Monday, March 28, 2011

Passing the Baton: Ensuring an Ongoing Church Planting Strategy

This is my last installment on the subject of how to facilitate effective church planting in the Baptist Association. This post also covers a key piece to the puzzle if you want a church planting emphasis to outlast your own ministry as a Director of Missions.

At this point in the game, you have created a culture that understands the Great Commission neccesity of church planting. A system of recruitment, assessment, training, deployment, and support is in place. The cooperation of state, national, and network partners is in place, and you are beginning to see the Kingdom advance that always ensues when new churches are planted to penetrate lostness. Now comes the hard part: You have to give it away!

I love church planting. But its been more than six years since I've started a church, and my stories started getting old a couple of years ago. Were I to start another church today, the learning curve would be steep even with my prior experience. Culture shifts so rapidly and quickly now that it is simply impossible to keep pace with the constant change in approaches to church planting without actually planting a church. The church planters we have in the field however, are still neck-deep in their experiences. Sponsor churches likewise are actually riding the waves of change as I write. As such, the best way to ensure an ongoing and plausibly perpetual church planting strategy is to turn the entire strategy over to the planters themselves.

We are currently in the middle of this process now, and have begun to develop a "Parent Church Network" (PCN). All members of this network have recently planted a church themselves, or they have parented a plant and demonstrated through that experience that they know what they are doing. Though I'm technically still in the driver's seat, the goal is to have the lion's share of the operation, policy-making, budgeting, etc. turned over to the PCN within the next two years.

This doesn't mean I won't be involved. On the contrary, I will continue to "start fires" in this area by expanding partnerships between churches, church plants, pastors, church planters, church planting networks and other denominational entities. But the process will be governed by those who are actually doing the work. If I get hit by a bus, they can always replace a catalyst, but the overall process should not have to suffer in the event that the DOM is removed from the picture.

But the greatest reason to turn church planting over to the planters is given by Bob Logan: He states that church planting movements "that reproduce quickly and spread among the people, can best be led by grassroots movements of ordinary believers doing what Jesus called them to do."

Currently, one of our planters who serves on our Association's Executive Board is working alongside me in anything related to church planting. My goal by the end of the year is to help him build a team that will oversee this work in MMBA. One awesome part of this is the people we have identified to date to join this team. One is a former moderator who has served as pastor of his church for more than 30 years, and who has helped us plant four churches. Another is the pastor of one of those church plants. Yet another is a planter currently starting a church with the support of the church that was itself started by our former moderator's church. Literally, we have three "generations" of folks who believe in church multiplication serving on this team. Our great hope is that they will lead future church planting in central Maryland, and anywhere else in the world where our member churches are called to go.

If those planting churches are to have any sense of ownership when it comes to the Association, you have to grant that ownership. So don't be afraid to hand it off! As I said earlier, their experience is more recent than mine, so they will know better than me how the next generation can be successful. For my part, I'm honored to have played a role in bringing them to this point, and I'm giddy with excitement over how God will use them as our network of churches moves forward.

If you are a Director of Missions, a church planter trying to start a CPM within your association, or a local church pastor with similar passion, I hope this series has been helpful to you, and that it will be helpful to your Association. With 258 million lost people living in the United States, the roughly 1000 Baptist Associations can serve a vital and role in reaching those people by helping plant new churches--or they can become totally irrelevant. I pray you choose to go forth and multiply!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tom Elliff Speaks to the Parents of Missionaries

Ideas, as Francis Shaeffer once said, have consequences, and this statement is never more true than when contemplating the result of promoting Christian missions in your own home!

Recently, my denominations International Mission Board commissioned another batch of missionaries to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. During the commissioning sermon, preached by new IMB President Tom Elliff, Dr. Elliff addressed the concerns of parents whose promotion of and passion for missions had now manifested itself in their son or daughter answering the call to go to the uttermost, and often dangerous, places of the world. The IMB article quotes Dr. Elliff as follows:

New IMB President Tom Elliff spoke specifically to missionaries’ parents. As a former missionary and father of two missionaries, he said the parents may be thinking, “Why is my son or daughter being called to the mission field?” Elliff believes the answer begins with the reality of hell.

“Hell is an actual place. It’s an awful place. And it’s an always place. There’s never a moment where a person who spends eternity in hell will say, ‘Well, I’ve about got this handled.’ No — there’s always as much out in front as there is behind.

“There are soon to be 7 billion people on this globe. Over half of them have very little access to the Gospel. [These new missionaries are] saying, ‘Well, not the ones that I meet. Not the people where I’m going, no sir — I’m going to share the name of Jesus with them.’”

You can find the article in its entirety here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

To Fund or Not to Fund: The Question of Financial Support in Church Planting

Former President Ronald Reagan had a particularly narrow philosophy when it came to the idea of government funding. He expressed it in three propositions that he felt accurately reflected the disposition of the federal government: 1. If it moves, tax it. 2. If it keeps moving, regulate it. 3. When it stops moving, subsidize it.

