Church Planting Movements Reviewed

Hi everyone. It has been a long time since I’ve posted a book review. Our move to Nashville has sidetracked a lot of how I’ve spent my time previously but I’m hoping to get into a little groove and get some posts out here.

This review is on Church Planting Movements by David Garrison, a 15-year old book that describes several explosive (in a good way) waves of missionary activity where hundreds of churches were planted among some of the least reached people in the world. The book has its rabid advocates and cautious detractors so I felt like taking my own walk through its pages made a lot of sense.

I’ll just say up front that I liked the book and am glad I read it. That isn’t to say that I found everything in the book compelling or motivating, but it is a book that should be read by more people from the more conservative evangelical circles. A review by someone smarter and much better known can be found here. The book is divided into two basic sections: a descriptions of these incredible movements of people turning to Jesus Christ in various regions and then a discussion about the conditions present in each of those locations. Garrison calls these situations “church planting movements” “rapid and multiplicative increases of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.”

There are lots of wonderful quotes from world (non-American) church leaders that alone make the book worth reading. Some of the direct and indirect quotes I found most compelling:

  • By contrast, our descriptive analysis reveals that God has chosen to launch most Church Planting Movements among the least likely candidates – unreached people groups, which have often been dismissed by those looking for responsive harvest fields. (loc 315)
  • Conventional wisdom in the West has often taught a reasonable yet much less effective pattern of gospel transmission. “You must first earn the right to share your faith,” goes the traditional model. “Once you have developed a friendship and demonstrated that you are really different, your lost friend will ask you what is special about your life. Then, you can tell them about Jesus.” A passionate purveyor of Church Planting Movements denounced this Western model. “We teach that it’s not about you or earning the right to share your faith. Jesus earned that right when He died on the cross for us. Then he commanded us to tell others!” (loc 2701)
  • “Pol Pot nearly destroyed the church,” she said. “All the while he was ruining the country, though, Christians were ministering to Cambodian refugees in camps along the Thai border. I do believe that the Christian ministry during that time helped prepare their hearts for what is happening now.’ (loc 969)
  • In speaking of how displaced and outcast peoples respond to the gospel, “Unfortunately the opposite is also true. Great social stability tends to lull people into a false sense of security. They forget that life is short and that one must prepare for eternity. This creates an obstacle for affluent Western Europe, Japan, and the United States where unparalleled economic health has fostered unparalleled spiritual malaise.” (loc 3563)

The book begs traditional western Christians to think of missionary activity differently. Rather than thinking of setting up churches that look a lot like they do in culturally Christian contexts, Garrison advocates using house churches of 10 – 20 new believers led by lay leaders. The shift in the goal has massive implications on church leader training, expectations of members, and exponential reach of a network of 20 churches of 10 people in different locations rather than one 200 person church led by a paid pastor. I will do a separate blog post on the practical ramifications of this approach as I see them based on our ministry experience.

I think my biggest takeaway from the book is that God has done some pretty amazing things with the expansion of his kingdom in the last 20 years or so. Almost none of them have been inside North America, so unless you’re reading books like this you would never know about them. It’s easy to look at the collapse of cultural Christianity around us and feel like maybe God is on vacation, but the many accounts (verified by independent sources) covered in this book put that idea to bed quickly. We just need to open our eyes beyond the Americas to see it.

Another key takeaway from the book is the way it documents what is common, or tends to be common, among all these totally unrelated movements. This is at one time a core strength of the book and one of its weaknesses. While Garrison does caveat his “findings” somewhat, much of what is presented in the book is more sociology than theology. It describes things that occurred in a 15 year period and looked for commonalities. It did not primarily look to the Scriptures to evaluate what was going on theologically. That’s fine provided we all recognize that. Unfortunately, the successes seen in these movements have been interpreted by some as evidence that the common elements active there are universally true of all peoples and all times and I don’t think we can take things that far.

Then there are some pretty goofy things in the book as well but these are easy to overlook. It’s obvious that 2 Tim 3:5 is not a licence to ignore existing local churches that have a different missiology as Garrison tries to claim (Loc 3990). According to Romans 8:1-8, it is not theologically possible for people in a church planting movement to “often begin serving Christ even before they become his follower.” (loc 3700) It is borderline ridiculous to claim that the caution used by traditional churches in assigning leadership roles to newer believers makes them bored enough to leave the faith (loc 3693). Most of these real problems are confined to one section of the book and were easy to overlook for me.

Overall I think it is a book worth reading. Feel free to question the valuing of rapidity over stability, how theologically astute church leaders can become under these conditions, or whether error will easily creep into this kind of movement. But please do it from a position that honors the ways these brothers are more theologically correct than many traditional churches. Sentimental pats on the head while arguing they have nothing right and are all headed to ruin is not loving but also not right. Those like Garrison arguing for rapid multiplication of churches have more theologically correct views on the urgency of the missionary task, the priesthood of believers, the power of God, and in many cases the way the gospel is supposed to triumph over culture (especially American academic loving culture).

Tips for a Pastor Job Description

Many of my readers know our family is in the process of figuring out what God may have next for us following the necessity of closing down Living Stones Church late last year. This has involved scouring job openings seemingly relentlessly. While some of these are extremely well written and likely to produce high quality matches between churches and candidates, many (if not most) are almost comical to read.

It turns out there is a secret manual for writing pastor search postings, and I’ve located a portion of it. I probably should not share it on the internet, but I’ve decided it’s the best way to get the word out on this valuable resource. Please forgive my breach of confidentiality of this classified information, but if anyone else has found additional pages in this manual please be certain to share them here.

