Archives For Reproduction

Part one addressed how Storyline is changing in its approach to discipleship. Part two addressed how Storyline is changing structurally. This final post in this series addresses how Storyline is changing in regard to starting new churches and training church planters.

My calling into church planting is not to plant a single church. It’s to participate in a church planting movement.

That’s what attracted me to the leaders of Mission Alive, our church planting resource organization, whose dream is to facilitate church planting movements all over North America.

And that’s why reproduction has been programmed into the DNA of the Storyline Community. Reproduction is one way we practice mission: reproducing followers of Jesus; reproducing churches in our network; and reproducing communities that will live a similar missional existence in a different locale.

In the fall of 2010, Storyline got its first taste of starting new churches when we sent Micah and Amy Lewis to Wichita, Kansas, to start a new church in downtown Wichita. They were sent after an 18-month period of training with Storyline and are partnering with the RiverWalk Church in Wichita. Storyline continues to support them financially through the Mission Alive Harvest Fund and through monthly contributions. I also serve as a church planting coach for Micah.

One thing I learned through this experience: a church doesn’t have to have all of its ducks in a row to be a church planting church.

  • A church planting church doesn’t have to be an established, mature congregation. (Storyline is not.)
  • A church planting church doesn’t have to have a sizable annual budget with significant financial resources. (Storyline does not.)
  • A church planting church doesn’t have to have all the training and equipping resources within itself. (Storyline does not.)

That’s the great thing about the kingdom: the power of partnership — the power of collaboration (another one of Storyline’s values).

In the kingdom, young churches like Storyline can partner together with established churches like RiverWalk in Wichita — which have significant financial resources among other things. Young churches can partner with resource organizations like Mission Alive — which has well-developed mechanisms for assessment, equipping and coaching for church planting.

Relatively new churches like Storyline bring something to the table, too: the experience of church planting. The feeling of the missional frontier. A test laboratory experience that has elements of risk but is safer and more stable than church planting from scratch. Pre-existing structures and methods for mission that stir the imagination and prepare future church planters for their calling.

Who says a single church has to do church planting on its own? Young churches, established churches, and resource organizations need each other. They need to work together for the sake of church planting. Each will likely miss something if they attempt to go at it on their own.

Storyline, as a young church, wants to play its role well in this kingdom endeavor. We want to play to our strengths.

As a result, Storyline will become a more significant training ground for future church planters. We want to see the story of Micah and Amy Lewis multiplied many times over.

We’re dreaming about helping to start five new churches in the next five years.

We’re issuing an open invitation to anyone sensing the call into missional church planting to have a conversation with us about training with Storyline.

Church Planting Residency Overview:

  • Move to Dallas and spend 2-3 years with the Storyline Community
  • Work bi-vocationally as a way of supporting your ministry and embedding in Dallas community
  • Learn how to raise funds from churches and individuals to help support your training period and future church planting.
  • Most church planters have to raise funds, after all, so why not get some practice with people who’ve had experience doing it themselves?
  • Receive a small stipend of financial support from the Storyline Community
  • Partner with a resource organization like Mission Alive who can provide assessment, equipping and ongoing support for your future church planting work
  • Experience life in the Storyline Community as a participant for a season (probably somewhere in the neighborhood of six months)
  • Learn to follow Jesus by living out Storyline’s missional lifestyle
  • Be sent out to start a new church within the Storyline Community network through pursuing a specific missional vision for a particular neighborhood (geographically-based vision) or social network (relationally-based vision). What better way to learn how to start a church than to start a church before you start a church? Interested in ministry to the poor? The gay community? Chronically homeless? Refugees? Young families? Multiethnic? At-risk youth? Young single professionals? Dallas has opportunities for all these types of ministry and more, and Storyline will work with you whatever your passion.
  • Participate in the Storyline leadership team and coaching groups for personal discipleship and leadership development
  • Be trained as a ministry coach through Mission Alive and receive CoachNet certification
  • Read and process significant books about the theology and practice of church planting
  • Discern, prepare, and plan for your steps into future church planting.

