The Dark Side of Church Planting

I have been a strong advocate of church planting as long as I have been in the ministry. And I still believe very much in church planting. I have heard it said that the key to the spread of the gospel is new churches. I dispute that. The key to the spread of the gospel is the Spirit working through the church. New and local congregations should be part of the universal church. God did not ordain new churches. He ordained THE church that is meant to spread virally like yeast in flour. With this reality in place, church planting has become very very sexy amongst Evangelicals in the recent seven or eight years. This is not a bad thing either. But like all things, there exists a shadow side. As a three time church planter (and someone who has coached and counseled literally hundreds of church planters), I wanted to spend some time exploring that dark side.

It’s not a church plant, it is a church transfer

This, to me, is the largest dark side to the current obsession with church planting. Statistically, church are being planted with rapidity but the number of Christians are declining in the West. What that means, simply, is that many church plants are really church transfers. A new congregation is birthed but with existing members moving from another church. So one church begins by the pillaging of another. This is not a bad thing when that is an intentional mitosis model of the existing church (multiplication by subtraction). But usually it is not the plan of the existing church. Instead it is imposed on the existing church by a new congregation that subverts the existing church. This problem is also exacerbated by our Western success models. A church plant is ‘successful’ if there is x number of people there. So for a church plant to be deemed successful, they need bodies in the building, no matter where they came from. So I have always advocated that the best way to discern the fruitfulness of a church plant is by baptisms, not by Sunday attendance. So if a church has 30 people in the end of the first year and did 20 baptisms, to me that is a realistic church plant. If a church has 500 people at the end of the first year and did 50 baptisms, then that is a church transfer in my estimation. I always tell church planters this, “Seek and save the lost and throw back the already saved.” By the way, the “market share” of those outside Christ far exceeds those inside.

Not All church plants are alike

In trying to understand the impact of a church plant, we have to look at the circumstances in which it was birthed. Some church plants I like to call ‘trust fund’ church plants. Like a person with a trust fund, their work is fully bankrolled by a large sending organization (both finances and people). Another type of church plant is a “you against the world” church plant where it is a single individual just doing it without any help. Neither one of these ways (or any of the shades in between) are better, worse, more spiritual or less, but they are different and should be viewed differently. In a culture that finds its value by understanding itself in relation to another, this creates a pretty toxic environment. If a church just moved 100 people in an area from elsewhere and have 150 people at it, is it really more mightily used by God than a church that began with one family and has 40 people? In our culture, the church planter with 150 is considered a success and the planter with 40 is just another church planter. Do you see the rub there?

The church split plant

This is all too common and truly sad. This is the church plant that is really a split off of another church (usually led by a disgruntled ex-pastor, missionary or popular volunteer). This plant is within about 30 minutes of the host church and is fueled solely by the disgruntledness against the host church. It is never characterized this way though (until after some time when honesty prevails). It is always characterized in the most spiritual of terms, God’s calling, seeking to disciple differently then they see around. When I have talked with church planters contemplating this, I always say the same thing. “Don’t be THAT guy.” You see, once you are that guy, you carry that with you for the rest of your ministry.

In conclusion, our goal should always be the glory of God in the people of God by the Spirit of God. Church planting should not be a competition nor some sort of carnal badge of honor. It is the calling of God for us to be in His army in the way in which He desires. As churches continue to be planted, let us make sure that we do it with the strength that God supplies that in all things he will get the glory in Christ Jesus.

Pulling Down Strongholds

I live in Santa Cruz County, CA. Our church meets in Scotts Valley, less than fifteen minutes from Santa Cruz, the largest and most well known city in the county. Santa Cruz is known for being an extremely eclectic community, one that values diversity, embraces multiculturalism, and eschews absolutes. It’s a challenging place to minister, but still there are hungry souls in need of Christ.

Recently while reading in Proverbs I came across this passage:

Proverbs 21:22  A wise man scales the city of the mighty, and brings down the trusted stronghold. (NKJV)

Proverbs 21:22  A wise man attacks the city of the mighty and pulls down the stronghold in which they trust. (NIV)

I thought about the strongholds that exist here where we live. I reasoned that if we clearly understand what they are, we can more ably pull them down.

So I wrote to our church mailing list, asking them to respond to the following question:

“Re: the following verse, what do you think is the stronghold of the unconverted people of Santa Cruz? Send your responses to me at [my personal email address].


“A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.” (Proverbs 21:22 ESV)

So the folks got busy thinking about the question. I’m listing the responses below. Some are very insightful, in my opinion. Perhaps this discussion will be of help to you in your communities. Jesus told us that the strongman must be bound in order to spoil his goods. That’s what is needed wherever we may minister.

Of course, we’re convinced that the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty in God (for the pulling down of strongholds)—2 Corinthians 10:4. We use the weapons of believing prayer, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Word of God directly aimed at human consciences (2 Corinthians 4:2).

God bless you.


The stronghold of the unconverted people of Santa Cruz is their Lack of Righteousness.


Proverbs 21:22 is telling me that wisdom is far better than Strength.  The unconverted people of Santa Cruz are more interested in Pleasure than gaining wisdom.


