Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Church planting

My denomination's annual conference sessions begin next week. The president of our conference, Pastor John Pethtel, has made the subject of church planting a significant part of the Conference program and so this series of posts at Kevin DeYoung's blog seemed particularly timely. DeYoung has invited RCA church planter Josh Blunt to share what he has learned, and unlearned, over the last decade about planting new churches:
...It was...the dawn of my denomination’s foray into intentional church planting, a season in which young, idealistic, evangelical pastors emerging from seminaries were encouraged to bypass the quagmire of tradition, bureaucracy, and stasis inherent in existing churches. We were enjoined to boldly go where no RCA pastors had gone before, claiming a new share in the Harvest for an increasingly obscure yet historically evangelical family of believers.

The RCA has always been a mixed denomination, boasting of its ability to balance both mainline and evangelical elements in one household. Nevertheless, our denominational landscape at the time seemed divided into two camps:

1) traditional methodology + progressive theology = mainline protestantism

2) progressive methodology + traditional theology = evangelicalism

The assumption in church planting circles was that, at least in terms of denominational survival, equation #1 led to death and equation #2 was the path to life. In this sense, planters genuinely believed that we and our new churches were going to be the great hope for the next generation of RCA believers.

Many within our little tribe insisted that church planting could restore our dwindling numbers, and even revitalize existing congregations who would parent new, daughter congregations. This plan seemed explicitly biblical and patently apostolic to me then, and it still does now – healthy, biblical, new congregations and church networks DO reach new people and expand the Kingdom. When I started out as a planter, however, most of us assumed that this growth potential would be largely connected to the new congregations’ ability to more nimbly and rapidly deploy progressive, attractional church methodology. In other words, we would adapt to the emerging needs of unbelievers far more easily, having fewer sacred cows to kill along the way. ....

What I have learned, and what Kevin has graciously invited me to convey through a short series of posts here, is that the future of ministry in historical denominations can’t be reduced to equation #1 OR #2 above. Whether a congregation is being freshly planted, or revitalized over time, I believe the math is something much more akin to this:

3) ordinary, historic methodology + orthodox, gospel-focused theology + patient, painstaking contextualization = sustainable fruitfulness

Over my next posts, I will offer some of the things I observed over the course of my decade-long church planting journey. I will explain the transformation my congregation and I underwent as our adherence to an attractional, progressive model of methodology inevitably worked against our traditional theology and tore irreparable rifts in the fabric of our fellowship. I will describe the attempts we made to change horses midstream and how they helped. I will also show how the previously lost and unchurched perceived each model, and how the pre-churched and re-churched among us did, as well. These dynamics tended to revolve around three key areas, each of which will be a focus in my remaining posts:

- Proclamation (Preaching of the Word, Worship, Evangelism)

- Life Together (Prayer, Discipleship, Sacraments)

- Unmentionables (Discipline, Conflict, Gender Roles, and Governance)
7/25: From Metro to Retro (2 of 4)
7/26: From Metro to Retro (3 of 4)
7/27: From Metro to Retro (4 of 4)

From Metro to Retro (1 of 4) – Kevin DeYoung