Innovation and Legacy?

Innovation: In 2008 we innovated a new way to establish a regional church-planting hub here in Marabá. It was risky and involved a retreat center in a disadvantaged community. So far it is not produced the results we are looking for, at least not at the speed we were hoping for. Rather, it sometimes feels like we are on the outside of the circle of the real results. I am young enough to keep pursuing innovation, and I am grateful for the health of the mission and churches as a larger organization. But what if I had been 60 or 70 when I moved to Marabá? Would I have been as willing to risk innovation? And what if my new, risky, innovative concepts did not work? Would I feel like a failure?

Legacy: On the other hand I remember the church I grew up in. Back in the 1980s there was a season when most of the young people left to join an innovative new church movement which was just starting up. Thinking about this now, I suspect the pillars of the older more-traditional type of church wanted to retain their legacy for future generations. They did not want to risk innovation. Safety, not Risk. When I came home from the Yukon the church was full of old people and adolescents. Most of the teens, young adults, and young families had migrated.

Think about the Old Testament elders at the city gates. The young people do the work and have the culturally relevant and creative ideas. The elders weigh in and point out danger zones. I wonder if God was designing an adaptive community to be a combination of Innovation AND Legacy?

“Clarify and cling to our core convictions and let go of everything else that keeps us from being effective in the mission God has given us” (Bolsinger, T., p. 46).

“This is what adaptive leadership is all about: hanging on to the healthiest, most valuable parts of our identity in life and letting go of those things that hinder us from living and loving well”(p 101).

References

Bolsinger, T., (2015) Canoeing the mountains: Christian leadership in uncharted territory, InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

How to be Helpful

When we start interacting with other people we start defining roles. Who has the most power in this relationship? For example, we might think that “The customer is always right” giving the customer the most power, but if the store manager doesn’t agree this may cause a conflict. If you go to a doctor for help, but don’t follow the doctor’s prescription, this relationship becomes awkward.

If a well-meaning Christian wants to share their faith with a person he considers “lost”, the Christian may assume they have the power (knowledge, spiritual authority). If the “lost”person agrees then the power-over methods of evangelism may work. But what about those “lost” persons who do not agree? Many people feel betrayed by other Christians and how they represent God, or they consider Christianity irrelevant. These people still may believe in God, or the idea of God.

Christians may fear the opposite problem, that their “lost” friend will consider them a professional, but they know they are not experts. This happens in many areas of life. Li (2015) asserted that “Leaders fear engagement because they’re convinced they may not have all the answers their followers need” (p. 63).

One Christian solution to this problem is try to teach leaders everything. This can be a nine-month leadership class, or a four-year degree. As this falls short you can keep upping the bar. Many denominations require pastors to have a Master of Divinity, or PhD degrees. Other groups found that church planting multiplies rapidly even if the leaders know just a little bit more than the followers. Many hierarchical movements use this method effectively.

Shein (2009) lists some challenges with the Professional Helper model.

1. Has the Professional Helper correctly diagnosed the Client’s problem / situation?

2. Has the Professional Helper clearly communicated in a way that the Client understands?

3. Has the Professional Helper correctly assessed the capacity of the Client to follow the instructions?

4. Has the Professional Helper completely thought through the possible consequences to the Client if the Client heeds the advice?

5. Does the Professional Helper know with absolute certainty the right thing to do in the Client’s exact situation?

Some young leaders think that by acting like they know stuff, they will actually get it right sometimes. In my experience, often the less seasoned a leader is, the more sure they are of their council. They want to act like and to be considered Professionals. Young leaders are often quick to provide council to situations that are way over their pay grade.

Other people hesitate to step out in leadership because they never feel ready. When I was a young child I thought that by the time I was 30, like my dad, I would know everything, like I thought he did. When I was 30 I got married. I thought that by the time I was 58, like my dad, I would know everything I need to know about life, like I thought he did. Now that I am 56 I am learning to live with the questions.

Preparing, recognizing, and releasing leaders are often bottlenecks to church-planting movements.

What if we could learn to create environments where God could lead His people?

One man recently told me he liked the leader-has-the-power method because it is biblical. He quoted the following verse. In fact, I think he quoted the verse three times in a row, in a loud voice, in rapid succession.

1 Cor. 11:1  Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

I understand that this man is following his leader, and he expects his followers to follow him. He is a sincere Christian who can quote scriptures and references far better than me. We looked at another scripture, a quote by Jesus.

John 6:45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.

