The Forgotten Mission Field

Missions and evangelism--really one in the same--are important.  At least five times Christ called his people to reach the world with the gospel (John 20:21, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-48, and Acts 1:8).  This means we should be reaching the world around us as well as collectively reaching every corner of the globe.  Some have taken up this call and faithfully dedicated their lives to this purpose.  Others use their vacation time to serve missions a couple weeks of their year; while still others use missions as a "religious cover" for a vacation. Whether in our communities and at the work place, or around the world, the life of the Christian should include some kind of answer to this call. (This however is not the entirety on the Christian life as some passionately argue.)

Many of us in American gravely overlook, even forget an obvious mission field.  It's the ministry to children in our local churches. The Bible clearly shows that parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but this is not to say that the local church can't be there to help.  And what about the families where parents aren't Christian but may attend a local Christian church?  I went to church as a child but wasn't a believer until I was 25. What about guests?

Working with children can be difficult, but not always. 

A teacher or servant-hearted volunteer working with children could have an impact on the next generation and maybe many generations to come.  He or she may also impact this generation because the child could potentially be how God reaches the parents.

If you feel called to teaching, preaching, missions, or evangelism, deeply consider a ministry that reaches children.  I'm sure there's a children's ministry that could use your help.

*Photo by Cosey Tutti is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

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 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. 

Measuring Community Depth

Over the past few decades, it seems there is more and more "community" competing for the Christian's involvement.  Community (at least at some level) is available at nearly every turn.  Where it was once found primarily in the neighborhood, workplace, and the local church, opportunities for community are ever more abundant. Be it professional associations or groups centered around hobbies, gangs of all shapes and sizes, political caucuses, sports teams, outdoor groups, or on-line communities, when connection with others is sought after it can be easily found.  Or at least the group is found, community itself may be another matter. And even more complex is the Christian community.

As more people were seeking and finding community apart from the Church, the local churches responded.  Over the past century the small group Bible Study known as 'Sunday School' became popular.  It then transitioned to some other kind of community group, be it called the small group, community group, home group, gospel gathering, prayer group, home study, life group, missional community, accountability group, house church, power team, mid-week group, koinonia, redeemer family, connect group, spirit team, discipleship community, soma group, or any other variety of nomenclature.  These groups tend to consider them selves as "community" and draw their purpose from biblical reasoning.  The most common argument comes from Acts 2:42-47, which reads,
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed where together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (ESV).
Interestingly, this text appears to be explaining the entirety of the local church, not a single "community group" but by no means is there anything wrong with a smaller group seeking this kind of community.  But how do we know if we're reaching this level of community?  What's its depth?  Do we have a 1 inch blanket of snow or 35 feet?  It can be difficult to tell when we only examine the surface.

The first thing we need to come to grips with is how we define community.  What is the purpose for our community groups?  What makes Christian community different from all the other communities we find in the world?  This is a hot topic today as evidenced by all the how-to books filling the shelves with all kinds of different ideas. Articles are written arguing that community groups are about studying the Word while other articles say community groups are about being missional and reaching the lost while still other articles will say it's about taking care of one another.  (And they all most always cite portions of Acts 2:42-47.)  Local churches have also registered their ideas by implementing a cornucopia of different kinds of organized small groups.

Once we define our purpose we can better take measurements.  Once we understand why we gather, we can check the depth.  If the purpose for community groups is to reach the lost, then our measurements should reflect how many lost people are being reached.  If our groups are about study and growth, then when we plunge the measuring stick in, we should see how much the participants are growing.  Or maybe we should see if anyone is in need and examine how well we're meeting needs.  Or maybe we just count attendance and commitment level.  But as we examine one aspect of community, we seem to neglect other aspects. 

I would like to propose that Christian community--be it some kind of study, a group that meets in a home, an informal group of believing friends, a formal organized association, or the gathering that meets on Sunday mornings--should reflect gospel community which is much deeper than many of the single purposes proposed by so many articles.  The Christian community should be a shadow of heaven and offer the hope of salvation as well as the better things to come. Christian community should be viewed as the bride of Christ and those in the community should be in a growing, loving relationship with Christ.  We often call this Church, but Church, that is, the Body of Christ, aught to be synonymous with Christian or gospel-centered community. I believe this is what differentiates Christian community from all other forms of community the world offers.

And as we begin to measure depth in our community groups, it becomes a much more complicated matter.  Is there love among the brothers and sisters?  Is there joy and hope in Jesus?  Is there growth?  Is this a community centered around loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then loving our neighbors as ourselves?  Are we about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?  Is there grace for one another?  Does our community reflect Jesus and lift him up?  Is the Holy Spirit present among us?  Do we see the Fruit of the Spirit?  Is there real life transformation found within our community?  Is there this much depth or is our community only as shallow as the single issue we've built our community around?  Has Christ build the community or is it a product of our own design?  Is our community about God's kingdom or is our community about fulfilling our selfish, worldly needs?

* Photo of Theo Donk and Eric Kuovolo measuring the snow depth was taken by Washington State Department of Transpiration and is registered under a Creative Commons License.  

Post Church?

Revisiting a group of writer-friends and their affiliated publication, I was reminded of the growing group of jaded Christians who no longer worship in any kind of church setting.  They call themselves "post-Church" as if they have somehow evolved beyond Christ's institution for his people.  "The Nones" is another name they like, taking it from the check box they would self-identify to the question of religious affiliation on a census questionnaire-- None. 

This post-Church crowd will argue that they just weren't getting what they wanted or needed from their local church community.  It wasn't a satisfying experience and the church leaders weren't providing them with the faith journey they desired.  So, they divorced their community for a different mistress, maybe a group who shares their affinity for popular issues of social justice, artistic expression, politics, dietary fads, some kind of on-line connection, or a gang with similar level of anger toward Christ's Bride.  Interestingly, these post-Christians don't seek a different local church community where they might find opportunities to connect with, grow in, and serve Christ, but instead cast off Church, big-C Church all together.  They would argue that they are still part of the Church but just hate local church.  They "love Jesus, just hate Christians."  But the truth is Jesus indwells his people and the local church is a part of the big-C Church; therefore, Jesus and his Church get tossed out too.

I've read of these new post-church communities meeting in coffee shops or homes for shared meals where a communal fellowship is touted but there is decidedly a void of any worship, teaching, Bible reading, or anything that may look like "church."  Jesus is typically intentionally or unintentionally uninvited.  Some of these gatherings will pray, but that's often the extent of it. (I wonder how God might receive the prayer of those who reject God's people as well as the institution he set up for them?)  I am familiar with a single group that sits on the post-church precipice which does, on occasion, discuss Scripture, but generally is void of any deeper study or application because in fact, they are lacking any kind of shepherd.

Indeed there is a time to divorce a fellowship.  When irreconcilable differences surface in the essential theological matters one should talk with the leaders to consider if finding a different local church, breaking fellowship, or some kind of further study may be appropriate.  Cases of egregious unrepentant sin among the leadership may also be a time to break fellowship, after the appropriate course of action has taken place.  (See Matthew 18:15-18.)    False teaching too.  But to toss up your hands and say your are done with any kind of Christian gathering only to trade it in for a cult community of your own making because you don't prefer what's offered is a very different thing.

Nowhere does the Bible speak of a Christian who rejects Christ's Bride, the Church.  It's quite the opposite in fact.

