Tag Archives: church planting

Brisbane needs more churches

A thing I wrote for the Bible Society about the impending arrival of City On A Hill went online last night. It’s in the print copy of this month’s Eternity newspaper. Eternity has just started a local Queensland section in print editions distributed up here that I’m excited to be writing for occasionally.

Here’s the last paragraph.

City On A Hill will change the church ecosystem in Brisbane. It’ll make life uncomfortable for existing churches. Any new animal introduced to an ecosystem causes disruption. I learned that in grade nine science. City On A Hill is a new animal. But if we want our city disrupted by the Gospel of Jesus, we need to keep welcoming new animals into the ecosystem. We want the ecosystem we live in to change – that’s why we’re part of God’s church.

It would be really easy to be anxious about City On A Hill coming into Brisbane’s CBD. Planting a church and reaching Brisbane is pretty hard and “competition” can be a scary thing. I had a recent experience on Facebook where someone moving to Brisbane was looking for church recommendations and heaps of interstate people who love and know Dave Miers were keen to recommend City On A Hill, and it could be disheartening for me, for other ministers, and other church planters in particular, to have a sense that people outside of Brisbane don’t know much about Brisbane’s church scene, but know City On A Hill and know Dave. It could be disheartening if our church strategies were built on securing transfer growth, not on telling people who live in our city about Jesus.

Here’s the stark reality facing the church in Brisbane.

Brisbane’s population is steadily growing. In the 5 year period from 2008 to 2013, the South East Queensland region’s population grew by 2%. If our churches aren’t growing at that rate, they’re actually shrinking. Between now and 2020, Brisbane’s population is projected to grow from 2.1 million people (2013) to 3 million people (2020) — there are some issues with population statistics in this document having different breakdowns between local government areas, and the area treated as “South East Queensland” which includes the Gold Coast, and the Sunshine Coast… but the stats all tell the same story. Our local governments — like the Brisbane City Council — are trying to figure out what infrastructure is required to facilitate this growth, and even just keep pace with it. The church in Queensland needs to do this too.

Queensland is growing faster than most churches in Queensland are growing. Brisbane is growing faster than most churches in Brisbane are growing. Which means we’re actually shrinking.

This new growth means higher density living in some parts of Brisbane, and upgrades to existing infrastructure and networks to keep pace with the growth — a shift in the make up of existing parts of Brisbane. But it also means new suburbs, new roads, new connectivity — new things being built to cater for growth.

Our existing churches should be keeping pace with growth, but we also need more churches to keep pace with this growth. Both more density in high density areas, and more churches in these green field developments.

It’s not rocket science.

Our church infrastructure — which is really a question of human resources, not building resources —needs to be constantly reinvented in order to meet the needs of our growing city and state. The status quo isn’t going to be sufficient if we want to keep pace with growth, or better yet, outpace growth.

That’s why we need City On A Hill, and many more workers for the harvest up here. There are plenty of great churches looking for staff — and the output of our colleges up here isn’t enough to supply the demand (yet). Check out, for example, this job that’s currently going at another inner city church plant. Village Church.

Re-thinking church planting and evangelism: A bunch of questions and maybes for post-modern, post-Christian Australia

What follows is a collection of (speculative) thoughts, ideas, and questions from a novice church planter about church planting and evangelism

My college principal (and friend), Gary Millar, caused a bit of a stir on social media with this post asking whether the new, trendy, church-planting-is-the new-black, movement is taking the focus off evangelism in the church. I like Gary a lot, and learned much from him, and I think it’s funny that a guy who was a church planter prior to joining the academy is copping flack online for being anti-church plant. He’s not. He’s certainly pro-evangelism. And pro-church plant.

His post, and the subsequent discussion have been stimulating, and got me thinking some thoughts that I needed to put into words so that I don’t lose them. I feel like it’s a conversation I should be part of, even though I’m not the most experienced church planter in the world, and didn’t even want to be a church planter. I think one of the big challenges the church faces though is figuring out how to do church and evangelism for people of around my age, and younger, and I feel like maybe I can offer some insight here, especially because Gary mentions “QTC graduates who are planting in Brisbane” and that’s me, and there aren’t many of us. I feel like he was singling me out a bit with the bolded line in this paragraph too…

“Biblical church planting flows from evangelism, as the message of the gospel is clearly proclaimed in every possible context. Some of this proclamation may be cutting edge, but some of it may look extremely mundane—teaching Scripture in inner city schools, building intentional relationships with baristas and road-sweepers, inviting the faceless residents of the other units into our block for dinner, eating at the same time every week in the RSL, going to the annual show just to be there… And doing it all to make the most of every opportunity to speak the gospel to a world which desperately needs to hear it.”

Before I begin…

And a slight disclaimer: This is the stuff I’ve been mulling over since Gary’s post, and while reading (and entering) some of the discussions about his post. Some of this reads like its a vague critique of strawmen ministers out there, and you might want empirical evidence that such ministers or thinking exists… I’d like to offer you Exhibit A, the only exhibit I’ll be offering throughout (apart from my ability to accurately represent the aforementioned conversations).

Me.

I’ve assumed at some points that how I feel and think is representative of how others might feel and think. I know there’s great stuff happening out there in many churches, and in many locations, and I thank God for that… but this is also based on conversations I’ve had with others and things I’ve observed as a participant in various churches that have either planted churches with varying degrees of success, or suffered as a result of people leaving to join new churches.

On the necessity of more evangelism

I think most people in Gospel ministry, if asked “is enough evangelism happening” would, and should, say no. Right up until the time that 100% of living people are following the living God (the new creation we long for), the answer to this question is no. That’s why the parable of the lost sheep is so profound in how it values the lost. We live in an age where there are maybe three ‘found’ sheep, and 97 lost…

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” — Luke 15:1-7

So evangelism is necessary. And obviously it’s about pointing people to the good news. The ‘evangel.’ Which is the good news about Jesus.

But I wonder if we really need to figure out is what it is we mean by evangelism (both in content and form), before figuring out what the relationship is between the church, members of the church, and what a proper emphasis on evangelism in the church looks like.

Maybe the problem Gary identifies is more about how we think of church being somehow distinct from how we think of evangelism. Maybe the move to church planting is actually a shifting understanding of the relationship between church and mission

It could just be me, but I’m pretty sure that evangelism has slipped down our agenda. Church planting has, it seems, taken up the headspace that was once occupied by evangelism. And much as I love church planting (it’s what we did in Ireland), it does provide more places for people to hide who don’t want to talk about Jesus to their friends.

Churches in our circles, especially in Australia, tend to think about church as the gathering of believers for the sake of believers. Sundays are inward looking, they’ll often feature the Gospel pretty heavily, because we realise that the Bible is ultimately a story centred on Jesus and to teach bits of the Bible without the Gospel is to not teach the Bible properly… but this way of thinking, that the body gathers for the sake of itself, doesn’t really give much clarity on how mission, or evangelism, fits with the life and rhythms of the church. So preachers throw “tell your friends about Jesus” in as the application to most sermons, churches put on evangelistic events, and might, if they’re really organised, occasionally teach people how to have conversations about Jesus with their friends (and I can’t help but think we make this more complicated than it needs to be, I don’t need coaching to tell my friends about the new coffee place I found, or my love for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, even in a terrible year, perhaps people just need to be convinced that the need is urgent and that this isn’t something they have to do by themselves). Here are some things I think we forget that we need to remember.

1. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10).

If the Zacchaeus story is the culmination of a bunch of stories that show who Jesus thinks the lost are — sinners who know they need a saviour —then this climaxes at the Cross, and in the resurrection. The reason to think this is how this verse should be understood, as a summary of Jesus’ lifelong journey to Jerusalem, is that Luke tells the Zaccheaus story in a way that ties together a bunch of different lost ‘types’ we’ve met on this journey.

2. Jesus sent the Spirit to the Church so that we could be united with him, and then sent the church into the world the way God sent him. (John 17, John 20).

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the worldMy prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” — John 17:18, 20-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said,“Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” — John 20:19-23

What’s interesting, I think, is if the prologue of John’s Gospel (the first 18 verses) sets up the themes of the Gospel, the way God sent Jesus is as the life-giving word who becomes flesh and dwells in the world (John 1:1-5, 14).

3. The Church is the body of Christ (and God gives gifts to the body to help it be the body). Part of being the body is corporately imitating Jesus in seeking the salvation of many.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 12. If the letter makes sense as a whole, I don’t think it’s a massive jump to link the stuff he says in 12, with the stuff he says in chapters 9-11, and 13-14, to figure out how people might do together what he sees as imitating Christ (1 Cor 11:1).

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” —1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Perhaps we have a problem if the way we understand church (ecclesiology) is not deeply connected to the way we think church should be oriented to the world (missiology). I think the short shrift evangelism gets in our reformed evangelical churches in Australia is a product of us thinking that church is a community for believers, not that the church is the community of the people of God for the world. Church isn’t just a Sunday gathering (or a gathering), but the way we gather, and what we invest in, will reflect what we think church is.

Evangelism is necessarily proclamation, but it’s not necessarily something an individual does as an individual. It necessarily involves words, but words are amplified or cancelled out by the actions and emotions of the proclaimer(s). Evangelism is more than saying “Jesus is Lord” — it’s living this truth together in a way that is intentionally compelling and persuasive to the people we dwell with.

Maybe, then, we proclaim the Gospel as we live it out in our community, as community, and speak clearly about why we live the way we do, because of points 1, 2, and 3 above.

If you think the church exists to proclaim the Gospel, and church communities exist to do that in particular places and cultures — then the dichotomy breaks down. Church planting is evangelism. That’s why we preach about Jesus every Sunday at the church plant I’m part of, and in our established mothership. If churches are missionary communities gathering to reach and serve a hostile culture, not simply the place where everyone from a culture is expected to rock up for an event on a Sunday to tick some sort of box, where evangelism is another checkbox on the “good Christian” to do list, then the dichotomy at the heart of Gary’s post gets resolved a bit.