I am curious: What if this man gets a different type of leader? What if his leader learns to give  away control, as in the Discovery Model. Will this man also give away control, and will he encourage his followers to give away control? Could this be just as biblical?

I suggest there are two principles at play here.

1. Character – Are we willing to be transparent Christians? For example, will we have people stay in our homes with us to observe how it really works as we interact with our families and life situations?

2. Control – We naturally like control. Hierarchies emphasize submission doctrines. If everyone agrees to the power structure it can work. Letting God lead His people is messier. Sometimes it feels like the difference between cowboys driving cattle and shepherds leading sheep. Both are getting their group to the desired location.

Often I find God’s priorities for getting a life in order are different than mine.

Am I willing to be a transparent learner and to help others let God be the Professional Leader?

Do you have any experience with this?

References

Li, C., (2015) The engaged leader: A strategy for your digital transformation. Wharton Digital Press, Kindle Edition.

Schein, E., (2009) Helping: How to offer, give, and receive help (pp. 48-53). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Church Planting Lessons from Halo

Ways to Plant Churches

In 2002 our family discovered Halo. Anni, Via, Emma, and Bella were all in online school, so they had PCs. We got several Halo discs and spent part of many Family Days learning the various hideouts and ammunition caches in all the different worlds. I remember the delight we had in learning something new, especially as we were all the same skill level. Ten years later we got an Xbox 360 with Halo 4. It was a whole new game and we were in a different space as a family. We rarely played. Then some friends came over who knew this game well. Every time we would show up on the screen, they took us out. Over and over again. They delighted in showing us how much they knew. I suppose theoretically this could have helped us improve our skills, but practically, it was no fun so we quit showing up. Our delight was in learning together and improving our skills together.

Many churches have the same pastors for a long time. These groups grow up together, pastors and congregations. Someday these first generation churches will face the challenge of passing on the baton. They will learn to pastor generational Christians. This is a great and worthy challenge, but it is not what I am talking about here. Nor am I talking about starting a new church Christians who are tired of their old church. I am talking about the challenge of starting brand new church families with people who do not trust the church or Christians.

As we get good at doing church together it is natural for us to want to multiply. We sometimes try to plant mature churches. We bring other experienced Christians with us to help us do things right. I applaud those who do this and this strategy is working well for us. On the other hand, in my experience, this strategy takes significant resources, manpower, and years. And results sometimes fall short of our hopes. And pastors and church leaders can get really tired. Sometimes we even hear the word burnout. Are there other ways to birth new churches?

When we are first starting out in a new area I sometimes wonder, “How can this person be a Christian?” , and then I watched them transform into pastors or missionaries. What if we use the Halo analogy above? When our family played Halo just getting online together was a challenge. It tooks us years to really get the hang of it, but we did finally learn the game well. And we loved the learning.

A Biblical Principle?

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

Sometimes in our neighbourhood young couples move into a bedroom in their parent’s home. In other cases the parents will discipline their married children by taking away their cell phone, or by scolding them. Obviously this is not ideal in the development of a healthy marriage. What if these parents and inlaws can learn to give their children space and grace to figure things out, all the while prayerfully standing by to put on bandaids and to celebrate victories. I remember in the 1990s some of our pastors were offensive to us missionaries. Maybe they were shouting from the pulpit, or chauvinistic, or leading in a style that did not feel Vineyard to us. We would ask our mentors, “What about so-and-so? Here is what he is doing.” We still try to follow our mentor’s awesome advice. “Don’t prune the plant too early. Focus on whether they are trying to walk with the Holy Spirit in their daily life. Be there to love them.”

Think of a time when you have learned to play a new game, or learned a new life skill with another person. Was it more fun being with a professional who corrected you, or was it more fun getting skilful together with peers? I realize you may like to improve your skills by being corrected, and this article is not for you. But is there anyone out there like me who would rather figure it out with some friends?

If you are the sort who likes to figure things out with your friends, think about an unchurched person or family you know who might be a Person of Peace. Would they be interested to discover how God reveals Himself in His Word? Do you think you could help them set up an environment where they could do this in their comfort zone, with their friends, with no doctrinal or behavioral corrections from you? What do you think might happen?
 
Your thoughts?

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Organizational Change

How do we stay relevant?

I am thinking about organizational change this week because we extended our time together in Altamira as an opportunity to have some organizational meetings.

Igreja da Vinha churches have been planting other churches since their inception. The mission has been helping them in every way we know how. The whole group is full of zealous Christians with a passion to share their faith. Introducing new or different church-planting or organizational strategies produces a variety of responses.

