Most of you know I don’t read much. Writing books has exhausted me and now the best I can do is look at pictures in magazines and if I really put forth effort, I can manage to read the caption under the photo. But thanks to the dimishing attention level of most leaders and people, ebooks are popping up promising a more focused read. One that caught my attention was Todd Wilson’s “Spark,” released by Exponential this November.
Todd’s been a great friend and has played an important role architecting and running the largest church plant conference in the world called Exponential. Usually he’s behind the scenes but I’m very thankful he put all these years of wisdom and learnings into a book I believe will serve the national conversation well beginning this next April at Expo East in Tampa Bay.
The focus will be on expansive multiplication of the disciples and the church. Many of us who have been in the trenches of trying to give encouragement to the greater church know the stats are not good. We have lost an incredible amount of street cred over the last 20 years, every denomination is in marked decline and the culture war between the evangelical church and the real world is so large, simply adding a few good churches in each city will not stem the tide.
What Todd is accurately examining and giving answers to is a courageous church led by leaders who look past their own church. Pastors who listen to Jesus when he says, “I have sheep you know not of,” and who spend the majority of their time apprenticing other leaders than working on sermons or Christmas cantatas so that a tidal wave of kingdom revolutionaries can be released into the harvest.
The most compelling and confirming section for me was in chapter 2. Take a read.
"Our addiction to addition growth starts the minute a new church is launched. LifeWay President Ed Stetzer has done extensive studies on church planting (health and survivability). His 2007 study on church survivability reported the following:
• The average new church launches with approximately 40 people and grows to 80 in five years. It receives approximately $40,000 in outside funding to get started and approximately $80,000in the first four to five years.
• The average church then plateaus at the national average attendance of approximately 90 people by the seventh or eighth year.
• Approximately 68 percent of churches are still alive after four years. However, nearly 40 percent of those surviving until year four are not financially self-sufficient. By adding in a few additional realities and assumptions, we can reasonably conclude the following:The first seven to eight years of the average church plant lives in a scarcity and survival culture. That is reality.Addition growth becomes a perceived necessary strategy and focus for survival. The church planter is keenly aware from day one that the new church will not survive if he/she does not grow from their small start of 40 to at least 80+. Before their survivability is even known, the rut of addition growth is firmly established in new churches.Behavioral specialists would likely draw a strong link between this addition startup culture and the average U.S. church plateauing at fewer than 100. Here’s the logic: It takes 90 to 100 members to financially support a staff position. Likewise, one staff person has the capacity to support the activities, programming and shepherding of about 100 people. A church growing to 80+ people in the traditional paradigm will hit a lid of growth due to staffing capacity when it reaches 80 to 100 people—exactly in the range of the national average church size. The plant concludes they need to “add” staff to “grow.”
Unfortunately, their paradigm becomes, “We can’t add staff until we grow. We can't afford it.” In being constrained by the paradigms/models of today (“paid staff do the heavy lifting” and “we can only do what we can financially afford”), the church paralyzes itself at fewer than 100 people. These dynamics start the cycle of “feeding the beast,” a characteristic underpinning of an addition growth culture, and foster the great professional/laity divide. The progression goes something like this:
Launch into Subtraction/Survival Culture >Graduate to Addition/Accumulation >Become Stuck in More Addition"
This reality exposes many issues but one I believe must be addressed is the issue of money, mammon and mission. We simply can’t dance around this elephant anymore. The fear that hamstrings the explosive potential growth of God’s church almost always comes down to money. And the issue of money raises many questions about our present paradigms of full time paid pastoral staff. As Todd points out, the issue of church growth seems to hinge on the number of staff that are released to serve a congregation with almost a 1 staff to 90 congregational member equation. But what if this paradigm and equation is something that Jesus is actually pushing us beyond. What if the ancient paradigm of bi-vocational or even volunteer leader force could be released to help lead, guide, and pastor a church? Could this finally be the time to apprentice part-timers, business leaders, and everything in between to form apostolic leader teams where everyone can play and where everyone counts?
