Apostolic Church Planting By J. D. Payne

Dr. J. D. Payne was our guest on "Salty Believer Unscripted" when he publicly announced a forthcoming book titled Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers.  Naturally, I was interested so I was thrilled when  Payne's print publicist, Alisse Wissman sent me a pre-published manuscript of the book for review.  (It's a 8.5x11" printed manuscript bound in a presentation-style thermal binding.)  

Payne, J. D. Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers. Downers Grove, Illi: InterVarsity Press, 2015.  

In his book, Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers, Dr. J. D. Payne sets out complement his larger textbook, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting with this much shorter book.  Payne also tries to answer additional questions and further mature ideas that were not as developed in the larger textbook.  "Naturally," writes Payne, "there is some overlap between the two.  If there weren't, you would be wise to question an author who writes two books on a subject with no continuity and much divergence in thought" (9).  Found throughout Apostolic Church Planting is the statement, "For more on _______ see chapter _______ in Discovering Church Planting."  Clearly the two books are highly tied, although both stand alone on the topic of church planting.  However, Apostolic Church Planting's illustrations are current, as to be expected; not that Discovering Church Planting is out of date.  In addition, Apostolic Church Planting better address the need for apostolic planting in North America.

Like every other book on church planting, Payne starts with the question, what is church planting?  Often, a person picking up a title that deals with church planting will already understand the answer to this question; but it seems appropriate that Payne address this issue.  Given the slightly different approach, size, and nature of this book, it is possible that this title could be the first book a future planter or planting team reads on the topic.  

Payne writes, "Throughout the Bible, we read of the birth of churches--after disciples are made.  Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches" (15).  Right upfront, Payne defines planting as making disciples of those who did not previously have a relationship with Jesus, gathering them together, and then birthing a new church from this group.  Outside of his definition is the mission that takes a large group of believers and starts an instant church in another location (although he does not condemn this kind of work).  "Churches," Payne states, "are supposed to be birthed from disciple making" (16).  

Next, Payne addresses a biblical rationale for what a local church is and is not.  Having previously served as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this is where his professor cap comes out.  And Dr. Payne wears it well.  As the book progresses, it becomes more and more practical, eventually concluding with some extremely applicable chapters.  Each chapter concludes with a summary, offering a concise snapshot of the primary points of the chapter.  At only 121 pages, this is a quick read.  

Apostolic Church Planting is easy to read but it is not an 'easy read.'  Church planting is hard work and Payne does not sugarcoat it.  It is clear that Payne is passionate about helping apostolic planters do the hard work of planting churches that actually advance the Kingdom of God.  Like his other books, Payne's style is a little dry.  You won't find witty anecdotes or clever writing, but you will find grounded, informative thinking, paragraph after paragraph.     

A potential weakness of the book is the lack of perspective from the church in Antioch.  Payne appears to use Paul as his primary source for apostolic planting, but Paul did not plant the church in Antioch.  In fact, other than knowing they were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, we have no idea the names of the men who planted this church!  While an argument from silence is not appropriate, it does seem as if disciples were made by these man who spoke to the Hellenists and preached Jesus. According to the text, some believed.  When Barnabas was sent to check it out, he determined that he and Saul could be of service teaching in Antioch.  Verse 26 calls this group a church (Acts 11:19-25).  It is difficult to know the timeline, but this example seems rather appropriate and a discussion from this perspective would bolster Payne's argument for apostolic planting rather than hiving off a group of disciples and transplanting them elsewhere.  But this is such a minor weakness it is almost not worth mentioning.  

Apostolic Church Planting makes a great book for would-be plant teams.  It's short, divided into easy sections, and offers a great deal of information worth discussing.  In addition, as the team has more questions or would like to work through a particular section in greater detail, they could consult Discovering Church Planting (and Payne tells them right where to look).  This book would also make a good introductory book for a Bible college or seminary course on church planting or missions (although it should be partnered with an additional textbook).  And Apostolic Church Planting is a must read for anyone considering church planting.  

As a church planter in a tough place, I highly recommend this book!  

You can order your copy of Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers at Amazon.com.   

Dr. J. D. Payne is the pastor of multiplication for the Church at Brook Hills.  In addition, he's one of our favorite guests on Salty Believer Unscripted. Some of his other books include Roland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous ExpansionMissional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel; Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Churchand Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission, among others.  You can also download three free ebooks at www.JDPayne.org.  


Pentecost and the Church Year



Last Sunday was Pentecost.   I've not spent much time in local churches celebrate the Church Year liturgy.  Every church has a liturgy, be it less formal or not, and most churches have some kind of typical calendar.  The Evangelical churches I've been a part of celebrate very few Christian holidays.  Sure, every local church I know celebrates Christmas and Easter, Christmas Eve and Good Friday; but what about Pentecost?

Before I get into Pentecost, I probably need to give a brief summary of the Church Year (also referred to as the Liturgical Calendar or Christian Calendar).  The Church Year is a visual representation of the historical narrative of gospel redemption and the life in the New Testament Church.

Different traditions break the year up differently; but for the most part, the 'seasons' look the same.  The first season, which, by they way, does not start on January 1st, is called Advent.  It typically begins about a month before Christmas and consists of four Sundays.  Advent is a season of anticipation of our coming Savior.

The second season is called Christmas.  It lasts 12 days, starting with Christmas Day.  (There's a song about the 12 days of Christmas.  If you didn't know why there was 12 days, now you know.) Because we celebrate Christmas on a fixed calendar date, the date the Christmas season is not dependent upon Easter (more on this below).

Next comes Epiphany.  Epiphany means a disclosure or unveiling and this season represents Christ's earthly ministry.  Various traditions mark special days within this season, but they are not all in agreement about which days to draw more attention too.  Epiphany begins January 6th and can last as much as nine weeks depending upon which Sunday Easter falls.  Epiphany ends when the season of Lent begins.

Lent begins 40 days before Easter.  It is intended to be a time of preparation.  According to T J. German, Lent started as a week long fast but was extended to 40 days in the 7th Century.  Depending on the tradition, every Friday of Lent is a day of abstinence.  Prayer and fasting are important.  People of some traditions abstain from a desired item as a way to anticipate and long for the coming of Easter.  In addition, Holy Week is the last week of Lent and refers to the last week of Christ's earthly life.  The First Day of Lent is typically called Ash Wednesday.

Easter is the name of the most holy day of the Christian Year and it's the name of the next season.  Easter is a movable feast, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.  It is connected with Passover because Christ raised from the tomb on the Sunday following Passover.  Technically, Jewish Rabbis determine the day for passover. But to simplify when Christians celebrate Easter, it is set on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the Spring equinox.  The Easter season is 7 weeks long and includes The Day of Ascension.  (Some traditions include Pentecost as part of the Easter season too.)

The final season, which represents life in anticipation of the consummation of the Kingdom, is either called The Season After Pentecost or Ordinary Time.  On occasion, this season is all called Pentecost.  Some traditions place the Day of Pentecost in the Easter season, some have a one week break between seasons, and some open the season with the Day of Pentecost.  No matter how you break it up, last Sunday was the Day of Pentecost.

Pentecost is an interesting holy day.  In the Old Testament is was actually called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10).  It was to be celebrated seven weeks after the Paschal Feast.  In other words, 50 days later, there would be another feast.  The Greek word, pentekostos, means fifty.  The celebration was originally designated to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:17-20 and Deuteronomy 16:9-10).

Jesus was crucified on Passover.  He was the perfect sacrificial lamb and the perfect completion of the Exodus foreshadowing.  What a remarkable connection to the lamb in Exodus.  In that event, the lamb was sacrificed so its innocent blood could mark the homes of those the angel of death would passover.  It is fitting that Jesus would be crucified on the day of a celebration about sacrifice, just as it is fitting that the Holy Spirit would come on a day that traditionally celebrated the harvest.  

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem.  They waited and prayed.  They also replaced Judas, who had betrayed Jesus.  Then, Acts 2 opens by stating that the day was Pentecost.  It was on that day that the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and filled them.  It was also on that day that people witnessed the impact of the Spirit and questioned what was happening.  Peter, being filled with the Holy Spirit, stood and preached.  3,000 people became believers that day.  Talk about some first fruits of the harvest!

