Invading Secular Space

Martin Robinson and Dwight Smith, Invading Secular Space: Strategies for Tomorrow’s Church. (Oxford, United Kingdom: San Francisco, California: Monarch Books, 2003) 224 pages.

Summary

Invading Secular space “begins with the missionary context of the church and moves towards a discussion of the nature and purpose of the church. Out of that flows an extended reflection on the nature of leadership and its intended outcomes. The final two chapters address both church planting and the consequent people movement that church planting on a significant scale hopefully produces.” (12) Robinson and Smith argue that Christians need to take their grace story into the communities in which they live. They must go out to the community instead of waiting for the community to come to them. The church must be focused on carrying out its mission in the world, not just in maintaining programs and existing structures. Leaders are primarily involved in releasing others to serve and helping them succeed. To further encourage leaders who can make a wide impact, the authors advocate establishing “Antioch” churches that offer resources to other local churches.

Table of Contents:

  • Forward
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Where Have All the People Gone?
  • Chapter 2: What on Earth is the Church For?
  • Chapter 3: Changing the Interaction
  • Chapter 4: Cheating History
  • Chapter 5: The Church and its Mission
  • Chapter 6: Changing the Paradigm
  • Chapter 7: Alone at the Top: the Creation of a Leadership Culture
  • Chapter 8: Leadership to Change the World
  • Chapter 9: Leadership and the Discipline of Multiplication
  • Chapter 10: Developing Missional Strategies
  • Chapter 11: Leading a Movement
  • Together in Mission

Forward

100 years ago, Roland Allen dreamed of a church that would spontaneously expand. Churches in the southern hemisphere realized Allen’s dream. Smith and Robinson are picking up where he left off. Many optimists feel the church in the West is capable of renewal and growth.

Preface

Both authors are passionate about church planting. Interest in church planting leads inevitably to questions about leadership, which leads to revisiting the purpose and nature of the church, which requires reflection on the present context of the western church and the mission field in which it is set. These explorations frame the structure of the book.

The enlightenment has divorced the sacred and the secular in the West. Christians must invade secular space with the sacred.

Chapter 1: Where Have All the People Gone?

Fundamental convictions

  1. The church is called to share the mission of God.
  2. The church continues to occupy a central position in the intention of God for his world.
  3. The western church is in deep crisis.
  4. The church is called to rediscover its life and witness.
  5. Remaking the church must be centered on its call to mission.
  6. The church has encountered radical challenges in the past.
  7. The church can be recast to meet current challenges. There have been other dark times in the history of the church and the church has remade itself to survive.

How serious are our problems today?

  • 20th century – the church declined in the West and grew in the rest of the world
  • 21st century – the great accomplishment will be the conversion of many parts of Asia
  • The church in China has seen tremendous growth and is one of the largest people movements in the history of Christian missions.
  • The church in Europe is in terrible shape (<1% Christian in Copenhagen; < 5% in Scandinavia).

Three reasons why church leaders are not asking what can reverse this trend:

  1. Financial institution – past forms of financial support bankroll the status quo.
  2. The gradual nature of the decline – this dulls the senses as to its seriousness.
  3. No one knows what to do about the problem. So many ideas have been tried and have failed that leaders are growing tired and don’t want to hear about new initiatives.

Three reasons why the American church is worse off than many realize:

  1. Christianity is gradually being confined to the margins of society – a subculture.
  2. It’s increasingly difficult to persuade under-30 folks to remain part of this subculture.
  3. American churches are programmatic and people are widely and increasingly suspicious of programs.

Two things we must do to reverse the trend:

  1. Rethink the core mission of the church
  2. Rethink the interaction between the church and the culture

We need a paradigm shift: move away from programs that pull people into sacred space and consider instead how to invade secular space.

Changing minds, changing church:

Modernists want a quick solution. But the decline of the western church is not a problem that lends itself to easy answers. The solution “has more to do with life and vision, with community and authentic lifestyle, than with techniques and methods alone.” (31)

The solution involves…

  1. Changing subliminal thinking.
    Every pastor’s secret question: “How do I grow my church?” should be replaced with a better question: “How can I ignite a movement ‘round here?” (31, 32)
  2. Abandoning the “collection and amusement” impulse.
    Stop seeing people as program participants. Start seeing them as activists to be trained and mobilized.
  3. Focusing on raw material for movement making.
    Not organizing gathering of Christians, but…
    • Helping people experience intimacy with God.
    • Helping them encounter the grace of God and speak about it to others.
    • Helping them discover their giftedness and their call.
    • Helping them live a life that speaks of Christ.
  4. Presuming God has gone ahead of you.
    There is very real and growing spiritual longing, even in the West. The Holy Spirit has been preparing the way.

Chapter 2: What on Earth is the Church For?

This is not an easy question to answer.

>> The authors say “in one sense it is not a biblical question” and add “not only did the first Christians not think about the church and what it was for, the Christian thinkers and leaders of the first few centuries hardly dealt with the question either.” (40) But what about Paul’s extensive discussions about how the church should be structured and led in the Pastoral Epistles?

As the church succeeded, Christians did begin considering the question of its own life and purpose. The issue of “lapsed” Christians who had renounced their faith during persecution focused this question.