Its probably appropriate after an illustration like that to point out clearly that I do NOT believe denominations are in the same category as the federal government. At the same time, the former President's humorous example does appropriately call us toward thinking rightly about money and its use when on mission. Where church planting is concerned, it is of high importance that our strategy for funding an effort be as contextualized as the overal strategy itself. Otherwise, we run the risk of providing "help that hurts." In light of this observation, I want to dedicate this post to a discussion about how to think rightly about funding new churches.

Of course, the discussion itself presupposes that funding IS NECCESARY for a healthy church planting environment. Any Baptist Association or state convention that is chincy when it comes to the direct funding of new churches has already betrayed what it really thinks about God's mandate to extend His Kingdom exponentially. If you don't plan financially for new churches, it says a lot Thankfully, I'm not in that kind of environment. In 2011, roughly 14% of our Association's budget is dedicated to the direct funding of new churches, and another 14% is set aside in a reserved fund for strategic expenditures related to church planting. Additionally, we work with a state convention that, as far as I'm concerned, is unparalleled in its financial commitment to starting new churches. Still, it is not enough to just to have money for church planting. You need to spend it wisely. And contrary to the popular belief of church planters (who all think you can never have enough money. I should know, as I was once one of those guys!), you CAN over-fund. And when you do, you hurt the mission.

I learned this lesson the hard way after first coming to Maryland. With the financial resources at my disposal at both Associational and state levels, together with the generous spirit toward church planting displayed by both of those entities, I figured we could take over the world! After all, my own church planting experience involved "shoe-stringing" almost everything, so as a planter I was always thinking "if I just had more money." Well, now I had it, and was fairly free to grant it to church planters in Maryland.

As a result, we funded very heavily early on, and the result was that in the first two years we had three failures. One of those was a church that had been planted prior to my arrival on the field. But the other two were planted on my watch, and they were our two most heavily funded plants. One of them never even reached the point of a launch service!

I should probably state at this point that there were many factors involved in the demise of these new churches. At the same time, the exorbiant amount of money we invested in them was a huge issue, primarily because once the denominational funding began to dry up the church quickly died. We had funded them to the point that they had become over-dependent on the denominational system. After some intense research into these failures, we made major changes in the way we funded new churches. Thankfully we were able to learn from our mistakes, and no church planted in our Association since 2007 has failed.

So how do you determine how much is too much? The following are some guidelines related to healthy levels of funding for a new church:

1. View Church Plant Funding as an Investment, not as Wellfare.. Before church planting was as sexy as it presently is in the ministry world, those who started new churches were essentially considered the wellfare-recipients of the clerical class. When I served as Senior Pastor of an established church, I "earned" a "salary." But when I left that church to start a new church, I began to "receive funding."

The way such expressions were made betrayed a view that church planters were simply receiving aid so that they could pay their bills. To be sure, I was happy to have a way to pay the mortgage with the support I received. But ultimately, that financial help resulted in a healthy, evangelistic and reproducing church. In other words, the "investment" paid off!

When denominational entities and other supporters of church planting see funding as nothing more than a way of supplementing someone's income, we tend to view such funding as wellfare. This perception yields two corollary and tragic results. On the one hand, those on the front lines of apostolic ministry are treated as though they are taking something they have not earned. On the other hand, pity sometimes becomes the motivation for continued funding of a failing effort simply because we feel sorry for the guy whose church planting effort is failing, and we in effect end up burying the talent God has given us to multiply.

Funding should be seen as an investment in the multiplication of God's Kingdom . . .no less! When our planters are raising funds, I encourage them to encourage others to "invest in this group of people who, as a majority, don't know Jesus" rather than "support me and my family."

Investment also expects a return. If we see no fruit, then we "re-invest" God's money in a way that yields the Kingdom advance He expects. Obviously, this won't look the same in every context. Not every new church is destined to become a "mega-church," and thus, we can't judge success in a uniform way. I once had a church planting leader in another state convention tell me that if the planter hadn't reached 100 people by the end of his first year, he would cut his funding. I responded by saying "I'm glad you aren't overseeing church planting nationally. Otherwise, you would kill 80% of the new work we do in the United States."

But if we are investing in this way, and with this mentality, we will determine in advance what "success" looks like, and judge according to that standard. Conversely, we will not fear putting every dollar neccesary into Kingdom multiplication. In short, viewing funding as an investment means MORE dollars given to church planting, not less.

2. Allow for Scalability during, and Sustainability after the plant. For many years, the standard practice for church plant funding was what I call the "two years and out" approach. Essentially, we would fully fund a church planter for two years, and by year three he was on his own. When you think "scalability," this is NOT the picture you should see!