For example, Paul opens his letter to the Philippians as follows: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons" (Philippians 1:1b, ESV, italics added for emphasis.) Paul says these saints are with the leaders and servants, not consumers of the goods and services the leaders provide or members of their social club.  The saints are in community together.  Many of Paul's letters open with this picture of community centered around the gospel called the local church.  He also talks about the necessity of being part of the body, one body with many parts.  His explanation of communion and his rebuke for the local church that shows favoritism toward the rich show Paul's concern and care for community within the local church.  John's third letter is to an individual and yet it still seems to suggest that Gaius is part of a larger community.  John's second letter is also to an individual and here he's calling this lady to hold fast to the teaching of Christ.  Christ didn't ever tell anybody to be a solitary loaner or gather in a community that is held together with bonds other than the love of Christ.  Christ is building his Church and the local churches are a part if they hold to Christ and his teachings.  Christ is so serious about the Church that we often see the Church called the Bride of Christ, that is, Christ's special love.  Men are called to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, the Church Jesus died for (Ephesians 5:25).  There are many accounts of the believers eating and praying together, and being sanctified into Christ's likeness through those with whom they are in community.  And these groups don't appear to be splinter groups rejecting the Church.  

This post-Church movement raises a number of questions. 

Were these disgruntled individuals actually Christians, or were they simply members of a social club for social reasons?  Or maybe they were moralists and what they walked away from is not what they think they rejected because they were never truly a part of the Body in the first place?

Do these "post-Church" gatherings bring about sanctification and Christ-likeness or are these groups more about filling the community void?

How much does a member of the Nones hear from God and speak to him, read from his Word, worship, and grow?  The Bible is the only book that reads us.  From within it's pages we should experience transformation and sometimes that transformation is difficult and even painful.  Is the post-Church experience bringing about gospel-centered change or is it all just a happy bed of roses that eventually leads to self-worship?

Is the exodus from the local church about pride?  Is there a lack of humility?  Is there fear to talk with with leadership about a problem?  If the leadership did not listen, was there any self-reflection to see if personal repentance was necessary? And if personal repentance or pride are not the issue and it may be a legitimate time to break fellowship, is there a fear or laziness or cowardice to find the healthy local church body God may be calling them to?

What is the end result of the post-Church movement?  Is it drawing people closer to Christ or further away?

If you are reading this because you are post-Church, call yourself a None, or are concerned about a friend or family member, I know that there are local churches that hurt people, and that is tragic!  If you have been hurt by fellow Christians, I'd like to recommend a book called The Exquisite Agony (originally titled Crucified by Christians) by Gene Edwards.  I hope that at some point you can find healing from this pain as well as find a fantastic body of believers with which to fellowship and grow.  If it is not about a hurt, might it be about pride?  If so, is this pride really helping you or is it self destructive?  If you do still call yourself a Christian but struggle with the local church, pray about where to connect.  Ask Jesus to show you his Bride in a new way.  And by all means, don't give up!  God has a great fellowship of believers out there for you.  Hang in there and keep praying!

If this article connected with you in any way, encouraged you, or made you angry, you are more than welcome to contact me to share your story, ask questions, complain, or seek help finding a local body.  Or if you don't call yourself a Christian but would like to find out more about becoming one, you can contact me too.  Click here

Team Ministry

I'm presently serving in a church the is heavily involved in and encourages team ministry.  While team ministry is not always easy, it is good for the work we are doing.

The Bible provides many pictures of team ministry, so it is surprising that more pastors don't share the workload, but ego aside, and strive to labor in a partnership-style team when it comes to ministry.  Of course, this is in regard to the ministry at the church, not the ministry in the home. Hopefully, the ministry in the home is already a great team ministry. 

* The above video was made to be used as part of a community group leadership process on The City.  This video, others like it, and many other resources are available here.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same.  

Community: Are you Known?

It seems our world is getting faster and faster, built on connectivity and connection.  We can now be connected to everybody, anytime, everywhere.  But are these connections real?  How many friends do you really have?

Are you known, really known, by others?  How many people do you know in deep, meaningful ways?

Community groups are one way to get to know other people.  Through getting to know others, you can begin to form relationships of substance.

* This video, others like it, and many other resources are available here.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Are you Known?

Anymore, it seems we live in a world where we create our profiles.  We carefully design our image.  We communicate who we are with caution.  Who we are is now a product of our own creation and we are careful how we present our profiles and to whom.  But our profiles are not the real us.  Through relationships with others, the real us can come out if we allow it.  But how many times do we prevent anybody from knowing who we really are?  Is it that we are afraid that people will judge us?  Probably.

We are so afraid of the judgement of our peers that we quickly misquote Matthew 7:1-2: "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (ESV).  Some like to use this verse to say that you can't exercise wisdom and you can't assess character or actions.  But Jesus called the religious people of his day a "brood of vipers," so he obviously had to judge their actions and character.  And Paul provides some criteria for selecting elders and deacons.  This too obviously requires judgement.  This passage in Matthew serves as more of a warning about how and why we judge, not that we judge at all.  That's the purpose for the explanation in verse 2. 

It seems that as people start to look deeper into our attitudes and character, they begin to know us.  The profile becomes just a page while we become real to them and them to us.  And when people really know us, they can help us grow.  But more importantly, it is when we are known and we know others that we develop meaningful relationships.

Michael Rasmden of RZIM says,
"I can promise you, even if you're the most popular person in the city, if nobody truly knows you, if no one knows your shorting comings, your weaknesses, and your failings, you're one of the most lonely people right now.  I can also promise you that if there is a small group of people around you, whether it's a spouse, or family, or siblings, or friends who know you, the real you, all of your shortcomings, all of your weakness, all of your failings, all of that, and yet they love you, those are the most meaningful relationships you have.  Whenever something great happens, and whenever something terrible happens, they are the first ones you turn to.  Because love doesn't exist in the absence of judgement.  True love only exists in the presence of it.  For the words 'I love you' to be meaningful, the person who speaks them must truly know you."
I think he's right.  Are you known?  Are you loved?  If not, there may be a reason for that.  Desire to know others and be known by them.

* The photo is in the public domain.

Get to Know Your Neighbor

Matthew, Mark, and Luke record an exchange between Jesus and a lawyer.  The lawyer wanted to test Jesus so he asked him which law was the greatest.  Jesus told him that he is to love God and love his neighbors.  Interestingly, the lawyer tried to split hairs about who his neighbor might be.  In Luke, this transitions the conversation to the parable of the Good Samaritan.  

I wonder what Jesus would think about our behavior today.  We know who our neighbors are, but we don't know them.  And when we don't know our neighbors, it's really hard to love them.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

The Changing Landscape and The City

I was recently talking with my buddy, Pastor Sean, about changes in service and worship styles.  He was looking at it like new wine in old wine skins.  It was a great conversation!  After our lunch, my mind kept slow-churning the topic, bringing in other areas where the same thing may apply.

It occurred to me that as the church moves into the future, the tools are changing.  The gospel does not change, but how we engage with culture in a gospel-centric way is regularly on the move.  I can't help but think about those churches who apposed electric sound equipment.  Or how about churches who still put their sermons on cassette tape because they are apposed to upgrading to CD; or even those churches who are apposed to putting sermons on-line as podcasts or streaming audio?  How many churches still run ads in the Yellow Pages and refuse to get a website?

Today we find pastors and churches who still avoid Facebook and Twitter.  There's certainly nothing wrong with this if it's about time addiction or some other personal reason.  But if it is just to avoid the technology for the sake of avoidance, pastors are moving themselves to a back-burner with the culture.  Facebook is where many people communicate and many churches rightly view Facebook, Twitter, and other social media as the yet another marketplace of communication.  Paul took the gospel into the market place of ideas, where he could communicate.  The point is not the location but the approach.  As we follow this model, we shouldn't be afraid to use the tools around us.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, text-messaging, and many other technological tools should be used for the advancement of the Kingdom to the greater glory of God.