It’s only in churches that don’t think of church or evangelism in this way that this conversation is a problem.

Evangelism has to be something that stretches beyond the Gospel being clearly proclaimed on a Sunday, it has to be part of the lives and relationships of Christians in community in their wider community.

Maybe there’s also a more complete approach to the content of evangelism (the Gospel) than exclusively emphasising the atonement, which also changes the forms of evangelism we look for, develop, and promote?

I don’t hear of many churches who are doing evangelism training these days.

Maybe what’s happening is we’re realising that evangelism training isn’t actually about learning to draw stick figures in six boxes, but is more about authentically living and sharing the Gospel story in the places we live and the relationships we develop?

Maybe part of this is because we think the Gospel is something best shared by a community of people — the body of Christ —  rather than individuals by themselves, apart from that community. Evangelism will always involve individual people boldly proclaiming and living the good news of the resurrected Lord Jesus, but we don’t have to feel like it’s something we do on our own (nor is it something just for specialists).

Maybe we’re realising that the Gospel isn’t best summarised as “Jesus died to save you (individual) from your (individual) sins (of which there is a long list)” but “Jesus is Lord of God’s kingdom and he calls you to turn to him as Lord (forgiveness of sins is then a benefit of this)”… maybe the way to present this isn’t a series of propositions or leading questions about an individual’s sin and the judgment they face, which Jesus takes (though this is part of it), but, instead, is a compelling presentation of the Biblical narrative which centres on Jesus and flows to us.

We have a really powerful story, and the opportunity to invite people to be a part of it. I really enjoyed this post today from First Things about how to reach cynical Gen X. Here’s a long quote from it. Feel free to jump to the next heading…

So you’re in quite a pickle: you can’t tell us that the Church has “the Truth,” and we know that the Church won’t miraculously cure us of our misery. What do you have left to persuade us? One thing: the story. We are story people. We know narratives, not ideas. Our surrogate parents were the TV and the VCR, and we can spew out entertainment trivia at the drop of a hat. We treat our ennui with stories, more and more stories, because they’re the only things that make sense; when the external stories fail, we make a story of our own lives. You wonder why we’re so self-destructive, but we’re looking for the one story with staying power, the destruction and redemption of our own lives. That’s to your advantage: you have the best redemption story on the market.

Perhaps the only thing you can do, then, is to point us towards Golgotha, a story that we can make sense of. Show us the women who wept and loved the Lord but couldn’t change his fate. Remind us that Peter, the rock of the Church, denied the Messiah three times. Tell us that Pilate washed his hands of the truth, something we are often tempted to do. Mostly, though, turn us towards God hanging on the cross. That is what the world does to the holy. Where the cities of God and Man intersect, there is a crucifixion. The best-laid plans are swept aside; the blueprints for the perfect society are divided among the spoilers. We recognize this world: ripped from the start by our parents’ divorces, spoiled by our own bad choices, threatened by war and poverty, pain and meaninglessness. Ours is a world where inconvenient lives are aborted and inconvenient loves are abandoned. We know all too well that we, too, would betray the only one who could save us.

Also, while I was writing this post, Stephen McAlpine chucked his latest post up, which is also relevant and provocative.

Maybe this needs to come with a shifting sense of what evangelism looks and sounds like in a post-modern/post-Christian context

Maybe stories resonate better with a post-Christian world and the way people think about life in it. Maybe while Penal Substitutionary Atonement is an essential part of the Gospel, this is a little individualistic in its approach to the Gospel (in its content), which might make us think a little bit too individualistically about evangelism (in its form). Perhaps a slightly different nuance on the Gospel that captures both the corporate and the individual implications while utterly emphasising the person and work of Jesus, especially his divinity, his humanity, and his life, death and resurrection (content) could reshape the way we talk about and practice evangelism in our churches — be they plants or established communities.

I don’t want to unnecessarily caricature the evangelism in Sydney from 13 years ago as Two Ways To Live, but Gary did this a bit for me…

“13 years ago, I made my first trip to Sydney. I came at the invitation of John Chapman and David Mansfield to spend a month working with the Dept. of Evangelism in the Sydney Diocese. It was a real eye-opener for me. Everywhere I went, it seemed like people were doing evangelism. Guest events in church. Dialogue dinners, evangelistic barbecues, men’s events, women’s events. You name it, it was happening. Everyone was learning Two Ways to Live, and new courses were coming out regularly.”

I think Two Ways to Live has been a fantastic servant for many years, and it represents a modernist/individual approach to evangelism and the Gospel. I think it has had its day, and if we’re going to train people to evangelise we need to think pretty carefully about what that looks like. We need people who walk around imitating Jesus, like Paul did, not people walking around spouting tracts or training material.

Two Ways to Live simply assumes too much that doesn’t mesh with modern Australia. It starts by assuming that the person you’re talking to believes in a creator God. Maybe this is based on the assumption that the kind of suppressing the knowledge of God that Romans speaks about is deliberate and intentional on the part of the person doing it, not something that happens corporately or culturally, maybe people relying on this material think the people who reject that concept have already ruled themselves out of hearing the Gospel through this choice (I hope not)…

TWTL works on getting people to assent to a bunch of propositions that lead to a particular conclusion. I think this method has had its day. I understand that others disagree — especially those who hate post-modernism and think people should be assenting to truth based on very clearly articulated, logical argument.

I think post-modern evangelism needs to rest more on helping people see who God actually is (that he’s not some being-in-creation, subject to the laws of nature, but the being within whom nature exists), helping them see how his plans and purposes for the universe, which centre on Jesus, include them, and helping demonstrate the plausibility of belief in Jesus, and the beauty and appeal of living life as a member of his kingdom. This isn’t the sort of thing you learn in a course, or can necessarily articulate in an adversarial large scale debate, or a conversation at a pub. Event evangelism, like the stuff Gary talks about, has a place, but it’s part of a suite of tools that a person might use in the context of a relationship with a non-believer they hope to see won to Christ.

And personally I think both the way we posture ourselves, and our content/emphasis, needs to shift gears a bit too — for an example of what I’m talking about see the difference I loved between how William Lane Craig debated with Lawrence Krauss (where I thought Krauss won) and how Rory Shiner approached his conversation with Krauss (where Rory Shiner was “gently crucified”— which I think is a substantial win).

How can we shift the way we train people to evangelise to actually speak the language of the people around us. Like Jesus did, and like Paul did as he imitated him?

I don’t want transfer growth (but I probably need it in order for evangelism to lead to discipleship)

We all know that transfer growth is something we should be seen to be against (even if we quietly say ‘But you know what? They’ll be much better off in our church anyway!’). But our real attitude to transfer growth is seen in the priority and energy and focused prayer we give to evangelism. If we aren’t pouring ourselves into the work of evangelism, then by default, we are just doing church in the hope that people show up… None of us wants to steal people from other churches (although a little bit of recruiting key people from other ministries is almost always necessary in the start-up phase).

I think this is interesting. I don’t just want to be seen to be against transfer growth. I’ve been part of small and large churches that have lost people to the next cool thing. I’ve thought about those churches as parasitic. I have. So I don’t want to be that church. I’m not interested in our church being the latest and greatest church that people move to until a newer, greater church starts up (as it inevitably will, because, you know, City on A Hill is coming next year). Here’s where I think Gary and I would absolutely agree about our patch of Australia. Brisbane is massive, and it’s projected to get even bigger. The city is going to grow to 3 million people by 2020. The reason it feels like we don’t need more trendy, evangelical, church plants in inner city Brisbane, the reason we wring our hands, is because honestly most of us are still trying to figure out how to do ministry in modern Australia. We can’t rely on turning on some lights and putting on a good kids program anymore. The reason it’s scary to hear about a schmick new church plant led by cool people with great ideas is because we’re (and by we I mean me) often insecure about what we bring to the table, and to our city… focusing on the size of the mission field and trying to reach lost people, rather than the limited pool of human resources around, is the best way to get a bit of perspective about this insecurity. Church plants can’t afford not to be on about evangelism (but neither can the established church).

But here’s the rub. Say my small church really goes gangbusters on evangelism, and say God blesses that effort, and say we triple in size from new converts. Who takes the responsibility for pastoring these new hundreds? Who shepherds them, who answers their questions? Where do we get the manpower from? Where do we find mature Christians if not the churches around us. Maybe if there were genuine innovative partnerships happening between churches the answers to these questions would obviously be “the church next door” — the one thing I reckon Gary absolutely nails in his post is the idolisation of numbers in church planting.

“It’s hard for those of us who aren’t church planting to appreciate just how big an issue ‘numbers’ is for those who are. Let’s face it – when you meet someone who is in a recently launched church plant, what’s the first question you want to ask?”

But it’s not just established churches that care about numbers. I ask every minister I meet how church is going, and what I mean is “how are numbers.” Almost every minister I know answers based on numbers  — and that means we’re very unlikely to be excited about not just releasing, but proactively sending, people to serve in another nearby church, be it for a season, or permanently.

At South Bank, we’re in a position where our leadership team is praying for some mature, gospel hearted, Christians to plug in with us to support new Christians. Especially new Christians from the margins of our community. These can only come from elsewhere. But where I think the transfer stuff gets messy is when people proactively seek those sort of people from other churches as they look to establish a core group. I’m happy to pray and to trust God to provide the people where necessary while we train and equip the people he’s already provided for us. So far our “transfer growth” has largely come from people relocating to Brisbane.

How do we figure out how to co-operate across churches to make sure new sheep are being cared for and fed? What does it look like for churches to partner together so that we don’t think of “sheep stealing” but “shepherd sharing”?

Maybe the reason evangelism and church planting seems like a dichotomy is because the way church planting happens is (sometimes) broken

If we played a word association game with the words around the church planting discussion, what image would pop up in your head? What do you blurt out before your brain pops into gear? Let’s try.

