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.

Stories

A reward of perseverance is the stories of how things used to be.

Stories

Jefferson pastors one of the bigger churches in Altamira, one that has planted several other churches. He was a teen-ager when we first met him. At the InterVinha  2017 Conference, during one of the general assemblies under the big tent, Jefferson told a couple of stories to the group.

“I remember when the only Igreja da Vinha church in Altamira was 18 people gathered in Pastor Ricardo’s garage.” I remember this very clearly. I used to pull our white 4×4 Bandeirante pickup out each week and sweep the mud off the floor. One corner of the garage was reserved for hatching chicks with a homemade incubator. Nilton and Cleuci, Clenildo and Angelita, and Elba would come with small groups that they had started. When our garage congregation got to 80 people we rented a dance hall on the river front. We had to meet early though so the revelers could fill it up later in the evening. After about a year of this we were able to purchase our Central Church property. We immediately started meeting onsite in an old building, and made improvements as we were able.

Jefferson continued.

“I remember when Angelita got malaria. I was living with them. I would do all the dishes and cook their food. Clenildo had a horse and cart. He would go out and deliver freight for people, and make enough money to buy some rice for supper. (Clenildo and Angelita now have a Toyota 4×4 they are paying off, and another one they are trying to sell.) Now look at us!”

……………………………………………………………………..

Sometimes in the challenges of the moment we forget how far we have come, but once the story telling starts, one memory triggers another. In a later meeting, Clenildo had the microphone. “Let me tell you a story about my mare that happened right where we are meeting now, many years ago, before we had these facilities here. I was walking around after my horse trying to get a rope around her neck. Every time I got close the mare would run away. The grass was about shoulder high. My calves and angles were bleeding because this grass cuts our skin. Finally, after walking for a long time, I saw the mare again across this field, right here. I was discouraged. I prayed. ‘Please God. This would be so easy for You. Would you tell my mare to let me put this rope around her neck.’ When I looked up, the mare was staring straight at me. We stared at each other. Then the mare started walking towards me. She kept walking closer, and closer, and finally she stopped when her nose was about the length of my palm (20 cms) from my nose. I put my arms up and slid the rope over her head and around her neck. Then I looked around. I was in awe of God. I thought, ‘I have just experienced a miracle, and there is no one here to witness it'”.

…………………………………………………………………….

Later Timoteo came up to me. “I had a story I wish I had shared with the group. Do you remember when we did our first survey trip to Altamira?” In 1995 Timoteo was a young pastor in Santarem, a city 500 kms to the West, on the next river over. Timoteo, Ross, and I drove our white Toyota Bandeirante to do a survey trip. Much of the road was 10-20 cms of very fine dust that would actually flow like water around our tires, even producing little waves, and would hang in the air for kilometers behind us, and behind other vehicles. While the road looked smooth because of this fine powder covering, underneath were many large potholes. This made for a bouncy and dusty ride, with no air conditioning. Part of the road was in a raging fire as the ranchers cleared their fields. In at least one case the flames licked around our truck as we raced through, the hitch-hikers we had picked up who were sitting in the open back of the pickup were yelling and encouraging us on! When we got to Altamira we dropped off Timoteo. He went to a government agency to get some information about the farms and ranches. Ross and I went to fuel up the truck.

Timoteo continued. “I was in the government agency when this guy comes running in to the front desk. Someone from the street shot him in the leg, and he fell in the hallway right beside me, bleeding. A gang was robbing the bank next door. They had just shot a priest in Vitória, trying to rob his payroll. They got the wrong priest, so they stole a car and were now robbing the bank. There were other people to care for the wounded man so I slipped out a side door to find you, afraid you might stumble into this mess.”

When we have a chance to reflect on how far we have come, I am filled with gratitude:

* to all supporters, who pray for and invest in young, untested leaders,
* to everyone who helped by coming on a short-term team,
* to mentors who have come back many times, and invested in friendships and phone calls,
* to everyone who has joined this team full-time for a season of full-time ministry,
* to all the Brazilians, who really are making this all happen,
* and most of all to God, who is establishing His Kingdom, which is here and not yet.

1990’s

The Mission bought an overrun ranch in the 1990s.


We (the mission) bought a run-down ranch in 1999. It used to be beautiful, with cattle, cacao, and coffee. The owner was one of the first mayor’s of Altamira but after he died this property was slowly overrun with jungle again. I heard that this house is older than the city of Altamira, and one of the early buildings in the region many years ago.

This building is about 100 meters behind the tents where we had our InterVinha meetings. This property has since been turned over to the Association of Vineyard Churches in Altamira, and they take care of the upkeep and management of the property now.