Last year, Todd and the exponential team took a risk and opened up the church plant conversation to the BIVO leaders and the response has been overwhelming. I released a book with this title not to start a new conversation but to simply insert into the discussion knowing that the BIVO leader may be the key to explosive growth. For me, BIVO isn’t about doing two jobs bad or a way of ‘survival.’ For me, BIVO is an opportunity to release the church; both FROM the consumer demands that limit a church to addition and addiction, and TO the powerful picture of the church we’ve always wanted to see and what we read about in scripture.
This year, Exponential East will again be offering a BIVO track. I hope to see you there.
Thanks again Todd for starting another great conversation for the church!
Author of The Tangible Kingdom, AND, FLESH and BiVO. For Events and Training Resources for BiVO leaders check this out. http://missionalchurchnetwork.com/bivocational-cohorts/
To get Todd’s book go my.exponential.org/spark
I was once taught when starting my first paint company that if I do one really lousy paint job, the word on the street will be negative even though you do nine really good ones.
Street Cred is the most powerful form of influence and I think it is why the scriptures speak so honestly about trying to live ‘above reproach.’ We use this scripture to micro-manage issues of sin, but rarely do we apply it to the general way in which we give aroma or a stench to the public persona of Christendom.
Of late, there’s been a lot of call outs of key Christian figures. (Mark Driscoll, Steven Furtick, Joel Osteen among many others) Facebook is littered with scathing reviews of their theology, business practices, and spending habits. As these figures have thousands of followers there are also many defenders who are trying to help us find the silver lining or heart behind the infractions.
As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “Net Loss.” What I meant to say to myself, was no matter what the heart, what the intent, whether thoughts or comments or practices were taken out of context, you can’t take get the word off the street and that is always going to be a net loss.
If a pastor claims that 20, 000 people go to their church but their story of financial abuse hits Facebook or the evening news, the bottom line is that 250,000 or more were turned off by ‘the Christians’ again. Regardless of the 100 baptized last month, 50,000 now have another excuse to say, Christian leaders and their dumb as rocks sheep, won’t deal honestly with the real issues. (not my words, theirs!)
Reaching a few hundred isn’t a win if you loose a million! And that is exactly where we evangelicals find ourselves today. The good news? In 20 years will be as unchurched as the rest of the real world and maybe the Christian movement can reboot, redo, and regain some real street cred by living an honest, humble, and trustworthy lives. I don’t think we should wait that long to start, but it’s going to take a few generations of real Jesus people to ‘win out’ over the church people and church leaders we publically endure.
Micah 6:8 gives us a new grid of an old way to cut losses and win the streets again.
“But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?
During my time there, I met a kid named Jason who would crap in his tube socks and then go all Bruce Lee on me swinging them at me like nunchucks! And one time he managed to connect one right in my mouth. Suffice to say, I didn’t really like Jason and after I heard about the brutal crimes he had committed, all before the age of 16, I actually thought he deserved to face grave judgment. I even thought the world would be better without him in it.
But then, one day I pulled his file and began to read… “Jason was sodomized at the age of 3 to the age of 11 by a male family member. He was locked in a closet for months at a time and left in the dark”…and on and on and on. As I read his file, I began to weep because I now had the context for the crimes and sins he committed. It didn’t mean they were any less grave, but I at least didn’t judge him anymore.
What’s amazing to me is that when I think about the life of Christ, people like Jason were the ones he desperately loved and hung around with. Jesus was consistently known as a friend of “sinners“, and some of these people he was known to associate with were world class sinners. They were local pole dancers and Bernie Madoff goons that stripped people off what little cash they already had; some were religious leaders that exploited people for their own ends; some murderers, others lazy gluttons. Jesus’ claim to fame because of the amount of time he spent with people like this was that he himself “was a drunkard and a glutton“.
When I try to encourage Christians to live more like Christ, it just seems that his ability to overlook sin is a point of struggle for them. In fact, it seems that many Christians think God put them on the earth to point out people’s sin. I guess for all of us, regardless of our faith or lack of faith, its always hard to love the unloveable, and even harder to love ourselves since we know in our core we’re not that different from the scoundrels we condemn.
So the question is how do we overlook a person’s struggles and sin?
How did Christ do it?