Church plant?

Probably a new set up with better branding, a nicer website, and a cooler pastor than you, meeting in some funky “third place” in a suburb more trendy than yours. Am I wrong?

Not all church plants are like this. Lots of them are tedious. But the ones that get all the attention because their pastors add friends and followers online if there’s even the hint of a second or third degree of separation between you and them are like this… some of the time.

Play the game with “church planter” and, well, the picture isn’t much different. Before (and during) college I had a particular set of words reserved for church planters, not many of them were nice.

Most would-be church planters take themselves too seriously, and don’t take the (established) church seriously enough. They also don’t tend to be realistic about just how hard it is to be the church in post-Christian Australia. We can’t all plant megachurches, nor should we want to. But most would be planters seem to think they need the branding/corporate identity of a mega church. I don’t mean my friends. Obviously. And I think the assessment processes of the bigger evangelical planting networks weed this out. But the perception is shaped by those people who self-identify as church planters before they’ve even designed a logo or married a hot wife (see my now ancient post on how to church plant, but if you want a funky name you can also pick a sanctified one word verb, previously reserved for conferences, or, as seems to be the case with hipster plants, a solid sort of noun that connects you to something even more solid, if you’re really stuck you could use the Hipster Business Name Generator).

Too often church plants happen in a way that dismisses the work of the established church — be it traditional churches or denominations — and this sort of differentiation comes at the cost of both the new and the old, the new because it can cut off support from the establishment, or just irk the people flogging their guts in those churches, and the old because there’ll always be a percentage of people in those churches feeling just disgruntled enough to get up and leave (which is where bad transfer growth happens). I say this reflecting a little (contritely) on how my own plant was promoted both in house, and online. There were people who had their noses put out of joint by the suggestion we needed new and different approaches to church. Typically from churches that are going pretty well and have reached a sort of critical mass.

Here are some things I hope everyone in this conversation agrees with, that change the nature of church and evangelism.

1. Australia is increasingly non-Christian. Post-Christian. Post-Christian people feel like they know what church is, but often have no idea what the Gospel is.

2. Many churches have not changed their methodologies significantly (especially outside the cities, but not only those outside cities) in response to this fairly rapid shift. Some want to, but don’t really know how. Sometimes this is because the change experienced in 1 happens slower outside the cities.

3. By the time the church catches up to change, the change will probably have changed again. Leaving us behind. And the pace of change feels like it is increasing.

4. The result of 1-3 is we need more churches being churches differently, but still proclaiming the Gospel, if we want to reach Australia.

What would it look like if we weren’t anxious about church planting in our neighbourhood but genuinely celebrated it? It happens sometimes, but even the people publicly celebrating are perhaps privately anxious (I know I am, especially about what newer, cooler churches will do to our capacity for transfer growth).

What would it look like for church plants to be supported by existing churches with people and resources even if those churches aren’t in a sort of mothership relationship? I think there are some great examples of this new paradigm in the Brisbane Presbyterian scene?

No Church (plant) is an island. Whatever church plants do it shouldn’t be done in isolation from established churches and networks

When planting happens best, churches plant churches. If churches are investing in planting churches, and partnering with the myriad planting networks and using planting resources from these networks, to put churches in more parts of Australia, then this is evangelism. It’s possible the church hasn’t stopped doing evangelism. It’s changed tactics.

I think the “churches plant churches” mantra is great. Especially in my experience. But I’d love us to get to the stage where “the Church plants churches” — where we all celebrate when new churches start (obviously, and its a shame I feel like I need to qualify, I mean churches that show they’re part of the body of Christ by presenting the good news about Jesus, you don’t need to celebrate every time someone puts up a sign that says “church”).

What if we were able to celebrate like this even if that church started in our suburb or town (so long as they start outside of the eastern suburbs of Sydney)? What if we looked at the number of people we’re completely ill-equipped to reach in our area and figure out what it might look like to share resources (including people), rather than competing? Where we view other churches at partners in the Gospel with such familial affection that we might even encourage our own people to patch over and serve there if it’s a better geographic fit, or the unique mission/vibe of that church is a better fit for a person, or just if the need is there and the person is willing to serve.

We need a big umbrella to do that, and I think denominations need to play a part in this because they’re the best set up, organisationally to do it. Too many church plants are independent, and this is an indictment on the denominations that have been suspicious of church planting, or worried about ‘protecting’ established churches. What do we need to protect geographic areas from? More Gospel converts?

But I don’t think denominations are the solution by themselves. I like the idea that church planting isn’t something that we leave to young, restless punks who have a bone to pick with the ‘establishment’ (no matter how well assessed they might be), or something we leave to a few innovative churches to do by themselves, or something that denominations set a budget for that happens in an ad hoc way… this is why I love it when groups like the Geneva Push and Acts 29 try to have a big enough umbrella to allow different groups and individuals to contribute to starting new churches. The more the group ‘sending’ the church planter looks like the universal church — the broader the ‘gospel coalition’ —and the less it looks like a random action of some splinter cell, the better.

If churches are being planted by churches that believe that the church being the church is a significant part of evangelism, then the church planting conversation doesn’t happen at the expense of the evangelism conversation. It is the evangelism conversation.

How do we reinvent the way we do church, and start new churches, so that new and old churches benefit from the reinvention? Maybe the answer to this question is tied up in the way Paul talks about (and fundraises for) mission to new places, and for the established church in Jerusalem in his letters (Romans 15, 2 Corinthians 8-9). I don’t know how sustainable it is to suggest the more established churches are owed respect and recognition in the way Paul wants new Gentile churches to recognise the Jerusalem church (Romans 15:27-28), but there could be something there…

We’ve got to try new stuff somewhere, and perhaps it’s easier to innovate in a new church.

I’ve grown up being part of some great churches, soaked in the Gospel. But I didn’t head off to college and into ministry because I wanted to see those churches duplicated. Well. Not completely. I wanted to see those churches produce fruit via the lives of the people shaped by those communities and the Gospel DNA. People like me.

I don’t want churches I lead to be clones of the churches that shaped me, nor do I want the church I’m part of to simply be a projection of the things I like. I hope we all feel the same. That we don’t want churches we’re part of to address the Australia of the past, but the part of Australia we’re in in the present, in a way that makes Jesus and his cross-centered story of redemption come alive as we embody him and live it. I hope we want to be a part of church communities that pass on the DNA that allows our ‘children’ (be they future churches, or our literal offspring), to shape the way church participates in the Australia of the future.

While the Gospel message doesn’t change, I believe there is continuity in terms of the beliefs the church has received because the Gospel has been faithfully transmitted from generation to generation, if we did church like my grandparents did church when they were kids, or like my dad did church when he was a kid, for my kids, my kids would not want to stick with church. But most churches get comfortable with their culture, and somehow baptise their practices as the “traditional” way of doing church. Being part of a church plant lets you at least tilt at a few windmills, or tip a few sacred cows over without too much damage. And gives other churches something to look at as a way forward.

Here’s an analogy. Parents know their kids need to eat good healthy food if they’re going to survive in the big, wide, world as adults. You can’t survive on KFC alone (trust me. I’ve tried). So a good parent teaches their kids to cook before letting them leave the nest.

Sometimes that child doesn’t figure out their identity, or what food they like, until leaving home. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing out on until you’re out there experimenting, or eating at new places in new neighbourhoods, with new people. This variety can be a massive danger, and might stop parents letting a child leave home, or stop a child taking the risk of leaving, but sometimes the teenager moves out of home, tries a delicious new sort of food, and brings it back to the family home and everybody benefits. This is only a benefit when there’s nothing unhealthy about this new food and its simply because the family home didn’t think or know about the option that it hasn’t always been on the menu.

That’s the sort of benefit that might happen if church plants are seen a bit like teenagers leaving home and growing towards adulthood as members of the family… rather than like teenagers who feel like they need to run away, or have been kicked out.

Maybe the reason evangelism doesn’t look like it’s working is that the people in the conversation tend to be focused on people just like us

I quoted Gary’s picture of the life lived evangelistically above. And I reckon it’s a great starting point. But I think we need to come to terms with the idea that white, middle class, post-Christian Australia doesn’t really want to listen to us anymore and doesn’t think we should have any particularly privileged place in society or their lives (think the place of religious ceremony in the calendar of the average Aussie). Even if they tick “Christian” on the census, Australians aren’t getting married in church, aren’t really going to church at Christmas and Easter, and aren’t making every day decisions with reference to Jesus Christ.

Evangelism seems really hard if you think evangelism is about converting your best buddies. And certainly you should hope to convert your best buddies. But our best buddies tend to be wise, powerful, wealthy types. If we’re honest about our wealth (and if you’re reading a 5,000 word blog post you probably fit that bill). Why do we think this should be the standard makeup of our churches? Paul didn’t seem surprised that the church in Corinth didn’t look anything like Corinth’s middle class.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. — 1 Corinthians 1:26-30

The middle class makeup of our churches is a vestige of the social privilege that came with Christendom, and as we lose that we need to be prepared for a shift in the demographic of our church communities. Not in a way that wipes out the middle and upper classes. Paul expects some people from these echelons to be part of the church (and to play their part), but in a way that upsets the default, and changes the way we think about how and where to do evangelism, and how to measure success.

Evangelism has to involve talking to people just like you. Your friends and family. Your neighbours. People who think like you and like the same stuff as you. But I don’t think we can afford for it to be limited to that… We need to break the shackles of our own personal affinities and start getting out of our comfort zones a little. I think this will be made easier because the people in our comfort zones or “target demographics” might not want to listen to us any more.

All evangelism is hard. For the reasons Paul spells out above. What we’re saying looks and sounds stupid. But the wisdom and power of God rests in us looking stupid to those who want worldly wisdom and power. And who doesn’t want worldly wisdom and power?