One strategy some of us have been studying and experimenting with is how Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) use Discovery Bible Studies as their evangelism and church planting strategy.

In our discussions I have heard pastors question whether it is easier to introduce DMM’s to existing churches, or whether it might be best to leave the existing church running and to start with DMM’s in a completely new location.

I am trying to start a DMM with some unchurched friends here in Marabá, partly as an experiment but also because I have grown to really like my unchurched friends and I wish the best for them. There are significant challenges. The lifestyle sins they seem to take for granted leave me wondering, “How will this ever work?” I believe that with God all things are possible, but we certainly need His help. I am thinking it would be easier to start with zealous Christians, even if they think differently.

Could it be that the hardest challenge for each of us is the one we find ourselves in?

Gary Best caught my attention during the InterVinha 2017 Conference. “How do you teach a person to fish? Do you send him to a university, far from rivers and water, and have him study all the variety of fish, and the various methods that have been used around the world?” The context was about teaching people to be disciples and to make disciples, but the analogy works for Organizational Change as well.

I remembered my Masters Degree studies. Our textbook for one of the semesters was 998 pages long, and it is about Organizational Change. Without any opportunities to help change organizations this book is dry reading. I now realize this school is trying to educate Organizational Change leaders. And there are no simple one-size-fits-all solutions. This is complex because of many unpredictable variables like the culture, opportunities, and people involved. I feel blessed that the Lord has given us hands-on opportunities to help organizations change and develop.

Take our mission, for example. We were one family, supported by some churches to plant Vineyard churches. Then we were four families, all friends, from a variety of cultural backgrounds. We slowly grew to become what we called a “Mom and Pop” organization. Lots of mission business was resolved around meals together. From here we opted to become a Decentralized Organization with 5 Bases, 2 registered non-governmental organizations, and two international missions, and still growing. Each Base has their own legal boards although most of us wear several hats, participating in groups other than just the Base where we live. We all represent our teams when we come to the table. We are held together primarily by our name, values, and relationships.

The local Igreja da Vinha churches are another example. We started as several smaller churches in outlying regions, and then we developed a Central Church in Altamira. A Brazilian leadership team developed. As they are growing in numbers and maturity they are wrestling with how to keep up with the changing dynamics of the organization. They are also an Association of Churches, held together primarily by name, values, and relationships.

Sometimes organizations have a strong leader who says how it is. This model works well in some situations. For example, God lead the Israelites through Moses (Exodus 14). On the other end of the spectrum, some groups develop into learning organizations. This kind of group is curious about underlying concerns, and curious about strange questions or situations that don’t make sense. What is really going on? As the underlying concerns become clear the learning organization knows how to brainstorm and seek God together to come up with best possible solutions. What might be helpful? For example, God lead the early church through Paul, Barnabas, and the early church council (Acts 15). Are you on any leadership teams? Where do you see your group along this spectrum? Do you think others in the group would agree with your assessment?

Going back to the fishing analogy, I would like to keep studying but only if it helps real people catch real fish. I plan to keep studying about organizational change with the hope that I will be helpful in God’s Kingdom.


This is really dry reading if you do not have opportunities to wrestle with organizational change issues.

A Discovery-Style Conference

My Favorite Church Conference in 2016

MOne of the 2016 conferences in our church in Marabá was especially enjoyable. Here is why.

Fifty people from a wide variety of backgrounds gathered in small groups to study the Bible together, to learn how to behave. On Friday night it was all about questions. As our church has been in this Discovery Bible Study process for about six months, there are lots of procedural questions. Some influential young leaders are struggling with the concepts. On Sunday morning the 50 participants self-organized into 10 small groups of friends. This group is just like Bible people. Some struggle with adultery. Some are living with a partner who is not their spouse. Some are born in church. Some want to get rich. Some struggle with religion, self-righteousness, jealously, or anger. Some are fringe attenders. Some are children. They all want to be disciples of Jesus. Each group sent a spokesperson to the front, to tell the larger group what they discovered. The spokespeople retold the Bible story their own words, told the group the questions they were wrestling with, and then told the group what conclusions they arrived at. The floor was open for questions. As the facilitator, I just handed the mic around. I did not correct them, or give them deeper knowledge. For me, the process was much more important than the actual words. If this group can learn to go to the Bible for answers, they are on their way to becoming world changers.

The whole three hours was charged with laughter, cheering, and life.

Click here to read the 31 questions the group was trying to answer.

This is the group that is going to change the world.