The coming of “Christendom”

Christendom is a slippery term that points to a “particular relationship between state and church.” ()

The state submits to the powerful ideas in the church. The church submits to the physical power of the state.

The question of how the church should formally relate to the state didn’t come up until the time of Constantine. When Constantine issued the edict of Milan, which offered political toleration to Christians, the Church allowed Constantine to influence church affairs by…

  1. Intervening in various theological disputes (e.g. how to treat lapsed Christians).
  2. Supplying financial patronage.
  3. Writing letters advocating the cause of Christianity.
  4. Using the church to distribute government assistance (e.g. food distribution).

As the church grew in its social status, Christendom expanded, and the quality of converts declined.

Christendom probably ran from Constantine to the mid 1950’s in the US. It has existed for the greatest part of the life of the church in the West.

Life after Christendom has left the church demoralized and confused.

The effect of Christendom on mission

“The arrival of social status meant that mission was now something that the church performed as one of its many functions and not its sole activity.” (48)

The changing meaning of mission can be seen in 4 distinct forms of Christendom:

  1. Christendom in the Eastern Empire.
    The eastern part of Roman Empire existed as the Byzantine Empire long after Rome fell. The eastern church was identified very closely with the empire. Mission focused on the restoration of the whole universe, not just individual salvation.
  2. The early medieval period.
    After the Roman Empire was converted, attention turned to reaching the invading groups of people outside the empire. Irish monks preached to the ordinary people of Europe. They engaged in mission and the church is what was created. Roman Catholic missionaries sought the patronage of the nobility. Their mission was to establish a diocese – a fully formed church structure.
  3. The later medieval period.
    State and church became connected in a single civilization and worldview. The mission of the church becomes an attempt to thoroughly Christianize society. Renewal movements often came through the monastic orders.
  4. The post reformation period
    The reformers wanted church and state to work as partners to produce a Christian society, but the Anabaptists wanted to break the relationship and foster a brotherhood set apart from the world. The priesthood of all believers became and emphasis. Wesley and the evangelical revivalists taught the importance of a “crisis” experience. Evangelism becomes building up Christendom (strengthening the church at home) and mission seen primarily as taking the gospel to new lands. Both are programs of the church.
    >> The entrepreneurial, creative stuff happens in the field where there are few controls, and the programmatic, maintaining the status quo stuff happens at home.

Christendom no longer exists today. “The challenge for the church now is to stop thinking merely about methods to reverse decline but to reconsider the basic purpose and call of the church.” (56)

Chapter 3: Changing the Interaction

What would it take to make the church effective in its mission? It will require changing the way the church interacts with the culture.

“Over the last few decades, the culture (in the West) has influenced the church more than the church has influenced the culture.” (59) In other parts of the world, the church is influencing the culture.

“The single biggest factor in determining whether or not people come to church resides in what they think of church.” (60) If the church is well regarded, people will respond favorably to it. The early church enjoyed the “favor of the people.” (Acts 5:12-14)

Prior to Constantine, when there was no social advantage to being in the church, early Christians won the favor of neighbors through the miraculous, through loving Christian community, and through their concern for the poor.

The influence of the church on the culture was due to a complex variety of factors… not just being a “light on a hill.”

Evangelicals tend to look for a model in the revivals of Whitfield and Wesley, but decades after these revivals ended, Christian leaders of the time were pessimistic about the future of their nations. The numbers involved in the revivals were not as large as one might imagine and evangelicals remained on the margins of the society. “They were regarded as narrow-minded, bigoted, lacking in humor, devoid of imagination, incapable of understanding the real world, occupying a sub culture which normal people would not wish to enter.” (70, 71) The interaction between the evangelical movement and society still needed to change.

Changing the nature of the interaction:

The Clapham Sect and William Wilberforce: Wilberforce campaigned to abolish slavery and was dedicated to improving the lot of the poor. He understood the need to shift public sentiment by exposing the hypocrisy and cynicism of groups like the Hell Fire Club. Goodness needed to become fashionable. As this happened, the surrounding culture changed its view of the value of the church.

“Another way of thinking about the fundamental shift is to claim that the church formed by the revivals began to think primarily in terms of mission. That mission was directed towards winning individuals to faith but it was also sufficiently consumed with a vision of the kingdom that the transformation of society was just as important. The preoccupation of the church with mission caused the church to be shaped around mission and so to become an effective means of transforming both individuals and society as a genuine people movement. No one engaged in a campaign to abolish slavery in order to boost church attendance, yet paradoxically, by engaging first and foremost in mission, the fortunes of the church were transformed.” (73)

>> The early church did find favor with the people, but the good favor didn’t last. In fact, it was persecution that accelerated the expansion of the gospel.

Chapter 4: Cheating History

It’s not easy for denominations/ organizations to renew themselves. But it can happen.

The “fruits” or effects of revivals in Anglican, Baptist, and Congregationalist churches in the late 1700’s included:

  1. Ordinary individuals displaying strange behavior (e.g. jerking, barking, dancing, laughing at the Cane Ridge Revival).
  2. The creation of new denominations.
  3. The gradual renewal of historic denominations with more leaders being drawn from the ranks of evangelicals.
  4. Social engagement (e.g. Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect).
  5. The birth of the modern missionary movement.