I've been looking at a tool specifically made for churches.  It's called The City.  It's not a Facebook or a Twitter or another social media vehicle.  Instead, it serves more as an administrative tool as well as a communication tool for church members and visitors.  It's over the internet and intended to make church work easier.  It's certainly not the traditional database system and I can imaging that some church are probably apposed to this kind of tool.  Here's a overview:  

I'm amazed by the tools available to the Church today.  We are indeed blessed.  Sure, there have been advances in technology in the past--just image the excitement over the microphone and amplification systems when that was new technology?  (And the excitement still exists in this area because I witnessed great joy in the previously mentioned pastor when our church upgraded to a new soundboard.  He's the worship leader; of course he'd be excited!) But we should see the rate of advancement today as something of a blessing.  Even now, I'm looking at G+ and how that may serve as another marketplace of communication.  Yes, at times it's daunting to keep up, but just think of the great need to advance the gospel and reach the culture wherever it may be.

If you're on The City, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.  Good, bad?  Pros, cons?  Let's chat.

There's Something About Community Groups

Why community or small groups? Are these things really necessary?

In understanding the need for community groups (interchangeably called small groups or home groups), it's important to realize that 100 years ago, people lived their lives with one another differently than we do today.  Most people worked and played together and met as friends and neighbors on days other than Sunday.  However, because our populations are consolidating into larger cities, distance separates members of local churches. In addition, multiple services can cut across church connections and the churches themselves are growing in overall size. Therefore, it has become necessary that Christians meet together in community groups to grow and find support with fellow believers.  And it's also becoming a place for Christians to share their faith with nonbelievers who might not otherwise feel comfortable in a larger group setting within a church building.

What is a community group?

Here's my stab and defining a community group:  A community group is a smaller unit of people—generally from within the local church body—that intentionally meet to sit under the authority of God’s Word in order to grow as disciples by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through open, shared, and genuine relationships with one another.

While this definition works broadly across the Church, no two local churches will have the same community groups; and in fact, not even two community groups will be alike. This is because God’s people are a family, not a computer or corporate franchise.  Relationships between one another grow strong families; whereas, computers and corporations are systems that are built so people can be “plugged in” to them. The Church is like a big extended family and the community group works like an immediate family unit. This is the model for community groups.

What do healthy family community groups look like?

I can honestly say that I have no idea how to successfully measure and qualify the health of community groups. I don’t think it can be done. We can measure the total number of groups, attendance, growth rates, and frequency of meetings, but these things do not fully demonstrate the health of the group, its spiritual growth, its submissiveness to the Word of God and Holy Spirit’s guidance, or its unity within the body of Christ. I believe we will know when we have it right and the Holy Spirit will prompt us when we need to make adjustments.

If you're thinking about starting a small group in your home or if you're church is looking at starting a small group ministry, jump in.  There is no one way or basic program.  Every small group is different, but the only way you'll know what your group should look like is to start praying about it with others and start meeting.  It's just that simple.

If you're interested in getting involved in a small group or starting one and you'd like to chat with me about it, please don't hesitate to contact me.  If you don't have my contact info, feel free to contact me with this form.

*Photo by Lil Larkie is registered under a creative commons license. 

Our Vision for Home Groups

September 21, 2010.

In the first four centuries after Christ ascended into heaven, the word "church" (ekklēsia) did not have anything to do with a structure, walls, a building, or even a specific location.  Instead, it meant congregation or assembly.  This is why Paul clarified the word by saying "church in their house"  and "the church in" a particular city.  The church in Corinth, for example, likely didn't always meet in a single location.  And in early Church history when Christians were being hunted and persecuted, the believers met in hiding, even in the catacombs--worshiping, preaching, and teaching, right next to the decomposing bodies of those who were recently martyred for their faith.  However, over the years (especially in America), holding services and gathering together in a building specifically designated for the church became extremely practical.   It's wonderful that a local church can meet together in a single building on Sunday and throughout the week!

However, communities built on strong bonds and consistent, safe opportunities to grow, learn, serve, and work out matters of the faith are losing ground to a rapidly moving society of fast communication, long commutes, and social networking.  The little neighborhood community ekklēsia is becoming extinct.  What is left of community is often only seen on Sunday mornings.  To gather together at the church typically requires long drives from opposite ends of the city.  It many not be true everywhere, but it is true for Salt Lake.

Churches are turning to smaller groups that meet in homes in addition to the various gatherings in the church building in an effort to foster a strong community, reach non-believers, and grow relationships.  Many long to mirror the early Acts 2 church communities: "And, day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47, ESV). 

With so many churches utilizing mid-week groups that meet in homes, there are many different models and methods throughout the Church.  Some churches have gone completely to a home-church system without ever meeting corporately in an designated church building.  Other small groups meet with a social goal in mind.  Still others meet to study in greater depth.  Some call for accountability.  For some, it is about outreach.  And sadly for some, it is about checking another box, simply to be doing something "religious." 

These groups come in all sizes and are tagged by many different names.  Some churches call them small groups; some are identified by the name "home group."  I've seen other names too, like community groups, life groups, Soma groups, home church, disciple groups, and so on.  Some meet weekly, some bi-weekly, some monthly, and some actually never meet (because they are more of a phone-tree thing.)

Our Vision for Home Groups:
Lisa and I feel our local church does a great job with classes that meet on Sunday mornings (although it would be nice to see the the number and size of these classes matching the explosive growth of the church).  The sermons are soundly fixed in Scripture, and other mid-week classes at the church building are teaching good doctrine, often with practical application.

The church we attend utilizes a small group system called "community groups."  If I understand correctly, there are a couple groups that meet exclusively in homes, but generally the groups meet together for Sunday school classes and then have regular gatherings in homes at other times.  Unfortunately, there are not very many of these groups.  (It is not my intention to be critical of these groups, but instead, I hope to grow more groups.) Another difficulty is the connection of these groups to Sunday classes.  Given that many people serve the church in a variety of ways, they can't always join a class.  Some people simply have work schedules or other responsibilities that do not allow them to attend a Sunday school class. And there are also people who might not be comfortable yet in attending a Sunday school class for one reason or another.  Therefore, Lisa and I would like to see multiplying home groups (not necessarily tied to a Sunday class)  helping fellow believers grow in their relationship with Jesus, serve as another outreach to non-believers, and then launch more multiplying home groups. 

A group might start with as few as 6 people and hopefully grow to about 10 to 14, at which point the group should be thinking of launching another home group.  Just as Jesus sent out the Apostles in groups of two (Mark 6:7), each group should consist of two leaders--a host and home group leader.  The host will oversee the physical needs of the group, which may consist of providing the place to gather, food, and any other needs; or simply planning who will provide what, when.  The home group leader won't necessarily be planning lessons (more on this in a minute), but instead be a strong leader to guide the group and re-direct the group if it starts to head in a poor spiritual direction.  The leader should be quick to turn to the Bible for guidance as well as lead and encourage the group in prayer. In addition to these two leaders, each group should also have an apprentice leader.  This apprentice leader will most likely be the leader of the next launched home group and will assist the leader and fill in as needed.  If possible, it would be nice if the group also has a apprentice host. 

