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Storyline’s first Coaching Group had its initial meeting last Wednesday night.

This Coaching Group represents an evolution in my approach to discipleship and leadership development within our community.

I used to wonder how to describe myself and the work I do with Storyline (see here for an old blog post about Church Starter vs. Spiritual Guide). Now I’ve really come to see myself as a coach for mission and the spiritual life.

After receiving training through Mission Alive’s Coaching Labs, I began coaching individual ministry leaders or small ministry leader teams within Storyline. My coaching was largely skill-based and focused on a particular ministry task – like leading a house church. Once a quarter we would host a Leader Forum for all the leaders to get together and enjoy each other’s company (usually 8-12 people).

It became clear over time, however, that my ministry coaching was missing two important elements: 1) an emphasis on the whole person, namely character development and spiritual formation in addition to skills; and 2) the relational synergy that existed in our Forum sessions with 8-12 people.

Enter 3DM (3 Dimensional Ministries). It was about this time that I began reading about a structure developed by 3DM most often called a Huddle. It is their basic vehicle for life-on-life discipleship: a group of 3-8 people, called together by a leader, who share life together regularly for a season and practice a set of tools for following Jesus called LifeShapes. Essentially, the Huddle leader serves as a coach who helps group members listen to God and act on what they’re hearing.

The LifeShapes integrate skill and character development and are portable enough to be remembered and shared by anyone. That is, in fact, 3DM’s hope: that Huddle participants are formed so deeply by their experiences that they themselves go on to gather a group of 3-8 people around them to coach in following Jesus.

The Huddle is a proven vehicle for discipleship and leadership development. It was a basic building block of a European church planting movement through which, in one 3-year period, 725 churches were planted (you can read more about that here).

I suppose the heart of what excites me most about the Huddle concept is that it feels like “Jesus style” discipleship – highly relational, extremely non-programmatic. At the end of the day, that’s what I want to do with my life – to help people experience what I’m convinced is the best way out there to live, the way of Jesus.

Mike Breen, the leader of 3DM, says you can build a church and not have disciples. But if you make disciples, you’ll always get the church. Sign me up. That’s the kind of church planting I want to do.

So after a season of prayer, I invited 8 people (some ministry leaders, some committed disciples – all Partners in Mission with Storyline) to walk with me in a Coaching Group, our language for a Huddle. We’ll walk together for the next year and see what God does. Pray for me as I pour myself into these eight people as a coach and a disciple. Pray for my Coaching Group friends, that this will be a rich season of spiritual growth and connection to God for them.

If you’re interested to read more about Huddles, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram. Incidentally, the 2nd Edition, with 60% new content, is being released as an e-book TODAY.

Next week I’ll share more about what I’m learning about Jesus’ twofold approach to discipleship – invitation and challenge.

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.

When Storyline began, we committed ourselves to live out a value for adaptability in mission, knowing that times would come when we need to adapt and flex because of changing circumstances.

I’m so thankful that this value has not remained at the aspirational level. We have indeed practiced it. For instance:

  • We thought we were going to be a “Sunday morning” church. But we adapted and morphed into a network of house churches.
  • We thought we were going to be a church for young adult professionals. But we adapted as we spent time among friends in poverty and welcomed them into our spiritual family alongside young adults.

I feel strongly that these adaptations were in sync with promptings from God’s Spirit.

And now, Storyline finds itself in a season of adaptation again this spring.

The Backstory

Last fall, several things happened that helped us to see that Storyline was “missing” something:

  1. Approximately 30% of our small community transitioned awaynone because of any conflict or bad feeling toward Storyline (praise the Lord). Mainly because of life transitions – new jobs, new cities, moving to be closer to family, etc.
  2. Storyline had plateaued in its growth and development in the nine months preceding the transitions. No new groups had started. About the same number of people were participating as were at the beginning of 2010. (This was a new trend for us – Storyline had doubled or tripled in size each of the preceding two years.)
  3. Participation in our Formation Retreats had dwindled significantly. We cancelled two Marvelous Light retreats in 2010.
  4. The equipping staff – Ryan Porche and I – had taken second jobs to help sustain our ministry financially which resulted in us working less with Storyline.

What did we make of it? What was missing?

After spending much time in prayer and discernment with the leadership team, we sensed that at the heart of our plateau was a struggle to do discipleship at a deeper level. Storyliners, both those with Christian backgrounds and those without, were not being adequately equipped to follow Jesus in a way that led them out in consistent mission.


It’s not hard to grow a church. It’s just really hard to make disciples. — Mick Woodhead

One reason for the discipleship deficit, we perceived, was because we had developed no way to allow participants within Storyline to make a commitment to following Jesus with Storyline. In an attempt to be non-institutional amidst a context where people are very suspicious of the institution, we had shrunk back from asking for people to commit to the life of Storyline in any formal way.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a ‘bar’ cannot be set in following Jesus unless there exists such an underlying covenant to journey together. Discipleship is too hard to hope that people will just get it on their own. We were made to follow Jesus in community – together – and that assumes some kind of commitment to each other.

