Tying up some loose ends…

To get to know me is to realize that my computer/internet/social media savvy leaves a lot to be a desired.  To put it bluntly, I’m a techno-lamer.  In my next post I’ll be unveiling in depth two of the major reasons why I seem to be perpetually behind the curve when it comes to technology and social media.  In a nutshell, it’s because of: 1.  The way God wired me  2.  My conviction regarding what He has revealed about His expectations for those He calls to be under-shepherds of His people in a local church.

Because I’m still feeling guilty about the great comments and questions my last post provoked and the fact that I haven’t had time to respond, I’d like to use this post to tie up those loose ends.

For Miles:

1.  The essential components necessary that must become a reality for a group of believers to consider themselves a valid expression of a local body of Christ are:

A.  They have a God-given desire to come together regularly as a group, (a micro-community), they eagerly refer to themselves, (self-identify or label), themselves a “church”, and they take the initiative to find a location for their coming together THEMSELVES.

B.  They believe that their being together as this “micro-community” provides the best opportunity for their own growth in Christ and for them to be a part of the growth in Christ of other members of their “micro-community”.  They’re convinced that a part of each member’s growth in Christ will be the discovery, use, and refining of the gifts God has given each member of their mirco-community for the good of their micro-community.

C.  Each member of the micro-community is convinced that they individually and ESPECIALLY as a group, are a local expression of God’s kingdom and that their existence as group is also for the good of the larger local community where they live and meet AND that corporately and individually they have a significant role to play in God’s expansion of His kingdom in their community and around the world.

D.  They are open to receiving helpful resources in various forms from other believers and local churches outside of themselves.  BUT, they navigate life day to day believing that God has given them individually and as a micro-community everything necessary at that moment in time to be and do what God has called them to be and do in the lives of their own members, their local community and the world at large.

It’s fairly easy to see that these 4 components, these 4 convictions,  can exist in any political or social environment–which is why local churches exist even in the most Christ-hostile places on earth.

Finally on this subject, I’m also in agreement with the traditional foreign missions church planting goal of producing 4 “self”  based churches.  That every church planted, in it’s day to day operation, should be: Self-governing, Self-supporting, Self-propagating, and Self-theologizing, (contextualizing the eternal truths of the kingdom for the good of the community they primarily exist within.)

2.  Paul’s basic church planting method from Acts 20:18-35.  (Actually, you’ll see that I’ve included not just method, but some specific practice and content too….typical pastor, I know.)

Vs. 18 1– He says he “came” to them–A church planter must “go” to the lost as the primary way of reaching people, not primarily setting up structures or events to draw people to where he is at.

2–He says he “lived among you”–A church planter must “live” among, in the midst, of those he is trying to reach.  It’s not  enough to just “go” and then bail.  (“Living among” them would imply learning their language if it was different than your own.)

Vs. 19  3–He says He served the Lord with “humility”, “many tears,” and “trials”–A church planter must be humble enough to live transparently among those he’s reaching.  He must be willing to not only “know God and make Him known”, he must also be willing to be “known” himself by those he is trying to reach. Letting the people we’re trying to reach see our struggles and our tears, yet staying put in their midst speaks volumes about our God and His worthiness for them to know.

Vs. 20  4–He kept back “nothing that was helpful”–A church planter uses his resources, both spiritual and tangible, to express the reality of God’s goodness and His kingdom to those he is trying to reach.  If it can be helpful, it is to be used.  In the teaching realm, this means teaching the hard things because they’re helpful for the people….not holding back because it might cause offense.

5–He taught them “publicly and house to house”–A church planter recognizes “public” teaching is only half of what people need.  They need to have God’s word brought and taught right in their own homes by this person who clearly has the ability to teach publicly.  How significant does it make them feel when this guy who can speak to dozens, hundreds, even thousands, actually comes right into their homes  to teach only a few?

Vs. 21 6–He told them he recognized the different ethnic groups present in their community and the basics of his message–A church planter has to preach the basics, but packages the basics in culturally appropriate ways.  (Acts 13…to Jews…He begins with Jesus as the messiah.  In Acts 14 and 17, to Gentiles, he begins with the concept of “creator God”).

