A few years back, I began planting a church in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. We all know the reputation that the PNW is one of the most unchurched places in America, but I was not concerned because at the time I had already been living there for eight years. I knew the people. I knew the culture. And I knew what it took to be a pastor in a hostile place… or so I thought.
I was living South of Seattle near the Tacoma area of Washington. The church I planted was only 15 miles from the church where I had been a pastor for 8 years. The city I was planting in was smaller, but I grew up in a small town and so I felt confident I was ready… well, almost ready.
Ultimately, I found success with my church plant, but only after a lot of growing pains.
The first lesson I learned is that when it comes to culture, proximity does not breed likeness. The Pacific Northwest is one of the most difficult places to plant a church because the culture is so fractured and fragmented from place to place. It is hard to find anyone in the PNW that was born and raised there, so instead what you find is enclaves of subcultures that represent a variety of interests.
This leads to the second lesson I learned; don’t plant until you have proof you can work the soil. My mom loves to garden, but growing a garden in Pennsylvania, where I grew up, is not the same as growing a garden in Oklahoma where she now lives. There are different plants with different needs, and while some basics are constant, like water and sunlight, it takes a lot of knowledge to successfully garden in diverse environments.
If you want to successfully plant in hostile places:
Plant in a place where you have first lived and worked.
Plant in a place where you have a proven track record of success in reaching the lost.
What have you learned about planting in hostile places?
This is our final week before Pentecost. I am asking my church family to fast and pray with me starting tonight at Sunset through Wednesday Sunset. We will use this time of prayer and fasting to ask the Holy Spirit to give us direction. We are asking for direction in our personal life and in how we are called to serve the church. The following devotional from Bill Bright talks about fasting and gives some Scripture references for further study.
In more than fifty-four years of walking with Christ, the greatest discovery I have made to encourage revival and accelerate the Great Commission is fasting with prayer. In fact, our Lord Jesus Christ did not begin His earthly ministry until He had fasted and prayed for forty days. Further, in the Great Commission He instructed His disciples to “teach what I taught you.” True believers who look to Jesus as their model and mentor will want to follow His example of an extended fast before beginning their ministry.
These are troubling times. The newspaper, evening news, and even events in our neighborhoods help us realize our desperate state as a people and a nation. Television portrays lust, greed, violence, and many other sins in an alluring way. Crime, immorality, economic disasters, and a loss of faith are rampant everywhere. We face corruption in government, business, the media, and even the church. Only God has the answer to sin and rebellion. His holy Word, the Bible, gives us hope for the future.
This hope involves a spiritual renewal. Many times in the past, fasting with prayer has been the key for releasing God’s power on a personal and national scale. Centuries ago, a young woman faced a desperate situation in her country. The king had passed a law that decreed death for her friends and relatives. In fact, her entire race was threatened. That young woman was Esther, queen of Media-Persia.
God had miraculously raised Esther from an obscure life as a Jewish orphan to her position as queen of the most powerful ruler of that time. Yet she did not have free access to the one person who could help, her husband, the king. If she came before him uninvited, she risked her life.
The clock was ticking; time was running out. What could Esther do? Esther called the Jewish people to prayer and fasting. Esther 4:16 records her words:
“Go and gather together all the Jews of Shushan and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day; and I and my maids will do the same; and then, though it is strictly forbidden, I will go in to see the king; and if I perish, I perish” (TLB).
As Esther approached the king, he held out his royal scepter to her—she would not be put to death for entering his presence without an invitation. Esther soon asked the king for the life of her people, and he granted her request. Because of her courage and the fasting and prayer undertaken by the Jews, Queen Esther’s people were saved.
Although our nation is not facing the same threat that Esther’s people faced, we are in a battle for the heart and soul of our country. Our problem is a moral, ethical, and spiritual catastrophe that affects believers and nonbelievers alike. This fact deeply concerns me. For more than fifty years, I have prayed for revival for our nation and its people. The need for revival is even more urgent today. Our society has an appetite for immorality and corruption that seems insatiable.
