Sunday, March 28

Church planting is messy

Church planting is messy because people are messy. Four nights of every week are spent training four different groups of church planters. All are in various stages with their newly forming house church groups. Anyone engaged in church planting will quickly find they are up against some messy situations.

We usually approach the tough messy questions from three angles. I admit to having used the first two, but believe the third is the best.

1) The urge is often to run to my library of heavily marked writings and see what David Watson, Neil Cole, Curtis Sergeant, Wolfgang Simson, Tony and Felicity Dale, Steve Atkerson, George Patterson or Frank Viola have to say about the matter. After all, they are the CP experts, right?

While I have greatly benefited from the writings and teachings of these, I have learned that each case is fairly unique to the particular situation. Therefore there are few copy-and-paste answers that work neatly every time.

2) A second solution is to come up with a string of related Bible verses. Sew these together into a logical argument, and voila! you have a Biblical answer taken straight from God's Word. Most times this approach will be accepted because no one wants to be seen as questioning God's Word. But is this an accurate way of handling Scripture and answering people's real life questions?

While I admit that we have used both of the above ways to answer problem situations, I'll save the third approach until after describing some of the kinds of issues and questions we deal with on a weekly basis.

What follows are just some of the dozens of practical questions we dealt with in last week's training times.
  • When we had the Lord's Supper this week as a meal, like you said was the NT practice, we had mostly non-believers present. We felt bad leaving them out of the meal so we invited them to share with us. Did we sin?
  • We have eight people ready for baptism in our house church. When I shared this with my pastor he told me I had done a good job, and that the church was planning a baptism service for late May. Since we were taught in the training that it is the responsibility of disciples to baptize ASAP those they win to the Lord, I asked him if it would be all right for me to baptize them myself now? He said no. The church would get into trouble with the denomination if he allowed such a thing without proper credentials of the one baptizing. So brother Guy, "What do I do? Obey my pastor like Hebrews 13:17 tells me (in the most widely accepted Spanish translation 13:17 literally says, 'obey your pastors and be subject to them')? Or do I do what I think is the Biblical mandate for disciples to baptize their disciples? Who do I disobey? If I choose to disobey my pastor, there will be serious consequences for me and my family in the church."
  • In one of the most exciting new church plants, it was revealed this past week to be led by a brother who has destroyed the last two churches he started due to his immorality. With the training received from us, this brother has now started a third church. This week we were confidentially made aware of the situation. While the brother seems repentant for his past sins, do we allow him to continue with the new church plant? Who decides what should be done in these situations? Are we who have been invited to train some kind of authoritative ruling body to decide these kinds of issues? What will this do to their faith once the ugly truth comes out? Who will take over the new group and continue the work with them?
  • If the Bible speaks of bread and wine as being the two symbolic elements of the Lord's Supper, why do we substitute the Biblical wine for grape GatorAide, grape Kool-Aide, grape juice, grape soda (all very common practices in evangelical churches here)? If we can substitute anything purple in color for the Biblical wine, what is to keep us from doing the same thing with the bread? Can rice or cookies be substituted for the bread, and mora juice (black berry) if we don't have wine and unleavened bread?
I bet you are curious as to how we answered each of the above! How would you have responded? With quotes from church planting experts? Or with sewn together "proof texts" taken from related Biblical passages? None of the above were hypothetical mind exercises. They are real questions from real situations that came out of last week's training sessions.

So what is the third way we approach matters in giving answers to these kinds of questions?

3) Rely on the Holy Spirit for his wisdom and guidance into all truth. He is the author of truth. For dozens of years I have read His Word, and read countless books on subjects related to God's Word. The Spirit living within brings to mind all this stored knowledge and experience. When asked these kinds of questions, I trust the Holy Spirit to speak through me and answer in a way that brings Glory to God and honors His Word.

Some questions are pretty straight forward as revealed in Scripture. For those situations, it is a matter of speaking the truth in love. But for most of the situations we encounter that aren't clearly addressed in the Bible--such as the above kinds of questions--we must be careful to not just tie together a bunch of Scriptures from Proverbs, Luke, and Acts and make them say what we think should be said. I can certainly do this. I know God's Word. But this approach to Scripture has been extremely harmful to the Body of Christ in my opinion, and has gotten us into more tangled messes than even the original problems.

Will you pray for us that the Lord would give us much wisdom and humility in all these matters? We simply don't have the perfect answers for all the questions that get sent our way. But I do believe we have the Holy Spirit who was given to us by Jesus to help lead and guide us into all truth.

What do you think about all these matters? How do you go about answering the tough and messy questions that arise from your own ministry and church planting?

10 comments:

Creitz said...