Church Planter in Residence Profile:

  • Personality: people person; visionary; self-starter; entrepreneurial
  • Calling: senses God’s call into church planting
  • Family: not required; but if you have one, must have full support of spouse for church planting ministry
  • Aptitude: willing to be assessed by church planting organization like Mission Alive as part of the interview process with Storyline
  • Ministry experience: must have at least 2-3 years experience serving and leading in churches either in volunteer or staff role; full-time ministry experience not required
  • Skills/gifts: group facilitation; listening; gathering; speaking; teaching; equipping; shepherding; faith; missional living; apostolic (starter); leadership
  • Education: most cases at least a Bachelor’s degree, though not necessarily in theological studies; ideally holds, pursuing, or willing to pursue a Master’s degree in theological education (e.g., Master of Christian Ministry or Master of Divinity)
  • Theological orientation: must be a follower of Jesus; must have a commitment to historic Christianity as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and Storyline’s telling of the story of God
  • Denominational background: no particular background required

I’d love to bring in 2-3 families this fall to begin our work together. And I suspect that God may raise up longer term co-workers with Storyline out of those who come to train for church planting. All of that will have to be discerned along the way.

Are you interested, or know someone who might be? Contact us!

You can email me and let me know. At that point we’ll begin the interview process to discern if there’s a good fit for training with the Storyline Community.

Please pray for Storyline as we seek to continue to be used by God in the emerging church planting movement in North America.

Starting New Churches

Charles Kiser —  October 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

One of Storyline’s values is reproducibility. We acknowledge that healthy things reproduce: healthy plants drop seeds that create new plants; healthy animals mate and give life to new animals; healthy humans reproduce and give birth to babies.

That healthy things reproduce is true all throughout God’s kingdom, particularly in the church. Healthy followers of Jesus make new followers, and healthy churches start new churches.

I think the opposite is also true: unhealthy followers don’t attract new followers, and unhealthy churches don’t start new churches.

I did not become a church planter to start one church. I became a church planter to be part of a church planting movement. One practical expression of this conviction is Storyline’s commitment to give 10% of its offerings to the Harvest Fund for future church planting through Mission Alive. As of May, Storyline had given more than $7,000 to the Harvest Fund, which has helped four new churches get up off the ground so far this year. It’s a small start, but we know what God can do with small things…like mustard seeds.

Storyline has also made a commitment to invite church planters in-training into our midst – we call them “church planters in residence.”

One of my dreams for church planting has now come true: last month, we sent the Lewis family out to start a new church. They’re partnering with Mission Alive (our resource organization) and the Riverwalk Church in Wichita, KS to start a church in in the downtown area of that city. Watch this short video to hear the Lewises’ story.

My prayer is that this is the first of many churches Storyline will help to start either by offering itself as a training ground for future church planters or by providing financial support for new projects.

Pray with us, also, for the Lewises: that their house will sell; that they’ll find good teammates; that they’ll raise the rest of their financial support; and that the church they plant will bring more life to Wichita, KS.

Why do we plant churches? Because churches – when they’re healthy – bless people and the neighborhoods in which they live. That’s really all that God has ever wanted for the world that he made – so much so that God’s call to Abraham, the father of Israel and the grandfather of the church, was to be a blessing to all the people of the earth. More churches means more blessing for the world, and that’s a good thing.

Storylines: Chapter One

Charles Kiser —  December 2, 2009 — 3 Comments

We’ve begun a new series of videos we’re calling Storylines – personal stories of Storyline people who are discovering their place in God’s story.

The makings of the first Storylines video began with five people praying together about a year ago.

We – the Kisers – had just been sent out by the Riviera (now Tribeca) church with a small team to start the Trianon church.

I still remember our first gatherings with our teammates, Patrick and Lauren Cone. We concluded the end of our meetings, as we do to this day, with the “empty chair prayer” – a prayer that points to the symbolic empty chair in the room as a way of reminding us of our mission to connect with those who are disconnected from God and/or Christian community.

In those days, there were more empty chairs than filled chairs.

One night after the empty chair prayer, Patrick scanned our empty living room and said, “You know, not too long from now, this room is going to be full of people. They’ll be overflowing to the dining room table and hanging out in the kitchen. I can see it now.”

Over the course of the next several weeks we began to pray during our empty chair prayer for one of Patrick’s co-workers. Patrick mentioned having good conversations with her and that she was a bit hesitant about church.

Then he started inviting her to join us for a house church gathering. And after a while, Deborah came.

I remember having emotional conversations with Deborah when she first started participating. She was in the midst of some pretty big life transitions and was putting the pieces together again.

In the months that followed, I saw Deborah grow and blossom in ways only God was capable of facilitating.

Before we knew it she was coordinating justice initiatives for our house church. This summer she organized the Neighbors’ Cookout that Storyline hosted in partnership with SoupMobile that fed hundreds of our homeless friends.

I remember nights when Deborah came to house church gatherings tired and drained from a long work week. She would say, “I’m so tired, but I wouldn’t miss this for anything. This charges me up. This is my family.”

