A Structured Church Plant

Cover Art  I’ve come to appreciate Ott and Wilson’s book, Global Church Planting (see here and here).  This book covers many details that church planters do well to know, follow, and implement.  One area worth mentioning here is structuring the church plant – specifically in the area of bylaws or a church constitutions that define the practices and procedures of the church (including membership):

“Many church planters have little patience with the technicalities of creating a church constitution and bylaws or legal registration [with the government, if applicable – spl].  Nevertheless, it is wise practice to give attention to this as the church grows.  Clear polity and doctrinal statements can help clarify purpose and avoid conflict.  Fortunately most denominations provide sample documents that can be adopted or adapted to local needs.  Cross-cultural church planters should, however, avoid importing a foreign constitution and bylaws.  Even statements of faith may need to be contextualized.  The goal is not conformity to an outside standard but faithfulness to biblical truths and principles.  As local believers participate in the formulation of such documents, they will both understand them and have a greater sense of ownership.  But in a church of predominantly new believers, the church planters will need to give considerable guidance to the process.”

“Formal membership clarifies who is fully committed to the church and is a means of public identification with the church, of formal submission to the spiritual care and leadership of the church, and for congregants to declare, ‘This is my spiritual home.’  It also clearly defines what persons may have a formal voice or vote in the important decisions of the church and who might be entitled to services provided by the church (such as aid for the widows in the New Testament).  Experience teaches that neglecting to formalize membership can have the high price of conflict later when important decisions involving the congregation must be made.  Peripheral persons can attempt to influence decisions and even rally extended family or others who have even less of a relationship to the church and to support their cause” (p. 282-3)

Ott and Wilson go on to talk about some details of how to write bylaws and incorporate membership in the church plant.  Again, I highly recommend this book for missionaries and church planters: Global Church Planting.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Overemphasizing the City?

I recently finished Timothy Keller’s Center Church and I really appreciated it.  It was thought-provoking, insightful, motivating, and helpful in many ways.  I do recommend it.  In the next few months I hope to engage it here from time to time and I’ve also written a review for another venue.  In this post, I want to point out one area of the book with which I’m not totally comfortable.

In around seven out of the thirty chapters, Keller focuses on the city.  He begins his section on the city by giving a brief biblical-theological overview of the city, drawing on earlier work by Harvie Conn, Meredith Kline, and Robert Linthicum (among others).  He rightly notes that the Bible doesn’t view cities in a hostile light nor does it view them in a romantic way.  Rather, biblically speaking, cities are places of sin and violence but also places of refuge and protection.  Since the city is important to Keller’s church/ministry vision, this book, Center Church, has almost everything to do with the city.

For Keller (and others) cities are significant because of the population density that rural areas do not have.  Keller also notes that “we have reached the point where over 50 percent of the world population now lives in cities, compared to around 5 percent two centuries ago” (p. 154).  He explains how large cities and urban centers profoundly influence entire countries and civilizations.  For these reasons – since the city is a dense population center and since it influences countries and civilizations, Keller argues that the church should focus on the city and city renewal.

I agree that we should be planting solid churches in large cities and urban areas.  We need to focus on population centers for sure when we consider church planting.  However, we have to be careful not to overstate the importance of the city at the expense of rural areas and smaller towns.  In my opinion, Keller overemphasizes the city.  Here are two examples.

“‘…The country is where there are more plants than people; the city is where there are more people than plants.  And since God loves people more than plants, he loves the city more than the country.’ I think this is solid theological logic.  …Cities…are absolutely crammed full of what God considers the most beautiful sight in his creation.  As we have noted before, cities have more ‘image of God’ per square inch than anywhere else, and so we must not idealize the country as somehow a more spiritual place than the city.  Even those (like Wendell Berry) who lift up the virtues of rural living outline a form of community just as achievable in cities as in small towns” (p. 170).

“Christians should seek to live in the city, not to use the city to build great churches, but to use the resources of the church to seek a great, flourishing city.  We refer to this as a ‘city growth’ model of ministry rather than a strictly ‘church growth’ model.  It is the ministry posture that arises out of a Center Church theological vision” (p. 172).

There are other similar statements about the city in this book that I think are debatable.  I don’t just say this because I live in a rural area (though I am quite close to a metropolitan area – St. Paul/Minneapolis).  I also say this because, in my opinion, Keller’s “Center Church” vision overemphasizes the city at the expense of smaller towns and rural areas.  I still do like and recommend this book, but I hesitate to put as much emphasis on the city and urban renewal as Keller does.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

On Missions in Papua, Indonesia

If you want an informative, God-glorifying, and faith-strengthening missionary story, I recommend The Amazing Danis by David Scovill.  This book is one missionary’s account of his work in Papua, Indonesia (New Guinea – or PNG) starting with his childhood on a farm in Northern Minnesota (when gas was just 13 cents a gallon!). David Scovill (a Baptist missionary) and his wife Esther moved to Papua in 1960 and spent the next 40+ years of his life preaching the gospel as well as explaining (and translating) scripture to a people who had never heard the good news before.