Here’s a few thoughts to consider:
First, Jesus could share a meal with a sinner because he knew they had no ability to fix themselves (even this is taught in every 12-Step class you will encounter). Even as he hung on a cross, he forgave those that were mocking him and had driven nails into his hands, and recognized the fact they did not know what they are doing. He never nitpicked behavioral defects because he knew that bad behavior is only an outward symptom of an inward issue that can only be changed when the heart is transformed.
Second, think of Jason’s story. Once we have the full context of a person’s life we truly begin to see them for who they are and feel compassion. Jesus overlooked their blunders because the bigger story was more important than the momentary sinful acts.
Lastly, Jesus wasn’t self-righteous. Being self-righteous means that you think your white collar sins aren’t as bad as someone else’s. Self-righteous people often single out ‘homosexual sins’ but never deal with or admit to their heterosexual sins of pornography or treating their spouses poorly. Self-righteous gluttons and gossips often call out their neighbor who smokes pot or doesn’t go to church, or who swears too much but they never deal with their own issues, not matter how minor they think they are. This is why Christ told us not to judge the splinter in another person’s eye until we get the the fat log out of our own.
A week ago, I wrote a book called FLESH for this very reason; to help Christians understand the beautiful way Jesus interacted with those around him and learn to quit trying to be so godly and instead learn to be more human and compassionate like Jesus was.
If you are a recovering Christian ‘Pharisee’ or you are one of those people that got judged and ran as far and as fast from religion as you could, consider looking at the life of Jesus again. I’m not asking you to go back to church. I’m just asking if you’d consider following Jesus just a little. And in that you might fond your life will be beautiful and maybe the world will get a little more beautiful as well.
Orignally posted at Heart Support
In the same way, was not even Rehab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did
when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?
(James 2:25 NIV)
We so easily put a person “in” or “out” of God’s grace based on what we see them doing
or how we view their behavior. In our minds, the line is very clean, and we think that
God’s kingdom is reserved only for those who live better. Or we at least think it should
be granted only to those who live up to our standards. But are we sure we are right?
In the case of Rehab, a woman who gave her body to a different man nightly, and who
lived a life of public and private humiliation, we would never think God might consider
her to be an example for us all. But she is. In the book of James, she is honored for her
faith and courage in hiding God’s warriors.
but also capture God’s favor—is a mindblower for sure. Maybe it should blow our hearts
I wonder if we spend too much time judging, writing off, or condemning people who
don’t live as “clean” as we think we do. I wonder if we’re too harsh with our own friends,
our children, or our spouses when they live out their brokenness.
If the kingdom is anything, it is all around us; it includes people of all types, sins,
behavioral disorientations, and levels of maturity. God in His great grace overlooks
some small sins like prostitution and highlights Rehab’s faith. At least, may we cast off
all judgment and leave the wheat and tares to God. At best, may we thank God that He
includes us in His kingdom and work with Him in His grace-filled redemptive plan.
you live incarnationally as a lifestyle. Last night, I got the opportunity to share the grand story of Jesus with a pub full of new friends, many of whom had not heard
the story ever or who had quit on the story of the church. We drank beer, had some
food, and for two Mondays in a row, for 3 hours, they listened and seemed to love
hearing about Jesus and His kingdom. Crazy supernatural connections happened, a
few tears were shared (by men) and Good News was spoken of and experienced!
named Jake and his wife Elizabeth have taken their neighborhood, their schools,
their kid’s sporting teams, and their home seriously. Really, they’ve taken their
faith in God seriously. They haven’t made these people targets, but instead enjoying
growing as friends and we had an awesome night in a local microbrew joint.
People always tell me that its unfair for me to think that other people can do
evangelistically what I have done over my life. But I disagree wholeheartedly. A
FLESHY incarnational life is not only doable for anyone but it is expected by the God
we say we love. “If anyone claims to be in Him, they must walk as Jesus walked.” My
paraphrase is that they “get to live like Jesus lived.”
Incarnational life isn’t drudgery but it does cost something. You have to actually
meet neighbors and listen to them. You’ve got to open your home often. You can’t
ever judge people. You have to give up a little family time and give up a lot of your
Most of all, you just have to care. Jake and Elizabeth are examples of sinners being
friends of sinners and their lives show the power of God. I was honored to simply be
the guy who told the story of Jesus.
Thanks Jake and Elizabeth for living FLESH.
To get FLESH(ED) click here!
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