This group did excellent work! Their question was about whether facilitators should pray at Discovery Bible Studies. Their text was Jesus’ teaching on how some people like to pray in front of others, but secret prayer is better (Matthew 6). Ronilson, in the bright blue shirt, was the spokesperson. The room erupted into questions, other thoughts, and passionate agreements and disagreements. It ended with a lot of cheering for Ronilson and their group.


Douglas, in the brown shirt, was the spokesperson for this group. This group’s question was whether addicted people could start new groups. Their text was the Pharisee and the sinner who prayed in the temple (Luke 18:9-14). Douglas got  a lot of passionate feedback after he spoke, but he held his ground well. After each question he would take the mic, look at the group, and say, “That is a good question”. Then he would pause, before he responded. It was really cool!


Quita has 5 small children. She is learning to have personal devotions. “I go into my bedroom (in a small wooden house). I turn up our big sound system so I cannot hear my children. Then I can have quiet time with God. I get goose bumps as I read the Bible because His presence becomes so real”.

How to Become a Senior Pastor

Note: It doesn't necessarily involve seminary.

How To Become a Senior Pastor

Let’s imagine that a huge grassroots revival is coming around the world. People are flooding into the Kingdom. Who will help these people? How will the new pastors be identified and established? There are different ways a person can become a senior pastor. They are all good in certain settings, and they all come with challenges.

1. You can take over an existing church.
2. You can lead a team to plant a church.
3. You can train a local leader in a new area.
4. You can start a Discovery Group as a Person of Peace.

ONE: When the Vineyard movement was about 20 years old, there were many senior pastors who had been in the movement about 20 years. They grew up with it. They were / are awesome. Now some of these pastors are passing over their successful and large churches over to younger leaders. Only a gifted few can possibly handle such a role, and even then, hopefully these gifted few are being mentored and have faithful friends walking alongside them. Passing over the leadership of a large church is an interesting and risky challenge. These challenges are possibly more visible when you look at denominations that have been around for hundreds of years and observe how they have evolved their leadership selection / preparation process.

TWO: Another interesting and risky challenge is to try to plant a mature church. One popular strategy is to form a team of gifted people, and send them out to start a church. They will need to become embedded in the new community, earning trust from the locals. They will need to learn to work and live together, to follow the designated leader, just as the leader must learn to earn the position among this group. This strategy feels safe because the initial group starts out with a trusted team. The costs are high and no one knows what will happen when the storms hit.

THREE: Another strategy I have seen work with some success is when a church planting team goes out with the intention of raising up a local leader. In this case a team is sometimes invited to a new community. They share the gospel, and have some meetings. Over a period of time they identify a leader. Often this leader comes from a different church background. Sometimes they were backslidden and glad to get right with God again. The church planter trains the new leader in the nuances of their denomination and understanding of how to live out the faith. The new pastor calls whenever there are questions. The planting team often helps provide a building for the new group, or other props like chairs or a projector. A variation of this strategy is the adoption, when a  church leader wants to come under the covering of another church.

FOUR: A fourth possibility is when a church planter learns to identify People of Peace. The planter helps this group develop a Discovery Bible Study. Or maybe the church planter becomes the Person of Peace, gathering unsaved friends and relatives to do a Discovery Bible Study together. One challenge for the existing church is to keep trusting and sending out young, immature leaders, with young, immature groups, and watching God bring them to maturity. This feels scary and risky. We want to jump in and help, but if we over-prune or help the young leaders too much, this can be unhelpful. I struggle with this. Often I want to help too much, and often I talk too much. This is not a quick way to plant huge, successful churches. It takes many years for a mango tree to fully mature. But it is easy, and not expensive. Almost anyone can give it a try. Let the young leaders have the fun of successfully braving dangerous storms, and then laugh with them as they recount their stories.

What is your experience with establishing new senior church pastors?

Did anything come to mind that I missed in this brief assessment?

What is a Church?

How do you define a church?

What is a Church?

We love good churches. So, what is a good church?

Look at the photo below.

Question: Which of the following looks most like a mango tree?

Answer: They are all mango trees.

If we apply this to church planting:

1) To plant mature trees:

a) Costs a lot of money and effort,

b) We will not plant very many,

c) Our success rate may not be what we hope.

2) To plant seeds with the right DNA:

a) Easy to plant,

b) Anyone can plant a lot of them,

c) The success rate can easily surpass our imagination.

I noticed as we were checking out some of the really great Altamira churches that many people have been in the leadership roles for 15 years or more. This is healthy and natural. These people were not polished leaders many years ago but because their churches were small and young there was grace to grow together. The churches grew and matured as the leaders grew and matured.