Tips for effective job postings:

  • When discussing qualifications, your goal is to strike a balance of having high expectations for the role but low expectations for compensation. Do this by asking for the moon, then saying you want someone with 2 – 5 years of experience. Of course anyone who has actually accomplished everything you want will have far more experience, so you will hire them on the cheap.
  • It is hard to be honest about the crumbs you are willing to pay someone who has spent years preparing for this role. If you believe it must be done, give unrealistically low pay ranges that candidates will dismiss quickly. They do not need to believe that you are seriously planning to pay less than Walmart until they are far down the line with your church and have told other potential churches that they are no longer interested.
  • Sometimes it is helpful to be intentionally vague. In the “description” section just say “regular duties of a senior pastor” or “normal things for a youth minister.” This lets you play the candidate’s experiences against them because what is normal to you is much more work than what they consider normal.
  • If you know you will not hire a Calvinist or an Arminian based on the church history and culture, be certain to avoid mentioning that. It is much better to have those people who are clearly wrong in their theology waste their time and energy and hope on your church than to simply be honest from the start.
  • It is important to send the message that the pastor will not be someone you will lovingly follow, but rather someone you will oppressively direct. Make sure that it is clear that any time he is away from the church building for more than 24 hours you have no less than seven means of contacting him at any time of day. But as a word of caution, be careful that you do not write the job description as if you are recruiting a slave. Indentured servant is the tone you want.
  • Sometimes it is very useful to combine several extremely fuzzy expectations into one sentence to make it seem like you are more precise than you really are. Saying something like “Be an ordained preacher able to preach a sermon in the time allotted, be well grounded in the scriptures and able to care for the congregation.” is good because you cover a lot of ground without actually communicating a single expectation.
  • Make sure you have the candidate submit more information than the Secret Service would require to spend a week alone with the President on an isolated island. Never mind that you will never have time to read all this information from the 50 people who will apply. If they are not more serious about finding a role than you are about filling yours then it shows they are not hungry.
  • Remember to ignore labor laws as much as possible and ask questions that would be illegal in any other role. Find out about family problems early as a way to eliminate potential issues that might make you care for your new pastor as a fellow brother or sister. This will limit the pool of candidates to those who you can force to dote on you as an influential member of the congregation.

Quick Tips on School Shooting Debate

With all the talk currently going on about last week’s school shooting in Florida, I think it’s important for Christians to use the Scriptures and the truth to inform our points of view. In my admittedly limited experience professing Christians sound a lot like the NRA when discussing this topic rather than Jesus followers. My goal in writing this post is simply to lay down some ideas for us Christians to consider to help us approach this topic redemptively rather than politically. They are as much a reminder for me as they are for anyone else who reads them.

In terms of a factual article covering the nuance and challenges of this debate and its solutions, I commend Ari Schulman’s work here.

Tips for the Christian:

  • Remember that people on all sides of this issue are probably partially right and partially wrong. This side of heaven we will not be 100% right on much of anything so approach this topic with humility.
  • Ask yourself whether your passion on this issue is matched by your passion for reaching lost people (Luke 19:10) and serving others (Mark 10:45). If not, it is probably time for some repentance.
  • Most people are coming to this issue out of anger or fear, not reason. While statistics should absolutely inform the debate, we need to try to use them sparingly and in context.  Using stats from neutral sources can lovingly paint a more accurate picture of the situation that invites further conversation.
  • The 2nd amendment is not God. God is God. While the right to keep and bear arms was important enough for the founding fathers to put ahead of critical things like unreasonable search and seizure or cruel and unusual punishment, let’s not cling to it as if we owe it our loyalty.
  • This issue has a lot of similarities to the arguments around systemic racism. One side prefers to look at specific instances, and the other side likes to only talk about the big picture. Explaining why a particular new approach would not have stopped a particular mass shooting does not prefer others in honor (Rom 12:10) if they are expressing concerns over the big picture trajectory of the issue.

Charitably engaging people with different views on gun control can open the door to discussing truths about sin, brokenness, redemption, and hope.

  • Spend as much time reading the opinions of those who likely disagree with you as you spend finding information supporting the position you currently hold.
  • Understand that within the church there are different points of view on this topic. Loving your brothers and sisters in Christ means making an effort to understand how they arrived at different conclusions than you have.
  • Charitably engaging people with different views on gun control can open the door to discussing truths about sin, brokenness, redemption, and hope.
  • It may be time to listen for some logical inconsistencies in the NRA’s talking points. If we think background checks are wise in 90% of gun sales, what is so special about the other 10%? If someone is old enough to serve in the military but never has, does that really mean they should be able to buy para-military style weapons? Certainly develop a rationale to support these ideas but don’t assume NRA talking points are sufficient to persuade anyone who isn’t already in their camp. They haven’t yet.
  • We owe those with whom we interact on this topic the honor of thinking through the best arguments for their point of view. We should be able to articulate their concerns as well as they do. Would armed security officers really make a difference? (It didn’t last week.) Are AR15s going to hold back a tyrannical government with tanks and fighter planes? We can refute arguments without being dismissive or condescending. Keep in mind that Jesus often cited his opponents’ positions while exposing their errors. (e.g. Luke 4:23-27, Matt 15:5, etc.)
  • It’s important to appreciate the good intentions and fair logic of those who take a more liberal view on the issue of guns. Christians should be the first to commend the commendable. Paul said he became all things to all men in order that he might win some, and part of that means that we are the ones who are expected to change.
  • Consider whether a tweet or FB meme about this topic oversimplifies the it or shuts down dialogue rather than encourage it.

Public policy matters, and we should not give in on what we believe the right public policy is for the sake of being nice to people who may disagree with us. That is peace-faking, not peacemaking. But we should always keep the main thing the main thing, and that isn’t gun control. It is seeing broken people whose hope is in something other than Jesus see their need for Him and put their trust in Him.