I’ve had a hard time admitting this, particularly because I have absolutely hated the frequently unjust and inhospitable practice of “church membership” up to this point in my life. And that might not be saying it strongly enough.

Further, the communal nature of discipleship means that programs and events – like our worship gatherings, retreats, and even house church gatherings – cannot accomplish our goals for discipleship in and of themselves. Learning to follow Jesus is something that takes place in the context of day-to-day relationships, where the lifestyle of Jesus is rubbed off from more radical followers (leaders) to others.

Acts 2:42-47 seems to represent a kind of covenant that followers of Jesus in the early church made with each other: they “devoted themselves” to the apostles’ teaching, prayer, giving, sharing, doing life together, and worshiping.

How are we responding? How are we adapting?

My friend and fellow Mission Alive church planter Kester Smith with the Immanuel Community in Austin, Texas, painted a winsome picture of communal discipleship for me in a class at the ACU Summit in September 2010.

He spoke about how the Immanuel Community, out of struggles similar to Storyline’s, had developed a “Way of Life” – a rule or order – that the members of the community had committed to live out together. The Way of Life included things like daily prayer, weekly worship with the community, hospitality toward new people, service and confession. Sounds like Acts 2:42-47. (You can read the whole thing here.)

The Immanuel Community reflects a growing movement in missional communities toward a “communal rule” as the primary way of doing discipleship.

Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways, describes it as a shift of focus from core beliefs to core practices — a shift from asking what do followers of Jesus believe to how do followers of Jesus live?

Beliefs are certainly important. They just mean very little unless they are put to action. James says that passive belief is dead (James 2:17). “Even the demons believe.”


It is less important to ask a Christian what he believes about the Bible than it is to inquire what he does with it. — Leslie Newbigin

This “rule of life” approach to discipleship has become so helpful that Mission Alive, my resourcing organization, has made the development of a communal rule of life the focus of its week long Strategy Lab for church planters and church leaders.

As a result, the Storyline Leadership Team has prayed through and developed what we’re calling the “Storyline Lifestyle.” It is our first attempt at a communal rule of life in the way of Jesus. It is the way, in our particular locale, we live out the STORY of God:

  • Sharing life with disconnected or downtrodden friends at least weekly
  • Taking ownership of our spiritual formation in formation groups weekly
  • Opening ourselves to God through prayer and Scripture daily
  • Rallying together with our spiritual family at least weekly
  • Yielding our resources generously to the mission at least monthly

To equip our community to begin to live this lifestyle, we’ve created a 6-week bootcamp that’s called Lifestyle DNA. It’s a catechesis of sorts – spiritual training for newcomers to Storyline. We spend one week framing up the gospel and the lifestyle of Jesus as a response of gratitude to the grace God gives us in Jesus; then the remaining five weeks practicing each of the five life rhythms in community.

At the end of Lifestyle DNA, previously Christian participants can choose to partner with Storyline in its mission and are commissioned publicly in our community gatherings. Not-yet-Christians are given the opportunity to make the decision to follow Jesus and demonstrate their commitment to God and the community publicly in baptism.

After completing Lifestyle DNA, two things keep the lifestyle in front of Storyliners: 1) Formation Groups – gender specific groups of 2-4 people who gather for confession and prayer – are being retooled to flow out of the Storyline Lifestyle; 2) House church leaders will also help by sharing life with and coaching those who have decided to partner with Storyline in mission.

Our leaders have just finished a pilot run of Lifestyle DNA together, and already I can see how my life is changing. Parts of my brokenness are healing up; my connection to God has deepened; and I have a much keener sense of God’s presence when I’m on mission.

Pray for our community as we start the first community-wide Lifestyle DNA tomorrow night!

Stay tuned for upcoming conversations about how Storyline is changing. Part two addresses how Storyline will change structurally. Part three addresses how Storyline will become even more of a training ground for future church planters.

Storylines: Darcey

Charles Kiser —  May 30, 2010 — 3 Comments

It may seem strange after watching this video, but Darcey’s story is one of the most important stories Storyline can tell.

Her story demonstrates that our community belongs to people who have questions. People who have doubts. People who don’t have it all figured out yet. People who are on a journey.

In fact, Darcey’s story is a part of all of our stories, whether we’re veterans in the faith or newcomers.

At the end of the day, Storyline – indeed, the Church – exists for people like Darcey.

Storyline Turns 2

Charles Kiser —  April 22, 2010 — 1 Comment

Hope you’ll join us for our second birthday party!  We’ll even have cake and balloons! Click on the invite below for more details from the Storyline website.