Vs. 21 7–He tells them “chains and tribulations await” him–A church planter MUST communicate the cost of following of Jesus and let the people see he is continually willing to pay the cost.

Vs. 27 8–He tells them he hasn’t “shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God”–A church planter must give the people the whole counsel of God–an understanding of the flow of God’s word and the principles it contains, even the principles having to do with suffering or those which may cause offense.

Vs. 29,30 9–He informs them that a church is in a dangerous position, from within and without–A church planter must be realistic and prepare God’s people for the reality of spiritual warfare and the various ways the enemy will attack them personally AND as a group of believers.

Vs. 32–10–He “commends them to God and the Word of His grace”–A church planter never lets the church forget that ultimately they belong to God and His word of grace and it’s from Him that they will draw their body-life.

Vs. 33 11–He says that he has “shown them in every way”–A church planter knows he is setting precedents that will affect them the rest of their walks.  He recognizes that like it or not, he is a role model in every area of his life.

For Tim:

First, I absolutely love how you describe the make-up of your body and even more, your EXCITEMENT and DESIRE to be a good steward of  a multi-ethnic congregation He obviously feels your equipped to pastor.  Your desire to have a greater cross-cultural impact is music to my ears.  To have a greater impact cross-culturally, it’s always helpful to seek ways to unleash some of the existing cultural treasure and traits of your members that are from non-American cultural backrounds.  Here are a few questions that might help you do this:

1.  Of the distinct cultural groups that you already know about in your body, what category do they fall into:  1st generation  1 1/2 generation, 2nd generation, etc. ?  (Generally speaking, if someone over the age of 25 came to you and before they spoke, you closed your eyes, would their accent give any indication that they were not a native English speaker?  If they have almost no perceptible accent, (other than American accents like East coasters, southerners, and so forth,) then they are probably at least a 1 1/2 or 2nd or 3rd generationer).

If they are 2nd or 3rd generation, they might still have a few cultural traits from the old country that they practice when they are with their parents or older people from their ethnic back round, but generally speaking, they’re primarily living according to the prevailing American cultural norms.

It’s the 1st or 1 1/2 generation folks that are the people you should begin meeting with because they are still in the process of adding American cultural traits to their own cultural traits, (and abandoning some of their original cultural traits,) that they were immersed in before coming to America.  These are some questions you could ask them:

A.  What aspects of American culture have been the most difficult for them to adjust too?

B.  What aspects of American culture do they still not understand?

C.  If they were given the opportunity to have one hour to teach you and your leadership about their own culture, which cultural traits would they emphasize?  Why would they emphasize those cultural traits?

D.  Which of their cultural traits do they believe are a valid expression of the principles of the kingdom of God?  They probably haven’t thought about this, but asking them about it will provoke them to do so and maybe cause them to praise God for what has been passed on to them.

E.  This one will be tough for them to answer, but try it anyway:  Which aspects of American culture do they believe are not really good expressions of kingdom principles?

F.  What specific areas of the way we “do church” might be helpful to change in order to be more attractive to those from their cultural back round?

I can’t remember the author, but there is a crucial book for anyone who really wants to see how we’re understood by people from other cultures that have come to live among us.  It’s a secular book….but a gold nugget, it’s called:

“Distant mirrors”

When I was on staff at a large church with people from more than 30 different countries, I challenged the pastor and worship leader to set apart about 15 minutes of the Sunday morning time of worship every 6 weeks or so, to have a specific ethnic group from the church do a worship song in their own language in front of the congregation.  Those that did this, (Ethiopians, Kenyans, Filipinos,) were SO blessed that we would ask them to do this.  We asked them to pick one of their own worship songs, (not just an American worship song translated into their language), and we putthe words into phonetic form to be projected so those from the congregation could sing along if they wanted to.

We plugged it from the pulpit the week before and we had them wear their native dress the morning they blessed the congregation with the song.  This drew a lot of interest before the service started, and then after the pastor or worship explained to the congregation what was about to happen and why, they came up on stage and worshiped God in their own language–it was unbelievable!  We had nothing but positive responses, and each ethnic group told me it was the first time in any church in America they had been in, that anyone seemed to care about the culture and language God had given them!