Last month, in a living room full of people, the Trianon Church sent Deborah with a team of people led by Patrick and Lauren Cone to start the fourth Storyline house church.

Deborah is hosting the new church’s gatherings at her huge antique house in old east Dallas.

Just a couple weeks ago, four people sat around the living room in that big house and prayed for God to fill the empty chair again with those who are disconnected from God.

This story shows Storyline’s values for dependence on God, mission, life change and genuine relationships in action.

I pray God repeats this story hundreds and thousands of times in the Storyline Community in the years to come.

Because the Storyline Community – the Church – exists for people like Deborah.

You can also view this video and others at the Storyline website.

Neil Cole’s book Organic Leadership came at a good time for me. We have been wading through some leadership conundrums and are on the cusp of the next wave of new house churches, so leadership is on my mind.

Section four of Organic Leadership, “The Side by Side Kingdom”, includes Cole’s best practices for leadership development in his ministry. I found these chapters extremely helpful as I prepare to make the transition from on-the-ground house church leadership to coaching on-the-ground house church planters / leaders.

Let me mention a few takeaways:

  • Holistic development: Most leadership training models I’ve been exposed to and participated in are “head heavy.” In other words, they operate out of the assumption that if you just increase the knowledge base of a leader, through classes and books, then he/she will become a better leader. Cole confronts this idea, declaring that many of the church’s leaders are “educated beyond obedience.” Cole doesn’t deny the cognitive or knowledge element of leadership development but instead wants to expand the emphasis of development to character and skills. Knowing must be accompanied by being and doing. Perhaps the most neglected in terms of my own formal education is the character element. How are we learning to be better people? What intentional processes are in place to fashion leaders into people of integrity? Storyline’s formation groups and formation retreats are part of our attempt to develop character in leaders.
  • One-on-one mentoring: Ever since reading Greg Ogden’s Transforming Discipleship, I’ve moved toward thinking of leadership development in groups of 3-4 rather than one-on-one. Cole, however, makes a good case for one-on-one mentoring. Every leader is at a different place in their leadership journey; every leader has a different learning style. As I thought about it, I’m benefiting immensely from one-one-one mentoring in my coaching relationship with Harold Shank. At the same time, I have very formative experiences with other leaders every month at the Mission Alive Church Planters’ Forum. I’m beginning to think that coaching structures for leadership development in the Storyline Community should include both a one-on-one and a forum element. Perhaps leaders gather monthly with other leaders for sharpening sessions, and between those times, as needed, they meet one-on-one with a coach.
  • Mentoring skills: Cole says there are two indispensable tools for one-on-one mentoring. And, surprisingly – or not so surprisingly – they are not a Master’s degree and a minimum of 10 years of experience in ministry. They are: 1) active listening; and 2) asking good questions. I’ve learned a lot from Tod Vogt at Mission Alive in this regard. Coaching is not telling someone what to do and how to do it. It is rather listening and asking good questions in such a way that the developing leader learns to think for him/herself.  Active listening and question-asking assume that leaders have all the resources they need within themselves (especially the presence of the Holy Spirit) to take the next step forward in their own development. I enjoy Cole’s coaching worksheet in the book that has three columns and three rows to facilitate mentoring. The three columns are: 1) active listening; 2) asking questions; and 3) action items. The three rows align his values for ministry with the three columns: 1) divine truth; 2) nurturing relationships; and 3) apostolic mission.
  • Mentoring principles: Cole lists several mentoring gold nuggets that I’ll just list here. You can buy the book and read more if you’d like.
  1. Start with the most obvious area of challenge in a leader’s life (rather than following a curriculum).
  2. Focus on one development item at a time.
  3. Look ahead and anticipate what the next step in development is for the leader.
  4. Never coach a new skill until the previous skill has been learned.
  5. Mentor according to the learning style of the leader (e.g., visual, audio, kinetic, or verbal).
  6. A skill is never truly learned until it is taught to another – which assumes the developing leader is mentoring another developing leader.
  7. Mentoring process: a) Model (I do; you watch); b) Assist (we do together); c) Watch (you do; I watch); d) Leave (you do; someone new watches – the process begins again).
  8. Leadership cannot be learned in a classroom. Leadership is learned as one leads.

Given #8, I’m excited to put some of these skills to practice in the context of coaching others. I’ll be learning leadership myself at a new level.

By the way, my review of Organic Leadership for the Christian Chronicle should be posted soon to this link.

