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?



A Request for Help

An urban legend describes church leaders discussing how many angels can simultaneously stand on the head of a pin as the black plague was breaking out in Europe. In Bible School I was told that these early theologians agreed on the number 10,000. While I do not know if this an actual fact, I’ve been in enough meetings in my life to know it is easy to become consumed with irrelevant discussions.

Irrelevant preachers answer questions that nobody has. When approached about why they do this, they sometimes respond, “This is important. People should care about this.”  Three of the things I pay attention to, in my quest for relevance, are framing, timing, and presence.

Framing: Relevant speakers learn to frame their important topics using personal examples of how this worked – or didn’t work – for them. They make themselves vulnerable as they share their journey. “This is what the Bible says. Here is my experience, hope, fear, etc. Here is my friend’s experience.”

Timing: Relevant speakers use examples and illustrations that are integrated with the season their audience is living in.

Presence: Relevant speakers have spent enough personal time with the Lord that His presence exudes out of them. They know that God wants to make Himself known to His people so they relax and trust God to do His part.

Matthew 13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Relevant speakers address questions that matter to their audience. The topic and views are interesting. They cause reactions. Positively. Negatively. Confusion as assumptions are challenged.

A Request for Help

Personalizing this idea: I moved to Brazil in 1993. During that time I have changed and you have changed. I would like to stay relevant.

If any of my articles causes a positive, negative, or confusing reaction in you, please do me a favor and let me know. Is there something you are curious about? Please let me know. Reactions are good. They help me know when I am resonating, striking a nerve, or out of touch.



Fish Dinner

Ladies Lunch Date

We buy these tambaqui fingerlings for about 5 cents each, feed them a dollar’s worth of food or so, and then we can sell or eat them.


Ricardo’s little brother, Gustavo.

Deanna invited the ladies over for a fish lunch.

Dentist Outreach

João, Lincoln, and Daide, stopped by this week on their way to Altamira and Santarem. Dentists are flying up to these cities to do free dental outreaches in outlying communities.

How To Get Your Enemies to Like You

This week I learned how to get my enemies to like me. I was surprised by what I learned.

In the jail we engaged with Matthew 5:43-44. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you,love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

The prisoners discussed how this might be possible. “We could pray for our enemies.”

“Yes, that is a good idea. But how do we love people who we feel are persecuting us? We are supposed to love them AND pray for them.”

One young fellow had a brilliant insight. “I always try to make friends with my enemies. Otherwise I have to bring them with me, even when I get transferred to another cell. They become voices in my head. If I can become friends with them, the enemy will disappear.”

Next week I will tell you another secret I learned this week. This particular advice never crossed my mind. Quite the opposite. I wonder if it will resonate with you? Next week.

Now I am curious. What works for you as you love AND pray for those who persecute you?

Discovery Groups Update

Request for Prayers

I am working with several potential People of Peace. None of these have started their own Discovery Groups yet. In some cases they are going through some real struggles since they have become more interested in serving God.

I have heard people say that before they were Christians their lives were fairly calm. When they got interested in following Jesus, lots of bad stuff happened. They thought the devil was leaving them alone as long as they were on His side, but as they started switching sides, everything that was built on a foundation of sand started caving in.

Do you think this is sometimes true? I am curious, in the lives of my friends.

I write a weekly prayer letter. If you would like to sign up to pray for these startups, email me.

Jhony’s car rolled 5 times. He was not hurt physically, but financially he is taking a heavy hit.

Edilson lost his job of 20 years due to political maneuvering at his workplace.

These guys have a lot of credibility among their peers. Please pray they will get real experiences with Jesus, and that they will start Discovery Groups soon.

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”.


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


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.