Some church traditions don't make a peep about Pentecost.  I come from such a tradition and I find that sad.  What a great day to celebrate.   What a great way to remember and learn.  Some traditions, however, celebrate baptisms on Pentecost.  That is a remarkable picture of the working of Christ.  I think this is one Church Year holy day that ought to be celebrated with a little more gusto.  And if that can be done with baptisms, all the better.  I don't know what the church I pastor will do next year, but I hope it's more than I've done in the past.

Welcome to Pentecost, The Time After Pentecost, or Ordinary Time. . . depending on your persuasion.    

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever

Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2004.

There are books on my shelves that were read quickly.  Skimmed and speed-read.  Papers were written and then it was on to the next book.  This was my seminary life.  I always knew at some point I would return to a select few of these books for a second, moderately-paced reread.  Mark Dever's, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church is one of those books.

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church does not define the requirements to be a church, but instead suggests nine things a healthy church should demonstrate. But neither is it a diagnostic book on church health.  Dever writes, "This book isn't a complete inventory of every sign of health.  It is intended to be a list of crucial marks that will lead to such a full experience" (17).

The nine marks are, expositional preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, biblical church discipline, a concern for discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership.  (Now that I've given you the marks, you probably think you don't need to read the book.  I feel otherwise.)

Dever does a wonderful job working through each of the items he defines are required for health. No single point goes too deep and Dever does hugs biblical principles.  He uses lots of Scripture to support his argument, which we've come to expect from Mark Dever.

I found that this book served as good guide and a reminder of sorts.  Given that I am in the process of planting a church, I quickly realized this book serves as a helpful reference tool.  It will be extremely easy to pull this book out the next time I need to think about biblical evangelism or a leadership issue or should we need to do church discipline.

While the book is probably best suited to pastors and church leaders, it is extremely informative and would make a good read for any Christian desiring to contribute to the health of his or her local church body.  

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church has been around for more than ten years, but if you've not yet read it.  I highly recommend it.

Purchase this book on Amazon here.

*Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

David Platt on Local Church Membership

March 10, 2015.

Church membership is a sticky thing in our overly-individualistic society.  'Sticky' might even be too soft a word.  'Hot' could be a better word.  'Controversial' is another one.   Polarizing.  Offensive.  Idol-smashing.  Abrasive to our pride.  These are words that may describe attitudes toward membership in the local church; but these are not the feelings of every believer.  In all my time as a pastor I've never seen a new believer freak out over membership.  It's the opposite in fact.

The leadership at Redeeming Life Church is exploring a form of membership called covenant membership.  Names are somewhat arbitrary here, but we want to enter into a covenant with one another as a local extension of the Church, to be the Church and to make Christ known.

We're a church plant just getting started and church plants initially have a tendency of attracting jaded Christians who have been hurt by other congregations.  As a defense, pride runs high.  I've found that membership--dare I say, even commitment to a local body of believers--can be a tremendous struggle for these Christians who come with a little more baggage than others.  (Just mentioning the idea of a commitment in a sermon once earned me a barrage of emails about how membership is heretical and pastors who would even dare consider such a thing are abusing the flock.)

From the very early days of meeting as a study in my home, we've always known we'd have some form of covenant membership.  We know it's important, jadedness, hurt, and baggage aside.  Recently, I have been discussing how we might go about this with a group of our committed folks at Redeeming Life.  I've been studying this topic from the Bible.  I read a 9Marks book on the topic. And I've been praying.  (Thankfully, our team of committed brothers and sisters have absolutely no issues with entering into a simple covenant to be committed to one another as a local church.)

In addition, I've run across a video featuring David Platt.  Platt is speaking on local church membership and I've found it rather helpful.  It's short and worth a look.

Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman

Leeman, Jonathan.  Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus. Wheaton, Ill:  Crossway 2012.  
Church membership is, sadly, a controversial matter in the American Church.  People will leave churches at the very mention of the word, "membership."  Arguments on this topic can get really hot.  On the other side, there are also Christians that are so apathetic to the topic they've chosen to know nothing about it and ignore or rewrite anything in the Bible that might simply hint at membership.  Most Christians are sandwiched between these two extremes and that is who Jonathan Leeman seeks in his book, Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus.

Church Membership is a small book--only 132 small pages--in the 9Marks series, Building Healthy Churches.    This series include titles such as Evangelism by Mark Stiles, Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne, Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman, and Expositional Preaching by David Helm.

Leeman sets the parameters of his audience, writing, "I'm not writing [this book] primarily for the person who is skeptical of church membership, though, if that's you, it might prove helpful, too.  I'm aiming for the average church goer, church member, and church leader who have been going along with the crowd on this topic" (18).  His intention, it seems, is to provide something of an introduction rather than an argument for church membership; however, his introduction does do a nice job arguing in favor of membership.

"My primary purpose," writes Leeman, "is to show you what church membership is, because it's not what you think it is" (18).  In what follows, Leeman walks his readers through a survey of the New Testament, offering all the spots that hit at or explicitly point to membership within both the universal Body of Christ as well as in the local church.  He also offers a great deal of logical progression through the topic, doing well to keep the Bible in view (most of the time).

Church Membership is an easy, quick read, but it will not appeal to everybody.  For those already determined that membership in a specific local church is a prerequisite and necessary for salvation, this book will not likely persuade one away from heresy.  Likewise, the person who has already predetermined that membership in a local church is akin to abusive of the flock will reject Leeman's biblical survey and call him anamatha. However, for those in the middle, who reside within Leeman's intended audience, this book should be both informative and helpful.

I found it helpful and well written.  It probably could have made the same points in half as many pages, but I understand, publishers don't like to print 75 page booklets as much as they prefer to print 132 page books.  

If membership is a topic on which you could use more information, I recommend this little book.  Purchase it at Amazon.com here.  

*Purchases generated from the link above help support this website. 

Playing the Bride

Many little girls fantasize about their future wedding day.  They dream of an amazing dress, flowers, a big beautiful cake, and dancing.  In their aspirations all eyes are on the bride.  Everybody is saying, "isn't she beautiful!"

Many little girls strive to achieve this fantasy as they grow into women.  They design their big day around the plan they've been brewing for a lifetime. It's a lot of work with little chance of living up to the expectation.  But something serious is missing--the groom.

How easy is it find a bride-to-be tasting cake, picking flowers, and planning the ceremony with the groom-to-be simply in tow?  How often do we hear, "this is the bride's day?"  I've been know to say those very words to stressed out grooms.  It seems exhausting on the bride and taxing on the groom.

As I've been 'playing at church,' or rather, working to build a core team to start another Christian congregation in the Salt Lake valley, I've felt as though our little baby church plant is like the little girl dreaming of her wedding day.  Our team is 'trying it on' with ambition and aspiration, but often what we're looking to is the trappings of the local church, not the Groom who calls the Church his bride.

It's so easy to be busy.  It's easy to chase after the 'stuff' of the local church.  Growing leaders desire to have people fellowshipping in their homes with little understanding the fellowship the Bible actually calls for.  We want to build systems that get people connected to our congregation but we don't fully grasp the necessary connection to God's Kingdom.  We want to be heard as wise but are unsure about our willingness to truly get into the messiness of real lives.  We (certainly myself included) get excited about graphics and colors and chair arrangements and sound systems and forget that none of these things have eternal significance.  Potential preachers want to stand in the pulpit and preach a good sermon with little thought of the shepherding and care that the pulpit demands.  All of this is because we hold to a worldly view of the marriage we have with Jesus.  At times we're putting the dream before the reality; we're assembling a wedding day without the Groom.

The Bible provides us with a picture of a bride and a groom.  We are the bride and Jesus is the Groom.

Ephesians 5:25-27 charges the husband to love his wife, but it also gives us a beautiful picture of Christ's love for his bride.  It reads, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (ESV).

Jesus makes his bride beautiful!

How much more joy might the Bride of Christ have if we would get our priorities right?  How much more beautiful would the local church be if Christ were truly our passion and the 'stuff' came second or third or somewhere else down the line?  The stuff is so tempting because we often want all eyes on us as we desire the community around us to look at our local congregations and say, "isn't it beautiful" or "isn't this church cool."  Too often church leaders and preachers (myself included) want people to say, "Wow, great sermon" or "yes, I really like the _________ here" (fill in the blank with your favorite 'stuff').