Why aren’t more churches working at the margins of society? You know who wants to know Jesus? International students, asylum seekers, and other people we forget in our comfortable little enclaves. I don’t know for certain where the vast majority of church plants happen, or who they try to reach – but I bet it trends urban/suburban, and trends trendy, and trends towards Sydney’s eastern suburbs if you’re a Moore College graduate or an Acts 29 planter in Sydney.

It’s hard to figure out how effective evangelism is when most of our human resources (think people being paid to do Gospel ministry in Australia) are in a relatively small pocket of a relatively big city, in an incredibly geographically diverse and increasingly culturally diverse nation.

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Confessions of a “reluctant” “inner city church planter”

There’s a bit of a conversation happening in the Australian Evangelical Blogosphere (so about the smallest pool in the world) about inner city church planting. They’ve got me mulling over next year and life at Creek Road South Bank – a new church, in Brisbane’s inner city, that I’ll be serving as the Campus Pastor (note, I think just about any name/title for a ministry position can sound a bit ego driven, the emphasis here hopefully will remain on the “serving” not on the “Campus Pastor”).

Here are some of the posts I’ve read…

The answer to the question “do we need more inner city church plants?” is clearly a yes.

It’s the answer to any question about “do we need more churches?” Churches are like broadcast towers that send the message of the Gospel around Australia – we need something like the National Broadband Plan to ensure good Gospel coverage around Australia. We also need more workers to work in these churches, and we definitely need more Christians. Australia isn’t meaningfully becoming less Christian, Australia has never been particularly “Christian” – church attendance was high when we started because people were forced to go to church. Australian laws might have assumed or reflected a Judeo-Christian moral framework – but that was the default, it didn’t mean they were written by people whose hearts were owned by Jesus, even if some of our early colonists were passionate Christians, others weren’t. We need more churches in Australia because Australia is full of lost people. And so are our inner city areas.

Which is why, for want of a better understanding of the nuance of what the church I’m part of is doing (hopefully this post will clear this up a little) – next year I’ll be an “inner city church planter.”

I’m finishing college soon. I’m thinking about what life in ministry, post-college, is going to look like for me, and what I thought it would look like before college. So just indulge me a little with this poorly structured stream of consciousness response to the posts above. It’s more about me than most posts you’ll read here, but indulge me a little.

Why I do what I didn’t want to do…

I feel like this whole South Bank thing is forcing me to think through a whole heap of competing thoughts and passions of mine in a way that hopefully ends up being consistent and a healthy compromise on my youthful idealistic zeal.

Before college I was pretty outspoken and cynical about church planting (or church planters) – and what I meant was inner-city church planting. I was cynical about the guys who wanted to plant churches without working with an established church, in a hip, non-denominational way (or even in the denomination but not of the denomination) – they’re the guys who were a little bit too sure of themselves, a little bit too sure of their central place in God’s plan. Or so I thought (and still think). I was especially cynical about people who wanted to plant megachurches.

This quote I shared from a guy assessing church planters a few years ago still resonates with me… It’s still a problem.

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 evangelistic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

One of the problems Josh Dinale identified with the current crop of church planters is:

“1) pastors wanting to be the next Mark Driscoll

the more I connect with young pastors (yeah I know I am still generally young, having said that, I have been in Christian minsitry for 10 years, I have been around the block a few times) I am seeing guys who look like Driscoll, speak like Driscoll, act like him, teach like him. I am sorry to tell you, but you are NOT him. you  are fearfully and wonderfully made, God has a plan for you, and you alone. I am pretty sure it is not to be like Driscoll but to be the best pastor God has created you to be. Be content with where you are, minister out of your gifts not someone elses.”

Mike Bird also identifies a similar trend.

“I’ve come across many young men who seem to think they have some kind of destiny to become the next Mark Driscoll or the next Tim Keller. They have a church planting strategy from the movie Field of Dreams. Remember the motto of that movie: If you build it, they will come. But the reality is a bit more complex as church planters are not just battling against a secular culture, but competing with existing churches in their area and even competing with existing church plants. In addition, many church planters are abandoning their denominations to plant these new independent churches, leading to a kind of righteous remnant mentality, cultivating a very low ecclesiology without historic bonds to the past, and looking down disparagingly on pastoral leaders who decide to keep working within their existing denominations.”

The whole “thinking you’re the new Driscoll” thing is nothing new (see this post from 2009 – five years ago) – Driscoll has an incredible ability to create fanboys out of the disenfranchised. But I haven’t spoken to many Driscoll fanboys lately, most people in that sort of camp seem to be man-crushing pretty hard on Matt Chandler. And most people of the generation slightly above me seem to be keen to shave their heads, read CS Lewis, and be Tim Keller.

Part of my reluctance to embrace the inner city thing is that there’s a perception that to do this sort of ministry you have to be some sort of bleeding edge hipster. And while I score pretty well on the “Are you a Christian Hipster?” tests because I like specialty coffee and craft beer (and I have a decorative typewriter, and a beard), I don’t want to be that guy.

As soon as ministry becomes about the minister it starts being dead.

This is also my problem with Josh’s thoughtful corrective – I may have been fearfully and wonderfully made – but more importantly I’m being amazingly remade into the image of Jesus – and it’s him people should be thinking about when they go to church. Not me. Or any pastor. If we talk about something a pastor brings to the table, or the locale, and it’s something other than Jesus, we’re talking about the wrong thing. I’m not naive, I think there are good pragmatic reasons that I’m not a bad fit in the inner city, but as soon as I start thinking about myself being a good fit, or being in any way necessary, or the inner city needing me to come in and save it – the narrative is wrong.

I don’t want to be an inner city church planter.

I don’t want to target the yuppies with a trendy and edgy ministry.

I do want to play my part in God’s program of reaching people, including the yuppies, including people in the inner city, and the regions, and the small towns. Sacrificially, doing ministry that resonates with people of whatever culture is around me – a bit like Jesus did when he entered Jewish culture as a Jewish man who spoke the language of the people around him, and told stories they could understand… using imagery they were familiar with… everywhere he could.

I might be a pseudo-hipster, but I have good reasons not to want to be an inner city church planter. I love regional Australia. I grew up in country town New South Wales (after a few years in Sydney), I worked in regional Queensland after uni. And regional Australia punches above its weight on the evangelical scene. In my experience. I think, and still think, that the human resources we suck into cities would, in the providence of God, also produce great results in regional areas. Regional areas and regional people need the Gospel.

Plus. I don’t buy into the tendency to spiritualise “the City”. Cities are significant because there’s a high concentration of people there, but the whole “heaven is a city, therefore city” thing just strikes me as ridiculous. This is a quote from a Christianity Today article about Tim Keller’s philosophy/theology of City ministry from a few years back…

““Surely God’s command to exiled Israelites applied to Christians in New York: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7). Long before that, God had designated cities as places of refuge when Israel entered the Promised Land. They remain so today, Keller noted—which explains why poor people, immigrants, and vulnerable minorities such as homosexuals cluster in cities. They attract people who are open to change. Paul did most of his missionary work in cities, and early Christianity flourished within them. Revelation portrays the final descent of the kingdom of God to earth as a city, although a garden city, with fruit trees and a life-giving river at its center. Keller suggests that, had Adam and Eve lived sinlessly and obeyed God’s directions, they would have made Eden into just such a city.”

I get the appeal of the vision of transforming a culture from the city out (ala Tim Keller), but having spent time in a parochial regional centre that wanted no bar of most of what came from a city, simply because it came from the city, I’m not sure how effective this nationwide campaign of transformation is going to be beyond the urban elite, and those who wish they were urban elite in regional cities – who never really gel with the culture of their town or regional city.

I do, however, think that cities are incredibly useful for producing dominant cultural narratives, that do filter out into the regions via the consumption of media and advertising. But if you’ve ever watched the ads on regional television, you’ll know that even the impact of these zeitgeisty narratives is limited, and watered down by being presented along with not so slick regionally produced media.

And I do think the Gospel is the best story there is going round, and it should be told more, and it should become part of conversations where different narratives compete – ala Peter Hitchens presence on Q&A last night. We need to get better at telling the Gospel story in the places where stories are told or presented professionally. And being crucified for it.

I like what Keller’s attempts to transform culture from the city, but I’m pessimistic about the impact of his method beyond the city. Though less pessimistic than Carl Trueman. I’m less Presbyterian than him too.

“And, to put it bluntly, Keller is the transformationists’ best shot today.   It does not matter how often we tell each other that our celebrity transformationists are making headway, such claims are only so much delusional hype.  A Broadway play and a couple of nice paintings do not help the man who cannot rent space to worship on the Lord’s Day.  Indeed, I wonder if any of these transformationists have ever asked themselves whether what we are seeing are not in fact transforming inroads into the culture but the modern equivalents of bread and circuses designed to gull the gullible — meaningless trivia, conceded by the wider culture, that make no real difference; where and when the stakes are higher and actually worth playing for, no quarter is, or will be, given.

Surely it is time to become realistic.  It is time to drop the cultural elitism that poses as significant Christian transformation of culture but only really panders to nothing more than middle class tastes and hobbies.  It is time to look again at the New Testament’s teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home.”

I think the example we get from the New Testament church, especially from Paul, is that it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re going to change a city by producing cultural artefacts – the Roman Empire was eventually transformed by the sheer weight of Christian converts, but I think we produce Christian converts by borrowing or subverting cultural artefacts to tell the story of the Gospel. The early church grabbed hold of a bunch of terminology associated with the announcing and promoting of a new king, they used terminology and titles for Jesus that were identical to the terminology and titles used of Roman emperors, but they promoted a king who was crucified, which was a cultural anathema, and was never going to result in immediate wholesale change.

