6 Predictions that Didn’t Make the Cut

6 Predictions that Didn’t Make the Cut

Recently, I released a 6-month project I worked on with a cultural anthropologist to make 10 Church Predictions for the next 10 YearsAll told, we ended with a list of 31 predictions that we felt fairly confident in making. (You can download the PDF here.)

But rather than bury the whole list, just for fun, we decided to release 6 more predictions, with just a few sentences explanation for each. Enjoy!

Bonus Prediction: A few prominent seminaries will break with ATS and start training pastors in an entirely new and innovative way.

While there have been some advancements in seminary training in the last twenty years, most notably the move to distance learning cohorts, the strictures seminaries must adhere to in order to stay in good standing with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) puts significant limits on the kind of innovation schools can experiment with. But in a world where we regularly train pastors for a world that no longer exists, coupled with significant rising costs, we believe there will be a few bold institutions that figure out how to successfully experiment, which could become the future training grounds for pastors. If this subject is of interest to you, JR Rozko and I wrote a whitepaper on the subject a few years back.

Bonus Prediction: There will be a crisis in how people relate to local spiritual authority.

Between podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube channels, Reddit threads, online communities and a plethora of articles, people will be more committed to a tribe online than they will be to a particular people in a particular place. There is ongoing macrotrend within culture of people aligning themselves with people who tend to agree with close to 100% of what they believe. The Christian community is no different in this respect. Locally speaking, it will be hard for churches to lead with spiritual authority as people will increasingly live out a more individuated existence, choosing to belong to an online tribe of peers they agree with.

Bonus Prediction: The efforts of churches to reach cities and rural America will look wildly different. Forget your models.

There is a global trend of people moving towards cities, particularly among people younger than 40. These people are more diverse in terms of religion, ethnicity, worldview, education and background experiences. There has already been an end to the monoculture that long dominated the American consciousness and that is having profound effects on the church. But the end to that monoculture means the church models that “worked” will do poorly at reaching people who aren’t already predisposed to church. To reach people in cities will mean a diversity of missional models will be pioneered. But for every action, there is a counter-effect. If people move to cities en masse, the other side of the coin will be rural areas that feel more isolated, more spread out, smaller populations and fewer job opportunities. There will be a mission landscape (and opportunity) that is quite different than what it looks like today.

Bonus Prediction: Gospel saturation will hit a tipping point in a few cities.

The idea of “Gospel Saturation” is an idea that is already catching on. The principle  of saturation is that to fulfill the Great Commission, people in a geographic place need multiple opportunities to hear and respond to the Gospel and the only way to do this is for churches to work together, and not in competition. There are already a number of organizations making significant strides towards activating this principle. ChristTogether is currently working in 88 cities. The NewThing Network is seeing a wave of church planting happen with this principle that we haven’t seen since the Vineyard movement. And Saturate the Sound is one example of a city prototype that’s coming alive.

Bonus Prediction: The church will have a poverty crisis to contend with. 

Economists are predicting there will be an unemployment and refugee crisis coming and the American church will need to choose its’ posture towards the problem of poverty. Some of it will be people of color from different countries, but most people will be white and come from middle-to-upper-middle-class-backgrounds. There are 2 dominant factors at play: Unemployment will be driven by automation and the burst of the education bubble, while the refugee population will (possibly) soar due to climate change and global political terrorism.

Bonus Prediction: Many of the most “successful” churches will have a team-based leadership structure.

There has been a move in both business and the church towards more fluid, flatter and team-based leadership structures. While there will always be models of the genius with a thousand helpers, the significant movement of the APEST principles and practice in the church, coupled with the proliferation of similar visions of leadership in Silicon Valley, will dramatically shift the way the future leaders of the church choose to operate.

Futurist Church Series :: Where is “Missional” 10 Years on?

Futurist Church Series :: Where is “Missional” 10 Years on?

Ten years ago, the idea of “missional” was driving almost all conversations in leadership circles and I think it’s fair to say 2009/10(ish) was the hay-day of the “missional conversation.” But was there a difference between the “conversation” happening in evangelical leadership circles and the movement itself?

Obviously things are different now. For this article of the Futurist Church Series, we invited 5 thought leaders who were in the thick of it 10 years ago to speak on the matter; people everyone would consider leading voices within the missional conversation. We asked each of them the same 5 questions to get a sense of where missional is and where it might be headed.