While it is so easy to say and so hard to do, I believe it's critical that we dump our dreams and fantasies of what the local church should be and look to Jesus because he is not only the groom, he is the Head of the Church.  Jesus is our senior pastor.  And the Senior Pastor cares little for the 'stuff' and much for you and me, his bride.

(If you'd like to see more about what God's Word says about Christ and the Bride, here are some chapters to get you started: Psalm 45; Isaiah 62; Matthew 25; Mark 2; Revelation 19, 21, and 22.) 

*Photo by Amy Ann Brockmeyer is used with permission. 

Ministering to Problem People in Your Church by Dr. Marshall Shelley

Shelley, Marshall. Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do with Well-Intentioned Dragons. Bloomington, Minn: Bethany House, 2013.

Dr. Marshall Shelley’s book, Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons is the type of book that will help pastors better minister to difficult people or cause them to leave the ministry. Shelley provides one story after another, each full of conflict between congregants and the pastor. While some of these stories end well and others end in tragedy, they are all difficult to read. Anyone who has been in ministry can likely relate to a story or two. If it is not the person like Virginia who expects the pastor to get all her troubled, lost friends saved in one meeting, then maybe it is the board member like Dwayne who regularly criticizes the pastor’s preaching because it is not like his beloved big-name preacher with the radio show. Or maybe it is the ‘Bird Dog,’ or the ‘Wet Blanket,’ the ‘Entrepreneur,’ the ‘Legalist,’ the ‘Busybody,’ or maybe the ‘Sniper.’ Whichever the dragon, Shelley states, “The goal in handling dragons is not to destroy them, not merely to disassociate from them, but to make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect” (39).

“This book,” writes Shelley, “is about ministering while under attack” (14). However, the most valuable aspects of this book come in the form of preventing conflict in the first place. In looking to avoid problems all together, Shelley argues, “Pastors, who are charged to ‘see to it . . . that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many’ (Hebrews 12:15), find that the best way to prevent dragon blight, or at lease minimize its damage, is to concentrate on developing a healthy church” (128). Shelley figures that “perhaps the wisdom of battle-tested veterans will prevent others from walking unaware into an ambush,” but more than understanding how to maneuver through existing conflict, pastors should be equipped by the latter chapters that discuss the best defense: prevention (14). “Taking opportunities to build a close, cohesive church,” advises Shelley, “will produce better results than the shrewdest political maneuvers to squelch dissenters after problems sprout. Defusing potential problems before they arise is far better than troubleshooting later on” (128). The second best defense is very similar. According to Shelley, “If the church itself is not healthy, the best thing to do is to build a healthy board. Cohesiveness among the spiritual leaders of the congregation is a healthy core for healing the rest of the body and for fighting the infectious attitudes that spring up from time to time” (141). The author also provides some direct advice for dealing with people suffering with mental illness, conflict through electronic media, and those making a play for power. In each of these areas, Shelley’s direct advice and coaching is far more helpful than the stories of battle-tested, beat-down pastors.

 A couple issues found in the book are troubling and could have used further explanation or even an additional chapter or two. The first is found in the use of the title, ‘dragon.’ Shelley says:
"Dragons, of course, are fictional beasts—monstrous reptiles with a lion’s claws, a serpent’s tail, a bat’s wings, and scaly skin. They exist only in the imagination. But there are dragons of a different sort, decidedly real. In most cases, though not always, they do not intend to be sinister, in fact they’re usually quite friendly. But their charm and earnestness belie their power to destroy" (11-12). 
Seeing congregants as dragons almost puts them in biblical category of a wolf or predator in sheep’s clothing, although instead of harming the flock, dragons are ravenous for the pastor. Difficult people could end up marked as one who is against the pastor. The pastor’s role and motivations may become compromised if led too heavily by dragon-thinking or dragon-hunting.

After telling a tale of slaying a dragon, Shelly argues, “Unlike Daniel or Saint George, the goal of a pastor is not to slay but to tame the beast, to prevent further destruction on either side” (168). While his point is not to kill the dragon, Shelley still identifies the person as a beast or dragon, only now tame. A better thinking may be presented in Shelley’s story of Rob and the Millers. Rob saw the Millers as dragons, but the youth pastor, Jeff, offered this wisdom: “‘Don’t look at them as lions,’ Jeff said. ‘Look at them as wounded sheep’” (172). The pastor’s role is to help people in their sanctification process as they grow more like Christ. Rather than dragons, it may be better to see the difficult people as sheep that bite. In this case, like Jeff’s advice, the goal would be to see the difficult people still as sheep and work toward adjusting negative behavior rather than completely identifying them with a vile beast. Avoiding the label may actually help pastors reach Shelley’s desired goal to “make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect” (39).

A problematic example where identifying an individual as a dragon rather than a person in need of sanctification is found in a story where a dragon happened to be the same person who alerted the pastor to his daughter’s potential affair. This is a prime example of when the dragon might be right, the subject of Chapter Nine. But rather than following the advice of Chapter Nine, this pastor continues to identify the difficult person as a dragon and appears to make that issue greater than the broken marriage of his daughter and son-in-law, as well as that of two other members of his church. The trouble, it seems, is that the pastor stitched the dragon letter ‘D’ on Maureen’s sweater, allowing the pastor to assume he had a free pass to work less toward reconciliation with Maureen. If this event were merely between congregants, it is likely the pastor would have worked hard to seek reconciliation and forgiveness, suggesting that this conflict is a grand opportunity to demonstrate grace for one another. The same instruction and counsel in that circumstance should apply to the pastor as well.

The second complication of this book comes by way of Shelley’s treatment church government. In nearly every case, the pastor had a board of elected elders and that pastor was completely at the mercy of said board. There were many mentions of votes and political wrangling. Not every church function in this way. There are churches under higher denominational oversight. Others function with no board at all. Churches can be found with a plurality of elders who are actually the pastors that serve for life. Some churches are completely congregational and vote on everything without representation from a board. And there are likely many other hybrid forms of church government. By assuming that all the pastors reading his book work under the same system, Shelley misses an opportunity to provide guidance to pastors serving under differing kinds of church governments. Some readers may conclude that the majority of problems listed in this book are do to nature of leadership by an elected board.

Despite the two concerning areas of Shelley’s book, he still provides a great deal of helpful tools and ideas. Being able to identify the motivations behind a difficult person may be the key to finding a healthy approach to the problem. “The distinguishing characteristic of a dragon,” advises Shelley, “is not what is said but how it’s said. Even though dragons are well intentioned, sincerely doing what’s best in their own eyes, the characteristic that marks a dragon is that they are never quite with you” (47). Understanding the difference between a critic or even an emotionally charged attack from a person who is with you versus one who is not is extremely valuable and Shelley spends a great deal of ink on this topic.

Another helpful tool is the large number of wise, single-line offerings from so many pastors. Many demonstrate wisdom, either found on accident or intentionally driven. For example, one Oregon pastor would pointedly call out a person’s conduct and demand that they stop. Now he says, “‘Our first approach should be one of compassion, because nine out of ten sinners in the church are hurting more than we imagine. Now I’ll put my arm around a man and say in private, ‘Jim, I’ve heard some things, like . . . Is there any truth to this?’ Often he’ll break down and acknowledge it’” (179). This pastor goes on to say his primary approach and question is along the lines of “How can I help you?” and he says, “It usually take them by surprise” (179).

Also helpful is the entire chapter on dealing with individuals with mental illness. This can be an extremely tricky aspect of pastoring, either with the suffering person or the congregation that struggles with the suffering person. The chapter on engaging with electronic media is helpful too. This chapter reminds the reader of the helpful and not-so-helpful times to use email or text messaging and it provides some easy, bulleted lists. One bullet point that should probably be typed and pasted to the computer screen reads, “Do not use email if your emotions are running high (86).