In 1994, I began experiencing a growing awareness of the moral and spiritual decadence of our country and felt deeply burdened over America’s rapidly disintegrating values. I was gripped with an increasing sense of urgency to call upon God to send revival to our beloved country. I had a growing conviction that God wanted me to fast and pray for forty days for a revival in America and for the fulfillment of the Great Commission, given by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 20:18–20.
At first I questioned God’s call. Forty days is a long time to go without solid food, and I was sure fasting would not be the most pleasant experience of my life. Yet over a period of several months, God’s call grew stronger and more clear. Finally, I was convinced: I was to seek God’s face through fasting for forty days. That fast was truly the most wonderful, life-changing forty days of my life. Since 1994, God has led me to fast at least forty days each year with remarkable blessing.
You may wonder why so long a fast. I believe this was a sovereign call of God because of the magnitude of America’s sins and the sins of the Church. The Lord also impressed upon me the great need to help accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation.
Fasting with prayer is the only spiritual discipline that meets all the conditions of 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Through earnest fasting, we humble ourselves and seek God’s face, which ultimately produces repentance and spiritual renewal. That opens the way for God to bless us.
With great anticipation, I began my first forty-day fast on July 5, 1994. During the fast, I was reading 2 Chronicles chapters 29–31 when God’s holy Word spoke to my heart in a most unusual way. As you may recall, Hezekiah invited the Israelites to join him in celebrating the reopening of the temple. As I read that passage, God impressed upon me to invite several hundred of our country’s influential Christian leaders to join me in Orlando, Florida, for a time of fasting and prayer.
More than six hundred Christian leaders, representing more than a hundred denominations and religious organizations, gathered in Orlando from December 5–7, 1994. Never in the history of our great country had leaders from so many different denominations and Christian organizations come together to fast and pray, to cry out to God for a mighty awakening for our country, to beseech the Lord to visit us from heaven with miracle-working power so that we may once again be a “nation under God.”
During that time, God met with us in a supernatural way. In light of what God did for me and all who attended, this was the most world-changing event that most of us have ever experienced. From that event sprang an annual Fasting and Prayer Gathering.
Fasting and prayer help us focus on God’s will for our personal concerns. Kay Arthur of Precepts Ministries explains how fasting can affect each one of us: “Fasting shows the seriousness of our commitment. When we step into fasting, we say, ‘God, You’ve got to move. You’ve got to do it.’” And it is only as you and I join with millions of others in renewing our commitment to God, humbling ourselves before Him, that He will begin to change our country.
That brings us to our 5 Steps study. Perhaps you or your group members are concerned about personal issues in your lives. Fasting and prayer are powerful tools to seek God’s will for these matters. As you will see through several real-life examples, fasting and prayer can touch the most private and intimate parts of our lives.
Perhaps you have deep personal burdens or concerns for your community or our country. Once again, fasting with prayer is a spiritual discipline that allows us to intercede in a mighty way for our city, state, nation, and world.
Ultimately, we experience personal revival when we surrender our lives totally, completely, and irrevocably to our Lord Jesus Christ. He is revival! We have Christ and He has us. We are filled with His Holy Spirit and true revival results.
As we approach the new millennium, I believe that God is raising up an army totally surrendered to our Lord Jesus Christ—an army that knows how to fight on its knees. I invite you to join with me in seeking God’s face in a new and fresh way. Together, we can change our world for Christ!
Bill Bright, 5 Steps to Fasting and Prayer : Leader’s Guide (Orlando, FL: NewLife Publications, 1998), 5-8.
This Sunday, as you gather together with your church, pray for each person, lay on hands, and commission them for God’s service. As you plug into your own church family, receive their blessing for God’s call upon your life.
On this LIVE edition Tony Marino and Pastors +Brian Whiteside, +Michael Duncan, and Dr. +Jeff Klick “The Perfect Disciple?” We team God’s Word with our latest book, “The Discipling Church.” Guest Panelists: +J.R. Miller (Dr. Joe Miller), +Jason Velotta, +Lyn Smith, +Tim Young, +Ed Hook, and +Shawn Savage (Shawn & Caroline Savage).
As the show progressed, here are a few thoughts that stuck out to me on Matthew 5:48
My translation, “Stand up and be made perfectly-whole just as the heavenly father is perfectly-whole.”