Last week I attended a four-day workshop about Church Planting Movements (CPMs) with David Watson of CityTeam Ministries. Missions Resource Network, a missions organization affiliated with Churches of Christ, hosted the event.

Watson is a former church planter in Northern India, where 40,000 churches have started in the past 15 years. He is now a strategist and trainer for an ever-growing network of approximately 200,000 churches throughout the world. These churches, according to Watson, average about 63 members per church – which amounts to 12.6 million new believers in the past 15-20 years. For the sake of comparison, Churches of Christ consists of 40,000 churches and 5 million believers worldwide.

Watson’s work was featured in a recent book by David Garrison called Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World.

The best overview of Watson’s perspective on church planting is what he calls the “21 Critical Elements” of CPMs. This may not be the exact list of the elements, but it gives the general ideas. CPMs center around:

  1. Group process over individual process
  2. Prayer
  3. Scripture, by way of an inductive Bible study process called “Discovery Bible Study”
  4. Households, or existing social units, rather than individuals
  5. Making disciples of Jesus not converts to a religion
  6. Obedience to commands of Jesus rather than doctrinal distinctives
  7. Access ministry – i.e., developing relationships with non-believers
  8. Ministry – meeting people’s needs leads to evangelism
  9. Timing – knowing when people are ready
  10. Intentionality and planning
  11. Person of peace – i.e., a receptive, influential person who is the gateway for a social unit coming to Christ
  12. Appropriate evangelism – i.e., communicating the good news in ways that make sense to people in their particular cultural context
  13. Starting churches, Watson’s definition of which is: “groups of baptized believers in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that gather to worship, fellowship and nurture one another, and, outside of gatherings, endeavor to obey all the commands of Christ in order to transform families and communities.”
  14. Reproduction at every level – disciples, leaders, and churches
  15. Indigenous leaders – i.e., cultural insiders are the best church planters
  16. The work of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Scripture
  17. Persecution
  18. Mentoring, which is the work of developing the whole person
  19. Self-support – in almost every case there are no paid ministers, no buildings to maintain
  20. Redeeming the culture
  21. Awareness of spiritual warfare

The basic process of starting CPM churches is: 1) church planter finds access to friendship with disconnected people; 2) church planter serves and loves disconnected friends; 3) church planter identifies a person of peace out of those friends; 4) church planter works with person of peace to invite his/her social unit (family or affinity group) into a 15-30 week inductive Bible study led by person of peace or someone else from social unit; 5) the group decides to follow Jesus and becomes a church; 6) new churches send out church planters to start the process again.

Here are five action items I took away from the workshop that I need to implement in my life and ministry:

  • Prayer: David Watson mentioned that the common denominator among their most fruitful church planters was prayer. Some of them spend 3-4 concentrated hours/day in prayer. Remember, all of them have jobs outside of church planting and they still make time for this kind of prayer. I am not praying enough. I will, therefore, make a plan to pray more. And then pray more.
  • Church planting as lifestyle: Watson says it’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle. People must be around you enough to see consistency between your private and public life. I find it easy to compartmentalize my role as a church planter, rather than to see it an extension of my lifestyle. Yet none of this is to say boundaries with family and solitude are not important — they are part of the lifestyle, too. I will, therefore, invite my friends into all parts of my life.
  • People of peace: I’ve been tuned into the concept of people of peace but have not pursued it with the fervor that Watson and company have. I have yet to see a person of peace open a door in our context for an entire social group to encounter God. Watson had fantastic ideas about developing “peace statements” to ignite conversations with potential people of peace. I will, therefore, commit to pray, look for and draw out such people of peace God might be raising up in our midst.
  • Obedience-oriented conversation about Scripture: This was a point of affirmation for me. The heart of Watson’s endeavor seems to be inductive study of Scripture that ends at discerning how one will be obedient to the word they are hearing from God. In other conversations I’ve mentioned how we value the movement from observation to interpretation to application in our Scripture conversations. I will, therefore, continue to facilitate these kinds of conversations and make the moves toward obedience even more explicit.
  • Reproduction: Reproduction is a value of ours, but Watson pushed this value to the max, particularly with his comments about the nature of mentoring. His four step process for mentoring is: 1) model; 2) equip; 3) watch; 4) leave. Watson contends that this process can take as little as 3-4 months in a new church setting. Mentors model only once or twice before allowing others to take over. I will, therefore, model more briefly, equip and watch more quickly, and leave as soon as possible.

