The New Church Planter in Town

church planter Jesus

There is a new church planter in the town where I live. I met him the other day and asked about how his church is going. You will never believe what he told me.

He has about a dozen people so far in his “core group.” One is a member of the Black Panthers. Another is the member of the Klu Klux Klan. And somehow, they both worship together.

But that is only the beginning. One guy is a mega-wealthy Wall Street Banker democrat, and another is a out of work construction laborer who is a rising star in the Tea Party movement. Somehow, they both worship together.

They have a girl who is almost certainly a cocaine-using prostitute, and they also have a police officer. Somehow, they both worship together.

They have a gay couple and a Marine. Somehow, they worship God together.

One type of person they do not have is someone who has been involved in church before in any significant way (other than the church planter himself).

Have you ever heard of such a church? I was part of one in Texas that was pretty close to this, but had given up hope that something similar existed anywhere else.

The Keys to Church Planting

He told me that the secret keys to church planting were the ground rules he laid out for his church plant.

Three tips for church planting

There are only three:

1. All are welcome.

And he really means this. This isn’t like Henry Ford’s promise that people could buy a Model-T in any color they wanted, as long as it was black. Similarly, lots of churches say, “Come as you are” and “All are welcome” but what they really mean is “Come as you are…but only if you look like us, talk like us, and act like us. And if you don’t, that’s okay for a week or two, but then you better start changing.”

This church means what they say: Come as you are, no matter what. And there is no pressure to change. Ever. They figure that change and conviction is the Holy Spirit’s job.

2. The only rule is a rule to love one another.

There are no standards of conduct. There is no dress code. There are no forbidden topics, questions, or issues. The church does not have a doctrinal statement.

They not only agree to love one another, but also find ways to love the community in tangible ways on a regular basis. To me, this seemed to be the glue that bound such diverse people together. People will often put aside the greatest differences if they have a common mission and purpose. As these people lovingly work together to love the community, the vast differences between them all disappear.

3. The Bible will be the primary source for inspiration and discussion.

When they gather, there are lots of things they do. Although, I should say that from what it sounds, they rarely sit in rows, singing songs, sharing prayer requests, and listening to a sermon. When there is formal discussion, it is often on the way to serve someone (or on the way back), and often focuses on some story or passage from Scripture.

Sometimes when they gather, when they don’t know what to do, they might read the Bible until one of them has an idea from something they read.

And that’s it! Pretty crazy, huh?

The Biggest Challenge

I did ask the pastor what the biggest challenge was. Can you guess what he said?

He said that the biggest challenge was dealing with all the criticism he received from other churches in town. This is not too surprising from the fundamentalist and evangelical churches, but he even gets criticism from the mainline liberal churches. All of them agree that this church is doing everything wrong. Some critics say this new church has gathered the wrong people, and need to focus on getting some trained leaders who are spiritually mature into the church so they can “disciple” the church members on what to believe and how to behave. Other critics say that the new church needs to get a building and a website – fast. This is the only way more people will come to the church. There are some who say the church needs a doctrinal statement. And on and on it goes.

Are you curious to know more about this church?

Who is this Church Planter?

Maybe it would help if you knew who the church planter was. You have probably heard of him.

The church planter is Jesus.

The way Jesus plants His church does not fit any mold, does not follow any tradition, and does not fit within anything that looks like “church.”

I am convinced that if Jesus showed up in any town in America today, and tried to plant a church, it would look somewhat like how I have described it above, and numerous pastors from the town would take Jesus out to lunch, and kindly and gently tell him that He was doing it all wrong. They would say, “Jesus, we know you mean well, but we’ve been at this a long time, and the track you are on leads only to disaster. We’re here to help, if you will just do what we say.”

And I think Jesus would look at them, and say something quite similar to what Jesus said to similar criticisms in His day. Curious what that is? Read Luke 5:36-39.

This post is based on the Grace Commentary for Luke 5:33-39.

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  1. says

    You would have no way of knowing this, but – we did have a “Bible discussion” group that looked a lot like this group. There were a few people in the group who were part of a “church”. Of course, they thought that everyone in the group should get “into” church.

    Seriously, is there possibly anyone reading this who can not tell the rest of the story?

    The church tried to bring everyone in the group under their control – get them into church, tell them how and what they should believe, how they should behave, where they fit in the “pecking order” at the church, etc, etc.

    The group was not an official group of the church. Some of the people who attended never attended the church. Even so, the church board tried to gain control over the group. Perhaps their theology wasn’t correct. (How could it be with the type of people who were in the group? Duh!) Maybe they should have a new “leader” (discussion coordinator would have better described the “leader”).

