Top Five: Uncool People Need Jesus Too

Written four years ago now, this post is by far the most read and commented on piece I have ever written. It was also the most controversial. So much so, that I posted a near-retraction shortly after, which you can (and should) read here. While it may have been an ill-advised rant, I still hold much of the concern that fueled it – there is a generation of young pastors that is flocking to the city to plant churches that will undoubtedly be very cool. What newly-developed suburbs were to church planting in the 1990s, rapidly-gentrifying urban cores are to church planting today. The artists and executives in the cities need the gospel, but so do the suburban soccer moms, blue collar factory workers, and rural farmers.

Also, I am happy to say that I am seeing more and more diversity happening in church planting. I’m grateful for friends like Jared Wilson laboring in rural New England and Justin Hyde pastoring in small town, TX. Acts 29 in particular, and church planting as a whole, seems to be widening its reach. May it continue to be so…

hipsterThrough my work with the Acts 29 Network, I get the privilege of assessing a number of potential church planters each year. I also get to hear about dozens more from fellow pastors as well. When I guy comes in to get assessed, by the time he gets to the interview stage he’s already submitted a lot of paperwork. Resumes. Plans. Budgets. Demographic Analysis. Dental history. (Ok, just kidding on the last one).

And as I’ve looked at some amazing plans from church planters, I’ve started to notice a trend. They all sound the same.

It seems as the unique vision that God’s given so many church planters is almost identical. Phrases like “gospel-centered”, “missional”, and “cultural renewal” are littered throughout their proposals. It seems that the phrase “In the City. For the City.” or some variation of such has become church planting boilerplate.

Not only is the language the same, but so is the target group. It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

Why is that? I can’t offer a definitive answer. It could be that God is legitimately calling an entire generation of young pastors to turn their focus to a small segment of the population that happens to look very much like they do.

Or it could be that we’re simply following in the footsteps of the church growth movement that we’ve loved to publically criticize while privately trying to emulate – we’ve just replaced Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll.

Just thinking out loud…

Rework: Start Making Something

As promised last week, I’m going to keep working through a few of my favorite chapters in Rework – a great new book that takes a pretty down-to-earth look at startups. I’m reading through the lenses of my own context – specifically starting new churches.

The next chapter I want to highlight was only one page long, but so important – Start Making Something. Here’s the killer quote:

What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan… Ideas are cheap and plentiful. The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it’s almost negligible. The real question in how well you execute.

As in many start up situations, a new church looks great on paper. In the early days of vision and planning, when the church exists solely in your head and on the pages of your Moleskine journal, things are flawless – finances are solid, discipleship is happening organically, leaders are being multiplied… Revival is sure to break out!

But then you hit the ground, and things don’t go quite as planned. Church planting is a lot like marriage – no matter how many books you’ve read and seminars you’ve attended to prepare, it is never what you imagined it would be like. Sometimes it’s better. Sometimes it’s harder. But it’s always going to be different.

And so when the plan doesn’t look like reality, all church planters have a choice to make – will you stay engaged in actually doing what you know you should be doing (meeting people, sharing the Gospel, discipling believers, raising up leaders, praying fervently, etc.) or will you tweak the plan?

I’ll be honest – in the early days of Kaleo, I retreated to continually reworking the plan. Why? It’s a lot easier. You can sit in your office with a whiteboard and “dream”, “visioneer”, or whatever word you want to put on it. You can even tell yourself that you’re working “on the church, not just in it”. I know, because I did.

But in the early days, there is no church to “work on”. It becomes easy to spend 90% of your time without actually engaging people, which is about as backward as I can imagine. But I did it – and so do many others, I’d imagine.

The bottom line, particularly as you’re getting started – your strategic planning and brainstorming will pay far less return than finding ways to sit across a cup of coffee, a meal, or a living room with as many people as you can in order to talk about the gospel.

If you’re looking for more, one of the best resources I know of is a talk given by Kevin Cawley and Hunter Beaumont at last year’s Acts 29 Bootcamp in Houston. It’s an immensely practical session called People Gathering in Church Planting – check it out.