Knowing what happened then, couldn’t this happen again today? There are two possible outcomes – the final death of Christianity or the church could see astonishing growth and take a new place in society. Here’s how the latter scenario could happen:

  1. The charismatic movement in late 60’s produced strange phenomena (e.g. speaking in tongues).
  2. This resulted in the creation of new denominations.
  3. This gradually renews historic denominations and draws leadership from evangelicals…
  4. …and spawns a “remarkable piece of social engagement” among evangelicals in the early 21st century that changes the way the church interacts with the culture.

What has happened so far…

  1. There are some signs of vigor in the western church.
  2. Some vital new denominations have been created.
  3. There is very little renewal happening in historic denominations.

What would it take to revitalize historic denominations?

  1. Church planting
  2. Intentional leadership development
    Writers and theologians in the charismatic movement note: “the church in the context of Christendom had over-identified ministry with the gifts of pastor and teacher and had tended to ignore the other gifts as necessary only in the initial birthing of the church.” (84) Training systems put together by these kinds of leaders then reinforce the propogation of this type of leader. “Training systems are designed to help people become better pastors and teachers.
    Has any theological or Bible college developed training to help people become better apostles prophets and evangelists?” (85)
    Our leadership training should also develop the gifts of apostle, prophet and evangelist. These gifts, when “working in concert, can have dynamic impact on the God awareness of a Christian community.” (86)
  3. Local coalitions
    This happens when Christian leaders join together to look strategically at the needs of a city and develop a plan that includes evangelistic engagement and social enterprise. These coalitions are often supported by prayer networks. A united witness like this is more likely to impact society. It also seems to release gifts and resources.

Chapter 5: The Church and its Mission

Every pastor is tempted to focus on maintaining tradition vs. returning the church to its original purpose.

Dwight Smith realized his church had become a platform on which he performed and attracted people from other churches. He realized, “just possibly, gathering people to sit and listen to somebody talk about the Bible was not the primary reason for the existence of the church, that more people, happy people, bigger budgets, more programs might not be the main reason for the church.” (92, 93)

Understanding and accomplishing the mission of the church

  1. The church fulfills God’s purpose for Israel – to be a light to the nations.
    • e.g. Jesus cleared the temple mainly because the money changing was occurring in the court of the Gentiles. Their actions excluded the very people that Israel was supposed to reach.
  2. The church exists for the mission of God in the whole world.
    • To proclaim the good news of the gospel.
    • To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.
    • To respond to human need by loving service.
      • >> I agree with these three.
    • To seek to transform unjust structures of society.
      • >> Was this an emphasis in Paul’s church planting? How much energy did he direct to changing human institutions and social structures?
    • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, to sustain and renew the life of the earth.
      • >> Not sure what this looks like in practice… stewardship of the environment?
  3. “Mission is not evaluated first and foremost by the growth of the church either in numbers or in power and influence, but primarily by the difference the church engaged in mission makes to the world.” (94)
    >> Early Christians reported numeric growth and thanked God for it. It may not be all, but it is part of how we evaluate the health of a group. “Difference the church… makes to the world” is vague. How do we measure this?

God’s purpose is mission; his means is the church. The church and its mission often get confused.

Misunderstanding metaphors for the church often leads to wrongly equating the church with its mission:

  1. A nation of fellow citizens (1 Cor 12:13; Gal. 3:28): The church is seen as a new nation that binds together people from many races and social classes whose home is in heaven. This metaphor has “all too often been usurped by themes of Christendom.” (95)
  2. A household or family (Rom. 8:15; 1 Tim. 3:15; Gal. 4:6): This is a flexible metaphor that speaks to a wider familial embrace, but churches have identified this instead with the static idea of a defined membership.
  3. A building (1 Peter 2:4): Jesus is the cornerstone and we are the living stones. But over the years, people have equated the church with a physical building.
  4. A temple (1 Cor 6:19): Initially this conveyed the idea that God’s primary residence was inside believers. But eventually, “the mysteries of the Eucharist, enhanced by liturgical form, and eventually given shape by buildings that could be thought of as temples of worship, replaced the more spontaneous forms of worship that predominated amongst the early converts.” (98)

Results: The mission of the church shifts to the church itself—maintaining and preserving the structures and programs of the church. “The world is asked to come and see, rather than the church going, living and telling in and through all of its normal daily activities and relationships.” (99)

The purpose of God: Principles from Ephesians 3:10-11 for keeping our concern focused on mission

  1. God has a single eternal purpose—his plan to reconcile a broken world back to himself through Christ. He has concerns for the poor, justice, helping the helpless, etc., but his central concern never changes.
  2. The church is God’s chosen instrument. Whatever we think about what different churches do, God still loves the church. It’s his vessel for accomplishing his purposes and we should all be part of it.
  3. Every person in the church is a unique, unrepeated and eternal part of God’s grace story. Good leaders equip and mobilize every individual in the church to serve – to carry out his/her purpose.
  4. God’s grace story reworks the universe for eternity. Acts of unexpected kindness break through hard hearts and change situations.

