DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: Church Planting

What Church Plants Have that Established Churches (Often) Don't

Church plants have very little. They have little money, few people, no building, and an uncertain future. Yet church plants have a few things that older churches often don't have, and that makes all the difference.

What do church plants have? Three qualities:

  • A unified vision — Mission drift plagues many established churches. New churches typically don't succumb to this, at least in the early years. If you are in a church plant, it's likely because you've heard the vision and bought into it. Otherwise, there's little to keep you there. This is a huge advantage.
  • An outward focus — Churches tend to turn inward as they grow older. A church plant can't afford to do this, or they will not get off the ground. New churches have a focus on evangelism and blessing the community that is essential.
  • A flexible ministry model — Having little can work to your advantage. You can make changes without having to reinvent everything. Newer churches can change almost anything at a moment's notice. They are not constrained by buildings and years of tradition. New churches are nimble.

Please note: it's possible to have all of the above in an established church, but not without a lot of work. By work, I mean suffering. Established churches have more stability and resources, but these often come at the expense of the qualities I describe above.

Here's the beautiful thing: newer churches can help older churches move towards these qualities, as older churches help newer churches with prayer and resources. Both newer churches and older churches have what the other needs. Both are essential in the Kingdom.

I Need to Be Reminded Often

Every once in a while, I need to pick up Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission and reread the first chapter to remind myself what is true about our context.

Let me confess: I am prone to think about effective ministry in all the wrong categories. I tend to forget an important truth: that “the Christian gospel has moved from the center of our culture to the margins” (p.13). As I look around, I still see churches using familiar methods, and it seems to "work." I forget that those methods are reaching a declining number of people. “People can be attracted to a church by what it offers,” says Jim Petersen, “but . .  . increase of this sort isn’t church growth at all. It’s just a reshuffling of the same fifty-two cards” (p.18). I agree with the thesis of the authors:

We want to suggest that most of our current dominant models of church and evangelism are Christendom models. This needs to change as we move to a post-Christendom and post-Christian context. (p.23)

So here are some quotes I need to read that give you a taste of why I need to read this chapter regularly to remind myself of what is now true. If they’re right, and I think they are, then the implications are profound.

We have the opportunity to become communities focused on Jesus and his mission…What is fast disappearing is the opportunity to reach notionally religious people through church activities.  (p.13)

Merely opening our doors each Sunday is no longer sufficient. Offering a good product is not enough. (p.15)

What is clear is that great swathes of America will not be reached through Sunday morning services. (p.15)

Seventy percent of the United Kingdom population have no intention of ever attending a church service. That means new styles of worship will not reach them. That means fresh expressions of church will not reach them. That means Alpha and Christianity Explored evangelistic courses will not reach them. That means guest services will not reach them. That means churches meeting in pubs will not reach them. That means toddler churches meeting at the end of the school day will not reach them. The vast majority of unchurched and de-churched people would not turn to the church even if faced with difficult personal circumstances or in the event of national tragedies. It is not a question of “improving the product” of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events. (p.17)

We cannot claim to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the lost through our Sunday preaching when most of the lost do not attend church. (p.27)

We cannot rely on business as usual. It cannot mean more of the same. It must involve a qualitative change rather than simply a quantitative change. (p.27)

I know these things. I just forget them as I default to old mental models. It's why I find this chapter helpful every time I read it.

BiVo

We’re planting a church in downtown Toronto, but we’re trying to do a little more than that. We are trying to discover how to plant churches in the condo communities in downtown Toronto in a way that is reproducible.

And there’s the rub: how do you plant churches in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, and in one of the hardest places to plant a church, and make it reproducible? One of the major barriers is money. And one of the most expensive parts of church planting is salary.

That’s why I’m interested in Hugh Halter’s book BiVo: A Modern-Day Guide for Bi-Vocational Saints.

In my opinion, the old church planting paradigm of three years to a self-funded church plant is in the process of dying. That isn’t to say that it’s died, but it’s on borrowed time. If a church is to grow evangelistically in a post-Christendom context, three years will often not be enough.

Halter argues that this isn’t just the case with church plants; it applies increasingly to established churches too. Economics, mobility, and cultural trends, and the decline in the effectiveness of the consumer-church model spell trouble for pastors who were looking for a steady paycheck. “Gone are the days when a young man or woman can graduate from Bible school or seminary and find a great church to go work for,” which may be an overstatement. “We were sold a bill of goods that if we could preach well, organize staff, and run weekend programs, we would be honored, respected, followed, and provided for. But none of that is true.”