Each group should examine their needs and pray about how they, together as a home group, can best grow closer to God.  This may or may not mean regular "lessons."  It could be through fellowship and light scripture reading and study.  Maybe games and open conversation, followed by honest corporate prayer.  Or the needs of the group might be calling for a deep well structured study in the Word of God.  Hopefully the group will engage in service projects and activities.  It will really depend upon the individual group.  The goal is for the group to provide a place for people to be accessible to one another, (especially the leaders), so they can work out their faith (Proverbs 27:17) and love God more and more.  And the group should be praying together, helping each other in times of need, and joining each other in celebrating the happy moments of life.  Each member should know the others and be known, meaning the connection between one another is deeper than those of simple book club meeting or Sunday school class.

In addition, the group should be praying about and working to expand their group, especially through the conversion of non-believers.  While some non-believers have no problem walking into a church service on Sunday morning, others may feel more comfortable coming to a home group at a neighbor's house or accepting an invitation from a co-worker.  And discipleship projects (briefly discussed in the previous paragraph) could potentially be outreach activities such as prayer walking, neighborhood barbecues, or offering service to a neighbor in need.

As the group grows, they should be excited to launch another home group to multiply and repeat the process.  Ideally, members of these groups will be found worshiping and studying the Word of God together at the church building on Sunday, and then getting together in homes all over the valley at other times throughout the week.  This might even be a way to understand what God is doing in the Salt Lake valley.  Should the church grow to the point that it is time to plant another church or campus, an area where there are already many home groups might be a ripe location.

How does it start?  From one group.  It's simple. From this single group, people will be invited, apprentices identified, and eventually another group launched.  At that point, two groups will be growing and launching more groups.  Those groups will also continue the process, stopping only after everybody in the entire valley is meeting somewhere in a home group and corporately worshiping Jesus as a part of his Church.     

I will be leading a group that Lisa is hosting in our home.  Will you join us?  If you are interested, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Adult Ministries

Too often, church leaders will preach on the commission of Matthew 28:19-20—“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (ESV)—placing their entire focus on the word “Go,” but neglecting “make disciples” and “teaching.” However, if we are to take Jesus’ directive seriously, churches must do more to teach adults than simply provide coffee and a Sunday sermon. Specific ministry should be developed for adults.

What is Adult Ministry and Why. 
Richard H. Gentzler, Jr. and Bill Crenshaw define adult ministry as a “comprehensive ministry that will enable persons to grow in faith and faithfulness as Christian disciples” (Gentzler and Crenshaw 2000, 13). This ministry is broad; potentially covering specific ministries directed at subsets of adults, such as, men’s and women’s ministries, singles and married groups, young adults, Sunday school, small groups, senior’s fellowship, or recovery and addiction programs. And given the many ministries that fall under a term like adult ministry, it is important they be coordinated to function well together toward the overarching vision of the church. Reaching adults at a deeper level affects the spiritual health of the community. “Since adults make up the majority of members in most congregations,” writes Getzler and Crenshaw, “the world of the coordinator heavily impacts the live of the congregation” (Gentzler and Crenshaw 2000, 8). Adult ministry certainly does not have to be complicate; Gentzler and Crenshaw offer the following guidance: “A leader of adults is on a spiritual journey and invites others to join in a pilgrimage” (Gentzler and Crenshaw 2000, 9).

“Adults who participate actively in the full range of worship, learning, and service opportunities through the church,” according to Gentzler and Crenshaw, “will grow in their faith and faithfulness as they grow older” (Gentzler and Crenshaw 2000, 13). This means that adult ministries are not just social gathering alone, they are opportunities to participate in something greater. As a leader of adult ministries, the leader “can help adults of all ages grow toward spiritual maturity by providing a caring and challenging environment for study, reflection, and action” (Gentzler and Crenshaw 2000, 13). While in no way an exhaustive list, this paper will turn its focus to examining some specific adult ministries opportunities.

Examples of Adult Ministry.  
All ages of adults can benefit from a targeted ministry. Young adults are just transitioning into adulthood and are accustomed to an educational setting as well as social opportunities. Moving into a more mature program is an easy transition and sets a trend for lifelong learning and fellowship. This is typically the age when many will drift away from the church, so a program specifically for this age group offers a great strength to the church. A young adult program may actually provide the answers and growth to help a young adult see the continual need for Christ. Middle-aged believers are often neglected because they are so busy. They often have jobs, children, and little time. A ministry for this group of adults must be aware of these difficulties but can served as a great help for this group and a leadership training ground. In today’s society, there are many in the middle-aged category that are single parents and need an opportunity for fellowship and growth more than ever. And seniors still need to fellowship and grow in Christ. Not only do they need ministered too, they themselves often have time and ability to be ministers to other adults.

A small group program is a great way to provide opportunities across age groups. In these programs, adults can learn, fellowship, and grow in a smaller, safe community of believers. In addition, groups for men or women only allow specific issues to be ministered to and taught. A singles group is a great way to help those dealing with loneliness and it is also a great outreach beyond the walls of the church.

The suggestions provided here are few. A church leader should look at the needs of the body, pray continually, and work to develop strong ministries for adults that will result in spiritual maturity and growth. This will not only help the individual adult, it will help the community of believers.

Gentzler, Richard H., Jr. and Bill Crenshaw. Adult Ministries: Ministries that help adults love
God and neighbor. Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon Press, 2000.

*Photo taken by Dietmar Temps Photography and is licensed under a creative commons license.

Training Programs: Sunday School, Small Groups

Throughout the New Testament, believers are warned of false doctrine and charged with the responsibility to make, train, and encourage disciples.  Jesus, after instructing the eleven disciples to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” told them that they must also, “[teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20, ESV).  Too often it seems that preachers will preach on a passage and follow it up with an invitation for non-believers to accept Christ as Savior, right then and there; not after years of training to understand all that Jesus commanded those eleven disciples.  There is nothing wrong with this, but it is extremely limited in its training extent.  Therefore, it seems that the believer’s journey with the preacher or teacher is not done.  And if a Christian is to understand what is good and what is false doctrine, a process of biblical education is necessary.  Traditionally, disciples spent a lifetime listening to elders teach on the Scripture, and they (if they could read or had access to scriptures) would keep a regular routine of Bible reading.  Eventually, additional training programs were implemented, generally called "Sunday school."  In recent years among some churches, this training has shifted to a mid-week gathering in members’ homes.  Although the name (and the format) has changed, the principle remains—“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 29:20, ESV).

For the sake of brevity, only a brief offering of scripture will be offered here.  In Acts 17:11, Luke, the author, praises the brothers in Berea for “examining the Scriptures daily” (ESV).  Paul instructs Titus in Titus 1:9 that an elder or overseer “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (ESV).  To Timothy, Paul suggests that elders should be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and discern the difference between sound and false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10, Timothy 6:3). In Ephesians 4, Paul suggests that a poor understanding of doctrine is like a child “tossed to and fro by the waves” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV). Training is expected of the members of the Church, as Paul sees teaching as a gift given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:28); and it is a reasonable assumption that in teaching, he means teaching the Word of God and sound doctrine.  And remember, Jesus warns that false prophets will come in sheep’s clothing, but will be recognized by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-16). It is clear even from these few selected passages that the Church must understand correct doctrine and to do so requires teaching from those able and spiritually gifted to teach. In the modern church, Sunday school programs and small groups fill this role, in part.

W. A. Criswell sees Sunday school programs as an evangelistic tool. He writes of Sunday school, “This is the great outreaching arm of the church. This is our primary instrument of visitation, soul-wining, and Bible teaching” (Criswell 1980, 176). While this may have been true some years ago, and it might be (or was) happening in Criswell’s church, my observations in my area suggest something different.  And based on the Scripture provided above, evangelism and training differ in that one is a starting point and the other is lifetime of teaching and learning.