– The Greek word for “perfect” refers to wholeness as opposed to error free.
– The Greek verb for “be” is in the Future, Middle, Imperative 2nd Person Plural. What doe sthat mean?
– Verb: An action
– Future: Fulfilled in the future
– Middle: Perfection is being accomplished on its own by the work of the Father
– Indicative: This perfection really happening and possible
– 2nd Person Plural: Each individual must take action, but our action is also through a community.
What should we do if we hope to live in perfect-completeness like our Heavenly Father?
– Being perfectly-whole is not about avoiding “sin” it is about living in righteousness.
– Being perfectly-whole is not about inaction (stuff I don’t do} it is about the actions that I take.
– Being perfectly-whole means loving our enemies.
– Being perfectly-whole means caring for the needs of those who suffer (the widow, the poor, the orphan, etc…)
Church planting is full of risks and challenges. My own experience in church planting illustrates a significant, and all too common, problem; a high rate of turnover in the core team creates instability that can severely retard growth, reduce momentum, and potentially shut-down a young church. Within the first year of planting, many groups report that on average 80% of the core team will leave a young church. While some dispute the actual percentage of turnover, experience among church planters supports the premise that the untimely dissolution of the core team leaves church planters without qualified second-generation leaders to perform necessary tasks.
I began building my first core team to help plant Reunion Church in Orting, Washington during the fall of 2006. This early core team was an eclectic group with a diversity of church backgrounds and varying degrees of spiritual maturity. The team members were loosely connected to one another, but their primary connection was a relationship to me and my family. At the time it was felt that these bonds of friendship would enable my core team to stand firm through the difficulties of planting and buck the trends of turnover so prevalent in other church plants. While the Reunion Church core team did last longer than some, within two years, I had lost 80% of the original core team. The core team members who left the church plant never passed on their leadership roles and as a consequence, Reunion Church was left floundering; trying to incorporate a second-generation “core team” to help the church move forward.
Core leadership abandonment in the nascent stage of church planting creates two significant problems. The first problem is the increased risk to future church plants. A church plant that does not adequately address the premature exodus of its leadership leaves the church at a higher risk of failure. Additionally, when a church plant fails to take root, it leaves discouraged church planters, emotionally abandoned members and mistrust in the community toward future church plants. A failure of a church plant can also create disillusioned partner churches, along with denominational leaders who are left to justify the financial investment in a failed venture.
The second problem created by early leadership abandonment of the church plant is the loss of future leaders. Equipping church planters to build strong teams who can draw in new members from the surrounding community is crucial for the future of the Church in North America. We cannot build core teams with the expectation that they will be there forever. For a variety of reasons, good and bad, a substantial part of the original core team will eventually leave the church. The solution is to build a core team that will reproduce a second-generation leadership.
My story is similar to thousands of other church planters around the country and the lessons I learned inspired me to do a better job of building core teams that reproduce second generation leaders for the church. In the midst of planting my church, I pursued my doctoral studies. In the past few years, I surveyed dozens of leaders across the country. I found eleven key components to building a core team that can in turn develop second-generation leaders.
Here is a brief summary of each component.
Personal Faith in Jesus: The initial core-team needs to have an existing relationship with God.
Teachable in Methods: Every church plant is unique, so members of the team must have an openness to learning new and different methods to achieve ministy goals.
Demonstrates Maturing Faith: Not every member has to be a life-long follower of God, but they do need to show a history of maturity and a desire to grow stronger.
Evangelistic Deeds: Team members must have a track record of taking action to reach the lost with the love of Jesus.
Training Others in Ministry Teams: A willingness to work hard in the basic task of ministry and to train others in those tasks.
Engagement with Non-Church Community: Each member of the core teams needs to have preexisting involvement/relationships outside the church.
Empowered to Lead: Only core-team members who are empowered to lead will reproduce a second-generation leadership for the church.
Complimentary Gifts/Diversity within Team: Every team member must know and be empowered to use their unique strengths.
Evangelistic Words: Members of the team must demonstrate a history of inviting others to participate in the church.