As I read the first chapter, I wrestled with the question, “Is ministry worth this much grief?” The question continued to nag at me until I reached Chapter Seven. While I saw much of the advice up to that point as informative and helpful, I still cringed at the idea that we pastors simply dog along and use the necessary tools to deal with dragons. I kept finding myself thinking, if the Bible is true, and I believe it is, there must be a better approach to leading difficult people. The Shelley's answer was a great relief: seek to lead healthy churches and the dragons will be less likely. And should a dragon surface, the healthy church will be more likely to deal with the issue rather than there be a great need for the material in the first six chapters. Being aware of the first six chapters is helpful, but in the end, working toward a healthy church is exciting and encouraging. When dragons come along, keeping the goal of a healthy church at the forefront of the mind should provide a good path to dealing with dragons (or sheep that bite).

Purchase Ministering to Problem People In your Church here. 

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. It has been redacted and modified for this website.  **Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Community Balance

My family gave me a little fish tank for my birthday.  I've never raised fish but I do enjoy watching them and I typically find fish interesting.  My half-moon, 3-gallon tank seemed simple enough.  Rocks, filter, bubbles.  Fill with water and plop in some fish, right? 

Yes, if you want to go through a dozen or more fish trying to figure it out.  That's what I did.

Over the past few months I've learned a great deal about tropical fish.  Goldfish, it turns out, don't have a stomach so they just eat and poop non-stop.  Some fish feed on the top, some on the bottom.  Allege is food for snails, but mostly on the glass and structures.  They don't eat the junk on the bottom because it's not allege.  Other fish and critters eat that 'stuff' on the bottom but you probably also need a special vacuum to keep the gravel (also called substrate) clean.  Oh, and there's bacteria that's really important for the survival and happiness of the fish.  Too many fish means that their waste can quickly become toxic.   Too much food is unhealthy for the water and too little food is, well, starvation for the fish.  Some fish are really communal while others will eat whatever will fit in his or her mouth (including the tail of a green cory catfish).  What I find really interesting is the type of fish that must have other similar fish with them.  If they don't have enough buddies they are not only lonely, they just give up and die.

In a mere 3 gallons, I've got a complex ecosystem.  Fish that find food on the surface.  A fish that eats on the bottom.  Shrimp that clean the substrate and snails that clean the glass and broken ship.  I have to do partial water changes and there are special pellets in my filter that somehow help the good bacteria grow.  And I've had to make many adjustments along the way.  Aggressive or messy fish have been evicted.  I've added shrimp and snails for the helpful jobs they do.  Fish selection became a serious process beyond, "hey, that's a cool looking fish."  In order for my community of tropical fish and critters to function in a healthy way, there has to be some balance.

You shouldn't have an entire tank of guppies or snails or catfish.  They each of a function that benefits the community.  It's a lot like the body that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 12.  The entire body can't just be an eye.  There must by many parts working in harmony.  Every part serves a different function and in order to have health, every part is necessary.  Community requires diversity and balance.

As I'm working with a core team in preparation to plant a church, I'm seeing how much the church is like a fish tank; but unlike the life in fish tank, the Lord's Church offers grace and Jesus can bring about change.  When you have an aggressive person that chomps another person's tail off, you have a problem.  But rather than flushing the aggressor down the toilet, we can work together and extend grace while Jesus changes the very nature and hearts of those of us in the tank.  Over time, as we seek to live like Christ, we will find greater harmony and healthy spiritual growth in our community.  And hopefully we'll find something amazing.      

* Photo of clown fish is in the public domain. 

Taking Your Church to the Next Level by Gary McIntosh

McIntosh, Gary. Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.

Gary McIntosh, author of Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There states that his book is, “about cycles of fruitfulness and the importance of continual improvement to diminish destructive forces that keep a congregation from focusing attention on its mission” (16). That statement is loaded and could mean a great number of things, but it, according to McIntosh, “is not to help you build a church larger than the one down the street. It is, however meant to assist you in understanding what is blocking the growth of your church and what you can do to see it reach a new level of impact” (191-192). McIntosh’s argument appears to assume two things: first, that size is the greatest measurement of the health of a local church, and second, that pastors should desire to grow through the life stages of a church, which, incidentally are measured only by the number of congregants in attendance and years of existence. No attention or thought is given to the church that determines to remain at or under a specific size by continually planting more area churches, nor is any thought offered to the small-town church that simply will not grow into most of the church sizes mentioned in this book. ‘Fruitfulness’ and a church’s ‘mission’ in the statement above both appear to hold a definition that places a greater emphases on numerical growth over spiritual growth. Yet, even if one disagrees with these two assumptions (as I do), there is still a great deal of helpful, thought-provoking material in Taking Your Church to the Next Level.

McIntosh offers some tools that the pastor should have in his leadership toolbox. These tools, if utilized in conjunction with many other pastoral tools—something McIntosh seems not to suggest—should provide many pastors with helpful ways of thinking about numerical growth.

The first helpful tool is the church life cycle, or St. John’s Syndrome. Utilizing ideas from the business world as well as research from a number of scholars who have studied church growth, McIntosh identifies distinct stages most churches grow through based on size and age. While the specific size or age boundaries are disputed, thinking about the social constructs and communication methods within each stage is extremely helpful. These stages explain why some people enjoy the smaller churches while others are more comfortable in much larger churches. Looking through the lens of the St. John’s Syndrome also helps us understand why some pastors are more successful in different stages of numerical growth.

Another useful tool related to the church life cycle is McIntosh’s different categories of the church leader. The Catalyzer is the one who is an entrepreneurial type who can start church groups from scratch (90-91). The Organizer is one who takes the assembled pieces and introduces organization that maximizes resources (91-92). The Operator “keeps and organization going by improving its general procedures and systems (92). A Reorganizer is a turnaround leader who takes a church from a declining to a new direction, and a Super-Reorganizer brings about radical redirection, often saving a church from death (93-96).

Finally, McIntosh’s chapters on moving through various stages in the church growth life cycle are thought provoking. These chapters may serve to help pastors who are relatively weak in the area organizational structure. “The bottom line,” according to McIntosh, “is it takes different skills to lead a church during each stage of its life” (89). By providing examples of the garden-variety church at each stage along the way and then providing practical suggestions, the pastor has a framework on which to hang his ideas.

All of McIntosh’s guidance appears to be backed by a great deal of research and practical experience. It is helpful. This however, must be seen through the assumption that numerical growth is the desired outcome. Of course, churches should hope and pray to grow numerically (alongside the more important areas of spiritual growth and growth in faithfulness), just as the early New Testament church in Jerusalem was adding large numbers day by day, but McIntosh’s tools are really only designed to help with numerical growth.

If the pastor’s primary goal is numerical growth, McIntosh’s book should be among his top resources. This book is well thought out and supported by a great deal of research. However, while McIntosh’s work is highly practical, it is lacking in theological support. There are very few paragraphs dedicated to spiritual growth (if any) and almost no biblical references among his sited sources. For a book written to pastors for the purpose of growing churches the Bible aught to be the primary guide, which only further demonstrates McIntosh’s high value placed on numerical growth. Taking Your Church to the Next Level can easily be applied to para-church and non-profit organizations as well as non-Christian faith systems and cults.

In addition, Christ says he will build his Church (Matthew 16). Men can and should draw plans and strategies through prayer and submission to the Lord’s will regarding the assembling and managing of a local church, but in the end, God determines if a local church will or will not grow. The best plans of men still come with absolutely no guarantees. However, McIntosh’s tone is as if these methods are sure to bring numerical growth. Indeed, pastors should seek ways to grow as well as remove those things that are stopping numerical growth such as “the lack of adequate seating, parking, and classroom meeting space” (139); but pastors should first be men of character seeking to serve faithfully and trusting the results to the Lord.

I personally found the information and tools of Taking Your Church to the Next Level helpful but my experience and the scores of other similar books on the topic left me feeling that McIntosh’s goals are misguided. There’s nothing wrong with seeking growth—I know I certainly would like to see more people involved in the church were I serve as well as the church I am planting—but my first preference would be to see healthy growth. Therefore, this book should be paired with at least one more on the topic of spiritual growth in order for it to be more effective and avoid such a business tone that is absent of an apparent faithfulness toward the mysteries of God.

Purchase this book from Amazon here.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.  ** Purchases from the links on this website help support the ministry of SaltyBeliever.com. 