    Of course the people from that group, including the leader, scattered to the four winds. Possibly ONE of those people is still involved with any “church”. All the others want nothing to do with “church”.

    I’m convinced the church would have tried to run Jesus out of town if He had been part of that group. You know something, that’s kinda what happened.

    • says

      Yes. Most churches today would try to run Jesus out of church if they could not control him (which they would not be able to do).

      But I sometimes wonder if I would run him away too. We often fail to see the stubbornness of our own hearts.

  2. Ant Writes says

    Man, I was almost ready to ask you where he was so I could go there right away! I love your story-telling way of writing blog posts. I just throw facts on a screen, but you always make your posts into a story.
    Good Jorb!

  3. says

    Great post!!

    One thing that has always perplexed me is why everybody calls it “church planting” when the ONE vine is already planted and just needs to spread, grow, and bear fruit.

    • says

      Swanny, and Jeremy,

      Perhaps we could call them church carriers, kind of like we call those who spread infectious disease carriers. Not that church is an infectious disease, but it is spread in a similar manner. We are the church, and we carry the church with us wherever we go. When we “infect” someone else they become part of the church. We can call them “church carriers” and call what they do “church spreading”. Just a thought.

      Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

      • says

        Church Carriers is not bad.

        But even still, I am uncomfortable with the whole idea that some people can “carry” the church, while the rest of us just are the church. I don’t know. Maybe it’s like spiritual gifts, and we shouldn’t be jealous of the gifts of others.

        • Ant Writes says

          Well, for one, when I assumed being a missionary was leading kids or youth in Africa, I was all for it. But now knowing what I know, when you have to deal with whippings, plane crashes (modern day ship wrecks), prison etc, I’m no longer willing to run off to Zambia :)

  4. says

    The central problem that I cannot, under any circumstances, work out in my own heart is our misuse – misunderstanding – ambivalence to the Holy Spirit. What I’m about to say is an idea, feeling, or something that I haven’t yet been able to wrestle to the ground long enough to write effectively about it.

    Nothing in our approach to the Holy Spirit allows autonomy. If we are allowed to experience a relationship (collectively and independently) with God via the Helper (H.S.) it becomes an unverifiable situation. I will say that the HS in my life is akin to a rudder on a ship. I have to be moving forward for it to work. Sit still and turning the rudder does nothing. The other end of the extreme might be those that use the HS as an excuse to handle snakes or refuse medical treatment.

    What if organized religion’s inability to verify who’s acting on the guidance of the HS and therefore their (might I say “well-intentioned”) attempts to pull us all into a measureable, verifiable model with oversight and control were a form of blasphemy against the HS? I’m wondering where the audacity comes from when organized religion shows up at the end of each gathering and says, “Any rebroadcast, reproduction or other use of this game without the express written consent of Major League Religion is prohibited.”

    Dare I say it’s because they don’t (at their very core) acknowledge that the HS can/will interact with individuals (as promised) in any kind of a productive manner outside the well-controlled mechanics of centuries-old structure and hierachy called “church governance.” This, to a freelancing guy like me, is blasphemy.

    BLASPHEMY > Theology . the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God.

    Also, difficult for me to extinguish the image I have of people banging tamborines and being “slain in the Spirit” when I utter the name Holy Spirit. That name has so much baggage. I have to just think of it as God speaking to me and not as a the HS. I think there’s something there, but as I said I can’t get it wrestled down.

    Any help?

    • Ant Writes says

      That was funny about the banging of the tambourine. While that is not the norm in traditional Pentecostal churches, I’ve seen some REALLY weird stuff. I just laughed though. If you want to sing “On top of spaghetti” in Pig Latin in 3/4 time while hanging upside down while you’re worshiping, that’s your prerogative, But the German in me has to pass on much of that free expression :)

    • says

      Very interesting line of thought. I would love to see you develop this further. I really like the idea of the HS = rudder. What a great image. So important to the movement of a ship, but as long as it’s working, it is out of sight and out of mind. Even if it falls off, you might not notice it for a while depending on your speed and the direction of the wind.

      Then there are the church that drop an outboard motor down, and call it the HS.

      But you are right about the baggage that comes with the term “Holy Spirit.” I don’t know a way around this.

  5. Will Rochow says

    This whole discussion just reminds me of a common problem I’ve had since leaving the institutional church system. What is that? It is what I perceive to be a constant need to define what I mean by the terms I use. Before leaving the institution, all Christianese terms were, for the most part, understood by all. Perhaps the most common example of this is the word “church.” Ask an institutional Christian and a non-institutional Christian to define the word “church” and you will get some very different answers. Is it then any real surprise if “Church Planter” doesn’t also create some confusion?