Stronghold applied to David’s hiding places. While David had the anointing of God, he did not have a detailed map of his future. He had to trust in God for the things he could not do. The verse reminds me of the secret places with the Lord. He who sees you in secret will reward you openly. Go to the secret places with the Lord pray for the lost souls of Santa Cruz. Also we don’t battle with flesh and blood but with principalities against powers against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. The unsaved in Santa Cruz we need to pray fervently for their souls. Asking the Lord to save. The battle is the Lord’s. That is my answer.


It is easy to see the stronghold of Santa Cruz is evil, sin, blasphemy, witchcraft, Satanism. They are blinded to the Truth. They believe all ways lead to God, in fact most believe they are gods.  How does one bring down that stronghold? Only by the Power of Jesus. As followers of Christ we can lift them up to the Lord God Almighty. I don’t even think Jonah could reach Santa Cruz.  Am I missing something?


If a video of a fetus will keep (young) women from aborting their child, perhaps a radical explosion of the rapture might give insight to what really is to come. But God has tarried and nobody believes He will really come.


My husband & I are in agreement that the University is the stronghold of Santa Cruz. It teaches and promotes Socialism/Marxism. It is the power behind the government of Santa Cruz.  Atheism is rampant there. I knew an Orthodox priest who once tried to teach a class on Christian theology and was all but run out. The old adage applies that “the inmates are running the asylum … i.e. Angela Davis was/is a professor among other extremists. Satan really has a hold on that place & it filters to all of Santa Cruz.

God is mocked in that place.


By my observations, the stronghold that keeps people from Christ is the same across America: self.

P.S. I should add the devil to that. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Is the stronghold of our city (county) the lust of the will to be under the influence
of something that obfuscates reality (truth)!!!!???

Hmmm … Perhaps idolatry … e.g. of our SC subcultures: music, TV, Hollywood, pop culture, outer appearance…


Great question. I suppose in a physical sense you could consider UCSC a stronghold of the unconverted people of Santa Cruz. Although I don’t know if any residents of Santa Cruz (outside of those attending or affiliated with the university) consciously consider UCSC a stronghold for their belief system, I do think the philosophies, teachings and agenda of the faculty (example: Angela Davis) have filtered down to the community at large in the same way those areas surrounding the Cal Berkeley campus have been molded throughout the last 50 years. Truth is now relative and what was once considered extreme is now main stream.  Sadly, the debate is not even about freedom of lifestyle choice, but instead has become a civil rights issue akin to the struggle of the African American community in the 50’s and 60’s. Those who dare hold a divergent viewpoint are closed minded at best, bigots at worst.


I pondered your question and I think that one of the strongholds for the unconverted of S.C. is that they pride themselves in their idea that they must have “tolerance.” They hold onto the idea that they must accept everyone and everything. However, they close themselves off to Christians and the gospel, never understanding that what they really need is Jesus.


Interesting question to ponder, Bill!

It is hard to narrow things down to one stronghold… but “self” comes right to mind– and all that “self” encompasses:  pride; self interest; it’s own socio/political vision and culture (of individualism); …  very narcissistic!


I think that the “stronghold of the unconverted people of Santa Cruz” is the thought (and actually the presence) of Santa Cruz’s diversity and multiculturalism. This person has this god, that person has that god, while this other person has no god at all … only himself to try and make it through this life. The person with this god says; “My god is a god of love, only love! Your God, the God of your bible was a cruel God, He was angry,  mine is good and kind and allows me to be free!” And that person who has that god says; “My god is many many gods in one! He is everything to me, especially when I need him to be this or that. He is also in everything, he is in the tree so I worship the tree. He is in the moon, so I worship the moon. He tells me that if I don’t get this life right the first time, not to worry, I can do life again, and I don’t even have to do it in this body, I’ll have a new body to do it in. While yet the other person says; “I don’t believe in God! It’s just me, myself, and I, that is true freedom to me. I am my own god, I decide when and how I will live and die.” or they might say; “I’ve tried that Christian God thing! Too many rules, it was too hard to keep trying to be good, nope, it’s just me, I will determine my own destiny.” This person’s thinking is the saddest of all I think, he’s missed the truth about redemption and salvation, he’s missed the whole concept of surrender and that we can do nothing in and of ourselves.

The weapons used against such strongholds is The One true and living God, His Word which is sharper than a two edged sword, His Word which is the “sword of the Spirit”… His Gospel of peace that leads to life eternal. His Oneness! His message of love and protection, but also His message of righteousness and justice. His obvious history, tangible, provable, not only to those of us who believe, but also to those have no clue who He is, but have only heard stories of what He has done.


I am responding a little late but I just wanted to say that I think the stronghold of Santa Cruz is what was once the stronghold for all of us which was bondage to sin and blindness to the truth of the gospel. I believe as one person said that this stronghold can only be brought down by prayer. What God has shown me lately is that I have grown bitter and hard hearted towards the people of Santa Cruz. I ask that God would soften our hearts so that we would have compassion for these people so that we can pray effectively for their eyes and hearts to be open to receive the gospel message. We need to love these people as Christ has loved us and not give up hope. There are souls to be won in this city otherwise God would have not called us here.