I didn’t leave the weekend without hesitations, however. Here are a few limitations I sensed from the presentations:

  • View of Scripture: I was uncomfortable with Watson’s view of Scripture. He had an extended conversation about distinguishing between what is biblical and what is cultural without ever admitting that Scripture is itself a culturally conditioned document. Another session concerned separating “doctrine” from what the Bible teaches, yet Watson failed to mention the degree to which every individual brings lenses to the reading of Scripture (whether they like it or not) and necessarily picks and chooses what they should obey or not. For instance, are we disobedient to God for not having a ritual of washing feet (e.g., John 13)? It takes an interpretive approach to Scripture (i.e., a hermeneutic) to make such decisions. I would rather be aware of my lenses than unaware. Watson seems to think that everyone who reads the Scriptures will arrive at the same conclusion / hermeneutic by the power of the Holy Spirit. This approach didn’t seem to work in early church history (when the most notable heretics used the Bible to support their claims) or in Stone-Campbell history (when everyone read Scripture and came to decidedly different conclusions). Watson also seems to discount the role that church history / tradition / orthodoxy plays as a source of theology and knowledge of God.
  • View of church: I was uncomfortable with Watson’s view of the church only to the extent he expressed that churches in his network are closed to unbelievers. If unbelievers want to be part of a church, they should join a Bible study and start a new one. They are discouraged from participating with an existing one. This decision seems to discount the way the church is the embodiment of the gospel as a community (as with the Mennonite tradition). It also seems to reverse the current trend in our context of allowing people to belong before they’re expected to believe. Watson seems adamant that people must believe before belonging to a church. Paul seems to assume in 1 Corinthians 14 that unbelievers participated in the life of the church and even encountered God as a result.
  • View of teaching: Watson has a very low view of teaching, at least in the traditional sense. Churches that are dependent upon teachers with rich education and knowledge are not likely to reproduce rapidly or perhaps even at all. Watson also critiques the traditional paradigm of teaching because it often has little to do with obedience to God and life change. I’m with him all the way on this. Yet the teaching role is very apparent in Scripture, both in contexts with non-believers and believers. Paul mentions in Colossians 1:7-8, for instance, how the Colossian church was taught the gospel by Epaphras (not led through an inductive Bible study). Rather than reframe the role of teaching in a more dialogical, conversational light (as I think is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in Scripture), Watson stretches the Scriptures to argue that teaching is reserved for believers / church in Scripture, not unbelievers. It seems better (and more biblical) to think of ways the teaching role could be made more obedience and reproduction-oriented rather than discount it totally for unbelievers.
  • People of peace: I think the people of peace concept is a brilliant missionary concept but have wondered if it is a culturally-specific method rather than a universal principle. My own context leads me to think this way: urban Dallas, where social groups are fragmented and disconnected. There is no overarching, preexisting sense of community here. There are no extended family units. The dominant demographic is single professional. I asked Watson about this and he suggested looking for affinity groups that exist in the community (e.g. a fitness gym). Yet existing social groups I’ve been part of in our context (e.g., sports teams, civic groups) do not seem cohesive enough for a person of peace to open a door for an entire group to encounter God and the gospel. Perhaps we should hold alongside the person of peace approach a geographical approach, common in missional church plantings, that treats a neighborhood as a social unit. Maybe it’s both / and and not either / or.
  • Rapid reproduction as the end goal: The undercurrent I sensed from missionaries at the workshop was, “Our mission efforts are slow and frustrating. We should listen to this guy because his churches are reproducing rapidly and reaching a lot of people.” In fact, when Watson was challenged by a workshop participant, he retorted by saying, “That’s fine if you disagree with me, but we’ve planted 200,000 churches doing it this way.” Granted, we should desire for people to connect to God, but growth as an end goal and justification seems misguided. Cancer grows and reproduces at a rapid rate, but that is not a good thing (as I’ve reflected on before). Rapid growth is not the end goal; the goal is rather faithful embodiment of the gospel. God is the one who grows the church, not a particular process. At times, Watson and company seem to stretch biblical texts concerning the church and missionary method (i.e., people of peace) to serve this end goal of rapid reproduction.

Despite my critique, I think David Watson is doing some very significant work. And none of this is to question his motives or dedication to the gospel. Much of his approach is worthy of emulation.

If you’re interested to see some of his material yourself, including video training sessions, you can visit www.cpmtr.org or www.davidlwatson.org. Registering at the website grants one access to curriculum download materials. You can also see the workshop I attended in its entirety at www.ustream.tv/mrnetwork.

I would love to have your feedback and dialogue about this CPM approach, especially from those of you who are currently involved in the work of church planting.