Specifically, Scovill preached to the Danis tribe – people who lived in the mountains of PNG and had almost never come into contact with the Western world before Scovill arrived.  They were an average tribal people, with superstitions (animistic), habits, and customs that Scovill had to deal with in a biblical and Christian way.  How he does so makes the story quite captivating.  How do you tell people that the cicadas in the bushes at night are not spirits?  How do you tell a tribe that they don’t have to go to war over pigs?  How do you minister to them while overlooking their views on hygiene that are totally foreign (and gross) to many Westerners?  How do you plant indigenous churches in such a way that they plant churches (without much outside help)?  And the questions go on.  I appreciated Scovill’s explanation of these things and the way he and his mission team handled them.

Here are a few highlights worth mentioning.  First, after some time of teaching and explaining God, Scripture, Christ, and Christian living, a group of the Danis said this to Scoville and the mission team:

“We, as a people, have made a decision to do away with our life of killing one another and worshipping of the spirits; we want to live the way that Big Book tells us to live.  To do that we must destroy our weapons and fetishes immediately.”

After much of the translation work of the Bible to the Dani language was finished, one Dani man said,

“God’s Word, in my own language, speaks louder to me than any of the other languages I have learned.”

I could go on.  Trust me when I say this is a captivating book – especially for those of you who are interested in missions and church planting.  Whether you get it on Kindle or paperback, it is worth every penny.  In fact, as I review it here, I’m beginning to want to read it again!  Scovill wrote this book in such a way that the spotlight was not on himself, nor on the Dani tribe, but on God and his gospel of grace.

David Scovill, The Amazing Danis.

shane lems

The OT and Christian Missions

 Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God is an outstanding contribution to the fields of hermeneutics, biblical theology, missions, and evangelism (among others).  It is a unique and amazing resource for pastors, church planters, missionaries, and any Christian interested in a detailed yet readable study of the mission of our Triune God.  Here’s one short quote that I highlighted as I read through it last year.  It comes in the chapter entitled, “God and the Nations in Old Testament Vision.”

“All stand under YHWH’s judgment.  All can turn to YHWH and find his mercy.  This surely has to be one of the most foundational elements of the Old Testament contribution to our theology of mission.”

“1) If it were not the case that all nations stand under the impending judgment of God, there would be no need to proclaim the gospel.”

“2) But if it were not for the fact that God deals in mercy and forgiveness with all who repent, there would be no gospel to proclaim.”

Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 462.

rev. shane lems

Missionaries and the Mission Field: On Leaving

As I’ve mentioned before, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen is an absolute must-read for missionaries, evangelists, church planters, and others involved in mission work.  Though it might be a bit dated, the content is more than a little valuable.  For example, near the end of the book Allen talks about how a missionary should – following the Apostle Paul’s example – prepare the way for his retirement right from the outset of his work.  “Retire” in this context means “leave a particular mission work.”  Here’s Allen:

“He [the missionary] can live his live amongst his people and deal with them as though he would have no successor.  He should remember that he is the least permanent element in the church.  He may fall sick and go home, or he may die, or he may be called elsewhere.  He disappears, the church remains.  The native Christians are the permanent element.”

How can a missionary practice this type of retirement?  Here is some of his advice (edited/abridged for the purpose of this blog).

“He can associate the people with himself in all that he does and so make them thoroughly understand the nature of the work. …He can educate the whole congregation.  What is needful is to begin from the bottom.  Leaders must be thrown up by the community, not dragged up by the missionary.  It is necessary to make the whole body realize its unity and common responsibility.”

Allen also says the missionary should teach the congregation about finances/stewardship, Christian baptism and discipleship, appointing church leaders, and administering church discipline.  The missionary should do these things so the church can carry on without him.

A missionary can train them for his retirement by retiring.  He can retire in two ways, physically or morally.  He can retire morally by leaving things more and more in their hands, by avoiding to press his opinion, by refusing to give it lest he should, as is often the case, lead them to accept his opinion simply because it is his.  He can retire physically.  He can go away on missionary tours of longer and longer duration, leaving the whole work of the station to be carried on without any foreign direction for a month or two.  He can do this openly and advisedly because he trusts his people.  Only by retirement can he prepare the way for real independence.”

Obviously there is more to the discussion – you’ll have to read the entire section for the rest of Allen’s helpful counsel (it is in chapter 13).  Again, if you are involved in missions of any sort, be sure this one is on your list of study materials: Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours?

shane lems

Church Planting Teams

Product DetailsThere are several different methods of church planting.  One method worth discussing is church planting teams.  Craig Ott and Gene Wilson have a helpful chapter on this topic in their book Global Church PlantingHere are a few highlights from that chapter.