It was interesting to read all the responses. I thought this was a great question to ask. I know I’m a little late to the game, but here’s my two cents. This may be more of a foothold than a stronghold. But, if I were the enemy, knowing that followers of Christ have the life changing message of the gospel – the power to free and save, I’d try to get them to keep it to themselves.  I’d try to sow disunity in the church as a whole in Santa Cruz, I’d try to pervert the truth in the church, I’d try to keep the church frustrated with, and disconnected from, the culture rather than engaging it with the message of the gospel. I’d try to keep the church in it’s own little Christian-bubble subculture rather than on the front lines of the battle. I’d try to lull the church into a sense of apathy and hopelessness about reaching the community for Christ (I’ve seen this a lot). And maybe most importantly, I’d want them to be in a state of prayerlessness for the community.  There’s power in the name of Jesus to break every chain. The “strongholds” of the enemy in Santa Cruz are nothing for Jesus…

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT)                                                         


Great email, missed my chance to respond: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”


The stronghold is BLINDNESS.  2 Cor. 4:4 says. “. . the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”

The key to the blindness is the LIE which has  not changed at all over time. Just as God is unchanging so is Satan and the earth that he dominates. The lie, of course, is that we can all be gods and that if there was a God he certainly is holding back on your JOY as evidenced by all the bad stuff going on in the world.

The god of this world works with the natural urges of men — natural things given by God for a purpose — and twists them for destruction and discouragement. I believe that the real stronghold today is found in our obsession with FREE SPEECH. I see speech as a gift from God given to us to build up and encourage others. Like God we have the power to create as well as destroy. Encourage or Discourage, our words are powerful and that is what we see being displayed in our media. Words used for evil, calling people names, demanding tolerance and speech that does not offend. The fact that we get offended at all is the problem. IF your purpose in life is to follow the will of God for your life then nothing that comes your way is outside of that plan for you and thus should be accepted with joy.

The problem is that Biblical thought has lost its original Hebrew nature that honored action and pursuit of godliness or righteousness powered by the provisions and purposes of God as the aim or purpose of Life. Life is 100% living for God and trusting that in every circumstance and in every relationship that He places us in is a way for us to grow. Our purpose is to bless others with the gifts that God has given us. The world has fallen for same Greek worldview that Jesus and Paul battled. This world view places knowledge above all else. It places SPEECH a right and not as a tool for blessing. It honors strength and beauty and seeks to find and control anything that causes discomfort in life. This world view leads to everyman doing what is right in his own eyes which is really just natural desires out of control in what we should call selfishness but the world defines as special interests.

So the stronghold is the LIE, just as it always has been. The lie has, like the way of Baalak, has overcome the church leading to arguments, selfishness, complaining, and division rather than unity in the faith. The world looks at the church and its history over thousands of years and sees nothing of interest. There is no difference between the church and the world because the glory of God is no longer seen in lives separated and dedicated to living fully with all of our heart, mind and strength (100%) living in the will of God.





Mission Minded

Last night my family and I along with our small group served dinner at the local homeless shelter. It is something that my wife and I have been wanting to do for several months now and the planets finally aligned and it was a great experience. It was really cool! Four families from our small group along with ten children (four of which were ours) stormed the place. We served BBQ hamburgers to 35 homeless or transitional people in Lompoc. The people were so nice and appreciative and seemed to enjoy the “life” that our group brought. It is something our group is going to do a monthly basis and our church does on a weekly basis.

Now my city doesn’t have a large homeless population. We are twenty miles off of the nearest freeway and kind of secluded. To be honest that is that way that most of the people in my town like it. They want to remain a small town (even though there are 65,000 people in the area). That presents a problem of inward focus. People, like most everywhere else, tend to look after their own and are almost vigilant about not exposing themselves or their families to anything that might adversely affect it. They use excuses like business or such but in reality, in their gross fear, they don’t want to be bothered. I find this most apparent in my church which is located in a upper middle class bedroom community right next to a country club. Here the focus is on forward advancement and anything of service must serve that cause. Sadly, because of so much inward focus, there is a lot of hollowness and exhaustion.

We are doing things to change that. We have created a campaign that is focused on reaching the lost and hurting of Lompoc. Do I expect the whole church to jump on board? No, but I do want to take that core group of people in our church who are being moved by the Holy Spirit and have a hunger to reach people and give them an opportunity. In the process I also think that those who are on the fence might give it a try. I am not worried about consensus or even who is not there, but out of the conviction that God is putting on my heart, ministering to those God is giving us.

To augment this process of making our church more mission minded I started teaching through the Gospel of John last Sunday. You can’t teach through this book without realizing your role in reaching your community. Even in the prologue of John he mentions “light”, “witness”, and “believe” several times. In fact the whole purpose of John is wrapped up in John 20:31 which says “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John wrote the whole book with the purpose of reaching the lost Jews in the Diaspora.

While I would not join what is called the Missional movement I am trying to lead our church to be more missions minded. I have always had a heart for the lost and hurting and that got lost in my attempt to disciple and equip the church that God has blessed me with. I don’t think you can come to a complete balance but I definitely want to correct the lopsided wobble. We are all called as Christians and churches to reach those who don’t know Jesus. The question we need to ask is “How mission minded are we?”

Pastoral Ministry Practice #2

In John 17:4 Jesus refers to the work He has already accomplished.

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Suffering a sacrificial death and rising in power were not the only assignments given to Jesus.   In John 17:6-13 He lists out the work He accomplished before going to the cross.   These verses serve as an outline of the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ.  These verses set before us the four essential practices of pastoral ministry.  What Jesus exampled in His ministry and reviews in prayer here before His Father are the essence of being a shepherd to the flock of God.