Paul’s Areopagus speech, probably the best strategic attempt at cultural change we see in the New Testament, ends in what many would suggest is a failure to transform… most people laugh at him, and only some are transformed… and yet his speech, which presents the Gospel in a culturally informed way, is recorded in one of the longest lasting transformative texts in the world.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Paul goes to the heart of the city, the best place to tell the story of the Gospel, and he tells it in a culturally engaged way. But it doesn’t instantly transform the whole city (Jonah might be a better story about a city being transformed).

Which is why I’m excited that Creek Road South Bank is telling this story, hopefully excellently, at the Queensland Theatre Company’s Billie Brown Theatre, every Sunday. And it’s why I’m excited that our band is aiming for musical excellence, and Creek Road Media is aiming to produce culturally engaging video that tells this story in excellent ways. And I hope this does result in transforming the lives of enough individuals so that the fabric of our city starts to change. Person by person.

I also get that inner city ministry is incredibly hard. Because of the Inner City Pressure (cf this Flight of the Conchords song).

It’s hard because people who live in places that tell incredible narratives that provide apparent satisfaction to deep desires are often pretty convinced that they already live in heaven, while simultaneously feeling profoundly dissatisfied because they are surrounded by lots more people who both are broken, and reveal one’s own brokenness through interpersonal interactions.

But ministry is hard everywhere. Because it involves gathering a bunch of people who naturally think about what’s best for their sinful selves – even while God is uniting them behind the cause of the gospel by his Spirit. Let’s not fall into the trap of hyper-spiritualising inner city ministry.

Inner city ministry – and by extension, inner city church planting, is important because there are people in the inner city.

And, in a city like Brisbane, it’s strategic because there is public transport to the inner city from just about every corner of the city – and evangelical churches in Brisbane are not well represented in the statistical breakdown of religious belief in our city. So if people from parts of the city where there’s no evangelical presence can get to a place where there is, because they’ve been invited there by people who work in the City, then that’s a good thing. The notion of place or a patch for churches is just culturally out of touch. We don’t live, work, and play in the same suburb. Our relationships are likely to stretch not just across suburbs, but across cities, states, and countries. Building a strategy for church planting based on geographic saturation is a bit old school. People travel. We’re better of putting churches in strategic hubs – in Brisbane this might mean places where there are major shopping centres, that people are already in the habit of travelling to…

Image: Relationship networks visualised using Facebook friendships and flight routes, Credit: Robot Monkey

South Bank is also exciting for me because we’ve got a burgeoning ministry to refugees in Brisbane, and many of them live around where this church plant is happening. We’re reaching the world from Brisbane. I’m not sure Iranians on bridging visas are going to be all that enthused about a pastor with a fixie, and a well manicured ironic moustache.

… to do what I do want to do (or rather, what God wants us to do)

Paradoxically, part of the reason I’m excited about being an “inner city church planter” is that I didn’t ever want to be an “inner city church planter.” The bigger reason I’m excited is that I’m not going out on my own as some gung-ho, got all the answers, inner-urban hipster type who is cutting all ties with pre-existing structures. I’m part of a team, that is part of a church, that is part of a denomination, that also has a bigger agenda in terms of church planting. That’s a great way for ministry to not be about me.

While it looks like I’m an “inner city church planter” because each Sunday I’ll be at a new church in Brisbane’s inner city, that’s not what really excites me about next year. As exciting as it is. I went to college as a Presbyterian because being a Presbyterian is a great boat to fish from in Queensland to do Gospel ministry, because I’m theologically pretty Presbyterian, and because I like the attachment to a narrative that has history, that unfolds and is deliberately linked to things that have happened in the past, rather than being deliberately disconnected. I think it’s a little disingenuous to attempt to start a church with a clean slate. With no ties. With no baggage.

I’m excited about being part of the Creek Road team for a few reasons. Mostly because I’m excited about what I think is a reinvention of “team ministry.” I’m excited about team ministry at least in part because I’m an extrovert, but I’m theologically excited about team ministry in terms of what it looks like for a church to function well as the body of Christ, where each bit of the body uses different gifts in complementary and sacrificial ways, that benefit a variety of congregations who are either part of Creek Road, or part of our network. The approach we’re taking at Creek Road has the potential to be incredibly scalable – with some of the benefits of franchising a business in terms of quality control, pooling of resources, and some sort of “brand identity” (which, lets face it, is part of the appeal of denominations), but also the flexibility to do things differently in different places based on who is there – both in the pulpit, and in the congregation.

I think if people in ministry are just thinking about their immediate patch they’re thinking too small. If we’re only thinking about the city, but not the regions, if we’re only thinking about reaching Australia, but not reaching the world, then we’re omnifocused to our detriment, and the detriment of the church’s mission. It’s possible to focus on more than one thing at once. Despite what certain personality types will tell you. Jesus was pretty happy to leave this mission global (making disciples from every nation), while providing a starting place that was geographically bound (first in Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth). We not think global, and act local and global, simultaneously?

Physical presence is a big part of ministry, but the God we serve is transcendent and omnipresent. And prayer works. And prayer is ministry. And communication isn’t geographically contained anymore. Physical distance has collapsed into bits and bytes that can be fired through the skies. Why are we so keen to limit our footprint to our suburb? Using the incarnation of Jesus as a paradigm for local ministry is terrific and necessary, but we’ve also got to learn from the Apostles who used mediums that could be copied and spread, and fly through communication networks (like the Roman roads), whose relationships and span of care stretched across geographic boundaries.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because I want to serve the church and its mission wherever I can, not just in South Bank.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because I’m part of a team that is intentionally trying to create resources that will serve churches anywhere.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because, as part of the team at Creek Road, I’m contributing, with the rest of the team, to what happens every week in three different locations.

Mike Bird’s suggestion, in the face of this whole inner city church planting trend thing is:

“So I’m wondering, without disparaging church planting efforts, if we need to focus more on church rejuvenation over church planting in areas already well served with churches.”

I think this question presents a classic false dichotomy (on the back of a false premise – that there are areas well served with churches). And I don’t buy it. Why not do both? Why not focus equally on both?

Denominations are in a position to do that – so are bigger churches within denominations. Just about every objection to “inner city church planting” raised in those posts linked above is addressed by a model that sees big churches using their resources to serve and help smaller churches, be it starting them from scratch, or in partnership. And this is why I’m excited about the Creek Road model (you can read a bit of an explanation of this model here), and why I’ve signed up.

Big churches have an incredible opportunity to provide resources for small churches – in their own city, or beyond, that help in the rejuvenating process, they have the opportunity to start new churches that share the economies of scale and resources of the mothership. Whether or not regional churches take up the opportunity is entirely up to them, and there’s a gap between city culture and regional culture that needs to be carefully bridged. But Australia is full of people who don’t know Jesus. I’d really like more people to know Jesus. That’s why Robyn and I quit our jobs and left Townsville to go to theological college. It’s why I’m a candidate for ordination with the Presbyterian Church. It’s why despite myself I’ll be hanging out in a new church in Brisbane’s CBD next year with Creek Road.

We need more churches in the inner city because we need more churches everywhere. Brisbane will have a population of 3 million people in 2020. That’s heaps of people who need to know Jesus. That scales up the wider you cast the net – Queensland’s population is growing, Australia’s population is growing, the global population is growing. We need more churches. We need better resourced churches.

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Next year…

For those who came in late (I’ve always wanted to start something that way), this year is my last year at Queensland Theological College.

My last year of being a “Candidate for Ordination” for the Presbyterian Church of Queensland. And it’s almost September.

It is traditional, at these times, if one is a college student, to be thinking about one’s future. To be thinking about next year – and the years after, and where one might end up serving the body of Christ, his church, and in what capacity.

Today I stood up in front of all four services at Creek Road, with my friend Joe, and we spoke about next year – and where we’re headed. For a bit more on what Joe is doing see this post on the Creek Road blog.

Long long time readers might remember some things I wrote in my pre-college years about ministry in regional parts of Australia. And might remember some of my passionate pleas for people to take the gospel to regional Queensland.

You may also remember some of my cynicism about missional theology centered on “the city” – as if inner city ministry is hugely transformative and thus, of more value.

You may remember some of the things I said about “church planting” and the types of people who are attracted to the glamour and excitement of not having to deal with “traditions” and stuff.

It’s all here in the archives.

You may know that Robyn and I have continued to champion the cause of Queensland’s regional areas in our time at college.

You’ll be happy to know – on the basis of these well documented commitments – that our immediate, and probably short to medium to long term future has been sorted.

God, it seems, has a sense of humour.

Next year, and beyond (subject to me passing college, my trials for license, and a congregational meeting) Robyn and I will be continuing to serve with the saints at Creek Road in a new campus. Creek Road is going multisite (don’t worry – all the stuff I said about video preaching and the need for a preacher to have a flesh and blood presence with his congregation still stands).

This campus is in South Bank. Brisbane’s cultural hub. Brisbane’s inner city.

We’re very excited about serving with Creek Road – it is a church that is serious about the gospel, and is serious about reaching the lost. It is a church that has a clearly articulated theology of ministry, and philosophy of ministry, and approach to ministry that I’m more than on board with. It is a church that makes sure Jesus is at the heart of each sermon, each song, each Growth Group study.

If you come to Creek Road on a Sunday – you’ll hear about Jesus.

Which is great.

South Bank is a really exciting part of Brisbane. It’s where a lot of the good cafes are. It’s where culture happens. We’re even meeting at the Queensland Theatre Company.

We’re going to be opening a campus, a church, in the heart of Brisbane – where stories are told – and we’ll be sharing the best story in the world – the gospel of Jesus.

Which is exciting.

This may all seem something like a slap in the face to regional Queensland – but it’s not. At least not in my head.

I still love regional Queensland. Especially North Queensland. I’m still keen to see great ministry happening outside of the south east corner, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to be a part of that in a more effective way than I would be were I to head somewhere else (and there aren’t a huge number of competing offers out there this year).

I’m particularly excited about Creek Road’s commitment to partnering with, and resourcing, churches all around the state, and even all around the country. There are concrete examples of this happening already – in regional Queensland and beyond. That is one of the things that really excites me about joining the team at Creek Road.