This photo was taken in 1999, when some of us walked through what is now our church camp.

There are still coffee beans if you know where to look.

InterVinha Conference 2017


This year Brasil had two InterVinha events, one in Southern Brasil, and one here in the Amazon, in Altamira. About 300 leaders and representatives from many of the Northern Region Vineyards participated. Gary and Joy Best, the retired founders of the Vineyard Church in Canada, were the guest speakers.

Joy Best has the women break up into groups to tell their stories to one another.


Logan and Justin Wilson come home for a few weeks. They are both in university in Columbus. Leandro, far left, was part of our (Bergens) neighborhood Sunday School class in 2002 and on. This Sunday School class eventually grew to become the Mirante Church.


Gary Best talks about practical aspects of long-term ministry with the men. “You can ask any question you want.”Miguel (Jonatas) Campos translated for this session.

The women’s sleeping quarters.

How do We Know Who to Work With?

Is anyone out of bounds?

Do you ever wonder who we should try to plant churches with? Some of the guys in the jail have done horrific crimes. Is there any hope for them? Is there a line when a person goes so far that God is done with them? I have a litmus test. If they are interested in learning more, they are candidates. This is a sign to me that God is working with them.

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 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 (John 6:43-45 NIV).

Two weeks ago the prisoners were studying this text together. “What does this teach us about God?” One of the main lessons they all kept reaffirming was that God does not want people to grumble. I was trying to lead them to the fact that it is the Father who is drawing them to Himself, but they were convicted to not grumble in spite of their horrible living conditions. Still, God is drawing people to Himself. I can tell this is happening when I see people who are interested in learning more about Him.

Billy Graham was speaking at an event when someone questioned him how he could pray for and bless a certain president after some scandalous activity became public. “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love” (Graham, B., as quoted by Marin, A., 2009, Chapter 6, Project Reclaiming, para. 2).

If we are going to be effective out in the unchurched world we cannot be appalled by sin. We do not support sin, of course, but sin is a big part of the lives of the people with whom we want to become good news. If they are interested in learning more, God is drawing them in. How can we best help God?

What are your experiences when ministering to unchurched people?

Bibliography

Marin, A., (2009), Love Is an Orientation, InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Altamira Vineyard Churches 2017

A Short Survey

Altamira has several Igreja da Vinha churches. Deanna and I participated for a few minutes in each of the four biggest churches. It is so awesome to see God at work. I wish you could all come and see what is happening.

Central Church. It gets packed on Sundays. Their people are planting in several outlying areas, and passionate about their faith. This is where we started in Altamira. From our garage we moved to a dance hall, and from there to this property.


Colina Church – The first Igreja da Vinha small group was in this location. I used to load up our white pickup truck with people from here to Central Church every Sunday, for about a year. Many others helped sacrificially for years. Kenin and Rosi have been the pastors here for many years now, and this building is always packed. They are constructing a much larger church on the side, and God is supplying for them in miraculous ways. Last week someone walked into the building and started weeping. They didn’t know him. He offered to buy the glass windows, about R$8,000 / CAD $3,200 / USD $ 2,500. I am amazed at how far they have come, and they are almost in.


Mutirão Church – They are planting a church a year now. Jefferson is the pastor. I remember when Bud met someone selling lots. The mission bought one or two because they were cheap, way out on the outskirts of the city. Now this church is here and the city limits have enveloped them and kept on growing. This is a church-plant out of Central Church.


Mirante Church – When we (Bergens) moved on from Central Church we planted the Mirante Church. Elba was on the start-up team, and soon became the senior pastor. This photo does not do justice to the amount of people here. They are more spread out because the room is bigger. This church has/is planting churches in many outlying regions.

Jail Ministry

Discovery Groups in Jail

I have been going to the jail for a couple of months now. Some weeks ago the authorities cracked down on who could visit because of an attempted escape. I have been going alone the two times, and am trying to get a group of people registered within the system.

I tell the inmates that their lives will transform if they will pay special attention to two of the Discovery Group questions.

1. Change something in your life because of the Bible Reading, and tell the group about what happened at the next week’s meeting.

2. Have a spiritual conversation in a natural way during the week, and tell the group what happened during the next week’s meeting.

If you learn to do this consistently, “This combination of study, action, and story-telling will transform you into strong, healthy Christians who have authority.”


The prisoners ask me for blank paper. Then some of them make lessons so others of them can learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is one of the ways they are obeying Jesus by loving your neighbor as yourself.

In the Discovery Group language, this is “Identifying and helping meet the needs of those around you.”