Top 10 Posts of 2017: #6 How to Plant a Movement as a Pastor

By Jeff Christopherson

To say that I am euphoric about the new conversation that is happening within church planting circles would be an understatement. Exchanges that have progressed from “planting a church” to “planting a kingdom movement” are key indicators that we may be heading toward a more hopeful future. I have written extensively about this in the past because it is my earnest conviction that only through the practical implementation of this dialogue will we ever see a reversal of gospel fortunes that may finally have an effect within our post-Christian world.

But before a church planter can pursue a sustained practical implementation of this kingdom objective, a number of heart-shifts must take place deep within his spirit. Several counter-culture shifts must become settled, spiritual realities within the priorities of his work before any movement is possible.

1. A shift of heroes: From me to them
Personal insecurity amongst pastoral leadership might be the single greatest limiting factor for movement. As long as our insecurities lead us to singularly occupy center stage, our overcompensating and fragile egos will never create enough space for genuine discipleship.

Movements require a change in our hero stories. The practice of celebrating others over perpetual self-promotion becomes the normative culture-building habit of movement makers. Just as King Jesus, restful in His own identity and mission, could humbly announce that the upcoming power of His disciples would supersede His own (John 14:12), so modern movement makers look to emulate the humility of His example. Movements revel in the preferment of new and unlikely heroes.

2. A shift in urgency: From aid to ownership
As long as the starting and sustaining of my church is my exclusive ambition, I will never understand, nor experience, the amazing power found in the kingdom of God. This spiritual authority seems to be exclusively reserved for a selfless spiritual community that is heaven-bent on bringing good news to a desperate world that so frantically craves it.

What happens in the life of God’s people when they draw a red circle around their community, and declare, under God, that they will take spiritual responsibility for it? That it will not be satisfied until every man, woman, boy, and girl within that circle has the opportunity to hear and see and taste and smell the good news of Jesus Christ on multiple occasions? What occurs is a gospel shift. Suddenly the church ceases to exist as a benign spiritual aid to a faceless geography, but instead becomes the passionate owner of the gospel responsibility for the eternal lives neighboring among them. Following in Paul’s footsteps, a church like this sees movement, because it recognizes the race that it has been designed to run (Acts 20:24).

3. A shift of expectations: From ingestion to reproduction
If I could shuttle myself into a church history class of the future, I would not be too surprised if the professor referred to the downward spiritual trajectory of our era as “the age of irrational exuberance.” I would expect the church growth era to be characterized as the season in history when disciple-making became discipleship, and discipleship became spiritual development, and spiritual development became a cafeteria of personal growth options. It sputtered because it was an era of excessive ingestion with pint-sized reproduction.

Movements have always required an unswerving commitment to disciple-making. Jesus’ “Plan A” — “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17) — has always been integral to the advance of His church. Any church planter who chooses to attract a community, rather than create community through disciple-making, is destined to a thankless ministry of arranging buffet options for his consumers’ fickle yet voracious appetites. However large and exuberant the feeding frenzy becomes, it is irrational to imagine that it will transform itself into a disciple-making movement.

4. A shift of opportunities: From ours to yours
As long as the term ‘missional’ refers to a church’s corporate strategy of community engagement, movement is unlikely. The creation of missional opportunities by church leadership might be a great way to introduce the evangelistically wary to His assignment as a disciple, but it doesn’t correlate the disciple to service within the everyday context of life. The “as you go” part of Jesus’ commission (Matthew 28:19) assumes that the disciple is ministering in the natural fields of his credibility and competence.

By shifting the primary disciple-making opportunity from our parish to your parish, new churches strategically position their people to make disciples from the relationships that have the strongest bridges of credibility. As a church planter consistently celebrates shepherds owning their parishes, leaders of movements emerge.

5. A shift of celebration: From numbers to ratios
Lets go back to the map and the red circle of ownership that was drawn (the second shift). As you look into the evangelical presence in the community, you discover three churches that, with generosity, might be considered evangelical — the largest of the three is 125 people. All three seem to serve the same white, middle-class demographic with varying degrees of success. Suppose the total population living within the confines of that circle was 10,000 people. As you dig deeper into the community’s fabric, you discover that aside from the white, middle-class, there are three dominant people groups that cumulatively comprise the majority of that populace. How should this information inform your strategy?

A planter who is truly taking spiritual ownership of his community will never be satisfied with planting a self-sustaining church of 250. Being the largest is insignificant to him. Instead he is burdened that only four in 100 are likely Christ followers and will multiply his outreach efforts to affect that ratio. To this planter, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19) means multiplying ministry, for which he will not likely receive personal credit. Which leads us to the sixth shift.

6. A shift of motivation: From now to later
Perhaps what best distinguishes first-century from 21st-century ministry motivations can be found in the area of ecclesiastical pragmatism. First-century leaders seemed largely unconcerned with quarter over quarter returns. Instead, with eternity in focus, they performed ministry motivated by their certain appearance before the judgment seat of Christ.

With eternity at front of mind, Paul describes his ministry: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 ESV).

And with eternity imminent, Paul testifies, “… the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day …” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV).

Both first-century and contemporary-movement leaders seem to be highly motivated by a later judgment rather than the temporal and hollow accolades of men. These movements emanate from leaders that ensure the multiplication of the gospel never, ever, becomes secondary.

7. A shift of kingdoms: From mine to His.
What is the kingdom of God? I often describe it as “What the world looks like when Jesus gets His way.” The first six shifts are really the practical living out of the seventh. Movements emerge from the humility of leaders quietly pouring their lives into a lifetime of kingdom advance. They arise from a soul-conviction that joy and life can only be experienced through the exchange of kingdoms (John 15:11). Dying to mine, living for His. And in that exchange comes all that is needed to prepare my spirit for His kingdom movement to be unleashed through the humility of unassuming obedience. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV).

Published December 18, 2017

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Jeff Christopherson

Jeff Christopherson is the North American Mission Board's Vice President of the Send Network. He and his wife, Laura, live in Alpharetta, Georgia.