“It is when the church is able to mobilize the large majority of its membership such that these participants begin to see their lives as unique receivers and givers of grace that the church begins to take on the character of that which it has been called by God to be.” (105)

Chapter 6: Changing the Paradigm

“What would the church look like if the church really did live out the grace stories of its members?” (107)

Changing our paradigm is very difficult to do. We need to go from left to right:

The Old Paradigm Early Paradigm The New Paradigm
Centered on the minister (pastor/teachers). Roland Allen. Ministry teams…
One building. A church with a mobilized laity. Operating in a variety of bases…
One parish. The three-self concept (self-governing, self-financing, self-reproducing). Incarnated in a network of communities.
The church seen as an organization/institution.   A movement (not an institution).
The church is the focus of our concern/activity.   Infectious spirituality that invades secular space (vs. inviting people into sacred space).
Success measured by growth    
The strategy is to bring people to church.    
Commitment to Jesus is needed because it is required to be a member of the church.    

We need more than new structures to make this shift. “Before we talk of new structures it is vital to talk of the underpinning life which must be present if we are to prevent creative initiatives from becoming undermined by the paradigms of the past.” (110)

1. Personal transformation

Focus on developing disciples with their own internal motivation. It’s not enough to inspire them. Enthusiasm doesn’t last. Lively worship is not enough to sustain personal transformation. “The worship experience functions as a substitute for a well-developed personal spirituality and tends toward dependency or a consumerist approach to worship.” (111) In this way, the sacred becomes a refuge from the secular.

We need people who have a profound sense of their personal relationship with God and the resources they have in Christ that take that reality out into the world.

Weekly worship and preaching are not effective models for personal transformation. Faith must be transmitted through some kind of mentoring system.

What are measures of personal transformation?

  1. Knowledge of God through the scriptures: Use small groups to encourage Christians to re-engage the Bible. Think through 24 biblical stories that you want everyone in your church to know and figure out how to convey those stories to each person.
  2. Listening to God: Teach your people to listen for and recognize the voice of God in their lives.
  3. Personal relationships: Break the cycle of conflict and alienation. Teach folks to deal with conflict in the body of Christ and see it as an opportunity for growth. Replace with a cycle of grace.
  4. Using our giftedness: Urge your congregation to release the gifts of every member. “The key to mobilization of significant numbers of church members does not lie in sermons designed to emphasize commitment accompanied by frequent exhortations to become involved. Members become mobilized when their internal motivations are recognized and used.” (115)

2. Genuine diversity in leadership

Not everyone is the same kind of leader.

The trend today is to reject authoritarian hierarchies.

Christian leaders look to the business world for models of good leadership.

People who study leadership are becoming aware the character is a key component.

Most importantly: leaders need some kind of TEAM if they are going to achieve much within any organization. This implies the need to…

  1. Spend time with one another.
  2. Developing significant self-awareness – seeing ourselves as they really are.

3. Creating Organic Movement

The lifecycle of a movement:

  1. Early phase is highly organic (spontaneous and unstructured).
  2. Organization adds power to the movement.
  3. The organization plateaus and becomes more important than the mission.

Movements are an act of God and can’t be organized into being. But the church can take steps to recover a vision for its original purpose and a degree of spontaneous growth. Typically…

  1. Someone or some group of people experiences the grace of God and feels compelled to communicate it with others.
  2. The experience is expressed in a way the audience can relate with.
  3. Someone (not the originator) recognizes the need for organization and provides structure.

To get this going we need to…

  1. Abundantly sow to a diverse group.
  2. Wait and see what happens.
  3. Disciple to equip and release people who have had significant grace experiences.
  4. Not insist that these disciples fit in to our current structures… we need to be generous (i.e. not necessarily see them as a gain for our own ministry?).

4. The Church as a dispersed presence

We need to change the emphasis from gathering to dispersion… “bringing the God dimension to bear into a myriad of human situations…” (121)

People on the outside of the church looking in feel that Christians are less free, more unfashionable, more isolated, less happy, less friendly, less sexually fulfilled, weak, boring, unrealistic, etc.

But this may be changing… “There could well be a change coming with growing opportunity for Christians to gain a new confidence in talking about spiritual experiences, offering prayer and even seeing miracles take place outside the circle of Sunday worship.” (123)

Chapter 7: Alone at the Top: The Creation of a Leadership Culture

From the business world - “We are beginning to see the limitations even of exceptional individual leadership.” (125)

People writing about leadership in business understand that…

  1. The long term culture of an organization is just as important as individual leaders (e.g. GE in Built to Last).
  2. Problems in many companies center on a single chief executive where there is a lack of trusteeship and the gifts of the many are not recognized.
  3. Many companies are “left to die the death of the strengths and weaknesses of the man at the top.” (126)

Three passages that paint the New Testament picture of leading Christ’s people:

1. The Purpose of New Testament Leadership (Eph. 4:11-12)

A. Equipping the saints and building up the body of Christ

Any kind of leadership that doesn’t result in empowering God’s people is severely lacking.

The offices of elder and deacon provide the church with a basic structure; the functions of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastors, and teachers complete the picture. Networks of churches banding together provide access to gifting that isolated churches lack.

In the 1800’s, large Baptist churches became the sending centers for church planting movements. Key to their success was “the way that team ministry reproduced life in local churches. It was not individuals that were important but the impact of the mobilization of the many.” (129)

>> In my experience, individuals are incredibly important… yet their impact is limited unless they are used to mobilize the people around them. This is a both/and vs. and either/or situation.