I agree for the most part and I appreciate that you don't just listen to what others say to do but rely on the Spirit. However, I couldn't let it go because I believe God's Word is His source for guidance and though we don't want to go searching for verses as prooftexts to substantiate our own ideas, it is important to trust God's Word and rely heavily on it.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you are doing #3 (on your list), then God's Spirit will send you to #2 and He will confirm what is already contained in His Word. I'm not really disagreeing with you, just saying that I would maybe lump 2 and 3 together on your list and then consult some of #1 once I already have an idea of where God is leading.

Hope that makes sense. I'm not trying to be argumentative, just trying to make conversation. Thanks for your post!

GuyMuse said...

Creitz,

Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. For me, the danger in #2 is that one can prove just about anything they want by linking together a series of verses taken out of their original context. That is how we got into so many of the extra-biblical traditions we now have in churches. By extra-biblical I do not mean to imply they are wrong or sinful, just that we have gone beyond what Scripture actually teaches about things. We soon think the "tradition" is what the Bible teaches. I do hear what you are saying and agree that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are completely in harmony with one another. But it is when we get in the middle of the two and try to make the Word say what it is we want it to say that we get into trouble.

Stephen M. Young II said...

Three angles...

1) I'm very familiar with George Patterson, David Watson. I've read some blog stuff from Viola and Dale, but not enough to feel like I know their ministry personalities. I thought I'd heard of Wolfgang Simson, but realized I confused the name with Victor Choudhrie. (I think referring to the experts is something we ought to do, after we have first wrestled out the issue for ourselves, not before.)

2) The string of related Bible verses solution almost sounds like a straw man here. I would go with narratives rather than precepts. Still hard to find an exact fit, but at least it isn't smoke and mirrors.

3) I agree, the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. Even Jesus, though, often began his Holy Spirit filled teachings with phrases like "It is written in the Prophets" We must be diligent to find our answer there. (not pretend to find it and give our own answer, but really look together as a group and find it)


Não havendo bois, o celeiro fica limpo, mas pela força do boi há abundância de colheitas. Pv 14:4

Better to have messy barns and a full harvest.

I love your posts.

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

Thanks again for your comments. I highly recommend Simson's "Starfish Manifesto" and "Houses that Change the World". We are using a Spanish translation of "Houses..." in our trainings and helps to fill in the gaps not covered by your teaching. "Starfish..." can be downloaded here.

What do you mean by I would go with narratives rather than precepts...? I am not disagreeing, just trying to understand what you are saying in the context that I share.

Stephen M. Young II said...

Guy, I think what I was trying to say about narratives instead of precepts is just that there is power and counsel in the stories of scripture, examples to follow and not to follow and struggles to watch as people decided whether to obey or disobey and how to do that.

Precepts and proof texts that are drawn out of, but separated from narrative don't have life and don't speak to the heart. They are just rules and suggestions.

While there may be no narratives or stories that speak directly to those issues, there are some parallels and by entering into the struggle recorded into the word of God we may be able to find a solution in the same spirit.

Peter and Cornelius and the church in Jerusalem could be a good example. The situation is not the same, but there is a moving of God, Salvation, and a struggle over what to do with the idea of Baptism in that context, and the fallout of having done it. There is the subsequent story of the Judiaizers as well. Struggle and fallout.

We can identify with their options and motives and the results of their choices much better than we can apply selected precepts.

There are examples of leaders who sin and church members who sinned, and those who caused division and churches who both accepted and rejected people. There is enough, I believe in the Word for the Holy Spirit to speak to us of what is right.

I think proof texting and precepts divorced from their narratives can be expedient, but are too easily abused if we are taught to look for precepts first, rather that commands to obey and examples to follow or not follow. Anyone with the gift of gab can smoke and mirror proof texts into anything.

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

Thank you for the clarification. I think you are on to something good, and hope to use it more often in the future. I guess the key would be to know what stories and narratives to share in a given situation. I appreciate you taking the time to elaborate on this for me.

Stephen M. Young II said...

Guy, have you done Bible storying for oral learners? This is what really opened me up. Once I started learning chapters and then books of the Bible by heart (I have a long way to go, still), I realized that I was no longer using the Bible as a reference book(as much) or a crutch.

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

While quite aware of Bible storying and the principles, we haven't used it much in our context in that most read to some degree.

David Kueker said...

I'm way too impatient and situations are often too critical to apply this solution,

but in my CPM training last August it was suggested that all questions proposed to a missionary could be answered by something like

"I'm not sure. Why don't we begin with Matthew 1:1 and read verse by verse through the entire New Testament together and see what it has to say about the matter?"

The idea was that by continually reading the entire New Testament, beginning with the words of Jesus, a spirit led consensus would develop over time among the indigenous people and they would be equipped by God's word to deal with the issue at hand.

I'm too impatient, but I wish I lived more in a world where I could do this with every believer. It certainly changed my perspective on my trying to be the "instant answer man" - a great weakness of mine.

GuyMuse said...

David,

I guess that would be yet another solution, albeit a much longer and drawn out one! What I am referring to are questions arising from our training of situations arising from new church starts.