The City of Brotherly Shove

Steve Davis, a church planter in Philly, has posted an article on church planting over at SI that is another in a series he should have titled “Provocations.” I suppose it is a good thing to provoke discussion, but I’ll confess to finding the “I’m not saying I believe that, I’m just asking questions” approach a little irritating at times. Steve accomplishes his goal of generating discussion, so he’s an effective writer in that sense. Since Steve’s a good man and a friend, I am sure he won’t mind me interacting a little with his questions. Here’s the list:

  • Do you have one pastor carrying the leadership and preaching burden alone or a leadership team where the lead pastor is “one among equals in decision-making; first among equals in vision and leadership?”
  • Do you organize traditional Sunday School, Sunday AM, PM and Wednesday prayer meeting services or develop gatherings according to patterns more appropriate to cultural patterns where the church is situated?
  • Do you create and multiply programs for different age or affinity groups to attract people to the church or does the church seek bridges of contact in the community for incarnational ministry?
  • Do you insist on the exclusive use of more formal, traditional hymns and outdated gospel choruses or do you seek a balance with music that is theologically sound, spiritually uplifting, and comprehensible and which includes contemporary forms?
  • Do you employ a church name that creates unnecessary barriers or choose a name which reflects an aspect of your ministry without denominational code words?
  • Do you utilize a website designed to attract Christians who move into your area while confusing unbelievers with Christian-speak language like “separatistic,” and “militant” and listing everything you believe about everything, or do you simplify your public presentation in order to catch and hold the attention of the unchurched as well?
  • Do you place the American flag and the Christian flag behind the podium and give the appearance of supporting a conservative political agenda (usually Republican) or do you urge your people to be good citizens regardless of their political views and affiliations and refuse to allow politics to highjack the cause of the gospel?
  • Do you give public invitations after each service singing “Just As I Am” or “I Surrender All” with a decisional emphasis or do you emphasize progressive and radical transformation through biblical discipleship and in relational community?


A few thoughts:

  1. This list contains an odd mixture of biblical and traditional issues. For example, are the matters of pastoral office and leadership on the same plane as the number and timing of services?
  2. Likewise, I found it strange that one question would imply that being attractional is old-school, but then another would address the issue of church name as a matter that might create a barrier. IOW, it seems like you’re left with this advice, “Drop Baptist (or whatever else you might be) because it stands in the way of attracting folks, but remember the church is not about attracting people.” For the record, I’ve looked for actually statistical evidence that using Baptist hinders a church plant and have not been able to find it. Personally, I think this is way overplayed.
  3. On the whole question of church planting pastor(s), I think there is real wisdom in a team-based church planting, but this really is a question that needs to be looked at biblically rather than as an issue of old school versus new school. I have yet to see any biblical basis for claiming that a church planting team necessarily functions like a team of pastors. Certainly Paul and his associates did not seem to function in the way Steve describes. Setting the apostle aside, it seems that one man, Epaphras was the evangelist who took the gospel to Colossae and planted that church. We see no record of a team involved there. Again, I like the team concept, but that is different than saying it is biblically mandated. And I think it is a biblical and methodological mistake to transpose how an established church functions over to the church planting task. In fact, I’d suggest it may evidence too much influence being exerted by fairly modern traditions rather than NT practices.
  4. I’d like to sound a note of concern on this whole attractional versus incarnational stuff. There is no doubt that we must constantly examine ourselves to make certain that we are being controlled by the Scriptures, but fads and buzzwords usually prove to be of very little long-term profit. I know that sounds harsh, but if anyone spends some time reading those who are articulating these concepts they will quickly see that these words are being used very poorly and often confusingly. Ironically, what they share in common is a view of the church that is controlled by those outside of the church—either attracting them or serving them in order to make contact with them. I don’t have time to develop it now, but I think this is a colossal mistake. And I’ve said pretty clearly what I think about the incarnational ministry concept here.
  5. I agree completely with the flag comment, but it and the questions about websites and invitations suggest that Steve is concerned about a group of people with which I don’t have much contact. Seriously, are there folks still singing “Just As I Am” and “I Surrender All” at the end of every service?
  6. In my mind, we can’t emphasize the need to plant churches too much, so I am glad that Steve has raised this subject. And the need in urban areas is great, so I am grateful for that part of it as well. I don’t think we do much good if we pit urban against suburban, and highlighting the needs in urban areas doesn’t inherently do that. It should be both/and, not either/or. Strategically, though, I think it is fair to say that the tendency has been to focus on new growth areas more than urban areas. Steve is right to sound the note about that need and some of the challenges involved in addressing it. We definitely need to think carefully about the task, but it is even more important, I think, that we get more aggressive in doing it. So, let me extend an invitation to those who have a burden for the cities to come to Detroit. We’re already working on it and would love the help and to help you!

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