Part of every church planting strategy should be a plan to offset giving from the outside. No church that is perpetually dependent on outside sources of income can ever be truly autonomous, or truly self-propogating. Funding streams should be scalable, meaning that they should reflect a gradual decrease that is commensurate with the projected increase in internal giving.

But funding should also reflect sustainability. No church planter should be compensated more in the beginning of the church planting effort than the target group he is reaching is estimated to be able to pay him when supporting entities pull out. For example, in central Maryland, the "bottom-line" support package for a full-time, and fully-funded church planter is never less than $60K annually. Due to the high cost of living in our area, this is actually a very modest compensation package for someone considered full-time. But if the receptor culture he is reaching with the Gospel does not possess the financial ability to pay at this level, then the planter should start working bi-vocationally, and plan on remaining bi-vocational. A congregation of 80-100 hispanic immigrant agricultural workers is a huge win in our area, but that church will never be able to pay $60K a year to its pastor. For the funding to produce a sustainable strategy, these things must be taken into account.

3. With Rare Exceptions, Tangible Results should Precede Heavy Funding. Certain church planting networks like Acts29 already have policies like this in place, and require a baseline threshhold of core participants before member churches coalesce to grant financial support. At a minimum, most church planters should demonstrate the ability to pull together a leadership team prior to funded deployment. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, guidelines should reflect these expectations. Make sure a planter is faithful with a few things before granting him stewardship over many dollars.

For the most part, our culture makes way too much of the monetary, and unfortunately, many of our churches have been enculturated into this way of thinking. The result is "tight-wad" misering disguised as "prudence" on the one hand, and over-zealous but undiscerning waste on the other. We want to be good stewards of any resources God grants us to plant churches. Being a good steward means we take care of those who are doing the work, but not in a way that handicapps them in dependency. When it comes to planting churches, give generously, give intelligently . . .give strategically!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Repost: Making Love and the Glory of God

Pastor Douglas Wilson correctly and graphically observed a couple of weeks ago that our culture is doing to sex what people who chew with their mouths open are doing to food. God's plan for human sexuality looks markedly different, and has a distinctly different goal than the plans for sex that have been mapped out by the world. In light of these observations, I decided to repost a blog I wrote several years ago reviewing a book on this subject edited by Justin Taylor and John Piper. Almost five years later, I still commend this book enthusiastically to married couples, and to those who aspire to marriage. The book can be ordered here.

Following Jesus and having great sex are two concepts that, unfortunately, are rarely viewed as belonging together. The hijacking of human sexuality by a sinful culture has certainly caused a raw perversion of one of God's good gifts to us. But while the world is largely responsible for contaminating sex, the church, with its ample prudishness, is equally responsible for perverting what God has to say about this powerful subject.

But John Piper and Justin Taylor have just edited a superb new book that introduces us afresh to what God has to say on this matter.

The book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, has an obviously "Piperian" bent, as is indicated by the title. Among the assumptions laid out in the first part of the text is that the act of sex, like any other human act, has as it's ultimate purpose to glorify God. Piper, along with Ben Patterson of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, do a masterful job in Part One at communicating the close relationship between the goodness of sexuality and the glory of God in Jesus Christ. For those who have read Piper's other works, the central theme of the chapters he writes are no different from all the other books he has written. But two reciprocal points presented by Piper undergird the rest of the book. First, Piper contends that "sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God more fully," and second, "knowing God is designed by God as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality." In short, this intense physical experience was created by God to point to an even more intense spiritual reality.

Echoing Piper in the conclusion of Part One is Ben Patterson, who asserts with Biblical authority an axiom that will be novel to many Christians: "Pleasure is God's idea, and God is the devil's enemy. The devil actually hates pleasure, because he hates the God of pleasure." As a result, all sexual perversion, from pornography to fornication and adultery, to homosexuality, should simply be seen as a cheap Satanic replication of God's intended design. Says Patterson: "The devil's grand strategy against pleasure is to twist it, to get us to misuse it." Patterson presents a very candid conversation in which he is transparent enough to describe his own struggles with sexual temptation, and how God has helped him to overcome them.

So what happens when God's sexual gift is misused? Moreover, what can be done to heal the deep hurt caused by its misuse? Al Mohler of Southern Seminary and David Powlison of Westminster Seminary address these questions in Part Two. Powlison provides what in my estimation is the most insightful chapter of the entire book, which deals with how sexual brokennes may be healed. Powlison's wisdom points the reader to the fact that most sexual sins have something other than sex as their root. Using examples from his own experience as a Christian counselor, Powlison unveils the multiple avenues through which Satan leads both men and women into sexual sin.