The 5-on-5 Voices

Q1: When the “missional conversation” was at its peak 10 year ago, what was your hope about where it would take the Western church?

 

For one, I’m not sure if it peaked ten years ago or was simply just first registering in the minds of many leaders across North America. But that aside, my hopes and dreams were that we would see a new wave of missional activity, the rise of new movements, and more by way of innovative church planting.  My belief then, and still is, is that if we do not find our way to a missional expression of the church, Christianity in the West will continue towards precipitous decline. 

 

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote The Road to Missional, and if you read my introduction to that book you’ll see I was responding to people who were saying the missional conversation was over back then. I wanted the book to be a gentle rebuke to those people who were saying the missional thing was good, we liked it, but it’s kinda over now. My point was that if you think this was a passing fad, the latest get-church-quick scheme, you didn’t understand the missional conversation in the first place. So if you’re asking what my hope was ten years ago, it was exactly that – that the church would stop seeing mission as a fad or a scheme or a strategy, and start to see it as the means by which we mirror God’s work in the world and glorify him. Ten years ago, I wanted the church to (a) embrace the cruciform nature of incarnational witness, (b) understand mission as bringing reconciliation, justice and beauty to a broken world, (c) see mission as wider than evangelism, (d) practice evangelism as more than the four spiritual laws, and (e) embrace its identity as a sent community of disciples. That’s all.

 

My hope was that the priesthood of the believer on mission in the everyday stuff of life would become the new norm – that every Christian would not only see themselves as a missionary, but be actively participating in everyday mission in effective ways that would lead to each believer making disciples who make disciples. As a result, the Church would grow in unprecedented ways through conversion grow and multiplication grow.

 

I simply hoped that more and more churches would see the need to activate all the people of God to engage in God’s mission more fully. I had no illusions that the entire Western church would make the shift, but I was hopeful that many would.

 

My hope for the “missional conversation” was a hope for renewal of mission in North America, not North America to the world, but incarnational mission in North America. For me this meant a wave of incarnational church plants, incarnational renewal of traditional churches. By ‘incarnational’ I meant Christian presence for the gospel outside the traditional four walls of church gatherings.

Q2: In one sentence or short phrase, how would you describe the state of “missional” today?

 

Well I think there is still a lot of activity going on that could be called broadly missional.  For instance an uptake in church planting, new focus on discipleship, fledgling movements emerging, the phenomenal uptake on APEST typology of ministry across the spectrum, etc. (I listed some of these in my new edition of The Forgotten Ways).  These are hopeful expressions….it is simply that there are not enough of them and we have yet to unequivocally demonstrate proof of concept.

 

Splintered. Those who saw missional as a strategy, and felt disappointed by it, have pursued its ideas into specialist areas, searching for the silver bullet to grow their churches. This has led to whole sub-conversations like fivefold, the parish/neighborhood conversation, bivo/covo, missional discipleship, community development, etc. etc.  Missional was never meant to be a strategy so thinking you can parse it into increasingly bite-sized strategic objectives is to lose the beauty of what we all dreamed of 20 years ago.

 

For many Christians, missional seems optional and especially reserved for the most mature Christian.

 

Because the muscle memory of church growth thinking is so strong, the move towards mission is still in process for many churches.

 

“Missional” is a brand that has become domesticated to (and by) the traditional forms of protestant church in N. America.

Q3: In your opinion, what happened to missional conversation since its hey day? Why did it fade out or morph into something else?

 

As mentioned above, I’m not sure it has faded out.  While the word missional is not being used as extensively, the phenomenon it has morphed into sub-conversations, e.g. multiplication, 5Q, etc.  This is good and bad.  Good in that the conversation is keeping, bad in that it is being done in ways that are reductionistic….many of them lack a comprehensive model of the church as missional movement.  There is not as much ’symphony’ going on right now.  

 

As I say above, it has fractured into specialist areas. Church leaders are looking for the special sauce. But while the missional vision includes fivefold, neighborhood, bivo, discipleship, etc, it involves much more. You pull each piece out from the whole at your peril. Fivefold won’t work in a traditional, unchanging church. Emphasizing neighborhood makes no sense in a dispersed suburban megachurch. I sometimes compare it to the 1980s third wave charismatic movement. That movement insisted that the gifts of the Spirit hadn’t ceased, demanding that we submit to this new move of God, encouraging us to speak in tongues and practice deliverance and words of knowledge. It represented a wholescale rethink of who we are and how we do church. But within ten years, conservative Protestant churches had just incorporated contemporary music, bands, and hand-raising while resisting full renewal by the Holy Spirit. I fear we’re at that place in the missional era. It’s as if the church is trying to retro-fit a few missional pieces into their existing machinery. But in The Shaping of Things to Come, Alan Hirsch and imagined a complete ecclesial overhaul with mission as its organizing principle.       