UPDATE: What I Actually Meant

So, two days ago I wrote a short blog post that ended up getting linked to, tweeted, and passed along – bringing about 40x the normal amount of readers to my blog. The post struck a nerve, it seems. But it was misunderstood by many, and because of that I need to clarify a few things. (And let me be clear, the misunderstanding is not the fault of the reader, but 100% mine – I did not choose my words carefully or wisely, and as a result was unclear).

The main reason I’m writing this is because of caused pain and frustration to some of my brothers in Acts 29. Gentlemen, I am deeply sorry. Let me try to explain…

I wrote this post as a young Acts 29 church planter. Five and a half years ago, we planted Kaleo in the heart of the fourth largest city of our country – Houston, TX. Acts 29 has been my lifeline during the difficult times – the brotherhood, coaching, and friendships that I’ve gained there have supported our church through the good times and the bad. I think Acts 29 is being used by God in a unique, once-in-a generation way to spread the Gospel through the planting of new churches.

I write all that to say this – I believe strongly in planting churches in major cities (after all, that’s who I am) and I love and respect Acts 29 in a way that words can’t describe. In an attempt to ask some difficult questions of myself and the tribe I run in, I wrote something that was interpreted by many as divisive and derogatory. What in my head sounded like questions that are important to think through for all young church planters came across cynical and jaded. For that I am sorry.

In writing on Wednesday, I took a general thought that was floating in my head and posted it – and it was full of inaccuracy and broad generalizations As was pointed out in the comments, Acts 29 is becoming more and more diverse all the time – with great churches being planted by faithful men in all kinds of settings: cities, college towns, rural communities, smaller cities.

I’m afraid some also read in what I wrote an incorrect version of the A29 assessment process – that we are looking for only “cool guys” and that your hipster level is one of the assement categories. Nothing could be further from the truth. Acts 29 has one of the best assessment process out there, examining as Scott Thomas pointed out: 1) Personal walk with God, 2) Theological Clarity, 3) Strong Marriage and Family, 4) Leading a life as a missionary, 5) Emotional Maturity, 6) Disciple-Making skills, 7) Leadership, 8) Calling and 9) Relational Health. Our great assessment process is what has allowed us to see the highest viability rate of churches planted in any current church planting network that I know of.

In addition, in my writing I unintentionally called into question the calling of guys focused on reaching the young culture-makers in a city. I implied that it’s likely that they are only doing this because they want to reach people like them. I judged motive, and that is absolutely unacceptable. Every single planter I know personally, including all of my Acts 29 brothers, are planting in their context because they have discerned a calling from God to reach that particular area. If you fall into that category: I was wrong. I am sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness.

My last paragraph was the most unwisely worded of all. It is what got picked up and quoted by a number of people linking to the article, essentially saying something like, “Aha! See! Even someone on the inside admits it. Movements led by Keller and Driscoll are just the next version of seeker-sensitive, church growth pragmatism.” Let me be clear: this is absolutely not what I intended to communicate, and it is simply not true.

When writing, I thought of Hybels and Warren as two guys who both have seen very visible success and who started church planting movements 20 years ago. Both said clearly: “Don’t copy us. Learn what you can, but don’t try to photocopy what we’re doing.” But that’s exactly what church planters did in the 90s – there were scores of guys planting churches in the suburbs donning khaki pants, deck shoes, and Hawaiian shirts. Many copied vision and purpose statements, programming ideas, and ministry strategies wholesale, trying to duplicate South Barrington or Orange County in environments that were completely different.

In writing my last paragraph, I was trying to communicate my concern that many of us young pastors who scoffed at what happened in the 90s (as many of us served on staff at these kinds of churches) are in danger of doing the same – trying to replicate the unique ministries of Mars Hill and Redeemer. From dressing like Driscoll to trying to preach like Keller to adopting their visions, programs, etc. That was the comparison I was trying to make – not at all intending to say that Mark Driscoll or Tim Keller were establishing themselves or being established by their networks as Church Growth Movement 3.0

I meant no disrespect. Mark Driscoll is the reason I am a church planter – it was in a Youth Specialties seminar in 1999 that Mark was teaching that God dropped a passion for church planting in my heart. He has led Acts 29 with grace and strength and has served as an encourager and example to so many. The same is true for Tim Keller. What God has done in NYC is nothing short of miraculous, and far from trying to be cool or trendy he has modeled faithful, confessional ministry that is true to his context. Combined, these two men have done more for church planting than anyone else in our country, and have accomplished more for the expansion of the Gospel in the last year than I will likely accomplish in my lifetime.

