Friday, 31 July 2009

Building Missionary Churches 2 - It's about the church!

The prophetic burden of Restoration includes rediscovering the missionary zeal of the New Testament in everyday church life, or as the prophet Isaiah says, “It is too small a thing for you to be My servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring My salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Restoration is more than a quality of church life; its ultimate purpose is to build churches that take the gospel into the local community and to the ends of the earth.

Out of my passion to build mission-focused communities has grown a deep concern about the separation of what I see as normal church life and mission. My concern relates to so called para-church organisations – mission-focused organisations disconnected from church life. I honestly believe that these organisations are set up with a desire to reach people for Christ, but while in the short/mid term they see real evangelistic fruit, in the end they continue to propagate weak missional churches.

How can this be so? Let me explain. Some of the most gifted, mission-focused leaders leave the local church to join a mission-focused para-church organisation, which consequently pushes the church into a more pastoral mode. The church wants to identify with the individual on mission out of friendship and a genuine heart for mission, so it funds the para-church activity, thereby reducing the inward investment in the local church. Then, when such an organisation turns up in town to do a mission and people are saved, where do they end up? Often in an under-resourced, pastorally-focused community.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Building Missionary Churches - Convictions

Mission must take centre stage in the life of a local church. I am convinced that we must build mission focused communities and avoid any separation between normal church life and our mission agenda. This historical separation has led to an increasingly pastoral church and an ever increasing number of para-church organisations.

During my last sabbatical I looked at apostolic ministry in the New Testament, examining the New Testament in the context of mission. On the basis that “the apostle Paul wrote in the context of mission” (Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ - Thomas Schreiner) I enjoyed retracing the steps of the apostolic bands through the book of Acts, and the letters that were written in response to the challenge of embryonic churches being established. What a joy, with no deadline or the pressure of the next sermon hanging over me! This overview approach reinforced my understanding that the atmosphere of the New Testament is full of missionary zeal.

The promise of the Spirit in Acts 1 is with the purpose of giving believers power to be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. When the Spirit comes in Acts 2, Peter preaches the gospel; he does not focus on the manifestations or the fact that it made them feel good. Rather, we have Luke’s wonderful summary phrase, “and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”. The Jerusalem based church was full of evangelistic fervour.

The feel and atmosphere of the book of Acts is one of apostolic extension, new spheres of operation, gospel preaching, Spirit empowered witness, church planting, signs and wonders, gospel breakthrough, times of huge challenge and progress, against the backdrop of persecution.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Successful teams and why they don't always happen

To have a successful team the following elements are required:

1. A clear sense of direction – vision and purpose
2. The right people in place – a ‘dream team’
3. Sound finances – resources are essential

If one of these is missing it will be hard to achieve the desired result.

Reasons why people don’t build teams:

Control – the leader can’t let go. Such control doesn’t have to be by force of personality – it can be a quiet individual who has to have everything flow through them. This will become a limiting factor – the lead guy has to initiate a transition if the church is to grow beyond 200.

It’s quicker to do things yourself! – The leader sees that something needs doing and knows that he can do it quickly. If he is going to delegate the task he will have to recruit, train and monitor that person and they aren’t going to do it as well – at least initially! The half-done and wrongly-done elements of the task will keep coming back to him and will give him extra work, not less!

Past failures – if the leader has been let down by a previous team member who hasn’t delivered on supposed promise or who has received training and personal investment from the leader and has then decided to move on and go somewhere else.

In this context inertia takes over - in a growth context the immediate takes over from the strategic.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Issues of growth and transition

In Acts 13, the local church team releases Barnabas and Paul to travel as an apostolic team. With Barnabas leaving the church there is a transition to a team, which can bring with it massive issues. It can be difficult when an established leader hands over to a successor – the underlying character and attitude of both are key here, how the transition between the old and new leader takes place. It takes grace to stand back and allow someone else to take over – a real test of character.

In Acts 15 we see that this team has to be accountable to the apostolic team in Jerusalem. There are issues of theology at this point which need to be resolved and as these issues are thrashed out useful principles are laid down for other churches. The apostolic team then send Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch. Later, when these two make plans to revisit the churches where they have had previous input a dispute blows up between them – over a young team member! Should John Mark be included? His track record was that he had dropped out of a previous missions trip – was he going to prove unreliable again? There is the added complication of family ties between John Mark and Barnabas (they are thought to have been cousins) - this can be an issue today. Should family members, say husband and wife, be employed together? Is there a danger of a power/opinion block on the team?