Look Before You Lead by Aubrey Malphurs

Malphurs, Aubrey. Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church. Culture Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2013.

In his book, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture, Dr. Aubrey Malphurs sets out to “explore how to form spiritually healthy organizational cultures in the context of church planting, church revitalization, and church adoptions,” with his specific focus in the area of unique church culture and behavior (8). While his ideas are shaped out of his theological beliefs, much of Look Before You Lead is driven by his theoretical and practical understanding of leadership within the context of the local church.

Malphurs builds his arguments upon some theological assumptions. The first is that it is the pastor’s responsibility to understand a church’s culture and lead by way of cultural adjustment. “In a sense,” he writes, “every pastor of an established church, whether a new pastor or one who has been there for years, must be a culture architect” (129). While we see little biblical evidence for such a pastoral role, Malphurs’ argument leaves the reader rightly feeling that the lack of understanding and skill in the area of church culture may leave the pastor in a position where he cannot lead or motivate the congregation in any direction. Lacking in Maplhurs’ argument however, is the idea that the Word of God through strong, responsible preaching should play the largest role—larger than even the pastor’s role—in shaping the culture of the local congregation.

Malphurs’ second theological assumption comes through his view of the shape and structure of the local church. For example, it appears that Malphurs holds that a church is (or should be) led through a single pastor or elder rather than a plurality of elders with a leader among those elders. While there are hints peppered throughout the book, Appendix G provides the most direct view into Malphurs’ theological underpinnings regarding the leadership of the local church. Some of the questions about the maturity of the church assume that a single, highly talented leader is a sign of maturity.  Question 2 for example, suggests that viewing the role of the pastor as a visionary leader demonstrates a higher level of maturity. In similar regard, questions 5 and 24 suggest that a preference for change in the church (presumably under the pastor’s leadership) is more mature than a desire to maintain a status quo with no qualification of what the status quo may be; although it should be remembered that Malphurs is writing specifically to those wanting to revitalize, plant, or adopt churches. Question 19 asks if the pastor is a strong visionary leader and a good preacher. With more than one pastor leading in these areas, gifts and skills may be spread out among a pastoral team providing spiritually healthy advantages. A plurality of elders is biblical and may be a greater mark of spiritual maturity than a church built around the skills and personality of a single pastor.

Other assumptions around the structure of the local church also manifest themselves in Appendix G and seem to surface in the undergirding of Malphurs’ argument. There is an idea presented that a growing church is a mark of maturity; however, no measure of the kind or health of the growth is included. Yet another example is seen in the assumption that a well-kept facility is the mark of a healthy, mature church. It could be however, that the culture of the church is far more focused on spending time and resources on spiritual growth, missions, evangelism, or some other venture. Although correct, Malphurs also assumes that church planting and church adoption are a good way to advance the gospel, but he provides very little discussion behind his reasoning and assumes his readers agree.

Much of Look Before You Lead actually reside in the theoretical areas of practical and organizational leadership. While his focus is for revitalizing, planting, or adopting churches, it would be rather simple to apply Malphurs’ ideas to a new or struggling non-profit organization that utilizes volunteers. Even so, Malphurs says, “I wrote this book for any church leader whose heartbeat is for Christ’s church” (9). For this reason, the first half of the book deals with exegeting church culture and the second is filled with practical methods of shaping, changing, and leading that culture in its vision and mission. The entire book, therefore, depends upon accuracy of Maluphurs’ statement, “The better a pastor knows his church’s culture, the better he’ll be able to lead his church” (16).

Culture is the primary building block of Malphurs' argument and through an explanation of what church culture is, Malphurs writes, “Churches are behavior-expressed, values-driven, and beliefs-based” (21). Interestingly, observed behaviors give an indication of the culture’s actual values; then dissecting the actual values exposes the church’s actual beliefs. Often there is a disparity between a culture’s perceived or aspired beliefs and values in contrast to those they actually hold. In motivating a church to a specific desired behavior, a leader most likely must first work toward establishing a belief among the culture. Once that belief is actually held, the leader must demonstrate why that belief should become a value. “When a church culture acts on its beliefs,” argues Malphurs, “they become its actual values” (21). Once the actual values are acted upon, the new behaviors should reflect the leader’s desired behaviors. While Malphurs does not address this in his book, is seems reasonable to think that if a leader unknowingly teaches or develops a belief within the culture without thinking of the intended value, there is a chance that an undesired behavior may result. All the more reason a leader must understand the culture and think like a cultural architect.

While Malphurs does not provide much discussion on the importance the preaching of the Word of God as the most significant influence of beliefs, I hold this as a theological truth. The preaching pastor or pastors must understand church culture if preaching and teaching is to be conducted in such a way that biblically centered beliefs become actual values followed by those values shaping behavior. The spiritual health of a church depends upon this truth. If Malphurs also holds this conviction, than I agree with his statement that the pastor must be a cultural architect. Most pastors serving in the context of planting a new church, planting a church out of an existing church, or adopting a church will likely find Malphurs’ theoretical arguments directly relevant and compelling.

The audience for Look Before You Lead is a little smaller than many other books on the topic, but a pastor or leader of a local church could greatly benefit from the information Malphurs provides in Look Before You Lead.

Purchase this book from Amazon here.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.  ** Purchases from the links on this website help support the ministry of SaltyBeliever.com.  

The Mission of Church Planting

June 24, 2014

Risen Life Church is planting another church somewhere else in the Salt Lake Valley.  As of yet, we haven't determined the location because we believe our first task is to gather those God is calling for this work and faithfully prepare ourselves for his mission.  We're slowly growing into a unified team. We're starting to understand and appreciate one another's gifts, personalities, and character.  We're worshiping, studying the Bible, and growing more devoted to the fellowship.  Little by little, we're starting to reach deeper into our relationships with one another as well as the lost community around us.  Some of what we're doing actually looks like mission trips to other parts of the world because church planting is the similar mission of making disciples of Jesus. But rather than connecting the disciples to an existing church, missionaries seeking to plant churches gather them into a group who covenant together to be a new local church.  Then, God willing, this new church serves as God's agent to reach even further into the community to share and plant the gospel of Christ.

We are on a mission. 

Unlike many church planting missions to Utah, we're locals and we're planting with extremely strong support from an existing local church.  Risen Life Church provides us elder oversight and shepherding, financial support, prayer, encouragement, and many other necessary resources.  Most of our core group regularly attends serves at Risen Life, but not all.

In addition, our new church plant group (we're praying about the name) meets in my home on Monday nights, which happens to be the parsonage on the church property.  (We have an intern living in the other parsonage next door.)  As we grow, we hope to expand into more home fellowships that meet during the week for discipleship under the leadership of elder quality men (or elder quality men in training).  God willing, we'll also meet together on Sunday as a larger corporate gathering in the Risen Life Church building--in the evening until we move across the valley to another location.  At that point, we'll start meeting on Sunday mornings. 

In the meantime, it's extremely helpful to start in an incubator of sorts, which happens to be right next to an existing church.  When we need chairs, we get them from next door.  Tables for a barbecue, yup, get them from next door.  Administrative support? Yes, he works next door.  Oh, and that big parking lot is a good place to park when you come on Monday nights.  Risen Life has a basketball hoop that attracts people from the neighborhood (and it's nearby in the parking lot).  The house is large enough to host people and there's a field between the two church owned houses where our intern lead a team to build an awesome fire pit.

On Monday nights we open with a worship song and a brief discussion.  Someone reads from Scripture.  We pray together and there's a sermon.  Then we respond in worship through more singing and prayer.  And we take communion.  Someone (usually my wife) provides snacks and beverages.  We have the kids join us at first, then they're dismissed to go downstairs for a lesson on the same text that's more age appropriate.  Two adults from a rotation of volunteers (which is an area we're going in) lead the children's lesson and activity. Then they join us again for worship and prayer.

While we're presently putting heavy attention into building a core team, we are still seeking to reach the lost, although this is another area where we need lots of growth.  This is a slow process, but we're starting to connect. Many of us get together for coffee, dinners, ladies nights, and other things.  We help each other move and seek ways to serve one another.  We pray for each other often and stay in touch via text and e-mail when we're not together. We've hosted open houses and a barbecue to invite others, both believers and non-believers.