Halter isn’t alarmed by this trend. In fact, believes “the currents of change are helping to drift back toward His design for our lives and the church.” Halter helps us understand that going bi-vocational is not a second choice. The gospel isn’t hindered by economics, and we can live as the church at a much lower cost than we think. “Making disciples is easier and cheaper than keeping consumer Christians happy,” he argues. And it may lead pastors to greater freedom at a personal and financial level.

Halter tells his own story. He then moves to Scripture, reminding us that we can’t serve God and money, and arguing that cheap church is biblical. He weaves his own story into the text and his own convictions about ministry. He provides very practical advice on how to thrive doing bi-vocational ministry. “If you’re going to try to do this,” he says, “you shouldn’t do it unless you plan to live both lives well.” It takes a lot of intentionality, and it’s not for everyone.

I really appreciate that Halter doesn’t judge those who are in full-time vocational ministry. He also emphasizes that bi-vocational ministry isn’t the goal; it’s a means to the goal. By the end of the book, I was convinced that he’s on to something. We need to consider this as a model of ministry.

Hugh Halter may be too radical for some of you. So may David Fitch, who wrote a good post a few years back called STOP FUNDING CHURCH PLANTS and Start Funding Missionaries: A Plea to Denominations. But perhaps we need to start paying attention. As J.D. Payne says, “We must shift from church planting methods that are difficult to reproduce to methods that are highly reproducible…With over four billion people in the world without Jesus, it is not wise to use methods that are counter-productive to healthy, rapid multiplication.”

Is bi-vocational ministry the way forward? Not for everyone. But if we are to come up with reproducible models of ministry to reach the billions who have never heard, it’s an option that is worth some serious thought.

You can pick up a copy of the book at the Missio Publishing website.

You Can't Quit This

I told someone the other day that I'm discouraged as a church planter less than 10% of the time, which, it turns out, isn't a bad ratio. But sometimes in that 10% or less I'm tempted to quit and try something easier. Who needs to work at something hard?

I try hard not to read 2 Timothy 2 or many similar passages when I'm this discouraged!

Usually, reality begins to hit me.

Church planting is not a job.

I can quit this, but there is no quitting living a life of sacrifice and service for Jesus.

Missional living is not a job.

Disciple making is not a job.

Honestly, I can quit and do something else, but there is no quitting what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It's the calling of every disciple. I do plan on quitting one day when I hear the "Well done, good and faithful servant," but until that day there's no quitting, even if I do one day stop being a church planter.

The Wait, the Work, and the Reward

I've been thinking lately about two passages that are shaping my expectations as a church planter. The first one, surprisingly, is from Leviticus. The second one is from 2 Timothy. Both are teaching me about God's timing in life and ministry, and the promise of reward if we work hard and wait.

The Five-Year Wait for Fruit

Leviticus 19:23-25 says:

When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:23-25)

In Israel, planting a tree was a five-year investment. Trees don't produce fruit right away. Even when the tree produced fruit, the first year's fruit was offered to God. If you planted, cultivated, and waited, eventually you would taste of the fruit, but only after the hard work and the long wait.

Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but I'm reflecting on how I would have struggled to wait that long. But waiting time isn't wasted time when you're planting trees or planting churches. If we're patient, we'll eventually get to eat of that fruit.

The Hardworking Farmer

Paul says a similar thing in 2 Timothy 2:6: “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

I don’t know a lot about farming, but Kent Hughes says this:

Farming is hard work today, and it was especially hard in the first century. The farmer’s life involved:

  1. early and long hours because he could not afford to lose time;
  2. constant toil (plowing, sowing, tending, weeding, reaping, storing);
  3. regular disappointments—frosts, pests, and disease;
  4. much patience—everything happened at less than slow motion; and
  5. boredom.

Sign me up! This, Paul says, is a good picture of what ministry looks like.

The Reward

In both passages, after the hard work and the wait, the reward is promised. "But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you..." "“It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”

Why would I be less patient than an arborist or a farmer? Why wouldn't I work as hard? Why wouldn't I set hard work, unpredictable results, and patience as part of the package? And why wouldn't I expect the reward that comes at the end?

I promise you the reward at the end will be worth it.