Al Mohler's chapter on the Christian response to homosexual marriage is both timely and straightforward. On the one hand, Mohler strongly contends that homosexual marriage "is a tragic oxymoron," and states that even the discussion of its possibility in the legislature "demonstrates that we are a civilization in crisis, because a great many barriers must be breached in order to put this question on the cultural agenda." But Mohler doesn't limit his challenge to those favoring homosexual marriage. He also takes dead aim at the overly simplistic rationale that is often used by evangelicals in their opposition to homosexuality (just one example of this contention: "We, as Christians, must be the people who cannot start a conversation about homosexual marriage by talking about homosexual marriage."), their lack of compassion and willingness to walk with homosexuals through the long and messy healing process, and their objection to the lifestyle based solely on the "yuck factor." The end result is a comprehensive and well-thought-out polemic for us to "speak the truth in love."

In Part Three, readers are introduced to the Biblical way that men are to view sex. Mark Dever, Michael Lawrence and Matt Schumucker each contribute to the chapter on sex and the single man. The reader will not be surprised at their basic view that "the first thing to say about sex and the single man is, there should be none!" However, the authors go further in describing how the church has often presented a truncated message on sex and singleness that has left single men physically pure, but emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. Without resorting to a new form of legalism, the authors encourage single men not only to save their bodies, but also their hearts, for their future spouses. (Wow, if I had only read this when I was 16 years old!)

C.J. Mahanney, President of Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, MD, concludes Part Three with an authentic and transparent look at a man's view of sex within marriage. Using the Song of Solomon as his primary teaching tool, Pastor Mahanney combines his scholarly mind and pastoral heart with his experience as a husband of more than two decades, and the result is a godly wisdom from which every husband will benefit. Principally, he speaks of the sex act as one of service to one's wife. Mahanney reveals the "elephant in the room" by addressing the "extremely common tendency for husbands to find satisfaction in lovemaking sooner than their wives." From 1 Corinthians Mahanney asserts that if a husband is having sex in a way that is honoring to God and his wife "I will take my thoughts captive during lovemaking, disciplining my body in order to focus primarily on giving to my wife sexually, rather than only receiving from her." Mahanney also speaks of the dichotomy between the sexual fantasy world hopelessly aspired to, and the reality of God's gift, and courageously calls Christian husbands back to reality in some quite humorous ways. Mahanney also speaks candidly (although not graphically) about his own experiences with his wife, and with the wisdom of a father speaking to sons, shares with younger Christian men how they can be servants to their one flesh in the bedroom.

In Part Four, Carolyn McCulley, media specialist for Sovereign Grace Ministries and a single woman, speaks in a straightforward way to other single women. Acknowledging the role of radical feminism in how single women now approach the subject of sexuality (and admitting that she herself was at one time an avowed feminist), McCulley laments the result: "When I read articles about the spreadsheets college women keep about their sexual activities, or when I watch how the Christian men I know struggle to avoid the parade of barely dressed women before them at a mall or restaurant, or when I have to turn over all ten womens' magazines at the grocery checkout because my nieces can now read the soft-porn headlines, I find I am more than shocked; I am deeply grieved. This is what feminism has done to improve the standing of women? It's a very poor trade-off, indeed." The alternative McCulley presents is a countercultural revolution of female sexuality. The rest of the chapter addresses practical ways that this can be accomplished, including relishing in the gift of singleness, and dodging sexual snares at the office. Along with the other contributors, McCulley offers her own personal experiences along with Biblical counsel to single women who desire to honor God and their future husbands with their bodies, and who want their bodies honored by others.

Carolyn Mahanney, the wife of C.J. Mahanney, concludes Part Four by speaking to married women on how to glorify God in the sex act with their husbands. She offers practical, Biblical principles of "Grade A passion" that, like her husband's teaching, commends an attitude of servanthood in the bedroom. Chief among these principles is that of training the female mind to anticipate sex, based on Song of Songs 5:10-16. For those who have lost their sexual passion and desire for their husbands, Mahhanney gives encouragement, stating that "God is able to renew your sexual desire, empower you to change, and revive you with hope."

The final part of this work contains information regarding how sexuality has been viewed in two different epochs of church history. Justin Taylor, Executive Editor of Desiring God Ministries, speaks in detail of Martin Luther's reform of marriage, and Mark Dever, Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Wahington D.C., sheds new light on the popular perception of how the Puritans viewed the act of sex.

In a sexually broken world informed more by radical sex education and Cialis commercials than the Word of God, the church has often been guilty of giving simplistic and anemic answers to the question of human sexuality. The authors of this book present a view of sex with the comprehensiveness and authority of the Scriptures themselves, and the result is a fully-orbed presentation of God's view of sex. And who better to speak to this powerful topic than the One who invented it? Maybe you have a perception of Christianity as overly-pruddish and ascetic, or maybe you are a victim of the combination of Satan's sexual snares and your own bad choices. Let me beg you to do an Amazon search of the reference below, because this book will point you to the right answers, and more importantly to Christ, who is the end-all, be-all answer to all things!