There are a heap of synergies in terms of things I’m passionate about seeing our denomination do to share the gospel and this role at Creek Road.

One of the things I’ve become really passionate about since I wrote all that stuff about regional ministry is the sort of public Christianity sphere this blog has started to occupy, that represents a significant aspect of my thinking about ministry, and there have been a few conversations I’ve had with people around the country in recent weeks on that front that make me think this is an area I should continue exploring and developing.

There’s huge scope for developing this stuff further in this role – producing things like this, and working with our team on things like this smart phone app, and helping think about how we share and distribute these videos.

Mad Skillz: How to plant a church in a new(ish) community

Andrew Millsom is a college buddy of mine planting a new church with my old church in Townsville, Willows Presbyterian. His church is called Northside Presbyterian and it is a new church in a new suburb in Townsville, North Queensland. One of Australia’s fastest growing cities. Townsville is an amazing place full of amazing gospel opportunities. This new church is in Townsville’s Northern Beaches area, so if you live nearby, and you’re looking for a family friendly church. Check. it. out. They also have great coffee (supplied by me – you too can buy coffee for your home, business, or church).

These are some of Andrew’s thoughts almost nine months in (though the plant is the product of years of preparation from the Willows perspective, and it launched in January, Andrew moved to Townsville towards the end of last year).

I’m not your hairy-chested, Mark Driscoll type church planter, but still I think I’ve learned some things. Here’s a sample.

1. A hand-picked core group is great.
If you come to Northside you’ll see something that looks a lot like normal church. But it’s what you won’t see that matters – you won’t see people sniping at each other, fighting, forming cliques, or complaining about stuff that isn’t being done their way. And you won’t realise that almost everyone there is in a small group and desires to serve in some way. All this makes the day-to-day work of church planting a lot easier. And Northside is like this because the core group was hand picked.

2. Just because you plant a church doesn’t mean new people will come.
This might sound obvious but sometimes we’re tempted to think this way. Sure the church is good, sure it doesn’t have some of the ‘baggage’ of an established church, sure it really is a church worth coming to. But if people don’t know you’re there, they can’t come. You need to put effort into getting your name out there.

3. The basics remain the basics.
The important things stay the same whether you’re in an established church or a church plant – teaching the Bible, welcoming newcomers, looking after the people who’re already there. If anything, without some of the distractions of a larger church, church planting means you focus on these things even more.

4. Being a part of a team is really helpful.
Church planters are generally one-man-bands. And like any pastor of a small church you need others to encourage and challenge you. I’ve been blessed to be part of a great team at our mother church, Willows, but I also try to catch up with one of the other pastors in the area (the Baptist guy) on a regular basis.

5. A community presence is gold.
We meet in a community hall in a state school. We did a working bee there last Saturday. Gold! You can’t buy that sort of goodwill for
the church or for Jesus Christ for that matter. People in our community no longer automatically have a positive view of Christians; we have to earn that. And church
planting (generally) provides more opportunities for doing that.

6. Best book I’ve read on church planting
Church Planting Is for Wimps by Mike McKinley. It’s just really down to earth… and short!

Jesus was way cool*

You know. Jesus was pretty darn awesome and he hung out with all the movers and shakers in first century Jewish society – so we should totally do the same with our ministries… no wait. That’s not right. An Acts 29 church planting screener has pointed out that a number (all is a number) of the planting candidates he’s interviewed have the same missional passion – the desire to see cool people saved.

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.

His conclusion is just as on the money.

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.

In the Australian context it’s probably not so bad – but it’s just something to remember. Jesus loves city people, young professionals, farmers, retirees and the homeless. Our ministries should love those people too.

* Check out the King Missile song by this name if you haven’t already discovered it.

A better analogy for church planting

Stuart didn’t think much of my Woolworths v 7/11 analogy. I admin that it has limits. He has called for a better analogy. And I think I’ve come up with one. We’ll see.

The gospel is only useful as a piece of communication. This communication requires metaphorical communication technology – think of your ubiquitous mobile phone. Mobile phones work all over the country because there is infrastructure all over the country to support them. Mobile towers create the ability for people in regional Australia to be linked to the service. If you lice in an area with no service it’s really frustrating. You see the service that city people enjoy and you get a bit mad that nobody loves you.

We should be thinking of churches like broadcast towers. We want to be a country that has full ministry coverage – ministry available in every area. It’s right to have strong signals and good infrastructure where there are more people – like in Sydney – but the reason people previously griped about many telcos is that their rural and regional service is so poor.

This metaphor also highlights the problem with the “for the rest of the country to be strong we need to keep Sydney strong” line. It’s a given that we want to keep Sydney strong. What these people are suggesting is that in order to keep Sydney strong we need to overinvest in infrastructure in Sydney. It’s a build it and they will come mentality. Building heaps of communications towers in one place doesn’t improve the signal in regional Australia – it improves the signal locally – and regional Australia packs up and moves to the city. Especially when one of the prevailing messages people who attend evangelical conferences in Sydney hear is “you need to find a good church you can serve in” what do you do if you’re somewhere with no good churches? You move to Sydney.

If the government feels the need to legislate and create a company in order to service the needs of all Australians – why are we not treating the issue in the same manner?

Groceries and the gospel

Have you ever seen a 7-11 in a country town? How bout a Woolworths? How about an evangelical church? When it comes to spreading the “bread of life” around the country the evangelical church’s (defined for the sake of this post as Bible believing and theologically reformed) strategy has been closer to 7-11’s urban focus than Woolworths’ approach of putting Supermarkets wherever it might be viable.

Woolworths has more than 700 stores in Australia (according to Wikipedia). 7-11 boasts more than 350 stores in Australia

At our college weekend away our principal, and brother in the Lord, Bruce Winter (he doesn’t like the “Dr” honourific) encouraged us to consider our ministry futures as a blank cheque – and specifically raised and criticised the attitude of some people he’d met who scoffed at the notion of leaving a city to engage in country ministry. This idea stands in stark contrast to Izaac’s report from the other day.

Here’s a quote from the post where Izaac quotes Phillip Jensen.

God cares for people more than sheep. So we need to send gospel workers where there’s more people than sheep.

Alright then. Guess I won’t be leaving the city. And New Zealand is definitely out of the question. On further explanation I understood Phillip’s point. He was just using the line as an introduction to his reflections on strategic thinking. He went on to inform us if we drew an imaginary triangle between three Western Sydney suburbs (I forget which ones), there’s more people contained within than in the entire state of South Australia – so we theoretically need at least as many workers in that triangle as in South Australia. Phillip wasn’t against country ministry, but highlighted the increased importance of regional centres rather than establishing a formal church in every tiny community.

Perhaps Phillip Jensen might reconsider his quote (boldened) if those in the country stopped sending their sheep and grain to the cities for food? I commented on the post suggesting that the church should not consider itself as 7-11 but rather as a supermarket. We don’t need an evangelical church on every corner of Sydney’s bustling streets. We need a supermarket mentality where we’re in every town in Australia. All Australians need to be able to shop for groceries – and all Australian’s need the gospel. If we’re convinced that the gospel is a necessity then like Izaac says in the comments on his post – we need to be thinking in terms of access rather than saturation.

Part of me likes to think in the category of access. Though churches need to operate evangelistically as individuals that “go out” with the gospel, it is also true that churches can have an attractional quality whereby people “come in” to hear the gospel. So there is a certain reality to a smaller town with a church gathering where the gospel is proclaimed, is doing a similar thing to having one good church per suburb in the city; namely providing an opportunity for those keen to hear about Jesus the chance to do so.

I disagree with the premise that you need one good church per suburb – I suspect you need one good church hub for every six or seven suburbs.

When I defined “evangelical” churches as “Bible believing and reformed” earlier you can be sure that most of these churches in Australia are enjoying the fruits of faithful men who happened to serve in Sydney. Most evangelical churches around the country can trace their roots to Sydney (just like any white settlement in Australia). But the same can be said for Woolworths.

In 1788 Samuel Johnson’s York Street Anglican was the “cradle” of evangelical Christianity in Australia, the first Woolworths opened in 1924, about 150 years later, just two streets away in Pitt Street.

I don’t want to toy around with counting up the number of “evangelical” churches in the country – but I’d say in Queensland there are a handful (more than ten, less than twenty) in the city of Brisbane and ten or less throughout the state’s regional centres. I may be undercounting in both cases. And I’m certainly not au fait with the number of evangelical Chinese Churches around the traps (I learned this over the weekend).

I’m not arguing that we should neglect the city – I just don’t buy the argument that the number of work(er)s should be proportional to the size of the population. Here are some stats from the National Church Life survey (NCLS)

“According to the Australian Community Survey (ACS), some 63% of adults live in urban areas. Of the remaining 37%, 10% live in large regional centres (population greater than 20,000 people), 15% in centres of between 2000 and 20,000 people, 8% in centres between 200 and 2000 people, and 3% in centres of 200 people or less.”

How many of those 37% of people have easy and convenient access to groceries thanks to Woolworths or Coles? How many have access to faithful Bible teaching? If there’s a disparity we’re doing it wrong. Bible teaching is as necessary for life as bread and milk.

The NCLS provides a further breakdown…

“Reported church attendance among people in urban and rural areas is similar, with 20% of urban dwellers attending frequently compared with 19% of rural dwellers. However, farmers and agricultural workers have much higher levels of frequent church attendance (28%) than others. This could be because churches provide opportunities for social interaction, although other community organisations do this too. Alternatively, the higher attendance levels among farmers could be because the way of life of farmers and their work in providing the necessities of life receives greater affirmation from the churches than most other occupations (Why People Don’t Go to Church, 2002, p 20).”