Teachable in Evangelism: Show an openness to learning new methods and approches for reaching out to the lost.
Unity Around Vision: Members of the team must have a personal investment and passion for the vision of the church plant.
During my research of successful church planters, I found a strong correlation between the use of these eleven key components and the establishment of healthy teams for church planting. I am confident that any church planter who implements a training process incorporating these eleven key components will significantly increase the odds of successfully planting a church and building a generational leadership.
To fully engage the process of building healthy reproducing core teams, I would like to offer the following guidelines.
First utilize a “train-as-you-go” approach. These eleven key components are not transferable in a “classroom-only” approach. Each components must be demonstrated and taught through the daily process of planting a church.
Second, a successful leader will learn to couple preparation with reproducible action. You must prepare the right materials and tools for training and then combine them with an intentional set of actions that reinforce the practice of each key component.
Third, each of the eleven key components outlined above are established best when core teams members are empowered to take action and there is a decentralized leadership. This means that church planters must learn to train people who, in turn, are given the freedom to train other people. A restrictive, centralized power structure will hinder the proper development of a core team.
Finally, the corollary to the previous conclusions is the right use of “Divine-Neglect.” That is, the church planter must build a core team and allow the Holy Spirit to be the teacher, sustainer, and builder of the church. At times, establishing these elven key components requires that a planter pull back and allow the team to succeed or fail without his or her direct intervention in the process.
Far too much of our Faith in the West is focused on the individual. Faith, in large part, has become so “personalized” that it has ceased to have meaning for the community of Church. So how do we buck the trends of culture and build emotionally connected and spiritually strong teams? One key component is sharing a common devotional life. This book is a compilation of 52 meditations conceived in the midst of my own suffering and pleasure while building a team.
This is why the church as a fellowship in faith emphasizes the divine presence taking form in a new fabric of human relationships—a fellowship of people. This fellowship shares a corporate life. For example, Luke describes the early Christians as being of “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They even sold their possessions and lived in common, although, as the rebellion of Ananais and Sapphira illustrates, this original common community was difficult to administrate. Living together was not easy, and the principles of being the church together had to be learned as each member of the community submitted to the rule of Christ. But faith in the end was to overcome the boundaries that separated people, transcending racial, economic, and sexual differences. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). The character of the “fellowship in faith” is to be far different from the character of other communities.
The difference is rooted in a common slavery to Jesus Christ. The image of a slave, so often overlooked, is an image that Paul often used of himself in relation to other believers, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). A slavery to God immediately transforms relations on the horizontal level. No longer can one person “lord it” over another. All God’s people are equal before God and each other. For this reason the church is called the “family of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We all serve in God’s house under God’s authority. Thus, the church is a fellowship in faith, a corporate existence under God, a mutual slavery to each other.
The church as the realized experience of the “fellowship of faith” will break down our extreme individualism. Modern individualism is something different from a personal relationship with God in Christ. It is a form of Christianity that fails to understand the integral relationship that exists between the members of Christ’s body. We need to reflect on the teaching of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (A.D. 110), who wrote to the Ephesian church: “your accord and harmonious love is a hymn to Jesus Christ.” When the “fellowship in faith” is actualized, the church as a true fellowship makes Christianity real to the individual, as Ignatius indicated when he described the church “as a choir able to sing in unison and [with] one voice.” The mandate to break through the faÁade of individualism and create dynamic Christian relationships is demonstrated in this new fabric of human relations.
Consequently, the challenge of the church in the postmodern world is to recover community within the local church and the community of the entire church throughout history. We must learn that we are members of the whole church, the living and the dead, who constitute the fellowship in faith. Our calling is to deconstruct our sectarianism and to enter into dialogue with the whole church with the intent of recovering our relationship to the whole family of God—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. The more we experience the “fellowship in faith,” the more deeply we will experience the church as the body of Christ, a body that will attract and hold the postmodern seeker.
Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith : Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 79-81.
2 Corinthians 4:5-6
1 Peter 4:16-17
We, as followers f Jesus, are called to live in community and for community (church). If you really took this challenge seriously, how would it change the way you practice your faith on a daily and weekly basis? What do you need to give up? What do you need to embrace?