What has happened in the western church? We have tended to focus solely on the gifts of pastor and teacher. They’ve been installed as dominant leaders in a church hierarchy. And the church has been destined to “die the death of the strength and weaknesses of the ‘man at the top.’” (129)

This model is just as destructive as the heresies the plagued the early church. Fortunately, there is widespread discontent with existing leadership patterns.

Western mega-churches rarely plant other churches, but almost all non-Western mega-churches are into church planting. Why? Because western churches typically are led by pastor/teachers and non-western churches tend to be led by apostles.

B. Corporate impact

Paul focused on the corporate impact of a group of gifted people, not the individual ministries of gifted people.

“The measurable impact of those that we recognize as leaders should be to empower all of Christ’s people to play out the eternal purpose on their personal stage of time in whatever context, culture or vocation God leads them to. The degree to which any generation or local manifestation of Christ’s people fails to grow in the incarnation of this reality reveals the failure of its leadership.” (132)

2. The structure of leadership (1 Corinthians 12:7-27)

“People in the leadership body are first and foremost followers of Jesus. They are not first of all leaders.” (133) The gifts they hold should reflect the gifts given to the whole body. Leaders should also keep these principles related to gifts in mind:

  1. Gifts are given to every one of Christ’s people (12:7).
  2. The gifts exist for the common good (12:7).
  3. The gifts that we receive are decided exclusively by the Spirit (12:11).
  4. The place that those gifts play in the body is decided by God the father (12:12-26).

Implications of these principles for leadership:

  1. Leadership is widely distributed in the body of Christ.
  2. Leaders should model and encourage everyone to find their gift and use it.
  3. The “shape” of church should respond to the gifts we find vs. forcing people, regardless of gifting, into our structures.
  4. Mobilization is most effective when people use the gifts they have.

Factors that influence the way a particular gift is used in the body of Christ:

  1. Each person has a different gift mix.
  2. The ministry context will effect how particular gifts are used.
  3. The extent of giftedness impacts extent of influence.
  4. Personality effects how gifts are used.

Discovering gifts and using them is a complex process, so people need grace and support to work out for themselves how their gift can be used.

“Any… discussion of leadership that takes it out of, or sees it in conflict with, the very way that God has created the body of Christ must be rejected.” (138) Therefore…

  1. Be careful when applying marketplace principles to church leadership.
  2. Don’t use the structure of OT leadership (especially the leadership of Israel) as a model for the church.

3. The essence of leadership

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant (Matthew 20:20-28). This story highlights certain things about Jesus and his followers:

  1. Jesus’ patience
  2. The “humanity” (weaknesses) of Jesus’ disciples

It also illustrates several principles about leadership:

  1. The world of the disciples was riddled with oppressive, top-down systems (e.g. the religious establishment, the Roman government). It was the culture that surrounded them and the “flesh that possessed them.” “By the second century after Jesus died, the most comfortable model of leadership found in man, the man at the top, was invading the church of Jesus.”(140)
  2. What Jesus taught about leadership was nothing like his disciples had ever experienced.
  3. “Not so among you” – Jesus rejected the leadership of man.

>> Definitely a strong reaction on the part of the authors against authoritarian hierarchies, but do they have a category for delegated authority? The early church did have a hierarchy (apostles, elders, deacons, etc.). There were authoritarian pronouncements made (Jerusalem council). And there was a value for order and discipline. All these have their place in the church, but not as vehicles for self promotion.

A more biblical model for leadership is not a pyramid, but concentric circles “relating to each other and pressing out into the body.” >> What does this mean? “True leadership is first and foremost relational and influential.” (141) We will always be fighting against the hierarchical approach that comes naturally to us.

How to combat leading from the top:

  1. Empower the body of Christ by giving away authority and responsibility.
  2. Treat all leaders in concert with the principles in 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4, and Matt. 20:20-28.
  3. Be realistic—the best we may achieve in this area is a “flattening of the cultural demand.” (143) >> Not sure what is meant here.

The way forward:

  1. See leadership as being “more than one.”
  2. Appreciate the diversity of gifts God has given and their role in leadership.
  3. See the true measure of effective leadership as empowering people.
    >> All good.

Chapter 8: Leadership to Change the World

There has probably never been a larger people movement in all of history than the church. Global church growth over the last 40 years has been incredible and many western Christians are unaware of it or its implications.

The world council of churches predicted Chrisians would only make up 8% of the world’s population by the year 2000. 33% is closer to the actual number today. What role did leadership play in the growth of church movements over the last 40 years?