“Christian belief is average. Urban and rural dwellers are just as likely to hold a range of traditional Christian beliefs (30%). Rural dwellers (12%) are less likely to be interested in alternative or New Age spiritual practices than urban dwellers (15%). Urban dwellers are a little more likely to value spirituality, freedom and an exciting life than rural dwellers. But rural dwellers place more importance on national security than urban dwellers (69% compared with 62%).”

Extrapolating on denominational attendance figures from census data it’s a safe bet that a high proportion of these rural church goers aren’t enjoying the benefits of reformed evangelical Bible teaching.

Denomination No. of People (2001 Census) 2001 Estimated Weekly Attendance Percent attending of people identifying
Anglican 3881162 177700 5%
Baptist 309205 112200 36%
Catholic 5001624 764800 15%
Churches of Christ 61335 45100 74%
Lutheran 250365 40500 16%
Pentecostal 194592 141700* 73%
Presbyterian & Reformed 637530 42100 7%
Salvation Army 71423 27900 39%
Seventh-day Adventist 53844 36600 68%
Uniting 1248674 126600 10%
* NCLS attendance estimate for ‘Pentecostal’ only includes Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Bethesda, Christian City Churches, Christian Revival Crusade and Vineyard

If you don’t buy the 7-11 argument you should check out this map of Sydney Anglican Churches in North Sydney

How many staff do each of those churches have? How many overseas missionaries do they support? Probably heaps – how many churches around Australia could be created and supported by deconcentrating this presence?

How is it that Coles and Woolworths are caring better for the average Australian than the church that claims to adhere to the teachings and instructions of Jesus? If the gospel was all about reaching the most concentrated populations wouldn’t he just have stuck to Jerusalem or hit the road to Rome?

He was the guy who not only traveled the countryside preaching the gospel (Matthew 9):

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

He also sent 72 of his followers out in pairs to the countryside (in Luke 10) to reap a plentiful harvest, and then of course there are Jesus’ last words to the church prior to his ascension – it’s not an instruction to “go to the people of the earth” but the “end of the earth” – which despite my less than rudimentary understanding of Greek suggests a geographical element rather than anthropological understanding (I haven’t actually looked at the Greek at all – feel free to correct me). How much more plentiful is the regional harvest in our time – when our “country” centres (like Townsville) are the same size as Corinth in Paul’s day (according to Biblegateway).

If secular culture and corporations understand the value of getting groceries to consumers everywhere – why are we so good at saturating the city of Sydney and so bad at reaching the rest of the country?

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Ten steps to planting a megachurch

I have no plans to plant a megachurch. Imagine the administration hassles. But I am an armchair megachurch planter. And here are my ten steps based on my observations. I have studied (some might say rigorously) five different megachurches at various stages of the developmental process – form megachurch megastar Joel Osteen to the New Calvinism’s Mark Driscoll. Lest you be concerned, the essential steps to growing your megachurch (based on my observations and my list), don’t seem to require any mention of Jesus.

  1. Be improbably good looking and well presented. Lets face it. If you’re not good looking there’s no chance the TV stations are going to want to interview you about anything. If you’re not blessed with natural good looks you can always get surgery. Self improvement is the first step down the road to success. You need to be good looking so that you can plaster your face all over the covers of your books and your church website. It doesn’t matter what doctrinal bent you come from. As the pictures below demonstrate (yes, they are all pastors – can you name them?).




  2. Marry an improbably good looking woman so that you can talk about your “hot wife” – This is also important because all the single guys will listen to you wondering how you managed to, to quote an Australian beer ad, punch above your weight. Here are the wives of the improbably good looking guys above. This is also really important when it comes to preaching the annual series on sex that all Megachurches must have in order to stay edgy, relevant and controversial.





  3. If you’re not a good looking guy with an equally (or slightly better looking) wife then you should resign yourself to just running an ordinary church. If you are good looking then here are the rest of the steps…

  4. Pick a suburb or sub culture – also known as an audience, target market or mission field. Contextualise like crazy. If your sub-culture is a group of inner-city gothic vegetarians then dress like they do – but eat meat to show that this is an issue of preference and conscience. To be a megachurch you either need to be in the subculture but not of the subculture, or you need to present that to which the subculture aspires to…
  5. Come up with a name for your church – Here you have three choices – you can choose an edgy buzzword, a relatively obscure Biblical reference, or a buzzword based on a relatively obscure Biblical reference. This choice should be made subject to the availability of the web domain. I would call mine “Buzzword Church”. Here are the names of our five case study churches.
    • Mars Hill Church
    • The Village Church
    • Elevation Church
    • Lakewood Church
    • Hillsong
  6. Come up with position titles – This one isn’t that hard. You’re either Pastor (your name) or some sort of edgy non-Biblical name that makes people feel comfortable. If you go down the pastor line you also need to distinguish yourself from your colleagues with a reference to your particular role.
  7. Pick some venues – Did someone say multisite? Your sites need to be far enough apart that there are clear suburban boundaries so that you can selectively allocate new families to the appropriate multisite location (or campus) just like the public schooling system – but close enough that there isn’t a change in demographic.
  8. Hire a marketing team – you’ll need a graphic designer (Image Pastor), a publicist (Media Pastor), a web developer (IT Pastor), a marketing manager (Evangelism Pastor) and a social media strategist (Community Pastor). Just to start with.
  9. Build a functional and edgy website – there are two design aesthetics you can choose from that cover every possible sub culture. Grungy or Minimalist with a feature image/sliding gallery (preferably featuring a picture of someone raising their hands). This choice is largely cosmetic – you can even combine them. What matters is your ability to “convert” in the web marketing sense – you need to turn casual visitors into podcast subscribers. Once you’ve built a substantial base of podcasters you can hit the lucrative conference circuit. There you get to hang out with a bunch of other improbably good looking “Lead Pastors” from your theological persuasion.




  10. You can gain megachurch style points by having your own personal website too. You get extra points if your own website outranks your church website when searching for your name, but lose points if the .com version of your name belongs to someone else (I’m looking at you Mark Driscoll, and you Brian Houston).


  11. Set up a publishing/recording company – You need to share your thoughts with the whole world. This sort of notoriety is good for your brand at home and abroad. A publishing arm will help get your initial tomes off the ground, and hopefully get money coming through the doors in the long term. If your writing is sensational enough it will generate a buzz.  A recording arm will encourage talented musicians to join your church – having the added bonus of improving the quality of service. This will also help to justify your outlay on the best AV equipment available. God hates bad sound. And podcast video needs to be as clear as possible if your missional agenda is to gain traction in the global market place.
  12. Stir up controversy – Part of being a successful Megachurch planter is creating the buzz that comes with being a megachurch. To achieve this you need to pick some touchy issues to be passionately outspoken about. You can recant about these later (or become more passionate). The point is to get your name blogged about lots. The ridiculously good looking people above have the following impressive results when you google them
    • “Mark Driscoll”: 313,000
    • “Joel Osteen”: 722,000
    • “Steven Furtick”: 45,300
    • “Brian Houston”: 121,000
    • “Matt Chandler”: 367,000

If at first you don’t succeed – Pull up stumps, blame God (or the Devil), reassess your marketing strategy and go back to step 3. Unless you decide that you aren’t actually really, really, ridiculously good looking. But even then there’s hope. You just have to wait until you’re old and austere.

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The father of all links posts

Ah, another week, another post chock full of links from the narrow sector of the world wide that I like to call the blogosphere.

I thought I’d get a little bit geographically specific with this little link edition. Just to give you an idea of the spread of blogs that I read (that you should too). This is by no means comprehensive – but here are some of the homes of regular commenters, people I know, and people I reckon you should discover (along with some choice posts from their sites).

Right-o. Lets go.

Starting with those in my own neck of the woods – the Townsville scene… (in no particular order). 

  1. Tim – doesn’t post often and when he does it’s usually a YouTube video.
  2. Leah – is the Andrew Bolt of the North Queensland Christian blogosphere, or perhaps the Tim Blair. She also covered North Queensland’s lost and found saga this week where a local lad from a local church went missing in the bush, and was found a couple of days later.
  3. Stuss – has picked up the pace a little, though most of what she’s saying is about gardening and decluttering. Which is fine. Because both are good things.
  4. Phoebe – hasn’t really said anything for 21 days. I just counted. But no list of bloggers from Townsville would be complete without her.
  5. Joel – if Leah is the Tim Blair of the Townsville blogosphere then Joel is the Piers Ackerman.
  6. Carly – is an education student and gives some interesting insight into the female psyche with pieces like the one she wrote last week about Oprah.
  7. Chris barely posts enough to rank a mention. But he’s a blogger. In Townsville. So he sneaks in.

If you’re in Townsville, and I’ve missed you, let me know in the comments.

Moving south, here are some of the notables in Brisbane…

  1. Kutz – I mentioned his new endeavour last week. It’s been trickling along. I’m sure more comments from nice friendly readers would keep his motivation levels up.
  2. Tim and Amy – The same could be said for these two. They’ve kept a pretty steady pace and you should go over, read what they have to say, and say hello.
  3. Simone – well, I’ve talked about her blog enough for you to know what goes down over there. She gets a prize for being the third blogger to mention my dad* this week. Her little piece of speculation about narrative in the new creation was interesting enough to get my hippocampus firing today.
  4. Will Henderson – gets the prize for being the first to mention dad*, and also for being the first Acts 29 affiliated church planter in Australia – a story that apparently hadn’t received all that much coverage before I mentioned it the other day (based on some posts like this one from Jeff Attack)… check out the website for his upcoming plant. Unfortunately it’s a bit grungy. And we all know how I feel about grunge.

Now, on to Sydney. The city of my birth and home of many good blogs.