You might also consider creating a Rev. 5:9 committee made up of key leaders from the ethnic groups in your congregation.  Get them together, along with you and some of your key staff and have them share their stories with the group.  Then, have an interactive discussion with them as a group about some different ways your Sunday morning and other ministries of the church could be a bit more user friendly.  Ask them to help give your church a foretaste of Rev. 5:9 right now.

Many churches have flags up in their sanctuary, but at my church here in Phoenix, we have only the flags of the countries that are either a part of our body, (Syria, Philippines, Burma,) or that represent the primary refugee groups that we reach out to, (Bhutan and Iraq.)  Having art type stuff in the sanctuary or the foyer that represents the cultures of the people in your body demonstrates they matter and that you recognize their cultures have something to contribute to your church.

When I was at that large church, I taught a seminar called:  Passport to Understanding American Culture.  It was geared towards the non-Americans in the church.  I did it in about and hour and a half and I had Koreans, Thais, Japanese, and people from various African countries that attended.  In tears afterward, many of them told me that even though they had been in America for 20 years or more, (some of them,) until the seminar they didn’t really understand why Americans do what they do.

Finally, effective cross-cultural impact for a church really does hinge on the senior pastor.  If you genuinely believe that the make-up of your body is by God’s design and each member of the body has an inventory given by God for the good of the body as a whole, then those cultures and languages are a part of their inventory and are there for the benefit of all.  Proceed intentionally to understand them, acknowledge them, and be willing to learn from them.  When I’m teaching through the Word, (I’m in Luke now), I not only explain the culture at the time of the text, if applicable, I point out that many of the people in our body are much closer culturally to what is going on with Jesus and the people He was ministering to then we Americans are.  I emphasize that many kingdom cultural traits are already present in many of the other cultures God has brought to our church and we Americans, (the odd-balls on the planet), need to learn from them in some of these areas.

True cross-cultural impact will hinge on you…and it’s obvious you have the right heart and a willingness to learn how to do that.  God will honor that and all of your congregation will benefit from it.

For Bill:

Honestly, I’m not sure.  I think a church built to reach a specific sub-culture needs to be and will be very specific for the first few years of its life.  But because all cultures and sub-cultures are in a state of change, eventually a broader spectrum of people will begin checking it out and for whatever reason, will find something there that is desireable to them.

Once there is “buy-in” and true community begins to take place, those from outside the sub-culture that have been attending will begin contributing to the culture of the church and those that were part of the original sub-culture will have come to know them and love them so much, that they will welcome the changes they bring because they know it will give them a better opportunity to express the awesome creativity of God.

In cross-cultural ministry, educated, bi-lingual people generally will not attend a church that only does things in their heart language and is a highly cultural expression of their first culture.  They will go for an event, they will go to give of their resources and so forth, but they won’t choose to be a part of that body.  But, the uneducated, limited in language other than their own people, WILL be open to attending a church that is in the other language and is different than their own culture.  There are cultural reasons for this dynamic in shame/honor cultures.

Here’s what I p0nder in our American cultural context:  Who is more likely to really want to be an integral part of a church that is radically different than themselves?  The older, more traditional and typical American?  Or, the younger, cutting edge American?  Does the old guy dig what’s happening in the younger focused church and want to be a part of it?  Or, does the young guy dig what’s going on in the more traditional expression of churches and want to part of it?  My guess is that you’re more likely to have an old guy go younger, than a  young guy going older.







5 replies
  1. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:


    This post, like many of our personal conversations, has been incredibly helpful/enlightening. I really appreciate your thoughtful answers to Tim’s, Bill’s and my questions.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your last observation… I think the older generation is far more open to alternate expressions or methods of “doing church” or participating in worship than the younger generation. My generation has been raised to “have it there way.” Not that boomers haven’t, but I think my generation is still lacking the experience to recognize that “our way” isn’t alway as good as we think it is.

    Thanks Jeff!

  2. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Very thorough response, Jeff. Thanks. I’m going to cut and paste your response into a word doc that will enable me to ponder and plan with it. Great stuff – thanks.