The first essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:6 –

I manifested Your name to the men You gave Me out of the world.

The second essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:7-8

I gave them Your words…

Please note the order of the prayer of Jesus

Jesus says in v8 that He has given the disciples the Word of God, but He did so only after manifesting the Name of God, which means He demonstrated the character of God.  Word follows Name.  This order is so crucial that if you don’t follow it your ministry will ultimately be of no effect.  Gehazi had the staff of Elisha, but he did not have the heart or the power of Elisha.  The staff of Elisha without the mantle of Elisha was powerless to evoke even a stir from the dead child.  If you preach the Word of God without manifesting the Name of God your preaching will be dead.  We all know that it is easier to speak the Word of God than it is to manifest His Name – this is why there is more preaching of Christ than demonstration of Christ.  It is easier for me to tell you to love your neighbor than for me to love my neighbor.  Many have heard of the gospel from preachers who do not live the gospel.  The Word without the Name has driven many away from Christ.

I once lived down the street from a man with whom I became acquainted.  He learned that I was a pastor and began to tell me about his involvement years before in an evangelical church.  From singing in the choir to sometimes working with the youth, he contributed to the ministry and was blessed in return.  He went on to tell me about being in a casino in Reno and seeing a deacon from his church at the roulette wheel.  He couldn’t believe that a leader from his church would be gambling.  (It was OK for him, but not for the deacon – go figure!)  From that time on he hadn’t stepped into a church because he was so disillusioned and disappointed.  In his mind, the deacon was denying and defiling the Name.  Conservative theology wasn’t enough for him, he wanted to see the Name fleshed out in the leadership.  Along with the Truth preached he wanted to see the Life lived.  So many have been grievously wounded and deeply offended by a church with the Word without the Name.  So many have been turned away by the Truth not adorned with the Life.

Truly, we are often the Church of No-Name.

Imagine that you are approached by a 300 lb. man who tells you that he has been on a diet for ten years.  He goes on to tell you that it is the best diet he has even been on and he just can’t say enough about it.  You ask a few questions and then finally ask how much he weighed before he began.  You figure that ten years ago he must have really been big to still be at 300 pounds today.  He tells you that ten years ago he weighed 310 pounds!  You quickly do the math and realize that he has lost only one pound a year in the last ten years.  You ask him again just to make sure you heard right and he confirms what he just said.  Well, to say the least, you are underwhelmed.  You immediately go from mildly interested to perplexed.  All of his talk, his rosy testimony, his enthusiastic endorsement have been erased by one simple fact – that to which he has been passionately committed to these past ten years has made no difference in his life – except maybe a bizarre emotional attachment to that which has not helped him.  How many in the pastoral ministry are like our 300 pound friend whose words carry no weight?  The glowing testimony doesn’t pass the test.

Incarnation and declaration are means of revelation.  The Name of God shows what God is like and the Word of God informs as to what God has done.  Declaration of the Word without incarnation of the Name insures poverty of ministry.  Do we need less Word of God?  No.  But we do need, and must have more Name of God.

Pastoral authority and personal credibility

You’ve been called into ministry and you have responded by becoming a serious student of Scripture, serving in various capacities in your church, and getting a solid education in the things of the ministry – theology, ministry, history, Biblical languages, administration, counseling, etc.  Your gifting and calling have been recognized and you have been encouraged numerous times by various people.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that call + preparation = authority.  This formula is short-sighted.

Your authority is the Word of God you preach, but your credibility is the Name of God you manifest!  We have to make a distinction between authority and credibility – Jesus did.  Consider His advice to the people about the Pharisees –

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.  Matthew 23:1-3

The Word of God has inherent authority, but authority was never meant to stand alone.  The authority of the message is to be accompanied by the credibility of the one who speaks it.  When authority is separated from credibility the power to persuade is eroded.  We can see this in the life of Lot.  Lot heard from the angels that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and that he was take his family and flee those cities.  He went and told his sins-in-law that the city was about to be judged for its wickedness and destroyed by the Lord.  Here’s how Genesis 19:14 reads:

Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, “Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.” But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

Lot’s life lacked spiritual credibility so much so that even though his message was true, it lacked spiritual authority and the ability to persuade.  He lived such an unspiritual life that when he does speak of spiritual things, his sons-in-law think that he’s joking around with them – they couldn’t take him seriously.  Is this not the condition of many within the church today?  The word we speak is drowned out by the life we live.  Our lack of credibility undermines the authority of the Word of God.  The world doesn’t see us living the Name and therefore doesn’t respond to us speaking the Word.  We are told that there is a crisis of authority today – in actuality, it is more a crisis of credibility. We are told that if we learn the Word, study the Word, polish the Word, preach the Word that the world will come.  Yes and no.  We haven’t clearly understood the scope of the challenge facing the church in the 21st century.  If those who claim to follow Jesus would truly do so, our message would gain a more respectful hearing.  It’s not so much that they don’t believe the message (and they don’t), but that they don’t believe us, the messengers!

The order of the ministry essentials that Jesus highlights in John 17 is so crucial – Name before Word.  And here’s why –

Like the legs which hang down from the lame, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Pr. 26:7 

A lack of credibility results in the loss of authority.