In the church today, Sunday school and home group programs serve to build up the body.  As members learn the teaching of the Bible, they grow.  As they grow, they tend to become bold.  As they understand the gospel and doctrines of the Bible, and as they become bold, they become powerful evangelists in their circles of influence, such as in their places of work and circle of non-believing friends.  It is in this way that Sunday school programs and small groups strengthen evangelist work.  But that is not where it should end.  Leaders do have a responsibility to build up the believers.  Sunday school programs and small groups are also are inline with the scriptures directing members to know doctrine.  Classes, taught by believers that are gifted with the ability to teach, help build the foundation, under girding, and framework that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about spiritual formation in the lives of the believes.  Therefore, Sunday school is a natural extension of Jesus’ instruction to teach all that he commanded.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.

* I have no material connection to this book. This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

** Photo taken by Flickr user Old Shoe Woman and is registered under  Creative Commons License. 

The Huge Value of Small Groups

April 12, 2010
Some churches call them 'small groups,' others go with 'life groups,' or you might see them as 'community groups,' or even 'house churches.'  A pastor friend of mine calls them 'SOMA Life.' What are these groups?
Usually these small groups work in balance with the larger mission of the whole body of Christ's Church.  While the local church typically meets together in a formal, corporate worship setting (most often on Sunday), it's difficult to live life in the trenches with each other, getting to know the community in an intimate way.  Therefore, smaller groups will meet, usually mid-week and sometimes more than once a week, to study, worship, serve, and live out life together.  Some churches use these groups merely as small-setting classes or discussion forums, often not cutting through the facade we use to hide our personal ugliness.  In other churches, the small group is the foundation or lifeblood of the church.  Churches that do not have any kind of small group activity are greatly missing something.  The church my 'SOMA Life' friend pastors, "prays to be a church of small groups -- not a church with small groups."

Sometimes the groups will work through a study guide from the previous week's sermon, other times a group might have a specific teaching purpose, or shared growth objective.  They're typically set in people's homes, so some groups are shaped by geography.  People that get the most from this format of church actually see these groups as little churches within the larger context of the Church and even the local church body.  Not only do small groups sometimes work though study questions, they might share a meal together, sing and praise God, read Scripture, pray, cry, laugh, learn, grow, and some will share in the Lord's Supper.

Pastor Kyle Costello (right front in the above photo) and Pastor Kevin Rogers (standing on the fireplace hearth taking the above photo), took some time last Sunday to discuss their experiences in past small groups.  Their past groups were extremely strong communities, akin to family.  They then set out to share their vision of a church plant in Salt Lake City just now trying to take root.  This little plant is starting as a single 'house church.' It's community at its prettiest ugliest.  The idea is to rip off the pretty mask we wear with others and get to the real, sometimes ugly, us. Then the real us, living together like family, can move together in the sanctification process.  In the coming weeks, they will continue to outline how they believe this community house church will take shape.  If you're interested, please check out the Salt Lake City Project

On occasion, I've heard that the house church format is what the New Testament actually intends the church to be.  This is primarily based on how the Church took shape in the Book of Acts.   While it is true that we see first century churches meeting in houses rather than in a communal building, this is not necessarily normative.  We should remember that the environment was rather different than ours.  They may have met only in homes out of necessity.  (I especially like that once Paul determined he was gaining no ground in the Synagogue in Corinth, he started a house church in Titius Justus' home right next door to the Synagogue. See Acts 18:4-7.) Not long after Constantine converted to Christianity, the church was free to transition to formal, communal buildings.  Interestingly, while it may have been persecution and resources that required house churches, it is apathy today.  It is also important to remember that the Book of Acts records the believers meeting daily and tells story after story of the believers living difficult, real life together.  If anything, it would have been more problematic for them to meet everyday.  It makes sense that they would not have recorded their shortcomings and ugliness in the Bible, yet they did and for good reason.  So we should learn a great deal from their actions.

Community should not (in fact, it is not) defined simply by meeting in a communal building for 2 hours each Sunday.  Yes, we should be meeting corporately, often, weekly, maybe more; but we should also be living and meeting together in a small group community of some sort, seeing each other, maybe daily, as we live like Christ's community of believers.  We should long to live out life with each other.  Small groups are part of a life that encourages this.

Radically Unchurched by Alvin Reid

Critical Book Review
Radically Unchurched: Who They Are & How to Reach Them by Alvin L. Reid
Bibliographical Entry
Reid, Alvin L. Radically Unchurched: Who They Are & How to Reach Them. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002.

Author Information
Born in 1959, Alvin Reid is a self-proclaimed product of the Jesus Movement.  He received a B.A. from Samford University, and a M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern Seminary.   Since 1995, Reid has served as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Although much of his leadership experience comes from his time serving the Southern Baptist Convention he believes his teaching on culture and evangelism transcend denomination (p. 13).  In addition, Reid is the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary an in he was recognized in Who’s Who of American Teachers.  According to his ministry web site,, Reid is a member of the Evangelical Missiological Society, the Academy of Evangelism in Theological Education, the American Society for Church Growth, and the Evangelical Theological Society.  
Reid has authored over 200 publications on evangelism, spiritual awaking, and church growth.  His many books include, The Convergent Church: Missional Worshipers in an Emerging Culture, Join the Movement: God Is Calling You to Change the World, Firefall: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals, Raising the Bar: Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium, Raising Up a Generation to Live Radically for Jesus, and Introduction to Evangelism.  He has publicly spoken in nearly every state and on every continent, in over 2,000 churches and colleges.  He has a passion for the inclusion of youth and says, “In times of revival, evangelism is a priority, often fueled by the zeal of youth” (p. 97).  He and his wife have a son and a daughter, both college aged.  And, Alvin L. Reid has an unusual passion for large snakes.

Content Summary
             Radically Unchurched is a book that identifies a present cultural trend in America and then shares methods and ideas to reach the unchurched of the culture.  As Reid explains, “Part 1 of this book addresses why we should seek to penetrate the unchurched culture.  Part 2 addresses how to go about it.  Many books cover the subject of part 1.  Far fewer move into the practical implementation of "strategies or methods" (p. 107).  In Radically Unchurched, Reid attempts to do both. 