  1. Izaac is back from a holiday and taking on the challenge of posting about Christian love and social justice.
  2. Ben celebrated his birthday yesterday – and I promised him a link. Then he posted a story about how the Governator has the Conan sword in his office – that I was all set to feature in my next little string of “Curiosities” posts.
  3. At the fountainside Soph asks the important questions about train etiquette – something we’ll have to (re)familiarise ourselves with next year.
  4. Ben (of the Bathgate variety) lists five things that made him tough(er). I score one on his list.
  5. Dave Miers managed to scoop Mikey Lynch by posting an interview with Andrew Heard, one of the Geneva Church planting crew (another post on the network from Dave), before Mikey could wrap up his series of similar interviews with church planting figures (including Will Henderson and Al Stewart).

Mikey (from Tasmania) was also the second person to, somewhat vicariously, mention dad this week because his name came up in one of the posts from the aforementioned series of interviews.

It has also become apparent – from what Andrew Heard said on Dave’s blog and what Al Stewart said on Mikey’s – that the Geneva portmanteau was only a vicious rumour, and that the name is actually a reference to Calvin’s work in that city. Which is a good thing.

And to conclude, here are my favourite ten posts from my blog this week (including bits from Robyn and Benny).

  1. Benny on Ministry
  2. Robyn on Grammar (PS – you should all encourage Robyn to blog more – she needs some comment love…)
  3. Good bad haircuts
  4. Bad relevance
  5. How to pick a cafe
  6. Cool stuff to do with your photos/iPhone
  7. Tips from a guru (my dad – since he’s the flavour of the blogosphere these days…*)
  8. The one about being wrong.
  9. The one about yawning.
  10.  The one about being a PK, and the follow up about being a PK being a bit like being Harry Potter.

* I should point out that these constant mentions of dad being mentioned are a mixture of patri-pride and because I think it’s slightly funny that he feels a sense of discomfort about being in the spotlight. It’s not because I think he’s super special (though he is). And if you want to join the fan club here’s the video I made for his 50th.

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Tips from a guru

There’s a lot of buzz going around about church planting at the moment. You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed it.

Will Henderson is planting the first Acts 29 (Mark Driscoll’s movement) church in Australia. He’s a Pressy. He’s from Brisbane. He’s got a blog.

Until now I hadn’t thought it worth mentioning. But today he interviewed my dad.

He got the scoop with dad’s top three tips for church planters.

1. Work really, really hard at clear bible teaching. This is the foundation. As a planter you will be tempted to take shortcuts in this area, my advice is to do the opposite. Spend up to three days a week focusing on your teaching and do it really well.
2. Do everything else as well as you can. Doing this affirms your commitment to number one.
3. Love people, but be firm and apologise freely.

Here are dad’s bottom three based on my experience having assignments proof read and hearing him rant at my mistakes (especially point two).

1. Avoid run on sentences, run on sentences are two sentences in one without a full stop in between.
2. Make sure your lines are straight – nothing says “sloppy” like a poorly folded bulletin, or a sign with letters out of alignment.
3. Keep it shorter than 23 minutes. Nobody likes to be bored. Especially your wife.

Made in Manhattan

Tim Keller is pretty much the thinking man’s Mark Driscoll. Well, not really, Mark Driscoll is intellectually brilliant too – and communicates brilliant things in a clear way. Keller doesn’t seem to worry as much about the everyman – he knows his audience.

Christianity Today has a rather long feature about Keller’s church – Redeemer Presbyterian in New York. It’s a worthy read.

“The Kellers stick to a few rules. They never talk about politics. Tim always preaches with a non-Christian audience in mind, not merely avoiding offense, but exploring the text to find its good news for unbelievers as well as believers. The church emphasizes excellence in music and art, to the point of paying their musicians well (though not union scale). And it calls people to love and bless the city. It isn’t an appeal based on guilt toward a poor, lost community.”

Sherman [a guy interviewed for the article] relates Keller’s vision to the apostle Paul. “Paul had this sense of, I really should go talk to Caesar. He’s not above caring for Onesimus the slave, but somebody should go to talk to Caesar. When you go to New York, that’s what you’re doing. Somebody should talk to the editorial committee of The New York Times; somebody should talk to Barnard, to Columbia. Somebody should talk to Wall Street.”

That’s all good. But then he gets on the city high horse…

“Surely God’s command to exiled Israelites applied to Christians in New York: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7). Long before that, God had designated cities as places of refuge when Israel entered the Promised Land. They remain so today, Keller noted—which explains why poor people, immigrants, and vulnerable minorities such as homosexuals cluster in cities. They attract people who are open to change. Paul did most of his missionary work in cities, and early Christianity flourished within them. Revelation portrays the final descent of the kingdom of God to earth as a city, although a garden city, with fruit trees and a life-giving river at its center. Keller suggests that, had Adam and Eve lived sinlessly and obeyed God’s directions, they would have made Eden into just such a city.”

I wonder where he thinks his food comes from? It annoys me that people feel the need to scripturally justify the heart they have for the place in which they minister. Surely we’re all called to do so in different places (unless I’m missing something and the “ends of the earth” only includes cities).

But then he gets back to the good stuff.

On Morality

“Redeemer holds high moral standards, but Keller puts all 10 commandments under the first one—to have no other gods. Preaching about idolatry—the sin of putting something or someone else in the place of God—enables Keller to communicate with relativists, who would respond to Christian moral standards by saying, “That’s just your opinion.”

“When you say the ultimate sin is to put things in the place of God,” Keller says, “you take that argument away. You find that they say, ‘Hmm, I don’t know if there is a God.’ When I describe sin in such a way that people wish there were a God, I’m making progress.”

This next bit is perhaps my favourite. It’s a refreshing approach to interdenominational relationships. And perhaps even tempers my opposition to Mars Hill’s plans for global domination… (though I still hate church by video as a model, perhaps some people prefer to get their pastoring from a big screen…)

“Keller’s PCA denomination proclaims classic Puritan doctrine. Keller not only adheres firmly to that doctrine, he also is a student of it, with a first-class knowledge of such luminaries as Jonathan Edwards. Yet he balances this doctrinal narrowness with catholicity, appreciating not only the Reformed theology of his heritage, but also actively supporting the efforts of charismatics, Lutherans, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Of the 65 churches that Redeemer has helped to plant in the New York area, only 10 are PCA. The largest is Southern Baptist.”

Dear planters

I have mentioned my feelings on the current wave of church planting enthusiasm before… But in summary – I think church planting is a good and necessary thing – particularly in areas experiencing population growth. I also think attendance patterns at churches (particularly Presbyterian Churches) in Queensland demonstrate the need for culturally relevant (dare I say “missional”) churches…

But, I am constantly frustrated by church planters and would be church planters putting down the old ways and old guys as they scurry up the ministry ladder. So I was greatly encouraged to read this post by Tasmanian church planter Mikey Lynch on why he likes to hear what the old guys have to say. There are a few bits of his list that seem to damn the old guard with faint praise – but the sentiment is praiseworthy.

You can head over there to read my comment. It’s long. And I feel a little bit like the Apostle Paul when I lay down my “credentials” for feeling the way I do… reluctantly foolish.

Also – in order to maintain my fantastic search engine ranking for the phrase “Driscoll fanboys” I should mention that those are the particular people I’m targeting with this rant.

Driscoll made broad generalisations when he visited our shores that have been latched onto like a mantra by a generation of bullish, headstrong, and arrogant young men (much like myself). Who want to make a difference and perhaps are looking for a point of difference. I’m not talking about people engaged in actual church planting currently – but those in pews being fired up and looking to lay blame for the current state of staid conservatism that misses the cultural mark.

That is all.

Plant rant

There’s a lot of chatter around the Australian evangelical blogosphere (that’s a pretty narrow field really) about a future church planting movement in Australia.

Some people are over in the US with Mark Driscoll and other renowned church planters right now. And they’re blogging up a storm. Most of the posts are buzzing with fanboyism. They’re chock full of quotable quotes, photo ops, video interviews and summaries from talks given at conferences. It’s no doubt very exciting for those caught up in the movement.

Some people are not so excited. I won’t link to the post because I’m not sure how long it’s going to stay up. Simone has a post on the matter here.

Church planting is exciting. Sure. It’s great to be pursuing new avenues to preach the gospel to people. It’s something I’d like to do one day myself. Maybe. But it has to be said that it takes a special character to persevere with someone else’s work and not go off breaking new ground. I’d say it’s more challenging for a minister of a church to take on an established eldership or church governance structure.

These new fangled church planters have some compelling arguments but they’re often built with some sort of naive view of the nature of ministry in mind. Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll’s church is in my mind a case in point. Pull Mark Driscoll out and things change dramatically. There doesn’t seem to be a great succession plan in place if your preaching pastor preaches to multiple locations via a satellite link. The model they propose works so long as ministers don’t parish hop (which they do) and as long as the church can provide for their own staff members from within their numbers (which they can’t always). When there’s a vacancy in an Australian church an outsider has to come in and take over. That’s the way it works – particularly when there are more vacancies than candidates to fill them.

I’m also not sold on the idea that all the good church stuff happens in cities. Which is a key theory behind a lot of Mark Driscoll’s strategies in particular. So I’m reserved in my exuberance when it comes to responding to the news that Australia is going to have a network of church planting being supported by the Acts 29 movement.

The rest of this post is a comment I posted on Simone’s blog where she was less than enthused by the personality cult (my words not hers) surrounding super church planters like Driscoll… you may already have read it. A few of these statements address the particulars of that post.

While I appreciate Mark Driscoll and love him for his passionate teaching and church growth strategies – if you can call them that – I don’t think his is an easily reproducible style.

I would say the church planters who are running these conferences were not only not going to these church planting conferences – but were not even following a church planting recipe.

I don’t set out to be Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen, and I’m not going to set out to be Mark Driscoll in church planting. I think the beauty of being both a celebrity chef and a church planter is that you work with the ingredients you’re given – and in most cases the ministry you forge (or the food you make) works best when it reflects your unique personality and not a cheap imitation of a trailblazer.

These guys all seem to be wanting to be trailblazers by following someone. And that seems contradictory.