    Bottom line, there has never been a “church planter” other than Jesus, just as your post suggests. A friend once suggested that, “Jesus didn’t have a ministry; He had a life.” In that sense, if we “have” Jesus, then we also have a life. Isn’t a life lived “in” and “with” and “for” Jesus ultimately not a life of a “church planter?” We’re not planting it; He’s already done that. But if we’re living it as we should, shouldn’t ours then automatically be a reproducing life of planting? In that sense, are we not all “church planters?”

    On the other hand, if I were to “plant” anything, isn’t the tendency then to name it after me? Hmm, the “Church of Will”… may it never be!

    Just a few of my musings on the subject. Blessings all :)

    • Sam says

      Will, I’ve always thought the term “church planter” to be a term that reflects “church” culture, rather than reflecting Jesus.

      I totally “get” your friend’s statement about the term “ministry”. I live. I follow Jesus. I try to tangibly love people. I think trying to attach the term “ministry” to that also reflects “church” culture.

    • Ant Writes says

      @Will: You should read “Revise us again” by Frank Viola which talks all about the shedding of Christianese and other “Churchianity” beliefs and habits. Much of it is hilarious, and the book will make you realize how much “Churchianity” you’ve lost, and also make you realize how far you have to go still :) The topic you brought up has an entire chapter. A missionary is an apostle. Plain and simple. They started churches w/o a leader. Then they left them on their own. Then the books talks about how if we stal “alone” too long without the body, we can start to become like Harold Camping, without any accountability.

  6. Joe Stowell on Facebook says

    Love that blog post, just love it. Reflects so intensely what I fincreasingly feel about what “church” is supposed to be when we have in fact turned it into Churchianity. Great post.

    • Ant Writes says

      Well there are MANY things that Jesus did that the NT doesn’t say(John 21:25), but Jews worshipped together, so we can safely assume the first Christians did as well. Maybe not w/ instruments because is was unionized (guilds), but I can’t see why they wouldn’t worship together. They were a family, like the local church should be now.

      • says

        From the New Testament writings, there’s no “worship together” as a corporate experience; before Jesus came, “worship together” described everyone bowing down toward the temple in unison (which various religions include). But…
        Jesus brought the temple (on earth) inside each our human body, and this with an obvious impact on the old corporate worship.
        [I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19]
        Modern Protestant “worship together” presents as a relatively new invention designed to fulfill human need. Why does the Lord God ask us to come together, and with no mention from Him of “worship together”?

        • Ant Writes says

          Did you happen to be a member of the Church of Christ? Your arguments sound familiar to their arguments. Ephesians 5:19, col 3:16 and James 5:13 imply when we get together, singing is part of the celebration.

          • says

            singing freely participates with the gathering. singing doesn’t define or fill worship in the New Testament. We know this by the Spirit, until religious people gain personal sway to teach us otherwise.
            It’s as simple a stumble, as with “Hark, the herald angels sing”; while there’s no Bible account of angels singing.
            Why not in humility seek the face of God to know what He truly desires (“in Spirit and Truth”), rather than trailing along with another dog & pony show for the hour-a-week masses?
            btw: “Church of Christ” [USA origin: 19th century] has long ago become a have-it-my-way fractionated group of Locke-Christian philosophy devotees.

        • says

          Interesting discussion here. Frankly, I was not fond of the term “worship together” either, since it implies standing in rows, singing songs, with arms raised in the air.

          But again, this is just another problem with how today’s “churchy” terminology has become so bogged down.

          What I really meant was something closer to “living life and serving God and others together” but that is much more awkward.

          • says

            Romans 12:1 is translated by some as ending with “which is your spiritual act of worship”. Some think that 12:2 through maybe 15:13 expands on what this (act of worship) includes.

            Whether or not everyone agrees with that understanding, it pretty well defines worship for me. It is so much more than standing or sitting together, singing and so on. Worship is how we use our time and bodies to serve God every minute of every day, and of course a major component of that involves loving and serving others.

          • says

            our function in meeting together, whether as ekklesia [those called out, coming together] or sunagoge [Hebrews 10:24, gathering the scattered], is described [as from Acts of the Apostles, I Corinthians 14:26, etc.] as seamless within our new life together in Christ.

          • Ant Writes says

            Doesn’t the Hebrew definition mainly imply studying the Word? I was under the impression that when a a Jew was studying the Law, they were worshiping. And @Marshall, the whole notion of sitting in rows w/ hands up in the air is a “church” invention, so we do agree on that. That is also spoken about in “Revise us again” I believe..the book is on y shelf,and I just don ‘t feel like looking it up right now :)

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