           Part 1 opens with a description of who the radically unchurched are.  As most authors on the topic do, Reid shares a story that describes one of these individuals, but the character he describes is not a perfect portrait of the radically unchurched so he goes on to provide a definition.  “The radically unchurched,” writes Reid, “are those who have no clear personal understanding of the message of the gospel, and who have had little or no contact with a Bible-teaching, Christ-honoring church” (p. 21).  He goes on to say that approximately 41% of America’s population falls into this definition (p. 21).  Even more surprising is that “To some of the radically unchurched McDonald’s golden arches present a symbol that has more meaning than does the cross” (p. 22).  It is explained that most of the radically unchurched are post-moderns, but it is a mistake to think that they all are (p. 31).  Once he has defined who the radically unchurched are, Reid takes a number of pages to express his observations of the problems that arise when so many are not connected to Jesus in an intimate way.  Much of these individuals are seeking spirituality, now more than ever before (pp. 26-27).
            Reid than uses the remaining chapters of Part 1 to discuss what the church’s evangelistic efforts look like, what the unchurched look like, and what the Church really aught to look like given the unchurched culture today.  In many ways, these chapters are more of a lesson from Reid’s observations of the world outside the safety of the church bubble.  The general theme of these chapters is to get out of that bubble and get into the culture for Christ.  “We must penetrate the culture of darkness with the gospel of light” says Reid (pp. 80-81).  One specific observation worth noting is Reid’s ideas of how the church deals with culture.  He suggests that the church can evade, pervade, or invade (pp. 37-39).  By evading, he means that the church “avoids the world at all costs” (p. 39).  To pervade is to “overpower the word politically” (p. 39).  Both of these approaches “can be good” writes Reid (p. 39), but to invade is to be most like Jesus.  To invade is, according to Reid, to “penetrate the culture with the gospel” (p. 39).
            As Reid enters into Part 2, the “how to” portion of his book, he pours a few things into the foundations he builds everything else upon.  The first is that the clear message of the gospel must be built upon sound doctrine.  “We are in a doctrinal dumbing-down period unprecedented in American history,” writes Reid, “It is apparent that more doctrine should be taught, not less” (p. 113).  The next foundational item is that we need to use the narrative, that is, we need to tell stories.  Reid believes that “This culture has moved from being propositional in nature to being more narrative in focus” (p. 130).  Third, corporate worship is extremely important because “Worship, in the simplest of definitions, means to meet God and leave changed” (p. 146).  Worship, claims Reid, brings the church to a place where they are filled with the Spirit and ready to reach the world with the gospel (p. 146).  Next, although “Finding new, creative means to communicate the timeless message offers a significant challenge” (p. 158), the church must be ready to face the challenge, seeking new ways to deliver the same, consistent message of the gospel.  And finally, the church must intentionally plant new churches where the unchurched are.  Reid contends that church planters must get out of the Bible belt in exchange for unchurched areas of America.  On this basic message, Reid builds his case for how to reach the unchurched.  He fills in gaps and provides examples, continually to encouraging his readers along the way.
            While insightful and informative, much of Reid’s “Part 1” is not unlike most every other book on reaching the postmodern culture.  This is not to say this first portion is unneeded, just that it adds very little new information to the conversation for one who has read a few books on the topic.  If anything, it says that Reid’s observations are inline with the broader observations of many other evangelical authors writing on the same topic.  In many ways, “Part 2” is the same, except that fewer books on evangelism in the post-modern culture get into the “how to” information as Reid has.  That being said, Radically Unchurched still offers encouragement and motivation for the reader to be more aware of the unchurched and get involved in sharing the gospel with them.  Evaluating Reid’s stated purpose for the book, “My prayer is that these pages will encourage you to abandon yourself to live for God, but not you alone.  I pray that the light of your spirit and that of others like you, fed, by the Spirit of God moving in you, will flame together and penetrate the darkness of the unchurched in America” (p14), it is difficult to tell if he has achieved his purpose.  However, this reviewer finds it easy to speculate that Reid has indeed achieved his purpose in the hearts and minds of at least some of his readers.  And if some of his readers are pastors, evangelists, or teachers, it is quite possible that they have imparted the spirit and idea of Radically Unchurched on to others that have never heard of Reid or his book. 
            The strength of Reid’s work is that his style provides a conversational feel that is both believable and convincing.  By mixing examples with more expository information, the reader sees the Reid’s ideas in both theory and what appears to be practical application.  The work is written to anybody with a passion to reach the lost, and due in part to Reid’s word choices and style, the book is not too difficult or overbearing while at the same time convicting.  The weaknesses of the book, although sparse, are found primarily in the minor details.  For example, Reid uses examples of television shows, popular songs, and artists, with little explanation.  Some of these television shows are no longer on the air, the songs no longer popular.  If the reader is not aware of the content of a popular television show, songs, or artists, he or she may miss the point (see p. 166, or the many references to Marilyn Manson).  This traps the book in a time that parallels the pop culture Reid is using for examples.  Another example is found in the Internet section of chapter nine.  Reid published Radically Unchurched in 2002 when some aspects of the Internet were seen as uncharted waters.  He discusses the speed at which the Internet is changing but then shares some thoughts on “Internet Evangelism” (pp. 168-171).  Chat rooms are not used as much today as they may have been.  Also, his suggestion to send touching e-mails to a large database of e-mail addresses is generally frowned upon and nicknamed “SPAM.”  Such was probably the case even when the book went to market.  Given the rapid rate of change the Internet sees, Reid might have been best served to keep these details in the realm of generality rather than specific.
            Radically Unchurched is a valuable and relevant work for the Church today, specifically for evangelists with a desire to reach the lost in today’s culture.  This book might make for a good selection for study in the small group setting as well as an appropriate selection for a seminary class.  Used in conjunction with a book like Concentric Circles of Concern by W. Oscar Thompson, Jr., anyone can learn how to become an effective evangelist in today’s culture.

*I have no material connection to this book.  This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

The Setting of the Early Church

         After the Old Testament book called Malachi closed, it seems that God was quiet for 400 years—nothing of God's revelation of himself was recorded until the books collected into what we call the New Testament.[1]  However, these 400 years were not inactive or unimportant.  It is in these years that the setting of the early Christian Church was forming.  Elements of geography, language, politics, and religion collided, making way for the explosive growth of Christ’s Church.
            The first key aspect is geography.  Justo Gonzalez states that Palestine was “at the crossroads of the great trade routes that joined Egypt with Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor with Arabia.”[2]  The land of the Jews was seen as a strategic key for any concurring empire.  Avenues of approach into any other empire required travel through Palestine.  Trade traversed this area by land and sea.  But while this plot of real estate was the subject of wars, hostilities, and invasions, its connection to the trade routes and well-paved roads afforded the early Church opportunities like never before.[3]  As armies of soldiers and trade merchants moved through the area, the Gospel hitched a ride.

            Language, specifically a common language introduced by Alexander’s efforts to Hellenize the lands, and the loss of language by the Jews in Diaspora, is the second significant aspect of the setting of the early Church.  Alexander sought to unite the lands he conquered through culture and language, and as a result, many people started speaking the similar language of Koine Greek.[4]  Somewhat like English today, this was the common second language among business people, that is, if it wasn’t their first language.  In addition, the Jews living away from Jerusalem slowly lost their native Hebrew language and needed the Scriptures translated into a language they could read.  While there was likely a diversity of native languages, the common language of the day—Greek—was the translation language of choice in the West.  The Septuagint (also called the LXX, meaning “seventy”) became a common translation used by the dispersed people and was regularly quoted by the Apostles.  Gonzalez calls it “a ready-made means of communicating their message to the Gentiles.”[5]  William Mounce takes it a step further stating, “God used the common language to communicate the Gospel.”[6]

           In an effort to maintain political unity the Roman Empire kept the unnecessary violence to a minimum, and this is the third significant aspect of the setting of early Church.  “The political unity wrought by the Roman Empire,” writes Gonzalez, “allowed the early Christians to travel without having to fear bandits or local wars.”[7]  And the fourth aspect—closely associated with the political landscape—was the aspect of religion.  The Romans incorporated the religion of the locals into their own religious system, something that allowed the early Church to function with little problem.[8]  The early Church was seen as simply a Jewish sect, and the Jewish religion was already accepted as an acceptable (all though somewhat rebellious) religion.  However, this was not to last and eventually the Romans took issue with Christianity’s exclusive views and failure to worship the Roman emperor.[9]
            Many, including this author, argue that these aspects were brought together through God’s providence.  The 400 silent years were not inactive years; instead, they were the foundation building that allowed a small group of common people to take the gospel of Jesus to the world. The location in respect to major cities and trade routes, the common language, the relative safety on the roads, the politics, and the synthetic religion of the Roman Empire came together in just such a way that the early Church could get a foothold that might have been impossible at any earlier time.
González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.

