 or 3.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ok, so I am glad that the number one terrorist is caught, but I have questions...

They discovered that this may be the hide-out of Osama bin Laden back in August and now they execute an operation? Why such a long delay?

They decide they want a risky surgical operation to prove they got Osama and then dispose of the body right away in the sea?

Why does it take weeks to get DNA analysis normally but they can do it in just a few hours? This sounds more like a TV show than real life doesn't it?

They uncover loads of strategic intelligence that they can use to capture many more terrorists, but instead decide to announce this publicly right away giving the hot leads plenty of time to disappear? Why? After nearly ten years, couldn't a few days or even weeks be used to follow up on many of these leads?

This is the most important operation in US history re. the war on terrorism and they use a faulty helicopter that they have to blow up and leave at the scene? Perhaps reducing the budget on defense spending is a bad idea after all?

They find the number 1 most wanted criminal on the planet in a comfortable mansion in a city only a short drive from the capital and within walking distance from a military training school for officers in the Pakistani army? We give over a billion dollars in aid to this nation/ally?

Perhaps there are good answers for all these questions and I would love to hear them. I am glad that they finally caught bin Laden and that justice has been served. I just don't understand some of these things. They seem strange to me. The answers provided so far seem shallow and lack substantive solution.

I'm just asking questions...