By Peter Meier | May 15, 2019
In previous Mission Moments posts, I have highlighted 12 Principles for Church Planting in 21st Century North America, as defined in the new Church Planting Manifesto for the 21st Century. This Manifesto, drafted by the Send Institute Missiologists Council, has gained a large number of endorsers, including myself. Download it and take a look. You may also wish to endorse it! You can either download or read it on their website here.
The drafters and endorsers of the Manifesto commit themselves to join together around sound missiological and biblically-faithful principles for planting new churches in North America. They pray that this collaborative effort will result in “a new generation of disciple-makers, churches, and networks across North America participating in God’s redemptive work and accounting for innumerable people coming to Christ, immeasurable cultural transformation, and every-increasing glory to God.”
This is a critical issue for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. At one time, LCMS President Jerry Kieschnick stated boldly, “Church Planting is Job #1 in my administration!” Since he made that statement, things in this church body have changed significantly. This document challenges our denomination to put church planting in its rightful place as a priority if we claim to take God’s Word seriously. If God is about seeking and saving the lost, how dare we minimize His call to make and multiply disciples, especially knowing that planting new churches is the most effective way to reach and disciple new people?
I believe that these final three principles reflect cultural and spiritual realities in which today’s church is called to witness and mission. If you missed the previous three posts on the Manifesto, be sure to go back and read them! I’d be interested to know what you think.
10. Regular and ongoing evaluation of mission strategies, structures, and systems is necessary for contextually-appropriate methods and models. (Habakkuk 3:2; Mark 2:21-22)
We affirm that Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations often necessitates new ways of discovering how God is at work throughout the world in church planting. The successes of the past can often be our greatest hindrances for the necessary discoveries of the future. This means that denominations and networks have to do the hard work of identifying and removing any traditions or structures that are hindrances from obedience to God and effectiveness in mission.
One of the challenges we face is the success we may have experienced in the past. We planted new churches in suburbs as we gathered Lutherans to populate these new congregations. We had more babies who were baptized and confirmed. The expectation in a church culture was that people will attend worship services on Sunday mornings, and other days and times were sacred as “church nights.”
We have had high academic standards and expectations of our clergy, and assumed that clergy need to be the church planters. In the LCMS, we hold to ecclesial standards which restrict who can preach and administer the sacraments. Churches were planted by pastors or missionaries at large, who were called and supported by Districts as part of their mission programs. We are learning that these systems and methods are no longer effective in this post-church culture. Our traditions (not God’s Word) hinder us from participating in a church planting movement.
The Manifesto urges us to consider these things and more – and to identify and make necessary changes: We commit ourselves to the humility of open and reflective self-evaluation. Where constructs such as tradition, structure, or even proven methods become stumbling blocks for aligning with how God is at work, we gladly leave them behind. We resist building monuments to the past if it means missing out on what God is doing now.
11. Mobilization for mission is rooted in a hopeful belief in the progress and future reality of God’s completed work and the renewal of all things. (Matthew 16:18; Acts 17:24-27; Revelation 21:4-6)
We affirm that the decline of church membership over the last few decades is one of the useful metrics to gauge the climate of North American spirituality. But church membership decline is merely one narrative among many others that motivate the Body of Christ to greater mission work. The decline narrative calls people to mission by relying on a period of history where church membership was thought to be stronger. This institutional memory is quickly fading and increasingly less effective at rallying the imagination of segments most easily mobilized. Some other crucial ways to mobilize the whole Body of Christ into mission include biblical reconciliation, Kingdom renewal, the Church from around the world coming to North America, and previously unreached communities worshiping and glorifying God.
Have we heard enough of the decline narrative? The decline narrative encourages a “circle the wagons” mentality. It does not engage God’s people in mission. God’s people today want to be engaged in a movement that is bigger and greater than a call to reverse decline and return to the imagined glory of former days. God’s people will engage in mission when they see themselves as part of a positive effort to transform lives and communities, to partner with God in His work of restoration, making all things new. The immigrant church can teach us much about a positive, upward narrative. Their second generation youth and the millennials in our midst are ready to lead in new mission work – if we release control and let them, if we mentor and support them to take the lead in reaching their contemporaries and the generations that follow.
The LCMS is a denomination that is 95% white. If we believe that God calls us to celebrate the diversity which is America today, we will be intentional about this action point: We agree mobilize churches and church planting teams not simply by talking about church decline, but also by the multiple ways God is actually at work in developing a diverse mission force in North America. We avoid a one-dimensional theology of mission that neglects the multiple heritages that make up North America.
12. Men and women leading in mission – from difference racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds – is a demonstration of the power of the Gospel. (Acts 13:1-3; James 2:1-7)
We affirm that God has sovereignly allowed high levels of diversity to descend upon North America as part of His plan to raise up new disciples and new churches. All movements must continue to look to Jesus and the New Testament pattern for how to disciple and release both men and women into mission. Just as the Church from around the world often understands that the Great Commission is all peoples reaching all places with all of the Gospel, North America, as a microcosm of the world, requires a mission force led by diverse and culturally intelligent leaders. Acts 13 reminds us that God launched a global mission enterprise from the church in Antioch, which was composed of people from different nations and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Can we affirm this action point? And if we do, what would we need to do differently? We agree that North America, as a cultural mosaic of God’s children, needs all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. While not every context demands high levels of diversity, we believe that as North America continues to complexify, churches that reflect diversity and mission strategies that are led by meaningfully diverse teams demonstrate the power of the Gospel to a non-believing world in a unique way. We discourage the marginalization and side-lining of any groups within the Body of Christ.
Read that over once more. What does that say to our denomination? What does that say to your congregation? To you?
What truths do these final three of the twelve church multiplication principles in The Manifesto speak into our lives and churches? Are we truly interested in taking God’s call to mission seriously – which means putting these principles into action in our communities – or will we be content with ignoring them, minimizing the mission to which God has called us in our day?
These twelve principles require more than lip service. They require our congregations and our church leaders to make a God-honoring commitment to mission action. We know what God wants for His Church. Let’s pray and act accordingly!
What will you do with these 12 Principles for Church Planting in 21st Century North America? The harvest is ready and waiting and it is diverse.
It is not acceptable to do nothing.
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