Mounce, William D. Greek for the Rest of Us: Using Greek Tools Without Mastering 
     Biblical Languages. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2003.

     [1] The Apocrypha and other writings of the period record the historical events of the period but the Church has no canonical documents from this time that carry the authority of God.  
     [2] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 7.
     [3] Ibid, 14.   
     [4] Ibid, 8, 14.
     [5] Ibid, 12. 
     [6] William D. Mounce, Greek for the Rest of Us: Using Greek Tools Without Mastering Biblical Languages (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2003), 3.  
     [7] Gonzalez, 14.
     [8] Ibid, 15.
     [9] Ibid.  

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website. 

** Photo is in the public domain, photographer is unknown. 

Update: SLC Project, Mid-February

By Bryan Catherman, February 20, 2010

For those interested, I through I would offer another church plant update.  Maybe "church plant" is not the right word at this point; it's the goal and hope but the moment, this is more of an effort we're calling the SLC Project.

Kyle and Joy Costello have moved into their home in downtown Salt Lake.  It's a nice home in a great location.  They've wasted no time getting to know the people and the area.  Lisa and I had the privilege of enjoying dinner with them last week.  (Tip: Joy makes amazing vegan cookies!)   Kyle's posted video update on the SLC Project website; I've included it with this post.  It's about 6 minutes in length and work the time.  Check it out. (If you're interested in what's happening with the SLC Project, I highly recommend you check out the website.) 

Keven, Karen, and Braden Rogers have also landed in Salt Lake City.  My plan was to help them unload their truck after work, but I was thrilled to hear that an army of SLC men from a local Bible study group got the job done in about two hours.  Way to represent, boys!  They've only been here a few days and slowly but surely they too are getting settled in.

Jonathan Cole is on the road as I type this post.  He'll be staying at my place for a little while as he applies for work and looks for an apartment.  We're all praying for him and his upcoming job interview later next week.

Some of the guys are meeting each Thursday morning to discuss our weekly Bible reading, pray, and chat.  We're meeting at a small coffee shop near the Gallivan Plaza TRAX stop (because it's convenient for me to head straight to work from there), but we may have to seek out a place with a bigger seating area.  This past Thursday I met another gentleman from the Las Vegas area praying and contemplating a move to SLC to join the Project.  We haven't been meeting long, but I am already finding that this time is one of the highlights of my week.

I am looking forward to witnessing how God will use this group for His glory in SLC.  If you'd like to know more, chat with Kyle over coffee, or whatever, check out the SLC Project website for more info or feel free to contact me.

Concentric Circles of Concern by Oscar Thompson

A Critical Book Review

Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples by W. Oscar Thompson, Jr. with Carolyn Thompson Ritzmann (Revised and Updated by Claude V. King)

Bibliographical Entry
Thompson, W. Oscar, Carolyn Thompson Ritzmann, and Claude V. King. Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 1999.

Author Information
             Dr. W. Oscar Thompson, Jr. enjoyed the privilege of teaching “a thousand young seminarians how to share their faith” (p 203) before his death to cancer in 1980.  After twenty years of service as a pastor, Thompson took a teaching position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he taught evangelism and touched the lives of many students.  Some of these stories appear in his book, Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples.  In addition, “he served as president of the Oscar Thompson Evangelistic Association; as pastoral consultant of Cancer Counseling Research Foundation: and pastoral consultant and board member of the Trinity Valley Hospice Association, Inc.” (back cover).  At the time of the book’s publication, Thompson was married with one daughter. 
            Claude V. King was a staff member of an evangelistic church in Nashville, Tennessee before entering seminary in New Orleans.  While in seminary, he stumbled upon Thompson’s Concentric Circles of Concern in a bookstore and believed the Church would be well served to read this book (p 1).  King, the best selling co-author of Experiencing God, then embarked upon updating Thompson’s book as well as adding study guides and tips for interacting with the text at the end of each chapter.  King has also authored numerous learning programs including Final Command and The Lord’s Table and he serves as a discipleship-training leader.  

Content Summary
Concentric Circles of Concern opens with an explanation of what might very well be the foundation of the rest of the book, the “. . . most important word in the English language, apart from proper nouns . . .” (p 8)—relationship. Relationship according to Thompson is how the early church transmitted the gospel and how it is to be best transmitted today.  A right relationship with God and with others is the critical first step in sharing the gospel because the gospel does not flow from one house to the next house on the address list, but instead through our relationships.  Thompson proceeds to explore who we are connected to through our relationships and how we can strategically reach them for the Lord. 
            Using seven concentric circles, Thompson shares where to place each of our relationships within these rings.  In the center is ‘self,’ followed in an outward direction by ‘family, relatives, friends, neighbors and associates, acquaintances,’ and then “Person X” (p 20).  As explained, the church is too often focused on saving Person X—that unknown person that bounces in and out of our lives or that we send missionaries to—when we are not working to reach those relationships closer to us.  Thompson takes it even further by suggesting that we will be ineffective reaching Person X if we are incapable of reaching out to our other relationships.  In the visual representation of his evangelism model, Thompson places “Seven Stages for Making Disciples” around the last ring of the concentric circles.  In board game fashion, the stages are: 1. Get Right, 2. Survey, 3. Pray, 4. Build Bridges, 5. Show Love, 6. Make Disciples, and 7. Begin Again.  By going around the circle, there is no beginning or end to the stages, although; the logical starting place is the top of the model located at Get Right.  The remainder of the book is an explanation of Thompson’s model and how it is to be utilized.

            In “Get Right,” Thompson shares the importance of reconciling and forgiving any of our relationships that are hurting or broken.  He also explains the significance of not only knowing about God, but actually knowing him intimately and growing in a personal walk with him.  Under “Survey,” the reader is expected to think about every person he or she knows and place him or her in the appropriate circle, saved or unsaved.  This list could be a couple hundred people or more long.  Once the list is compiled, Thompson calls his readers to “Prayer.”  Many pages are devoted to how to pray, whom to pray for, and the importance of prayer.  “Intercessory prayer,” writes Thompson “is like a guided missile.  It always hits its target” (p 117).  
            “Building Bridges” as explained by Thompson, is primarily examples of various methods and the importance of reaching out to those in the circles where only weak relationships exist.  Paired closely with this section, “Show Love” allows the love of Jesus to flow through us in order to help establish credibility and build the relationship to a point where step six may be possible.  Both of these sections include Thompson’s many suggestions and stories about building bridges and showing love.
            Step six, “Make Disciples” excludes what typical books on evangelism include, that is, systematic methods of sharing the gospel and overcoming objections.  Here however, Thompson shares the importance of authenticity.  A definition of a disciple is offered as well as tips for helping shepherd new believers into the fullness of the Body of Christ.  In turn, they too will begin the Concentric Circles lifestyle themselves, which is part of the “Begin Again” step.  Beginning again means to make the process a lifestyle of evangelism and bring others along.
            Concentric Circle of Concern is loaded with success stories, mostly those of Thompson’s seminary students, which serve to make his point through anecdotal narrative.  Often, conversations are restated, bringing the reader right into the classroom with Thompson.