Theology and Anthropology

In the 1993 film Rudy (named after the main character), Rudy has a conversation with a priest named Father Cavanaugh, in which the priest says,

“Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and I’m not Him.” [1]

In this statement, Father Cavanaugh reveals his dependence on theology, “there is a God,” and anthropology, “and I’m not him.”

Is anthropology as important as theology for a cross-cultural missionary? This is a hot question being asked by many. Where theology is the study of God, anthropology is the study of man. There is no doubt that both are important, but are they of equal importance? To answer this question I will look at theology as the goal, and anthropology as a means to that goal.

For brevity’s sake, I will assume that my reader holds the view that God is the source of all life and God is the goal of all life. To quote the first answer of the Westminster Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[2] Since this is why we exist, knowing God (theology) is of utmost importance, and to know him is to worship him. Herein lies the missions mandate as John Piper explains,

“Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not mission, because God is ultimate, not man. [Mission] is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore is the fuel and goal of missions.”[3]

God is to be known, yet the knowledge of God comes to us through anthropological means. This is exemplified in that God himself has chosen to communicate with people. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”(Heb 1:1-2). God chose to speak to people through people. Theos (God) spoke through anthropos (man)! The chasm between God and mankind cannot be bridged by mankind. God had men write Scripture, which has faithfully been communicated again and again to various cultures through various languages. To read the Quran, people must learn Arabic, but to read the Bible, God’s revelation, people can read it communicated within their own language.

Concerning communication, David Hesselgrave, a missiologist, draws on Aristotle’s Rhetoric identifying “three points of reference: the speaker, the speech, and the audience.”[4] He points out that a message must also be encoded and decoded (see below).[5] There can be multiple messages coming across at the same time. What the source says may not actually correspond with what the respondent hears creating misunderstanding. Several years ago, an American pastor came on a short-term ministry trip to London. While speaking with a young woman, he noticed her trousers fit his wife’s taste and commented, “I like your pants.” He communicated a message, but the message decoded by the respondent was quite different. I quickly interjected in the conversation to clarify that pants for Americans means trousers. In this case, the misinterpretation is within a common language. Yet cross-cultural ministry must often times cross significant linguistic and cultural hurdles.

Source > Encode > Message > Decode > Respondent

In Hebrews 1, we are told that God communicated to mankind about himself through mankind. The means God uses to communicate, relates to the people to whom he is communicating. Nowhere is this more apparent than God, the Word, becoming man (Joh 1:1, 14). Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (Joh 8:23). Jesus as the logos, the word/message of God was communicated within a linguistic and cultural framework. As missiologist Sherwood Lingenfelter said, “God’s Son studied the language, the culture, and the lifestyles of his people for thirty years before he began his ministry.”[6] “The Son of God was sitting in the temple, listening and questioning!”[7] Jesus sets for us the model for cross-cultural ministry. He crossed from a heavenly culture to an earthly culture, communicating theologically in cultural forms and language that his hearers understood.

If God, who alone is wise, chose to reveal himself (theology) by relating truth in symbols and forms that people could understand (anthropology), all cross-cultural communicators should seek to follow the pattern God has laid out.

The challenge for the missionary is he must not only learn of God, but must learn of people. One of the greatest barriers to this is the missionary’s own culture and worldview. If he does not study the people to whom he desires to minister, the hearer can easily decode the message the missionary sent incorrectly. Culture shapes the lens through which life is evaluated; therefore, he must learn to separate his worldview (or lens) from the message that he articulates. The missionary’s worldview is something he may be used to looking through, but not something he is used to looking at. This is what Lingenfelter calls “cultural blindness”.[8] One’s own culture can be easily mistaken as a Christ-culture and the missionary may seek to convert his hearers to become like him, rather than like Christ. It is this mistake that has been made repeatedly in cross-cultural missions. Bruce Olson, recounting his work as a missionary in Columbia realized, he had access to many tribes that others could not access because he studied the people and understood how they thought. Olson attributes two causes for his success amongst the Motilone Indians. “The first is simple: The Motilones were not asked to give up their own culture and become white men… The second was the Holy Spirit.”[9]

As the missionary studies his receptor’s culture as well as his own, he can begin to separate what is biblical from what is cultural. He is then enabled to communicate theologically in a way that can be understood anthropologically. Olson learned that speaking of having faith in God meant nothing to the Motilones. However, if he communicated the idea of faith in God as “you have to tie your hammock strings into Him [Jesus] and be suspended in God,”[10] then they understood. Don Richardson went to the Sawi people of New Guinea. In his book Peace Child, he tells of attempting to tell the gospel story to the tribe. He was confounded when the whole tribe exalted Judas as a hero because he was the ultimate traitor, and in their culture befriending someone only to win their trust then stab them in the back was a prized virtue![11] As Richardson learned more about the tribe’s culture he was able to contextualize Jesus’ sacrifice in terms they could relate to. Within their culture, peace was brought between tribes by offering a son (peace child) to a member of another tribe. Richardson was able to show that Jesus was God’s peace child, and in their culture, to betray a peace child was unthinkable. Judas turned from hero to villain and many received the gospel. Richardson concludes, “The look on their faces told me I had not only discovered a parallel between their culture and the gospel, but I had also scraped a raw nerve as well-the obvious inadequacy of the Sawi peace child!”[12]