 

First of all, I don’t believe it was carefully defined. As a result, every co-opted the term for anything they were doing outside the formal gathering of Sunday. Second, I think missional was seen as an action-oriented push for believers to look and move outward while lacking the deep formational aspect of developing believers into maturity in order to sustain any kind of healthy gospel movement.  As a result, in a very pragmatic context, it turned into a new fadish strategy to grow a church (wrong goal). In turn, many churches did not see the outcomes they had hoped for and concluded that “missional” doesn’t work. They saw it as a strategy that turned into a short-lived fad because they failed to recognize that their theology, and theological vision was broken before they ever tried a ‘missional approach’.  We needed a deeper repentance and correction about what we believe about God, the Gospel, and our view of the Church and her mission. Because this didn’t happen in most cases, the church merely shifted its programs and practices, while failing to repent of its poor theology and ministry philosophy.

 

I wouldn’t say it has faded out, it has simply been discovered to be difficult and counter to how many Christians have been taught and therefore not often embraced on a deep level.

 

“Missional” never moved, in my opinion, from an idea, a concept, challenge, or aspiration, to an actual practice of church in mission. It therefore got absorbed into modern Christendom systems of church.

Q4: What was the biggest positive contribution the missional conversation made in Western church culture in the last 20 years?

 

Mission has awakened the church to God’s purposes beyond the narrow confines of the worshipping conversion.  It has led to numerous ‘fresh expressions’ (innovations) in new forms of church, it has indelibly impacted theological discourse (most seminaries will now have missional subjects and streams whereas these did not exist ten years ago.  

 

It challenged the gross over-steer of the church growth movement, which had come to reject the importance of social action, and emphasized evangelism-as-recruitment, the homogenous unit principle (where like attracts like), and the Sunday service as the doorway to the church. Missional was like a rock thrown into the steady flowing stream of church growth theory. It interrupted the flow. It questioned the assumptions and gave new ways of thinking about the church’s mission, ways that emphasized go rather than come. It unleashed young evangelicals into the world of justice-seeking, placemaking, and church planting.

 

It has led to a more honest critique of our scorecard and a willingness to admit we are not actually making disciples in the church as we thought. It also has shifted the conversation away just conversion and addition to a more holistic mission that includes all of life (as evidenced by faith and work initiatives) and is raising awareness about a need to focus on multiplication as well.

For those who have actually leaned into the conversation, it has been the recapturing of the missionary nature of the church.

The missional conversation led to a invigorated discussion on how to engage culture with the gospel. It offered many an opportunity to ‘reset’ what it means to be church. There are lasting effects to this day among many because of it.

Q5: What is your hope for the soul and deeper meaning of missional moving forward?

 

We have to keep focussed and not let the broader cultural malaise and ideological debate derail what is likely to be one of the most important conversation in our time.  But I do think we now have to major on correcting the defective Christology that lies at the heart of what is the prevailing cultural Christianity.  Unless we get Jesus right, everything else will be fundamentally wrong…even toxic and dangerous.  

 

It’s so important to remember that missional is intrinsically rooted in Trinity and Kingdom. The missional mandate emerges from the character and action of the Triune God, not from the need to reach out. And its mission is not chiefly about planting and growing churches. It is about alerting everyone everywhere to the universal reign of God through Christ. This involves evangelism, but also has implications for racial reconciliation, social justice, creation care, and community development. There’s still so much more work to be done in these areas. As I said earlier, I think missional is in danger of becoming church growth theory 2.0. I truly hope the church can recover a more biblical missiology moving forward.    

 

I am hopeful that we will see a true affirming and mobilization of the priesthood of every believer which includes an affirmation that all of life is ministry. I also am expecting a much deeper emphasis on spiritual formation that moves out on mission, not just one or the other. I am also hopeful for a greater ownership of the mission of the church by unpaid staff. In all of this, I am praying for a gospel saturation movement in North America.