            The Church should thank King for resurrecting this fantastic book and adding tools to help make Thompson’s work perfect for a small group study or a guide book for a local church evangelism ministry class.  His additions, “Personalizing the Chapter” and “Building up the Body” help bring practical and immediate application to Concentric Circles of Concern. No longer should the methodology of reaching the lost and making disciples be a topic of mere discussion.  However, King should have done more to modernize the text.  Even in 1999, the year of republication, few if any people were still using ham radios or traveled with CBs in their cars.  How many people have exchanged sending post cards and mail for e-mail?  Leaving those examples and suggestions in the text is fine, but King might have better reached his younger audiences by including some additional examples of how to connect with the lost, to include the use of Internet.  If the book were to see another edition printed today, the inclusion of text messaging, social networking, and other technological methods of communication might be helpful.  
            Thompson Concentric Circle model is brilliant and should be employed in the lives of any Christian claiming to be evangelical.  The simplification of the model (perhaps over-simplification) allows it to be shared and taught easily.  (Just the other night, I shared the model with some fellow Christians and drew it from memory, explaining it with little trouble.)  The model, without Thompson’s examples, still holds a convicting power that should ignite the heart of any Christian desiring to reach his or her lost relatives, family, friends, co-workers, and so on.
However, few if any stories are provided that do not have the intended results of reconciliation and salvation.  Should a reader not see the same results, he or she might become discouraged, and in fact, discontinue his or her efforts.  Thompson should have provided stories of people that pray but do not see the expected results, as is often a difficult part of evangelism.
In addition, Thompson presents such a systematized model, that there is little room for variation or modification.  Evangelism and outreach can sometimes be much more complicated than Thompson has alluded to.  Relationships come loaded with problems, that indeed need God’s intervention, but the examples provided suggest that prayer and a single letter or visit will resolve all the difficulties.  Allowing for some variation in his claims, Thompson might have earned a greater credibility for his work.
The largest oversight however, is in his section called “Make Disciples” which shares in part, the title.  This section, which should logically be the largest, is the shortest (other than the obviously short “Start Again” chapter).  Thompson discussed what a disciple should be and how to get one involved in the Body of Christ, but he seems to skip over the part of actually leading someone to the point of decision.  After building up to this point, he simply encourages his reader to be honest.  “Sharing the gospel or sharing what Jesus has done in your life” says Thompson, “should not be a problem” (p 181).  But for many today, it is a problem.  He continues to encourage his readers to trust the Holy Spirit and then offers his suggestions on how to share the gospel in a single paragraph followed by a couple of success stories (minus the actual conversation surrounding the decision).  Thompson writes, “Just simply talk to people about what the Lord means in your life.  Share John 3:16, use a gospel track, use a marked New Testament, or whatever” (p 181).  One would think a book on making disciples could include at least a few more pages dedicated to this conversation.
Thompson’s process to get right, survey, pray, build a bridge, love, make disciples, and start again is great and much needed in the Church today.  This book, paired with one or two on the actual process of leading the lost to the Lord, make an excellent church class on how to reach the lost through servant evangelism in our relationships.  Despite some oversights, this is a valuable book for any Christian who wants to share the Faith with the people God has placed in his or her life.   

*I have no material connection to this book.  This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

How does God Organize People for Effective Action?

        Many first-time church planters find themselves thinking about church governance.  What should church government look like?  Should it be an Episcopacy, that is, a system where bishops, presbyters, and deacons have a hierarchical form of leadership with specific duties and control given to individuals?  Or Presbyterianism, where a committee or body of elders jointly directs and leads the local church?  Or how about Congregationalism?  Here, the body votes on the issues, leading by the collective wisdom of the members.  All three find support in the Bible.[1]  In reality, each has its own strengths and weaknesses and when selecting one (or a hybrid combination of the three) the best form of organization should be utilized to best achieve success in the task.  Throughout the Bible, God uses a number of different organizational structures to bring leadership and direction to his people.  Delegation is usually required to achieve God’s mission, so that is usually built into his organizations as well.  Having a strong understanding of how God structured his people and his church will help not only the first-time church planter identify the best organizational structure, but any pastor, teacher, or ministry leader organizing people for effective action.  
            Until Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, the leadership consisted of the patriarch of a family, leading and directing the affairs of the small clan.  But in Exodus 18, we find that Moses—who now is directing not a small clan, but thousands and thousands of people from twelve tribes, each made of smaller family groups—is judging disputes between these people all day long.  He is tired.  In verse 20, Moses’ father-in-law advises Moses to teach the people the statutes and laws.  Then he tells Moses, “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.  And let them judge the people at all times.  Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves.”[2]  It is reasonable to think that the structure was such that the man overseeing thousands had the other judges (overseeing hundreds, fifties, and tens) under his charge, much like a military structure.  In overseeing the large number, he would see to the large tasks, delegating the smaller tasks down the leadership line.  And as indicated in Scripture, if he had to judge a more serious issue, he too would take it up the line to Moses.  Through Moses’ example, we see that a leader must be able to allow others to join in his burden of leadership and be given the authority to do the job appointed to them.

            A similar arrangement is found in the New Testament.  Acts, Chapter 6 tells of a complaint brought about from the Hellenists.  They were concerned that the Hebrews were not treating their widows fairly in the daily distribution of food.  The twelve called a meeting of all the disciples and instructed them to “pick out form among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”[3]  The Twelve already had their mission—to devote themselves to prayer and ministry to the world[4]—and they knew they could not be distracted from it to “serve tables.”[5]  They recognized there was a problem, appointed qualified men to deal with it, and then gave them the authority to do so.  Most importantly as leaders, they recognized their role and realized they need others to fill other responsibilities.  In addition to simply delegating men to handle this problem, the Twelve were diligent to select the right number of men through a measured nomination process.

            Besides delegation, God also uses structure.  Numbers 2:1-34 is one of many examples of God using an organized structure to achieve his desired result.  Here, God has kept the people from becoming a haphazard mob as they camped and moved.  God starts by placing the Tent of Meeting in the center of camp.  Around it are the Levites, who have been instructed to protect, care for, and move the Tent of Meeting. Verse 2 says, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses.  They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.”[6]  Then, God divides the twelve tribes into four teams of three tribes.  Each team is then given a specific side of the camp, and as we see in verse 2, instructed to camp together as a tribe in the larger function of the team.  The order of march was established in much the same fashion, with the Tent of Meeting in the center and the same established three-tribe teams in some order of the caravan.  This structure serves as a protection, kept the people groups together and under their tribal leadership, and it served as a consistent communication tool—people knew where they were to camp and when they were to head out in regard to all the other people.  There should have been no traffic jams or squabbles over which tribe was going to camp where.

            In the gospels, we find that Jesus appointed twelve men as apostles (the same Twelve previously mentioned with the exception that Matthias had not yet replaced Judas), giving them power to do what he has called them to do.  They served as the earthly leadership of the Church once Jesus ascended into heaven.  We often see that even among the Twelve, Jesus also had a closer key group of three: Peter, John, and James.  In Luke 10, we learn that Jesus sent out thirty-six pairs of disciples to go into the cities ahead of him.  Jesus had a system of organization; he led and he appointed and he empowered and he even delegated, multiplying the results and scope of his mission.

            In conclusion, through the biblical examples, we see that God had (and continues to have) a clear objective.  To obtain that objective, he requires the use of delegation.  In addition, the people of God’s organizations find themselves in a structured system with clear instructions and the authority and power to achieve the desired action.  They are called to, or given a mission and the mission is clear, so they are not easily distracted.  As we see in these examples, many leaders throughout the Bible followed God’s pattern, and today’s leaders would be well served to do the same.


Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids,
     Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001.

     [1] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker reference library, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 256-257.
     [2] Exodus 18:21-23, ESV.
     [3] Acts 6:3, ESV.
     [4] Acts 6:4.
     [5] Acts 6:2, ESV.
     [6] ESV  

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.  
** Photo is registered under a Creative Commons License: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0