  3. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Really great stuff. Really, really good.

    Regarding my questions, I have to confess and explain an attitude that I struggle with. BTW, the struggle isn’t with you.

    With the popularity of church planting over the last few years, there have been so many “expert voices”. I have heard many young guys say “they are passionate about church planting”, and either they were just starting the process, or had been pastoring for a few years with some success. Also some movements, “seem” to be the authoritative voice, but authority is proved out in the long run, not in the first few laps.

    I readily admit and am thankful for ideas and insights that I have gleaned from the many discussions on church planting, cultural relevance, etc. We all have blind spots, and I have been corrected on some thinking through reading articles, books, having conversations, etc.

    My struggle has been that so many seemingly young, developing pastors, and movements, are offering so much expert advice on church planting, but the advice is only about what things ought to look like when you start.

    What will the intentionality of being sensitive to certain cultural mores produce in 5-10 years? Should that level of sensitivity continue, with adjustments along the way, or does the young hip church become comfortable in it’s own skin, and become irrelevant in 20 years, should they survive?

    I know that some of the young and blossoming movements are attracting people to Jesus, and that is good. I know that we need to meet people where they are at. All things to all men, as much as possible, and within Biblical parameters. I understand that. I embrace that. That is why I have learned Spanish, lead worship in Spanish, and try to be bi-cultural both in Napa and wherever else I go.

    But I have also been wondering why no one speaks of the long term effects of certain approaches to church planting. I wonder if anyone is considering the long term effects of certain efforts towards cultural relevance.

    The focus “seems” to be “how to get them into church”. Of course, every pastor wants that to happen, we want people to hear the word taught and preached, and we want to see people receive Jesus. But how far does cultural sensitivity go? How long does it stay? How extreme does it go?

    If the sub-culture is so narrowly defined, then will those churches continue to be like the under-educated, mono-lingual churches that you described? Or will a narrow approach to reaching people broaden over time, developing into that higher educated, multi lingual church that seems to be the preferred expression of the Body of Christ?

    I guess church planting is kinda like losing weight.
    Remember the Fen-Phen craze of the early 90’s.
    People lost weight, but they also got sick and some died.

    I would think that Spirit led, Biblically based church planting would, in the long run, be flexible enough to reach people where they are at, but also not have collateral damage where the spiritual growth of people is stunted through identifying ore with a culture of church than the God of the church.

    Maybe we shouldn’t consider anyone an expert in church planting until after their planted churches have survived 10+ years. Might not that be a better measure of spiritual success?

    Jeff, you have brought forth some great insights. Like Tim, this is keeper stuff, and I will be saving and sharing it. You have shed much light on things. Please keep it coming.

    Blessings all…

  4. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Miles, Tim, Bill,

    Thanks brothers. Bill, I totally hear what you’re saying. I’ve read alot of the church planting books and talked with many of them here locally. It’s definitely the “in” thing right now to be known as a church planter, and my guess is that at least some of these church planters are doing it with being cool as their major motivation.

    The word “church” is becoming so common place and so many people are planting “churches” that I think the distinctiveness of the word is being lost. To me, and this is strictly my opinion, it’s similar to using the term “missionary” to describe every Christian. If every believer is a “missionary”, then everything is “missions” and thus logically nothing is REALLY “missions”. Every Christian should live like a missionary, for sure, but not every Christian is a missionary. In the same sense that every Christian should be able to share God’s truth and care for others, which certainly pastors do, but not every Christian is referred to as a pastor.

    In my opinion, there are no real “experts” on church planting and this is by His design. If that title does float around, it should be given or assigned to the person referred to as that, not self-proclaimed.

    I do agree that time is the real test of successful church planting and recognizing anyone as an expert before the church they planted is more than 4-5 years old could be detrimental in a number of ways.

    I guess my view is that none of should claim to be experts, we should just be willing to share God called us to do, why we believe He called us to do it, how we chose to do it, and what we personally learned from it. If any part of that process is useful to someone else–AWESOME. If not, that’s cool too.

    Anyway. I hear you brother and I share your concerns.


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