Like any mission project we have to be creative and flexible.  We've had nights where we used Google Hangouts to connect with people who were away for military duty, health reasons, or other business.  It wasn't the greatest, but it was nice to have some kind of connection with those who were away. 

We've had to try different approaches with the kids (and hopefully we've landed on something that works well).  We've tried different things with our prayer time.  Daniel Graves, our worship leader, has sought ways to improve our worship time with song and reflection.  And we've done some stuff that looks like small churches in other parts of the world.

We determined that having a fire pit might be a good, natural way to bring people together.  Who
doesn't like chatting around a fire on a late summer evening?  What family wouldn't want to have a Smores night?  So, in what looked very much like a foreign mission project, some of our guys starting clearing the spot.  They dug through the concrete-hard ground.  We cut the bottom off an old 55-gallon drum.  With some decorative bricks we found at the house the fire pit was dress up.  And, by the way, our fist fire was great fun.

The challenge, it seems, is many people naturally seek to put mission work in some kind of neat box.  It's two weeks here or there.  It's not in our every day lives.  Or if it is, it has to look very specific like some popular book-inspired method evangelism or something.  People do the same with church planting work.  Some might criticize our methods (although I've found those who do are often not making disciples or planting churches themselves.) On the other end of the spectrum, some outsiders may feel that we look too 'churchy' and suggest we should be hip and 'organic' (to use the popular buzz words). 

I wonder how much of what this little group is trying to do would happen we were just tying to be "buddies hanging out," organically?  I suspect very little.  I find myself asking lots of questions.  What would our mission look like if we didn't understand and respect the diversity of gifts and personalities within our group?  What if we relied more on what's popular rather than the will of God?  What would we look like to our own communities if we were not who we really are?  What if we tried to wrap ourselves in the newest marketing and exciting church planting buzz words, even if they didn't fit us?  I wonder, can we honor Christ in our acts of service and love that are not cool enough to be spoken about in the hot, popular conferences?  Do we have to use the exciting buzz words?  No, we really don't.  Can we be be known by how we love Jesus and each other and then seek to bring others into that kind of community?  It's my hope that this may be a way for a small group of locals to plant our church and faithfully share the gospel of Jesus in our city.

Sure, we need to grow spiritually and numerically.  We need to develop a great unity.  We need to have a passion for reaching the lost.  Yes, we'll need financial resources along the way.  But our greatest need is prayer.  We seek to be on God's mission, and that requires prayer, lots of prayer.  Another advantage of being locals supported by a local church is that we have a number of people praying for us near by.  They can put an arm around us and ask, "how can I pray for you this week?" We printed prayer cards and made them available at Risen Life Church.  These cards have a pictures of people involved with the mission to plant a church.  Each card also has specific prayer requests.  One day I noticed a couple of sweet ladies digging through the stack to be sure they had all the different cards.  They expressed that at this point in their lives they wouldn't likely leave Risen Life Church but they sure want to help us by faithfully asking God to bless our efforts, to grow us, and to protect us.   What a blessing!

We'd love to have you join our efforts, whether physically with us in Salt Lake City or in prayer.  (You can chat with me more about that here.)  Will you try to remember our mission to plant a church in Salt Lake the next time you're talking with God?

Soli Deo gloria!
Bryan Catherman

Surviving Church with Children

Anybody who has been a part of a church that has children within its congregation knows children can be difficult.  Often we find ourselves feeling like we "survive" church with children.  And this feeling flies in from multiple directions. 

There's No-Kids-Ken.  He is the person who doesn't have children.  He hates being asked to help in the children's ministry and he is easily agitated with even the slightest noise made by a child during the sermon.  

Then there's Exhausted-Ed. He  is the parent who struggles Sunday to Sunday because his child may be in a difficult season.  It seems like getting to church is a ridiculous struggle.  He hasn't sat through an entire sermon in over a year because his child has some kind of need every week.  He can't go to any community groups in the middle of the week because they end too late or don't have much grace for his children.  Exhausted-Ed spends a great deal of time in the lobby and wonders why he even bothers coming to church.

Don't overlook Forgetful-Fran.  She is a little older now and has raised her children.  Yet somehow she seems to have forgotten the challenges that come with children.  She has all kinds of insights that rather than being an encouragement, just leave parents feeling bad about themselves.  She often finds herself in agreement with No-Kids-Ken.  Parents let their guard down only to get blindsided by a snarky comment about their children.

And how many Children's-Ministry-Michelles are out there?  She's the director of the children's ministry that many parents treat as a babysitter so they can go do their thing on Sunday mornings.  She's hardworking and deeply wants the kids to love Jesus but most of the time parents forget to say thank you because they're too busy criticizing her for something they're unwilling do to themselves.   She's often short on help and hasn't attended in the adult worship service in years.

Church, it seems, would be so much easier with all the kids running around.  At one point, it appears Jesus' disciples agreed.  People were trying to bring their kids to see Jesus and have him pray for their children.  The disciples rebuked them, trying to keep the kids away.  Jesus was not happy about this and said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14, ESV).

Children are a part of the Church.  We have an obligation not only to train them up in the way of the Lord, but to include them in the fellowship.  So while it might be difficult, we are indeed called to "survive" church with children.

Jared Jenkins and I recently recorded a series on Salty Believer Unscripted about this topic.  And because we don't have many answers in this area, we called in Kerryn Talbot and Dr. Randy Stinson to help us understand a little better.

Surviving Church With Children
-- An Introduction to the Issue audio
-- A Correct Attitude Toward Children audio
-- Teaching in Terms They Can Understand audio
-- Behinds the Scene of Children's Ministry with Kerryn Talbot audio
-- Teaching and Preaching "R Rated" Texts audio
-- Training Up Your Adolescent Children with Dr. Randy Stinson  audio
-- Training Up Your Teenage Children with Dr. Randy Stinson audio

*Photo take by Aaron Gilson is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet"  -- William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's character, Juliet, asks a good question: "What's in a name?"  Would Romeo be any different to her if his name were Steve?  Would she love him less?  When we think about church names, we really ought to ask that question.  
Biblically churches were identified by a lose nomenclature.  For example, in Acts 13:1 the church meeting in Antioch is called the church in Antioch.  In Paul's letter to the Romans he mentions Phoebe who was a servant of the church at Cenchreae.  This is simple.  Many churches still name themselves by their general location.  Maybe the name of the church is the street their building is located on.  Or maybe it's a regional thing.

The Bible doesn't dictate that names have to be geographical, however.  In some cases, this would be really difficult.  So some churches take names from other significance.  Living Stones Church is an example that comes from 1 Peter 2:4-5.  A friend of mine named the church he planted Taproot Church because the taproot is the strong root that grows deep down and anchors the tree.  Some churches just select catchy words like Velocity or Amazing or some other buzzword.  Some churches go with Greek or Latin names.  Or maybe the church is named after a saint of the past. 

Theology often makes an appearance in church names.  Many churches attempt to draw distinctions by including theological words like grace or faith or free will.  Or if it's not a theological distinction, it may be a practical one.  To indicate something about a church they may add Bible or community or evangelical to their name.  And of course many churches at one time held the denominational distinction in their name.  First Baptist.  Some Church Presbyterian.

A lot goes into a name, but in the end, the church may actually be the same if it's called the Romeo Church or Steve Church.  The local church is a gathered group of disciples who have covenanted together to be a local church.  Who they are will say much more about the church than the name.  A bad name can be problematic, but a good name really will only be a good church if the people are good, Jesus loving people in strong unity.

Jared Jenkins and I discuss this in greater detail as well as give some examples, make jokes, and share personal naming stories on this episode of Salty Believer Unscripted

*Photo taken by Romana Klee is registered under a creative commons license.

What is the Church... or is it who?

Ask nearly anybody for a definition of "church" and chances are good that before they think through an answer, they'll have images of buildings in their head.  Some may define church as a building used for religious worship or a place where religious people meet.  This answer wouldn't be socially wrong, but it's not how the Bible defines church.  Others may say that church is in the mountains or wherever they commune with God.  This definition also stands in opposition to God's Word, unless when they say this they mean a location where they fellowship with other believers, that is.