In this process there is a danger to be avoided. When anthropology trumps theology, the missionary can begin to make God’s message fit what is culturally acceptable. Even the great missionary Jesus’ message was rejected. It was rejected because people understood what Jesus was saying, not because they did not understand. The gospel is always going to confront the culture of the people to whom the missionary is sent. Jesus warns that since he was rejected, his followers would be also (Joh 15:18). Missiologist Paul Hiebert warns that the Anticolonial Era of missionaries erred in their contextualization. “Contextualization often became an uncritical process in which good in other cultures was affirmed, but the evil in them was left unchallenged…. What is sacrificed is the uniqueness of Christ and his salvation, because this is an offence to non-Christians.”[13] Darrin Patrick in his book Church Planter says contextualizing the gospel should be coupled with contending for the gospel. If theology is loosened to fit the culture, in which the missionary seeks to minister, he loses the very reason for which he is sent into that culture.[14] “Contextualization is speaking to people with their terms, not on their terms.”[15] Patrick quotes Timothy Keller on the issue,

“Contextualization is not ‘giving people what they want’ but rather it is giving God’s answers (which they may not want!) to questions they are asking and in forms that they can comprehend.”[16]

God is the message (theology), but his message is for people (anthropology). The missionary’s pursuit is to communicate theology powerfully and accurately to people. To do this he needs to understand those people. In this way, anthropology is critical, because this is the means whereby the truth of God can be understood as it is presented to every tribe, tongue, people, and ethnic group for the glory of God and their forever enjoyment of him.

[1] Dir. David Anspaugh. Perf. Sean Austin, Jon Favreau and Ned Beatty. Rudy. (Tri Star Pictures. 1993). DVD.
[2] Frame, J. M. The Collected Shorter Theological Writings. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. 2007). N.P. Logos Electronic Edition
[3] Piper, John, Let the Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2003). 17
[4] Hesselgrave, David J. Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1991). 40
[5] Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, 41
[6] Lingenfelter, Sherwood and Marvin, Mayers K. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. (Grand Rapids: Baker Accademic, 2003). 16
[7] Lingenfelter, Ministering Cross-Culturally, 16
[8] Lingenfelter, Sherwood. Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1998), 21
[9] Olson, Bruce. Bruchko. (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House. 1995), 128-9
[10] Olson, Bruchko, 139
[11] Richardson, Don. Peace Child. (Ventura: Regal Books. 2005), 150-2
[12] Richardson, Peace Child, 187
[13] Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1994), 59
[14] Patrick, Darrin. Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission. (Wheaton: Crossway. 2010) 194
[15] Patrick, Church Planter, 195 emphasis mine
[16] Keller, Timothy, “Contextualization: Wisdom or Compromise?” (Connect Conference, Covenant Seminary, 2004), 2, quoted in Patrick, Church Planter, 195,

The Loss of Community

I began a new series of teachings on Mother’s Day at CCEsco called “Reconcile.” The series has grown out of a number of conversations, encounters and times alone in thought and prayer that have lead me to some great [new] realizations for myself and those that I have the privilege of leading at CCE. Primarily I’ve been impacted by the importance of this “ministry of reconciliation” that each of us as believers has been brought into by Christ.

This last week [especially] I’ve been meditating upon what humanity lost in the fall, and how those things are restored to us in salvation. Very little exegesis is needed to identify and account for what was lost in the fall. At the close of Genesis 2, man and his wife were naked and unashamed; 7 verses later everything had changed.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Genesis 3:7

With the fist sin shame entered in, and the glorious oneness experienced by the first humans was devastated. With sin came the loss of community and ever since man has been trying to restore that which was lost by his own sinful efforts. Those efforts took the shape of fig leaves in Genesis 3; today it’s all manner of sinful behavior which is practiced with the fleeting hope of satisfying the inner longing for that which was lost in the fall.

The second loss of the fall is illustrated by man’s response to God’s presence in the garden after he and Eve had sinned, and by God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3:8-9.

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

Genesis 3:8-9

Adam and Eve hid from God because of the shame of sin, and God identifies the separation between He and humanity in His inquiry, “Adam, where are you?” Sin caused separation between man and God, the loss of communion.

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

Isaiah 59:2

I highlight these losses—of community and communion—as I’ve come to realize that by their loss man is left yearning for them to be restored. Although man may not be able to adequately verbalize his want, it is I believe, the deepest desire of every human soul. We were created to live in genuine oneness with one another and fellowship with God. Of course, this that was lost at the fall is restored by the cross; and we, ministers of reconciliation/restoration, are given the privilege of reintroducing the lost to communion and community.

Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20


Unspiritual Christianity

Today is one of those articles that I am going to try and say something that I don’t really know how to say. I really have struggled over the years to articulate this reality and find myself struggling today again to find the words to express something of value.

My pondering began with a simple question, “How is it possible for Christianity to be perceived as unspiritual?” The gospel is simply the Lordship of Jesus. When a person believes in Jesus, they are indwelt by the Spirit of God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity.There is no Christianity without the Spirit. Yet, as I look around the body of Christ, there seems to be way more examples of unspiritual Christianity then there are spiritual ones. Now when I speak about the need for Christianity to be spiritual, I mean “of the Spirit” in the simplest of terms. Not even necessarily the expression of spiritual giftings. I am talking about the basics of love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and self control (Galatians 5:23). I am talking about lives that are lived out in the simplest aspects of agape love and service. I am talking about the ‘shalom’ of God being at work and being outworked through the body of Christ. Concepts such as agape, simplicity, service, unity and peace-making are in my mind.