Mark and Tim, I am deeply sorry that my words were taken as disrespectful towards you. I love both of you as brothers and have nothing but the utmost honor for you as godly men, pastors, and movement leaders.

I’ve decided (after a lot of feedback) to leave the original post up to give context to the discussion.

Uncool People Need Jesus Too

UPDATE: This post was ill-advised on not written well. I’ve written a follow up to it that explains more of what I was trying to say – please go read it first and then read the original post.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE UPDATE FIRST.

_________

Through my work with the Acts 29 Network, I get the privilege of assessing a number of potential church planters each year. I also get to hear about dozens more from fellow pastors as well. When I guy comes in to get assessed, by the time he gets to the interview stage he’s already submitted a lot of paperwork. Resumes. Plans. Budgets. Demographic Analysis. Dental history. (Ok, just kidding on the last one).

And as I’ve looked at some amazing plans from church planters, I’ve started to notice a trend. They all sound the same.

It seems as the unique vision that God’s given so many church planters is almost identical. Phrases like “gospel-centered”, “missional”, and “cultural renewal” are littered throughout their proposals. It seems that the phrase “In the City. For the City.” or some variation of such has become church planting boilerplate.

Not only is the language the same, but so is the target group. It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

Why is that? I can’t offer a definitive answer. It could be that God is legitimately calling an entire generation of young pastors to turn their focus to a small segment of the population that happens to look very much like they do.

Or it could be that we’re simply following in the footsteps of the church growth movement that we’ve loved to publically criticize while privately trying to emulate – we’ve just replaced Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll.

Just thinking out loud…

New Church Spotlight: Covenant Community Church

Yesterday was a great day for Houston. Yesterday morning marked the launch of Covenant Community Church – a new church in the Pearland area of Houston. Covenant is part of the Acts 29 Network and is led by a great group of men assembled by Daniel Davis – the church planting pastor. I met Daniel a few years ago, and have really enjoyed our growing friendship. It’s been such an honor to see this church grow from a vision to (as of yesterday) a reality.

Daniel and many of those on his team began doing life together years ago at Sojourn Community Church, another Acts 29 church in Louisville, KY. After spending years together in ministry there, they stepped out in faith and moved to Houston – many of them not knowing exactly where their incomes would come from, but trusting that God would continue to provide. Rarely have I met such a great, cohesive team of men who love the Gospel of Jesus as they do.

Covenant’s Website

Pastor Daniel Davis:  Twitter |  Facebook

Let me encourage you: if you’re in Houston, go worship with them. Spread the word to friends who need a church home.  If you’re not in Houston, consider supporting them prayerfully and financially. They are doing a great work and making a difference in the fourth largest city in the US.

Mature and Secure Leaders

Just got back in last night from a great couple of days with the Acts 29 Texas Region. It is always a joy to be around other church planters in our network, particularly the guys in Texas who we are closest too. We had a great time talking about elders development in our churches, and I walked a way with a lot to think about.

On Tuesday, Bruce Wesley, the founding pastor of Clear Creek Community Church, talked with us about the character of the lead elder as he seeks to build a team of men to help lead the church. In the midst of his talk, he shared a great bit of wisdom that I think is applicable not only to pastors, but to all leaders:

If we’re going to lead others well, we must lead from a place of maturity and security.

If our leadership is immature, it’s a tell-tale sign that it’s still all about us. As we mature as leaders, we are able to empower, promote, and raise up others – it’s not about our pride or recognition anymore.

If our leadership is insecure, we are making decisions out of our brokeness. Insecurity comes because we lack confidence in particular areas of our life, and the only way to gain the confidence is by bringing our brokeness to the cross of Jesus. The gospel can then bring healing to where we are broken, giving us confidence to lead with integrity.

As you think about your leadership – whether it’s in a church, your job, or your family – where do you see signs of immaturity/pride or insecurity?