The 27 books of the New Testament provide a good picture of God's intention for his Church.  The Greek work behind the word Church (transliterated, ekklesia) appears 114 times in the New Testament.  The ESV translation team translated 106 of those uses as church and 8 as something else such as assembly or congregation.  The Septuagint (or LXX) has nearly 100 uses from the Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament.  

Interestingly, the Greek word behind church only appears three times in the Gospels, and only in Matthew for that matter.  One usage appears in Matthew 16:13-20.  The specific verse, Matthew 16:18, reads, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (ESV).  The other two uses are found in Matthew 18:15-20 which reads,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed* in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (ESV).
In the first usage, Jesus provides some specific information.  Jesus will (not maybe or might) build it.  It will be built on either Peter's confession or the revelation of the Father or Peter himself or some kind of apostolic succession depending on your theological persuasion.  And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Trying plugging our definition of church in here.  It doesn't work.  It's strange.  

The second and third uses of the word, church, are in context to sin and the proclamation of the gospel.  If  a brother sins against you, you are to point out his sin and hope that as a brother he would repent and see the gospel living and active in his life.  If the brother does not hear this from you, you bring another believer and try again.  If again this person refuses to repent of his sin and accept the truth of the gospel in his life, then you bring it to the church.  Here the larger body of believers makes every attempt to restore this brother to the gospel, but if no headway is made, than the church is to assume this man is not a believer.  They are to treat him like an unbeliever, continuing to preach the gospel to him hoping he may one day repent, be baptized, and profess an actual trust in Christ.  Try out the definitions here and you'll find they just don't work.

Either of the above mentioned definitions of church are really strange if applied in these Scriptures.  So it stands to reason that our definition of church as a building or a place where we commune with God is not exactly right. 

The disciples probably didn't fully understand what Jesus was talking about in Matthew until they were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and Christ started building his church through his people.  It may have been unclear to Peter when Christ first mentioned it, but he seems to have a good grasp of the Church later in his life.  In a letter to the elect exiles he wrote, "As you come to him [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the light of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV).

Peter, it seems, is stating that the Church is made up of believers.  Each one is like a living stone.  So the Church is not so much a 'what' as it is a 'who.'  If you're a believer, you don't go to Church, you are the Church.  But you alone are not the entire Church; you are simply a stone among the many who to together are the Church.

*Photo by flickr.com user, "mlhradio" is registered under a creative commons license and use by permission.

J.D. Payne -- Sharing Christ and Start Churches

Not too long ago, I was fortunate to sit down with Dr. J.D. Payne and others to discuss reproducible church planting.  If you listen to Salty Believer Unscripted, you may have heard our conversation.  Dr. Payne was in Salt Lake, consulting with some pastors and on March 13, 2014 he lectured at a small conference called Strengthening Churches to Share Christ and Start Churches.  Not only was it a great pleasure to meet Dr. Payne, but I was blessed to hear some very good information that has really helped shape some of my thinking on making disciples and church planting.

Dr. Payne serves as the Pastor of Multiplication at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  He also served on staff with the North American Mission Board and was an Associate Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's been an editor of missional magazines and journals, served on missional boards and associations, served as a pastor of five churches, worked to plant four churches, and has written books to include Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s Questions, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission, Roland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous Expansion, Kingdom Expressions: Trends Influencing the Advancement of the Gospel, and Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church.  

I was pleased to learn that someone filmed Dr. Payne's lectures and was able to acquire the footage.  Unfortunately, there were some technical difficulties with the video.  I was able to extract the sound from the file with only some occasional minor interruptions.  If you're thinking about church planting or sharing Christ to start churches, I highly encourage you to check out the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast with Dr. Payne (above) and consider listening to his Salt Lake lectures by following the link below.

On Worship with Joshua Lallatin

Jared Jenkins and I were led in worship by an interesting Provo, Utah guy named Joshua Lallatin.  There was something unique about the worship that was difficult to clearly identify.  The leader looked like an AC/DC member, spoke like an NPR announcer, and pounded on his electric guitar like a starving 80's punk rocker.  The first song, or hymn rather: "A Mighty Fortress."  We discussed what we saw and experienced and determined that both the character and theology of the church and worship leader had something to do with what we knew was, dare I say, special.  

Lallatin is the Director of Music and Media at First Baptist Provo. And if you know nothing about Provo, Utah, you should realize that there are very few Christians in Provo and the resources are extremely limited.  Josh and the leadership at First Baptist Provo appear to be taking what they've got and going after it to the glory of God.

Joshua drove up from Provo to meet with us and talk worship for Salty Believer Unscripted.  It was very informative and extremely enjoyable.   If you love worship, punk, unique people, or just have a heart for a church and a worship leader in a tough place, you really ought to check out this episode of Salty Believer Unscripted.

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*Photo by James Prescott is registered under a Creative Commons License. 

A Discussion with Dr. Albert Mohler: Church Planting in a Changing Culture

The culture of America is changing at a rapid pace and in the cross hairs is cultural-Christianity.  "This is a pretty expensive turn," said Dr. Albert Mohler in a discussion for Salty Believer Unscripted; "but it really doesn't help us to argue as to whether it's good or bad because we don't get to choose our times." 

Mohler spoke at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and then addressed area pastors at First Baptist Church of Provo.  Preaching from the first chapter of First Peter, Mohler made a strong case that we are seeing some major cultural shifts which will impact the American church but the elect exiles need not be surprised. "The question is," he later told Jared Jenkins and I, "is now what do we do?  What does faithfulness require us to do?"   

Dr. Mohler took some time to sit down with Jared and I to discuss and record a podcast dealing with the question: What does church planting look like in light of the coming cultural shifts? 

We discussed the need for less infrastructure, more flexibility, and a willingness to take less for granted.  He also argues for a little different approach by dropping the expectations on the other side of our present models.  Stained-glassed windows, pipe organs, paid staff, and programs (among many other things) may have to change.  Things may look a bit different in the future.  In addition, I was encouraged and concerned by his charge that Christians in the Pacific North-West may have a responsibility to help other Christians around the nation as the "iceberg melts."  It seems that we're closer to the front edge of these changes (especially Seattle and in the heart of Moromdom) than are believers in other parts of the nation. 

"You are on the cutting edge of what America is going to look more like," Mohler stated.  He continued,
"The fact the evangelicals are in a minority and have been for a very long time, virtually from the beginning of Utah as a territory, means you're on the cutting edge as a laboratory of what Christians in the rest of America are going to wake up and find.   I'm not asking you to rejoice in every particular; I am asking you to consider the fact that the Lord has giving you the stewardship here to help the rest of the Church to figure these things out."
I'm extremely thankful for the time Dr. Mohler gave us to discuss church planting on the front edge of these changes.  If you'd like to listen to our Salty Believer Unscripted discussion with him, you can find it here.  And I'd like to encourage visit AlbertMohler.com.

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Equipping Ministers - A Good Work for Denominations

Church denominations have received a beating in the past couple decades, and in some cases rightly so.  In other cases, these blows might be undeserved.  It's easy to find believers and non-believers who are quick to point out all the negative aspects of one or many denominations.  And it's equally as easy to find brothers and sisters who are excessively tied to a denomination, sometimes even above the universal Church and the advancement of the Lord's Kingdom.  Case-in-point: the polarizing effect at the mere mention of the Southern Baptist Convention.  

Jared Jenkins and I specifically discuss what a denomination is and what it is not in a podcast recorded for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We also talk about the purpose of denominations and include some pros and cons.  You can listen to that here.

Without getting into all the arguments of denominations (you can listen to a podcast on that above), I'd like to examine one way that a denomination might help fulfill Ephesians 4:11-16.  This text reads,
And he gave apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, but craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV). 
From this text, it would appear that the purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  This is not necessarily to say that all the saints will enter a profession of full-time ministry or even some kind of formal bi-vocational ministry.  But the saints must be equipped.  And if the saints are to be equipped, the leaders should also be well equipped.

The local church is a great place for leaders to learn and grow, but it is not the only place.  Seminary is a helpful resources for pastors to develop skills and understanding.  Some denominations support seminaries.  But what about those individuals who can't attend seminary?  This is where the denomination can help.