As I survey much of the Christianity around today, I don’t see much of this. So I started to wonder why. Why is so much of Christianity look so little like the life of Jesus? I see much personal politics, attack-dog disagreements, sin cloaked in religion, bickering, jockeying for position, niches and cliches. It is so common for people to rise up in churches if they are charismatic or sychopantic rather than having a Jesus-formed character.

So I am going to list a few reasons why this may be the case. Instead of commenting on each of them, I will simply list them and let you all have fun with them.

1) When information is king
2) When theology is not translated to the street level
3) Classic Self-salvation plans
4) Cultural Idolatry
5) A lack of any focus on spiritual formation (true biblical discipleship)
6) A western individualistic focus rather than community formation
7) Prayerlessness
8) The Curse of Affluence
9) The Influence of Business Practices upon Church Leadership
10) Tax-exempt status
11) Church as entertainment

Big Church, Small Church = Same Church

As many of you know, I am a blogging veteran. It dawned on me recently that I have been blogging for over 10 years at this point. But is also interesting is that I find myself interacting on them less and less (although ironically, this article is on a blog). Why? Well because I have little bandwidth these days for incessant arguments. When I think about some of the most common arguments about church on blogs (whether ministry-minded blogs like CrossConnection or other Christian blogs), it is the church size preference argument. Most of the arguing, as I have thought about it, is actually from people who prefer smaller churches and then vilify larger churches. Although I don’t know of any larger church pastor starting a blog argument over church size, it is far to common to hear a mega church pastor speak down about a smaller church. I once stood in horror as a large church pastor asked a faithful brother of a smaller church, “How is your little work going?”. The work of God in salvation and in His people is never little. It is always huge.

But, for me, I feel that I have a unique vantage point on this because of how the Lord has led me. I have been involved pastorally in 4 churches (3 as the church-planter and senior pastor). The three churches I planted were turned over to other pastors with less than 100 people. Now I pastor a very large church. Here’s what I have learned. Simply stated, the church is the church. Whether large or small, the church is the people of God together in community. Every church is flawed in some way, yet being grown up into her head, Jesus. All churches have budget problems, building (or lack thereof) issues, committed members and folks who just come and go. On every level, the church is the church.

This was brought into stark focus for me recently as someone asked me how it was to teach at a large church. I said simply, it’s exactly the same, just more people hear the message at one time. I haven’t changed, the only difference is that now, if I look to the left or the right when I’m teaching, I’ll see myself amplified on jumbo screens (a terrifying sight). I still study the same, deliver it the same, pray that God uses it the same. After service, just like in a smaller body, some folks head for the doors and other folks want to spend time and talk. There are all the same people issues. In any church, large or small, most people have 10 truly close friends. That doesn’t change. A large church is not any less intimate than a smaller church. Why? Because intimacy is a heart issue not a size issue. Again, it’s all the same church.

So why do I write this? Well maybe it is my hope that people will be okay with simply stating their preference for church size and dynamics instead of seeking to justify the preference by vilifying the other side. I also say this because as a church planter and smaller church pastor, I also tried to vilify larger churches. It don’t think I did it maliciously. I did it naively. But my experience has taught me that the church is the church, no matter how many people are gathered together. We are all one big family in Jesus. I, for one, am grateful for that.

Organic vs. Artificial

I was a little disturbed this week to find that my favorite cereal had genetic soybean in it instead of all natural soy. It was even more disturbing to find that the cereal company that I thought was grass roots was in fact a concoction of the conglomerate Kellog. When we find out something isn’t real but instead artificial it leaves us with bad taste in our mouth, kind of like Pepsi Next, all the bad stuff diet plus none of the taste of the real thing. But I digress.

Churches can be artificial as well. They have the appearance of being real but in fact they are full of artificial fillers. I don’t want to make this post about the personality of the church but about how our churches grow. Does your church grow organically or artificially? What I mean by that is does your church grow by transfer growth or by salvations and baptisms?

I have been convicted of this lately because to be honest my church is around 85% transfer growth. I understand that and for awhile have accepted that but something has been growing inside of me for more organic growth in our church. I want to see our church grow by reaching the unchurched and dechurched. Our staff has been in conversations about this since the beginning of the year on how best to do that.

On one hand a big demographic in our area are single ladies in their 60’s & 70’s who golf twice a week at the country club. On the other hand our little Village is packed full of families barely squeaking by financially and exhausted from running their kids all over kingdom come for sports activities that are a big part of the reason they are so strapped. So how do you reach them when they would rather sleep in on Sunday then drag the family to church?

I don’t have any answers for you in this post but instead I hope to open up a discussion on how churches can be more organic in their communities. Let’s be honest people who are saved and disciple in your church have a tendency to stay longer, be more patient, and less demanding. We are taking steps to reach the lost and hurting in our area. We are not sure how that will end up looking but I know we are at the stage of wanting to try more.

BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION: Monologue or Dialogue?

