A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend what is apparently the single largest church planting gathering in the world. It is called Exponential, and it is held annually in Orlando, Florida. A BBC congregant very kindly paid for me to go as we are a church at the center of a church-planting movement and very keen to plant out soon ourselves. It was an immense privilege to be there and I learned a great deal. I am not typically a note taker, but I have circulated over 20 pages of notes and observations to our elders. I won’t bore you with those, but I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of the things that we have been thinking about as a result of this trip. I am quite a slow and deliberate processor of new information and so at this stage I have to summarize the info in the form of questions. In other words, I don’t have the answers to these things yet, but I do have the healthy tension of the questions that they raise.
So here they are, 5 questions I am asking myself after Exponential:
1. Will we measure things that matter, and how?
There are two major measurements that churches look at all the time to determine whether they are doing well - bums and bucks or crowds and cash if you prefer. In other words, churches tend to count Sunday attendance and income as marks of health, vitality and even faithfulness. Now don’t get me wrong, these things matter, and we still count them, we would be utterly foolish not to, but they aren’t ultimate because Jesus didn’t ultimately ask us to draw a crowd and take their cash. He asked us to make disciples, to baptize them and to teach them to obey all the things He commanded. Discipleship is tougher to measure, so is maturity, but we must do it to know if we are being faithful to the commission that Jesus left His church.
2. Will we build a structure that not only enables but absolutely requires discipleship?
If making disciples is the mandate, then building a structure that doesn’t include discipleship is silly isn’t it? And yet we do. We build structures where the paid few do the work of the ministry for the assessment and evaluation of the many. That isn’t what the church is supposed to be. This Sunday in the sermon I will be looking at how Jesus gave meaningful ministry work to the disciples. He went away from the desires of the large crowd and invested His energy into twelve no-hopers. He committed to doing life with them. Our structures should be built so that if we don’t live like this, the ministry doesn’t get done.
3. Are we seeing people come to faith from having no faith, or are we simply seeing Christians join us from other churches?
Our little church is growing nicely, but a lot of it is from other churches around us. Often the people joining us have good reason for it and we welcome them with open arms, but often it just points to the unhealthy church exchange program that runs through cities. We are hip right now, but we won’t always be, and then people will go somewhere else especially if they haven’t been engaged in meaningful ministry and relationship. Praise God we are seeing people come to faith at BBC, but I do pray that this church exchange program would stop and that we would focus on seeking and saving the lost and bringing them into the family of God.
4. Will we be a people who live a questionable life?
A large part of the conference focused on evangelism, and the need for believers to live lives that lead to questions about Jesus. This really impacted me, as I pretty much depend on the preach to get people the gospel because I know my life isn’t counter-cultural enough to entice any interest or intrigue. How will I persuade people that there is another way to live without living a noticeably different way myself?
5. Are we prepared to fail in our endeavor to reach many who are lost in the great city of Johannesburg?
Everyone I spoke to felt that BBC was ready for church planting and that we just needed to step out in faith and be prepared to fail. I am not a guy who likes to fail and I think we are a community of many astonishingly accomplished people and so corporately I reckon we don’t like to fail either. This mustn’t stop us in our endeavor to make disciples in Johannesburg. We must push when we feel like we need to cower and we must jump when we feel like we want to sit. I am praying God gives us the grace and courage to do just that.
Hope that was helpful. Pray for and with us, and if you have any questions or insights please give me a shout at email@example.com