If a denomination is the pooling together resources from a number of smaller local churches, it seems that a teacher from one local church could greatly help pastors from many local churches.  This would allow a pastor with a seminary education to share his knowledge with others.  The teacher would have the ability to equip other ministers and then together they could equip the saints.  The role of the denomination then, should be to bring these people together.

And example can been seen in Salt Lake City among the Salt Lake Baptist Association.  The SLBA has partnered with a seminary program of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary called Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD).  At the very heart of this program is the desire to equip the saints.  They call it the Utah School of Theology.

The Utah School of Theology offers very affordable diploma programs accredited by GGBTS.  Upon the completion of the program, students receive a diploma backed by GGBTS; but along the way students receive a high quality education from seminary trained instructors.  Some of the professors are even seasoned guys with PhDs who have taught at other seminaries.  Applicants need not hold a bachelor's degree (unlike the seminary) and the courses are typically taught in the evenings. 

It's my hope that as more denominations work toward equipping the saints rather than some of the other things they do, the beatings will subside.  One way is to help train up the church leaders. And when the denominations focus on the right things, maybe the gospel will be advanced at a greater speed into the far depths of the world!

Churches that Multiply by Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter

Towns, Elmer L., and Douglas Porter. Churches That Multiply: A Bible Study on Church Planting. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003. 

Dr. Elmer Towns, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Douglas Porter, pastor of Napanee Baptist Church until his death in 2011, set out to examine church planting through the lessons taught in the books of Acts.  But unlike many other church-planting books, this is not simply a book to encourage people to copy the lessons of Paul's journeys recorded in Acts.  It is not a book that dictates a single model to follow, as some denominations attempt.  Instead, this is a book that sets out to equip and encourage the average church, full of regular people to plant churches through whatever God calls them to do.  Towns and Porter write, "this book suggests a bubble up strategy, which means average Christians get a burden to begin a new church" (7).  They conceded that a top down method (they call trickle down) and the bottom up method (they call bubble up) are both biblical and may get churches planted, "but this book," write Towns and Porter, "is aimed at getting you and many other members in your Bible study group a vision of how your church can start a new church" (7).

The format implemented by Towns and Porter is straight forward.  They simply move through the book of Acts as their chapters progress.  Starting with Jesus' post resurrection ministry, they deal with the education of the disciples and the Great Commission and the disciple's role.  From this point, everything is driven out of what Towns and Porter see in the various churches in Acts.  From the Church in Jerusalem they discuss the importance of saturating a place and a people with the gospel through evangelism.  The Church in Samaria becomes a platform for discussing the ministry of the layperson.  Antioch is about cross-culture planting and evangelism while Galatia is about overcoming great problems.  The Church in Philippi is used to look at relationships, Thessalonica about compassion for people, and the Berean Church is about being rooted in the Scriptures.  Understanding a culture is discussed through the lens of the Athens Church, Corinth becomes the setting to examine spiritual gifts in the church, and the Ephesian Church allows Towns and Porter to close with a chapter on leadership training.

Another aspect of each chapter is the many project options that follow.  After each chapter, the reader will find sections called "Personal Lessons to Take Away" and "Church Lessons to Take Away."  These sections provide additional opportunity for through and discussion, making them ideal for a group study.  In addition, these two sections provide different perspectives for the various readers who may be journeying through this book.  A pastor or prospective church-planter may be thinking about a larger vision and context for an entire church or church-planting team while the individual may just be thinking about planting in general or a specific role on a team.  Having these two sections broke out makes it easy to get to specifics based on personal circumstances.  In addition, there are two more post-chapter sections called "Personal Project" and "Church Project."  These sections provide many ideas and 'assignments' for individuals thinking about planting or joining a plant as well as Bible study group projects and even church-wide projects related to planting.

One would be disappointed if he or she were looking for the complete 'how-to' of church-planting, if such a book even exists.  Churches that Multiply is not written with many specifics, other than what might be extrapolated from the Lessons to Take Away and Project sections.   However, Towns and Porter do not claim this is a how-to book.  They call this book "A Bible Study on Church Planting" (cover).  The set out to ignite a planting vision for a Bible study group, individual, or church.  If a group where to work together through this book and engage in the projects, it is likely that they would indeed gain a vision to plant.  That being said, Towns and Porter achieved what they set out to do.

A weakness of Churches that Multiply might be found in its format.  Using each church in Acts to examine one thing begins to look a bit contrived as the reader moves from chapter to chapter.  It almost seems as if the authors first created a list of things they wanted to cover and then assigned those topics to a single church.  Actually contrasting these churches with one another may have been more informative.  I wonder how relationships differed and what could be learned in the differences and similarities.  How did each church deal with their respective culture (because they all did)?  Instead, Athens is the only example of dealing with culture.  How did the various churches train up leaders, because surely the Ephesians are not the only ones that provide examples?   How did these various churches spread the gospel, do evangelism, and stand in the face of opposition? 

A strength of Churches that Multiply might also be found in its format.  Having simple sections that cover divided sections of the Book of Acts means it is easy to handle a chapter per week or every two weeks.  The projects and lesson take aways provide a simple task for a group leader.  This book might be a great place for a church planting team to journey for a season.  The projects could unite the group around a common theological vision and purpose as well as allow them to learn and grow together.  Spending 6 months in this book would greatly help a team develop a plan for their specific church-plant.

While there are many books on church-planting available, Churches that Multiply is great for a group study.  Although I have not used it with a study group or to develop a vision for planting, I believe it would make a good resource to do so.

Purchase this book at Amazon.com by clicking here.

* This book was recommended to me along with a few other books by a NAMB Send City Church-Planting Coordinator, and for that, I'm thankful. 
** Purchases made through the links on this website help financially support this ministry. 

On Preaching

They stand and deliver Sunday after Sunday, alone or as part of a team, sometimes traveling, sometimes for the same flock for many years.  They are the preachers that so many sit under week after week.  From their biblical expository preaching many learn the Word of the Lord and are moved to respond accordingly.  

Preaching is a special calling that often takes discipline, training, and practice in addition to the aid of the Holy Spirit.  It's hard work and encompasses so much more than what is seen and heard on Sunday morning.  And preaching is nothing new; preaching, according to Dr. Jim Hamilton, "is as old as Moses." 

After reading Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Jared Jenkins and I amplified our regular conversation on the topic of preaching.  As our conversations grew more numerous we decided to start a series on the topic for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We quickly realized a better way to examine preaching would be to view if from a variety of perspectives so we talked with a guy after he preached his first sermon.  Then we talked to pastors who preach in the team ministry of a shared pulpit.  We chatted with church planters.  One guy we interviewed has a PhD in preaching.  Another preacher develops curriculum and cut his preaching teeth in another language.  We talked with an itinerant preacher.  A seminary professor who also pastors a church was on the list as well as a preacher who has been preaching every week at the same church since the 70s.  Through a conversation with a variety of diverse preachers we saw similarities and differences.  And I believe we got a better picture of preaching through such a great list of preachers. 

I deeply appreciate all the guys who contributed their thoughts and time to this conversation.  I learned a great deal as I suspect will be the case for others who listen.  These contributing preachers include: Andy Conroy, Kevin Lund, Robert Marshall, Dr. Travis Freeman, Trevin Wax, Kyle Costello, Rob Lee, Danny Braga, Douglas Wilson, and Dr. Jim Hamiltion.  It is a great privilege serving our Lord alongside them. 

You can listen to the conversation by following the links below:
-- On Preaching: Who's Qualified?  audio
-- On Preaching: Defining the Sermon audio
-- On Preaching: The Bucket and the Thimble audio
-- On Preaching: Stand and Deliver audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Andy Conroy audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kevin Lund audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Robert Marshall audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Travis Freeman audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Trevin Wax audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kyle Costello audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Rob Lee audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Danny Braga audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Douglas Wilson audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Jim Hamilton audio

Salty Believer Unscripted is a weekly podcast.  If you would like to listen to more conversations like the ones listed above please subscribe.

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* Photo taken by Paul Kelly and is registered under a creative commons license.