Natural Extremists

We are prone to extremes.  One issue we tend to go to one extreme or the other on in the church is that of biblical learning.  On the one hand, there are those who are committed to preaching the Bible in the form of monologue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible, they envision a lone preacher standing before a crowd, delivering a studied and crafted sermon in the power of the Holy Spirit, spitting presuppositions and propositional truth.

On the other hand, there are those who are committed to learning the Bible through sharing and dialogue.  When they think of Christians learning the Bible they picture a group of friends sitting down together to share how the Bible impacts them personally.  They see themselves sitting with friends over lattes in a coffee shop, or over dinner in a home, informally discussing what a portion of scripture means to each person in the group.   They value the contributions and interpretations of each person who is present.

I’ve seen some people who are so committed to teaching and preaching the Bible in monologue, that they are skeptical of any kind of sharing context where multiple people contribute opinions and perspectives on the meaning or relevance of the Bible.  Still I’ve seen other people who are so committed to the truth that “God can and wants to speak through all believers” come to a place where there is no room in their thinking for monologue preaching, or designated pastors who serve as primary Bible communicators for a specific community of believers.


My contention is that both extremes are wrong, and that this is one of many areas Christians need to have a Both/And way of thinking.  I believe the reasons the monologue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical, and that the reasons the dialogue crowd values their preferred method are generally biblical as well.  I believe that helpful leaders will help those entrusted to them by God to see the value and place of both monologue and dialogue in growing the church in the knowledge of God through His Word.

A Small Case for Monologue

1 Corinthians 12:29- “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?”  These are rhetorical questions in context.  The apostle Paul is arguing for the unity of the body through the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Because we all have different gifts, we all need each other.  God has designed the body to be dependent upon Him by being codependent upon what He’s doing in each other.  Not all have a Spirit-given gifting to teach God’s truth in the same way, or at the same level.

Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  Each of the gifts described here are Bible communicating gifts at their core.  Apostles preach the gospel and plant churches.  Evangelists major in preaching the gospel and equipping Christians to do effectively do the same.  Prophets have a teaching ministry that is trans-movement/denomination, and a ministry which applies biblical truth to timely issues under the spontaneous leading and enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Pastors and teachers give biblical counsel and didactic instruction of the Word to God’s people.  But four times we are told that only “some” are given by God to perform these functions in the ways these men do.  Only “some” are to build the body in these particular ways.

1 Timothy 3:2 tells us that an overseer must be “able to teach.”  This is not a requirement for deacons.  This implies a unique teaching ministry for those called to serve as the governing body of the church.  We can add to this verse 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages.’”  The Bible is to be our method for determining how to think about these issues.  That’s why Paul built his case from “Scripture.”  And what Scripture demands, according to Paul, is that some of the governing leadership work hard at teaching the Bible more than any other Christian or leader in the church.  Their job is so important that they are to be paid to fulfill that role as they do it well.

We could go on, but these texts amply demonstrate that God intends there to be monologue-style Bible preaching and teaching in the church.  He has not gifted all to teach the same way.  He does not gift all to deduce the meaning of Scripture the same way.  Specifically, men who are called to be the leader of the leaders in the church are Spirit-gifted to preach the Word, and be the doctrine-setting authority in the local church.

A Small Case for Dialogue

But I’m not just for monologue in the church, but for dialogue as well, and so is the Bible.

Colossians 3:16- “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”  This exhortation was given to all the members of the Colossian church.  They were all to play a part in “teaching and admonishing one another.”

Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  If there are a couple verses that support the idea of believers encouraging each other in small group community over lattes, these are them.  Considerately stirring each other up to love God and people, and serve God people as we “gather,” is the job of “us” as believers, not just “me” as a pastor.


Preaching the word in monologue is biblical and necessary.  If a Spirit-gifted man isn’t at the helm, preaching the Bible faithfully in collaboration with other Spirit-given leaders in the local church community, heresy abounds, and the church becomes a pool of ignorance.  Men who are specifically called to fill such a “leader of the leaders” function are not allowed to function in their gift.  Frankly, some need to repent of their radical commitment to the autonomy of the individual in the church.  Some would reduce the church to a leaderless weak state in the name of all believers being “equal” and “usable by God.”  We are all equal.  God does use us all.  But the question is how does God use us?  For some, they are called to be primary teachers and preachers in the church in ways others are not.  Let them do their job for the health of the church and the glory of God.

Additionally, God really can and does speak through every believer.  God wants to display how He has changed His kids through sharing in dialogue in small group type contexts and house churches.   The Holy Spirit wants to manifest Himself, and His edifying work, through every Christian.  This means that while pastors need to uncompromisingly engage in the monologue preaching of God’s Word with authority, they also need to help the local church develop contexts of dialogue and sharing.  We need to get over our need to control everything that is thought and said, and remember that Jesus is the real senior pastor of His people.  To be sure, you are His instrument in a unique way when it comes to teaching His truth.  But the goal of your ministry is to enable the body to do “the work of the ministry” which includes “teaching and admonishing one another” without you standing over peoples shoulder all the time.  As pastor James Macdonald said recently, “The biblical picture isn’t that the pastor ministers to the body, but that the body ministers to the body.”

So, pastors, lets preach the Word like crazy, and take no guff for doing our God-given job.  But let’s also make sure we don’t quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do by not developing and encouraging contexts of sharing, where each member of the body of Christ can have a voice and be used.  I don’t do this perfectly, but I’m working on it.  Join me.