“Wherever we look at the dramatic growth of the church in previously unreceptive nations, we can locate unusual individuals, those of whom it might be said that they are exceptional leaders… but… such leadership is primarily more widespread that we sometimes assume… we are suggesting that such leadership can be nurtured and encouraged, just as it can be discouraged and lost.” (149)

12 characteristics of leadership that can change the world (“creative leadership”):

  1. Seeing differently.
    Don’t just see the world as a material universe; expect and learn to recognize God’s activity.
  2. Living with vision.
    Let the Holy Spirit reveal Big Hairy Audacious Goals and pursue them. But make sure you’ve heard from the spirit and surround yourself with good counsel.
  3. The confidence of conviction.
    Be confident that something is going to happen. Be convinced that people will respond to good leadership. Then lead them to do more than they or others thought they could accomplish.
  4. Points of access.
    Make the Christian message accessible. Don’t make people change their way of life to access the message. Don’t raise leadership to “such impossibly high standards that few could ever hope to become a leader.” (153)
  5. Releasing responsibility
    Release control and look for people to share leadership with. God’s power working through his people fulfills his vision for the church.
  6. Finding a way
    Be committed to action and press ahead despite uncertainty when needed. Understanding the nature of the Body of Christ will help you tolerate a certain level of uncertainty and drive you to interdependence.
  7. Staying the course
    Be persistent.
  8. Inspired by God’s previous actions
    Read and study others who have gone before you (e.g. past movements, etc.).
  9. Generous hearts.
    “Good leaders give away more than is humanly reasonable. This, more than any other distinctive, may be what marks out the character, or different thinking, of creative leaders.” (157) >> For more on this, see Mark Bair’s DVD, The Power of Graciousness in Leadership.
  10. Authenticity first.
    Pay careful attention to quality, not just quantity. “Concern for quality produces the possibility of healthy numerical growth.” (157)
  11. Burning the rule book.
    Understand the difference between the ends and the means. Know how to contextualize your delivery. “Most of our institutions are over governed and under led.” (158)
  12. Starting a fire and fanning the flames.
    Take risks. “You can’t control the whole process from A to Z before launching something new.” (158)

The team that delivers the vision

It is important to bring all 5 of the ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 into the ministry mix (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers), but to be effective, they must work together as a team. These gifts are not enough to build a leadership team that can deliver a vision. These additional skills must also be present:

  1. The gift of leading in the specific sense of managing the future: Folks with apostolic and prophetic gifts will be focused on tomorrow.
  2. The gift of managing people: Managing today in light of tomorrow. This involves understanding people’s gifts and utilizing them well in a team environment.
  3. The gift of organization/ managing structures: Can your team implement a structure that will make an idea happen on the ground?
  4. The management of detail or administration: Translating ideas into who, what, when, where, how.

Teams with this mixture of gifting and skills are often happy and enjoy working together.

Chapter 9: Leadership and the Discipline of Multiplication

What was it that changed the spiritual climate in countries that were previously considered to be unreceptive to the gospel?

The answer can be found in Peter Wagner’s book, Look Out, the Pentecostals are Coming. The presence of the miraculous (healings, etc.) is what made the difference.

“When the people of God begin to speak about the acts of God then receptivity to the gospel rises. Might it just be possible that in unreceptive lands, the people of God either don’t see the hand of God at work (seeing instead only instantaneous remissions), or even when they do see the actions of God, they fail to speak to others about them, fearing either rejection or mockery? My suspicion is that what has happened in Latin America and China is that there has come a multiplication of such testimony which has resulted in a significant rise in receptivity to the gospel within relatively short time periods.”

“It is obvious then that we should be encouraging people of God to speak about the actions of God in ways that allow a significant multiplication of witness to take place.” (165)

>> It sounds like the authors have landed on this explanation of the rapid growth of churches, even though they admit their conclusion is based on a hunch. That said, I like the second quote – we should encourage people to talk about what God is doing in their lives.

Convictions that embed the principle of multiplication in everything we do:

  1. “Leaders need to come to the place where they are determined to find a way to multiply and grow the church Jesus Christ.” (166)
  2. Whatever God is going to do in the world, he is going to do through all of Christ’s people.
  3. Whatever God is going to do in the world through Christ’s people, he is going to do primarily through a decentralized structure.
  4. Our focus must always be on the lost.
  5. All multiplication processes begin with prayer that is visionary, targeted (focused on specific people and places), and expectant (God will provide the resources). This kind of prayer focuses attention away from maintenance and on to mission and it results obeying God in our everyday lives and witness.
    • “Personal growth, the growth of marriages, families and Christian relationships, played out before a watching world in the marketplace and the neighborhoods where we live represent the raw material that God uses to reveal himself to the world.” (168)
  6. Multiplication is based on good research.
    • God moves people to pray in a focused way and step up and serve when they become aware of specific needs.
    • Good research is also the foundation of good evangelistic strategies.
  7. Multiplication demands a proactive, consistent, and broadly spread ministry of evangelism.
    • “Effective evangelism will be diverse in its methodology, cyclical in its application and ongoing in terms of giving people repeated and personal opportunities to decide for or against the gospel of Jesus.” (171)
    • The authors provide an example of a colleague’s approach to “church planting training and actions.”
      • First – their evangelism is research based. They learn about their target audience and use multiple approaches to reaching them. Further training for a team is withheld until 350 contacts for the gospel are made.
      • Second – evangelism is focused on incorporating people into the Body of Christ.
      • Third – they take a fresh look at the gospel story.
        “Emphasis upon new life in Christ, freedom from sin, or eternity in heaven, is incomplete and inadequate. It is incomplete because this is not where God begins the story of the salvation that he is offering to mankind. Since creation, God has been working to restore humankind to his God-created purposes: fellowship with him and representation of his being, character, and designs here on earth.”
        “It is inadequate because any telling of the gospel that does not begin with this biblical content has a difficult time naturally producing the kind of discipleship described by Jesus…” (171)
        >> Incomplete – yes… there is the broader story of Satan’s rebellion, God’s response, the fall, sin entering the human race, the need for redemption God’s desire to restore us to co-rulership with him. etc. But each of these things (life in Christ, freedom from sin, etc.) is an essential component of our message.
      • Fourth – the story of the Gospel is given in a repeated fashion.
    • We need to create an environment where people regularly see demonstrations of God’s grace
  8. Good multiplication processes organize people into some pattern of small groups as soon as possible.
    1. These groups represent the initial stages of harvesting—a place for interested people to get their questions answered.
    2. These groups are the best forum for discipleship.
    3. These groups are the best place to keep all of Christ’s people focused upon sharing the good news in all of their relationships.
    4. These groups are the best place to initiate leadership development.
  9. Multiplication means that we must begin almost immediately to spread the load of responsibility by training new leaders.
    1. Training leaders is the first step toward the full mobilization of the church—pastors ought to spend 50% of their time training new leaders.
    2. Training leaders is the first step towards multiplying the church into cells, congregations and new churches. The success of a church is measured by how many leaders it can release into opportunities outside the ongoing maintenance of church life. These ministry opportunities are the point of training.
      >> People in our HG need to see that part of their training IS the act of ministry. Even leading a new home group should be seen this way. Contra train first, then go out and serve. Training must occur as you serve.
    3. Training leaders is the primary task of the existing leaders.
  10. Multiplication structures are organized around purpose, vision, and values.
    1. Planning methods will help you realize your vision and review your progress each year.
    2. Structure yourself to be friendly to growth and the opportunities that growth brings.
    3. Organize your church to nurture life in your people. This will lead to multiplication.
  11. Every church must be impregnated with a vision to multiply itself and its internal structures. The cycle of churches that exist only for themselves must be broken.

Chapter 10: Developing Missional Strategies

Paul strategically selected centers of his mission work to use as a base of operations.

The Celts, after letting the wind blow them where it may, had a strategy of establishing a community where they landed and then going from there to the surrounding hinterland with the gospel.

In the early medieval period, preaching centers called “minsters” were formed, parishes grew up around them, and the goal was to reach all.

In Great Britain and the US, the goal was to have a church within walking distance of everyone.

Repeatedly in the history of missions, the impetus has been to reach all people, not just maintain structures.

When and where the church has lost its missionary heart, there has been a corresponding loss of intentional strategies for reaching all people in a given area.

Programs (Sunday school, VBS, choirs, educational classes, etc.) used to be an effective way to reach people. But now people are involved in secular programs because there is no longer a felt need in these cultures to be connected to a church somewhere.

Things every Christian must do to enhance missional impact:

  1. Nurture their intimacy with God.
  2. Share their grace testimony in all of their relationships.
  3. Discover and use their gifts.
  4. Be engaged in personal relationships.

Leaders must develop their people’s passion for a particular people and place.

The recovery of mission:

Mission is recovered when the church makes plans to impact a particular people and place.

Questions to ask people in your church that will bring your mission into focus:

  1. What are the boundaries to which our church will relate (may be geographical, based on ethnicity, etc.). Seek agreement on this with your church.
  2. Will you accept responsibility for the community we have identified?
  3. Are there churches with which we share this responsibility? Can we partner with them?
  4. How can we develop multiple opportunities to network with all of the people in our circle of influence for whom we accept responsibility?
  5. Set goals for your mission that can be measured.

A case study in invading secular space—how a local church reached people in the Ukraine:

Just prior to the fall of communism, Protestant groups in the Ukraine were few (~1000), growing slowly, and viewed with suspicion.

15 years later, there are 7500+ congregations seeking to establish 28,000 churches by 2015.

What happened?

  • Leaders there had vision.
  • Leaders acted on their vision in concrete ways through specific actions.
  • Progress was measured.
  • The vision was communicated to every member of every church.
  • They worked hard to understand their city (Kiev) and its needs, which were overwhelming.
  • They developed ministries to different segments in the culture and addressed pressing social concerns: caring for widows, reaching out to orphans on the streets, opening medical and dental clinics.
  • Every member was mobilized through a cell-based system.
  • A training school with a practical emphasis was developed for leaders and church planters. Their focus: what do we need to do to plant a church?
  • The above approach was replicated in other key centers of ministry across the Ukraine.

Chapter 11: Leading a Movement

Christianity is a lay movement. But what causes the generation and growth of a movement?