Discovery Bible Studies – Eight Month Review

The youth in the Marabá church are starting to experiment with the DBS model. In the last couple of weeks, they started 14 new groups. Nine stopped after only one or two meetings. Five of these new groups are still going, and many of the young people are looking for other people who may be open to starting groups. Most people who try this type of a Bible study like it, but many people are simply too busy, or not ready. We are trying to honor those who start groups that stop as much as those who start groups that carry on. We have a total of about 14 groups in Marabá now that meet each week, and several who seem poised to start soon. Starting groups like planting seeds; when they don’t take, we are learning to move on and try again.

We started experimenting with the Discovery Bible Study (DBS) process in August. We grew to 23 DBS groups by Christmas. Our church started changing so rapidly the leaders became uneasy. Things started to take off in an unprecedented way and they did not have peace about where it was all going. There were other factors also that contributed to the apprehension.

In December Deanna and I left for about 6 weeks of travelling. This was a good thing. This allowed the dust to settle and the growth to slow down. When we got back 9 groups were still going. In the months following our return Ivanildo and I had some good talks at a deeper level than we have had in the past. Now the local leaders are feeling good about leading the Marabá church forward, and using this model, though there are still many questions. We are free to help here in Marabá, to start groups in new cities, and to help other churches learn the model.

Last week-end Elba invited us to introduce this DBS model to some of the Mirante church leaders. Elba is continuing with their cell group model for some of that congregation, but introducing this as their own pilot project with other leaders. This week-end I am going to Santarem to meet with Clenildo, Angelita, and some leaders in their church. Next week-end I am going to Canaã, with the goal of going there for five week-ends during April and May.

We are still waiting to see a whole Discovery Group decide to get baptized. Deanna’s lady’s group looks like they may be the first. They are 23 lessons into the first 26. I led one group through the whole 26 lessons, but they were all baptized before we started, even though they were in a lukewarm state spiritually when they started. Two of the key players in this first group experienced great disruptions in their lives during this process. Eliete’s brother died, causing weeks of travel and disruption. Then her ex-husband died, causing months of travel as she works to pursue legal rights for her children. Her teen-age son Luan was also a key person, facilitating his own DBS group and on the verge of starting yet another. It was his dad who drowned. He moved to Southern Brazil to resolve legal issues, and his groups stopped. That was months ago. The other fellows in my group were already baptized, and they continue to serve in the church. One is facilitating a new group.

I continue to be in relationship with Tiago (who was beating his wife the first time we met) and Leila, but their group has not restarted. Jaycee (“I am so sick of sin”) and Fabio are interested, but they also have not restarted. They both told me that Fabio used to be addicted to pot, but he has not had any interested since our second DBS in their house last September or October. This has been good for their family. Fabio and Tiago would both start going on missionary trips with me if I could figure out how to make that work. Maybe to Canaã? A lady in one of the Canaã groups got her wrist instantly healed during one DBS meeting. She couldn’t wash clothes. This was last Fall. In February I went back up there and it was still healed. “See. I can still wash clothes.” I am trying to figure out a way to spend more time in Canaã. A few hours once in awhile does not seem enough. I think there are four groups that will start or restart if I start showing up regularly.

Johnny (who leads a rock band) really wants to reactivate his group. They have trouble meeting without me present. Some who come do not value him as a spiritual leader. Last week they were going to meet without me, but then his Mom got really unreasonably sick with a bad attack of dengue, and they had to cancel.

It is hard to know what is spiritual warfare, and what is just part of living in a broken world. Elba invited me to come to lead some meetings in the Mirante church long ahead of time. “I’m sorry it is so far in the future, but the is the first time we can fit you in.” The meetings were to be in early March. The day we were to meet one of the beloved young fathers in their church died, and there was a funeral instead of the DBS meetings. We rebooked and did the meetings two weeks later. Clenildo and Angelita are running hard and really stretched. Still, they wanted to fit in a couple of meetings about DBS with their leaders before we leave for the summer. A few days ago they had a bad car accident. No one was seriously hurt, but there was trauma, car damage, and no insurance. I am still going to go there this week-end, just to be with them, and to see if it is a good time to have some extra meetings. I think this is Angelita’s first big car accident. Faithfulness and perseverance enable us overcome many obstacles.

One lesson I am learning is the necessity of finding ways to hang out with the various group facilitators. Once we identify group leaders, we need to find ways to hang out together. Pizza. Mission trips. Other ways. This is the most challenging part for me at this time.

In summary, we continue to learn about how this DBS process will work in our circumstances. The adventure is back in the game.