 

My deepest hope is that the church would do everything possible to diminish the clergy-laity divide, which would lead to activating ALL the people of God to engage in His mission.

I hope and pray the “missional” conversation turns into a movement of some kind that cultivates leadership, practices of ecclesiology, sufficient to replant the church of His Kingdom in N. America at a time when evangelicalism is imploding and protestant mainline church keeps shrinking.

BONUS QUESTION: In one way, the burnout of the missional conversation is a cautionary tale for how things are co-opted and then changed. What advice would you give to leaders who will experience thought movements going forward?

 

Keep focussed.  Steady on the ship. Have a ten year plan.  Cut the faddish nonsense and the need for reductionistic formulas.  Do the right thing because it is the right thing not because it expedient or pragmatic.  

 

I think the challenges posed by missional thinkers as long ago as Bishop Newbigin in the 80s and the American Newbiginians in the 90s and the emerging missional church leaders in the 00s are as fresh and as necessary as ever. Such movements need their prophets to stay the course, to refuse to give in to domesticating forces, and to continue to ruffle feathers. It’s lonely work, but important.    

Properly identify the real problem. Clarify terms where a new word or concept is introduced, ensuring that the concept is deeply biblical. Recognize that the change needed is not just strategic, but theological and philosophical. Call leadership to repentance. Make sure leaders fully embrace and embody whatever it is they intend to lead others in. Then, be very clear about the cost necessary.

 

Again, I would push back a bit on the idea that the missional conversation has experienced “burnout.” If a movement is rooted theologically and missiologically, then it will not fade. I think what was called the “emergent movement” was a renewal movement that was more about style than mission. However, because a genuine missional conversation is rooted in the missionary nature of the Triune God (theology) and the interplay of the church with culture (missiology) I am not too concerned about it becoming a fading emphasis.

Don’t get sucked up in the hoopla. Focus on slow, steady, on the ground cultivating of actual communities where change and sustenance happens.

One Last Word from Alan Hirsch:

I am more convinced than ever of the rightness of the movement.  The degraded state of the contemporary evangelical Christianity necessitates the very focii that the missional movement brings—a radical recentering on the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus Christ; a theology of Lordship and not just personal salvation; a call to integrate justice into mission; incarnational forms of church planting; a recovery of full biblical typology of ministry (APEST); a recovery of the priority of discipleship; calling the church to rally around God’s purposes in the world as opposed to theological navel-gazing; etc..  We need these now more than ever!  We must not stop in our efforts to remissionalize the church, in fact I believe we need to double down on them.

How your Expertise is KILLING Innovation in your Church

How your Expertise is KILLING Innovation in your Church

 In 1990, a famous study was conducted by a student at Stanford named Elizabeth Newton. She got a group of people together and divided them into two sets: “Tappers” and “Listeners.”

Here’s how the study worked: A Tapper was partnered with a Listener and each were given a list of 25 popular songs like “Happy Birthday” or the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The tapper secretly selected a song and tapped the rhythm of the song by knocking on a table in front of them. The listener, having 25 songs to choose from, was to name the song the tapper was knocking out on the table. 

Newton conducted the experiment 120 times. Any guess on how many times the listener correctly named the song being tapped out?

Three.

3 out of 120. That’s 2.5 percent. 

But this is where it gets really interesting. After the tapper knocked out the rhythm of the song, but before the listener gave their guess, Newton asked the tapper to guess the chances the listeners would get it right. 

Where’d they place the odds? 50 percent. The results would yield not 1 out of 2 correct guesses — but 2 in 100. 

If you do this a few times with friends or family, you see start to see the same kind of response that Newton was seeing in the tappers. They were increasingly frustrated and irritated. (You should definitely do this one at home. I tried with my kids and it provided a good amount of fun and frustration for all of us!)  You see, when you tap the rhythm out of the song, you’ve got the song is playing in your head. You can almost hear it. You can’t NOT hear it. But at the same time you’re tapping out the tune, the listener isn’t hearing anything in their head. They just have a list of random songs to pick from and something approaching the sound of irascible morse code coming straight at them.  

What it produced in the tappers was an emotional reaction that went something like this: How could you be so stupid? How can you not hear it? It’s so freaking obvious!

This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the villains in our journey towards innovation in the church and it’s called the Curse of Knowledge. “Once we know something,” Dan and Chip Heath write in Made to Stick, “we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.” In a sense, our knowledge has “cursed” us.