  • What is a movement?
    • Something that has a degree of longevity, lasting more than one generation.
    • Not a campaign or cause surrounding an issue, but a “change in the way people look at the world, such that significant numbers of people are drawn to passionate commitment to a cause.” (196)
    • Movements… “have a shaping energy sufficient to impact and change whole cultures.” (196)
  • Key stages in the development of movements:
    1. The Divine spark—this begins with individuals who are somehow transformed by a spiritual encounter.
    2. An interpretive framework—someone offers an explanation of their experience that allows others to participate in the experience. Initial participants begin to see the wider significance of what they have personally experienced.
    3. The multiplication of the many—the movement can’t be dependent on the explanation of the experts.
    4. Power, permanence, and purpose—initial organization actually adds power to the otherwise undirected energy of the movement. This merger of organization and creative energy leads to one of the most productive growth phases of the movement.
  • While renewal is possible, many movements continue to follow this life-cycle:
    1. Plateau and the beginning of decline—organizational skill begins to dominate at the expense of creative energy.
    2. Decline and conflict—polarization around the traditionalists and the radicals.
    3. Division and death.
  • The alternative to steps 5, 6 & 7 is renewal.
    • “Renewal can come when creative leadership circumvents the conflict of traditionalists and radicals by asking a different question. The question that needs to be addressed is that of core purpose. Why was this organization/movement founded? What was it that God entrusted to the initial participants?” (200) … and how can we recast that initial burden in the present context?
    • If this initial vision makes sense to new Christians and becomes transferable (from them to others) then the movement can be re-ignited.

Steps to renewal

  1. Be realistic.
    Renewal is hard work. “Protect some of these creative people by developing areas of experimentation where the normal rules of the organization do not apply.” (201)
  2. Spiritual passion.
    Assemble a small team with high levels of energy – don’t worry about getting everyone on board.
  3. Look to the margins.
    “Give those on the margins permission, encouragement and legitimacy so that eventually the center can be redefined in terms of the life that exists on the edge.” (201)
  4. Live the dream.
    Create working teams that model the dream they are advocating.
  5. Spiritual strength.
    “Bringing change to organizations requires the spiritual strength to address that developed organizational personality.” (202) It takes spiritual strength to change the culture of an organization.
  6. Leadership is the key.
    Develop innovative leadership training systems.
  7. Kingdom focus.
    Keep a strong focus on God’s kingdom (not your personal empire) so that you can attract the right kind of people to your movement.

Turning around a declining movement is cheating history. Make sure the people around you know that’s the case and be vocal about your plan to pursue renewal anyhow.

You can achieve much without the many:

“It is an observable reality that the world is constantly changed by committed minorities and not by apathetic majorities.” (203)

Committed minority + multiplication = tipping point and the movement becomes the new orthodoxy. But remember, large numbers of contacts are needed at the beginning of a movement to give it momentum (recall 350 contacts in the Ukraine).

Why churches in the west should not abandon church planting:

  1. Some churches that have died need to be replaced with new ones.
  2. Church plants don’t always involve getting an entirely new congregation; you can “replant” a church in decline.
  3. Church planting can be an effective way to renew existing congregations.

It will cost money, especially to train the needed leaders. The needed leaders will come from the local church itself and should be trained on-site. “Non-formal training of those who will remain as lay people, or at most will become bi-vocational, represents the best avenue for the recruitment of church planters.” (206)

What would such a training program look like?

  1. It would allow people to study part time and remain in leadership where they are.
  2. It would embed certain core convictions about multiplication:
    1. The purpose of the church is not to grow itself, but to invade secular space with grace lived out in the lives of believers.
    2. People have the potential to be mobilized and live in ways that make a difference. But they must be discipled and shown HOW to serve.
    3. The leader’s role is to empower God’s people, not to be the people of God on their behalf. Leaders shouldn’t do things on behalf of people in the church that God is calling them to do themselves.
    4. People should be trusted with responsibilities normally reserved for leaders.
    5. People are empowered when they are encouraged to use their gifts.
    6. The measure of leadership success is the extent to which people are mobilized.

Tips on fostering church planting

  1. Encourage solo and team-based church planting.
  2. Encourage churches that are planting churches.
  3. Make planting a first priority, not just one program within your church.
  4. Don’t just think in terms of growing your church.
    • Concern about the size of a particular church has seduced the church in the West from the real prize – saturation church planting.
    • >> The goal of saturation church planting is to disciple an entire nation. The term “saturation church planting” describes the end goal; it doesn’t refer to a particular method or program. By establishing a church in every neighborhood, village, etc. the hope is that everyone in a particular country has ready access to a church. Some say the goal is one church for every 1000 people.
  5. Assume receptivity
    1. There is a great deal more receptivity among churches in the West than you might suppose. People are open to spirituality and ache inside for purpose and meaning.
    2. Receptivity in a culture is “a mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit influenced by human volition.” No one can predict it nor fully explain why it happens.” (212)
    3. There are a few things we can do to enhance receptivity:
      1. Generate unity among Christian groups, especially at the national level.
      2. Actively cooperate with para-church organizations. They don’t do what they church should do, but offer their gifts to “motivate, train, and release the church into full effectiveness.” (214)
      3. The church must be seen, heard, and felt in the trenches of human experience. Needs must be met, people must be helped.
        >> The authors provide a good example of a church in Liverpool that did this.
      4. The church must “aggressively, lovingly, but graciously (tell) the story of grace and the gospel to the whole of the people or place for which God has given them responsibility.” (215) This involves “broad-based, repeated and aggressive transmission of the gospel.” (215)
      5. Encourage multi-denominational, city-wide (or region/state-wide) initiatives.
      6. Encourage a broad-based movement of local churches in the concert of prayer.

Together in Mission

For more info on what this book advocates, visit https://www.togetherinmission.org/index.php. Together in Mission is an UK-based training organization that Robinson (national director) and Smith are part of. They offer training in saturation church planting.