The dispute over this one junior team member is such that the team splits! This is obviously not good – but God uses the situation. The two halves of the team go in different directions geographically, so covering more ground and there is later restoration of John Mark.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Team growth and diversity

We have biblical examples of team - as in Acts 11:22. We see a situation where the gospel was expanding but there is persecution and the scattering of believers as a result. The apostles had not been involved in setting up the Antioch church but at this point sent a representative to see what was happening. They found ‘evidence of the grace of God’ and a great number added to the growing church. Barnabas thinks ‘team’ at this point and Paul, who has been out of the picture for some years, is brought in - :27 indicates that other ministries were also on the scene.

By Acts 13 this is a massive church. There is a team with prophets and teachers. Barnabas leads and Paul is the last team member listed. This team is made up of those from different ethnic backgrounds, bringing a whole new level of complexity to the team. At King’s we are seeing an increasing number of black people joining us – as a result we are intentionally recruiting leaders, according to gift, across the multi-cultural spectrum. Some time back I asked a couple of the church trustees to stand down as all of this important group were white. We reappointed with diversity on the team - this being a real expression of our commitment in this area. Owen Hylton, who until he went to lead the church plant in central South London was an elder here at King’s, has been a tremendous help and provocation to us on the high value that we should place on inclusiveness. We are learning to assess each church event and ministry through a different filter of success – that of cultural and ethnic inclusivity.

Owen Hylton’s book – Crossing the Divide : A Call to Embrace Diversity (published by IVP) is available in bookshops from 17th July. I thoroughly recommend this book – coming from a UK point of view, it is a helpful and significant contribution to this vital issue.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Team Building - the importance of team dynamics

In recent years I have had an increasing role within Newfrontiers UK in helping to oversee churches and in doing this I spend a great deal of time talking with eldership and staff teams about team dynamics.

As a church grows team dynamics will become an increasingly important component of success. It has become clear that one guy can see a church grow to around 100 – 150 and many individuals are capable of this. Beyond that point a team-building gift is needed and
this ability will determine success in growing a church beyond this point.

One area of team management that many guys identify with is that of the football manager – even if it is only on the level of fantasy football! All the elements are there – the team, with gifted individuals. Some of them are young and talented, but not necessarily with the depth of character you would want. There are issues of allocating places in the team, instilling a common philosophy of football. Behind the team are the directors, the fans and the media and then there are issues of finance and budget, injuries and the ‘shelf-life’ of the team members. You need a youth team policy. And what happens when you import a super-star from another team, someone from another league? How do you and the team handle the change? Then there is the effect of the manager – he works with the team all week but his 15 minutes of input at half-time can turn the game. Certain teams have ‘team spirit’ – that dynamic of being with each other that gives them that ‘extra’ something in what they do. Looking at a team in a church context it is easy to see parallels.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Nehemiah Principle

Rick Warren (Saddleback Valley Community Church) is another leader who has something to say on vision. In The Purpose Driven Church he writes:

‘In Nehemiah’s story of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, we learn that halfway through the project the people got discouraged and wanted to give up. Like many churches, they lost their sense of purpose and, as a result, became overwhelmed with fatigue, frustration, and fear. Nehemiah rallied the people back to work by reorganising the project and recasting the vision. He reminded them of the importance of their work and reassured them that God would help them fulfil his purpose (Neh 4:6-15). The wall was completed in fifty-two days.

Although the wall took only fifty-two days to complete, the people became discouraged at the halfway point: just twenty-six days into the project! Nehemiah had to renew their vision. From this story we get what I call the ‘Nehemiah Principle’: Vision and purpose must be restated every twenty-six days to keep the church moving in the right direction. In other words, make sure you communicate your purpose at least monthly. It is amazing how quickly human beings – and churches – lose their sense of purpose.’

Friday, 3 July 2009

The principles of vision

- ‘The credibility of a vision is determined by the leader.
- The acceptance of a vision is determined by the timing of its presentation.
- The value of a vision is determined by the energy and direction it gives.
- The evaluation of a vision is determined by the commitment level of people.
- The success of the vision is determined by its ownership by both the leader and the people.’

From Developing the Leader within You
– John Maxwell