“A team is a group of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose and work together in agreed-upon ways to achieve that purpose, holding each other fully and jointly accountable for the team’s results. …A church planting team is a group of Christians who work together purposefully, under Christ, to start one or more new churches.”

“Multicultural teams counteract the perception of cultural superiority, favor mutual learning, model unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and can open doors to diverse communities in urban settings.  A broader pool of resources can be brought to the task.  They send the message that Christianity is not a Western religion.  Furthermore, members from different backgrounds bring broader perspectives to decision-making and can relate in different ways to the local people.  Multicultural teams can also decrease suspicion.”

In this chapter, Ott and Wilson also discuss some of the problems church planting teams face as well as ways to avoid problems in a team.  Here are a few ways they suggest to keep a church planting team strong and unified (I’ve edited it a bit).

1) Have regular meetings.  During these meetings (up to 4 times per month), the team members can pray for one another, discuss church related items, and make plans and decisions together.  This would be something like a weekly prayer and fellowship meeting.

2) Have enjoyable social gatherings from time to time.  For example, take turns hosting meals and a game night, birthday parties, or holiday parties.  A gathering like this would tighten the relationships among the families on the team.

3) Have team workshops at least once per year.  This would be the time to discuss in-depth church planting items, including finances, visitors, counseling situations, outreach, and so forth.  It would also be the time for prayer and further training in church planting.

4) Have visits to members of the team.  In other words, the team leader (the pastor, elder, or missionary) should personally meet with the various team members from time to time.  They would pray, talk about life, health, frustrations, joys, and so forth. In other words, in doing this, the pastor would be shepherding the team.

There is, of course, more to this chapter.  I’m simply highlighting a few things here because I think that as we plant solid Christian churches – even in the United States – church planting teams is one tool in the toolkit we can utilize with good results.  For one thing, it would fight against the rugged individualism in some church planting circles.  A church planting team would also be a big blessing to the pastor/planter, since he would have others to help him through the burdens and blessings of church planting.  I could go on!  I recommend this book (Global Church Planting), and this chapter specifically, if you want to think more about church planting teams.

shane lems

R. Morrison: Pioneer of the Gospel to China

 Robert Morrison (d. 1834) arrived in China on September 7, 1807 as “the pioneer of the gospel to nearly a quarter of the world’s population.”  Here’s how Bob Davey describes Morrison’s story in his excellent book, The Power to Save: A History of the Gospel in China

“Robert Morrison had been sent to China by the London Missionary Society with the task of learning the Chinese language in order to translate the Bible into Chinese.  He was also to compile a Chinese grammar and an Anglo-Chinese dictionary. …[They] had intended to send two or three men with him, but it had proved impossible to them.”

In the early 19th Century, China was a closed country that did not want any foreign “barbarians” to live in the country; it was even illegal for a Chinese person to teach the language to a foreigner.  So when Robert Morrison arrived in 1807 he well knew he might be dead within months.  But in going to China, Morrison wasn’t just following some inner burning or whisper.  He was a man gifted in languages, passionate for the gospel, and encouraged by the London Missionary Society to be a missionary to China.  On top of that, in God’s providence, Morrison crossed paths with a minister in the London area who had been working to form a society that would undertake the translation of the Bible into Chinese.  This man, Dr. W. W. Moseley, also introduced Morrison to a Chinese man living in London who was willing to teach him the language.  Before even setting foot in China, Morrison knew quite a bit about the language – a language which very few non-Chinese people understood in the early 19th century.   

Morrison did eventually translate the Bible during his 27 years in China.  Though his initial work resulted in just a handful of Chinese converts, his translation and mission work opened the door for the gospel to go forth in China.  In fact, one of his prayers has been answered directly.  After one of the few baptisms he administered (a man named Xai Afu), he prayed this: “May he be the first fruits of a great harvest – one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come.”  Another great piece of this story is that his son, John, continued his father’s gospel work as an interpreter, translator, and printer.

At one point after his wife died Morrison wrote the following.

“I have been fifteen years in this country and one-half of these hears quite alone, but God has borne with my infirmities and has blessed the labour of my hands.  I did not at first suppose I should live as long as I have.  I hope I, too, shall die at my post.”

Of course there is more to this edifying story; I’ve given a summary.  The rest of it is found in chapter three of The Power to Save.  Do yourself a favor and buy this book soon.  I really can’t recommend it enough.  There are helpful maps, illustrations, and photos along with some helpful appendices.  This book is a great reminder of the power of the gospel; I couldn’t set it down.  I’m sure it will encourage many in the areas of missions, church planting, evangelism, and the comforting truth that Jesus is still rescuing people from darkness and bringing them into his marvelous light.

shane lems