As Adam Grant writes in his book Originals, “The more expertise and experience people gain, the more entrenched they become in a particular way of viewing the world…As we gain knowledge about a domain, we become prisoners of our prototypes.”

Like one of the great villains in an epic story, the Curse of Knowledge is one of the key reasons why substantive Gospel Innovation rarely happens in churches. Why? Simple. The thing we know most intimately becomes a kind of cage for creative thinking and miraculous problem solving. Click To Tweet

There are two specific ways it hurts us as leaders. 

PROBLEM #1 of the Curse of Knowledge: The more expertise or specialization we have, the harder it is for us to see another way. It creates boxes that are hard to break out of.

Each of us are “prisoners of our prototypes.” We don’t exist in a practical cultural vaccum. We learned ways of leadership, discipleship and forms of church that are increasingly becoming more obsolete. For thousands of years, sociologists say that culture reinvents itself at the rate of a generation: Roughly every twenty years. Today? It completely shifts every 18 months. In other words, the most predictable thing about life is that our culture will constantly change. If the people of God are to step into their destiny of participating with the Kingdom coming more and more into every sector of human life, we need to stop looking for a “silver bullet” for a culture that won’t exist next year. 

We need to start learning the way of Gospel innovation as a core skill to leadership.

 

PROBLEM #2 of the Curse of Knowledge: What is plain and clear to us can feel like a completely different language to the people we are leading.

How many times have we said this in ministry? 

  • How can everyone else not see why I see?
  • Why don’t they understand?
  • Why are they so hard headed?
  • How can they not get it?
  • Don’t they know that if they just do this one thing, everything will change?

Perhaps you and a small team have, by the grace of God, stumbled on a unique Gospel innovation. But no one seems to understand or want to follow you to that place. The discipline we must learn as leaders is first to realize that what we’ve spent months or years thinking on, dreaming about or tinkering on have simply not been anyone else’s experience. We’ve been on a specific journey and no one else has. We can’t expect people to know the things we learned on that journey just because we gave them a couple of bullet points. What we need to work on are creative ways of casting vision, both through innovative content and crafted experiences, that open their eyes to the things that are now so clear to us.

Much of my work is spent helping leaders create game-changing innovation in their church that’s custom built for them. Make sure to check out the BRAVE Coaching Cohorts we’re starting up.

What happens when the Church overvalues Education, Information & Theology? Heresy.

What happens when the Church overvalues Education, Information & Theology? Heresy.

There’s a fantastic story I’ve been thinking about the last few years. I certainly won’t do the story justice, but I’ll swing for the fences and hope to hit a triple, then give some thoughts at the end.
______________________

There’s a man who is from Nepal, deep in the mountains of the Himalayas. When he was a teenager, his mother became deeply ill and on her death bed. Because this region of the world still believes heavily in animism, the father took her to several witch doctors for healing and no one could heal her.

Not knowing what else to do, he then took her to a hospital in a town far away. The doctor (who happens to be a Christian) looked at her, examined her and told the family, “There’s nothing more than can be done. I’m afraid she’s going to die. All you can do now is pray.”

More than likely the doctor made the “all you can do now is pray” statement probably as something to tag onto the end, but the father immediately says, “Ok, will you pray for her?” So the doctor prays for her and immediately she is healed (much to the surprise of the doctor as well!).

This small family become Christians and visit a small church in the town and leave a few days later, taking with them only their personal story, the story of Jesus they’ve learned from hearing the Bible, and two Nepalese hymns (the family, along with the other people in the village they are from, are illiterate, so having a Bible would do next to nothing, they can’t read it!).

As time passes, the 17 year old grows up and as people are sick, as he had seen the doctor do, he prays for the sick and many of them are healed.

Now where they are from, the customary pay to a witch doctor for services rendered is a shot of whiskey. Not really knowing any better, the man takes the shot as payment. Eventually, after praying for several people in a night, it would not be uncommon for this man to come home rip-roaring drunk. Again, all he knows are the stories of Jesus and two Nepalese hymns. He doesn’t know that Paul has written, “Do not become drunk, as some are in the habit of doing, but be filled with the Spirit.”

One night, after he is walking home and after having a few too many shots of whiskey, he loses his shoe. He wakes up the next morning (probably pretty hungover) and prays about the experience and says: “I really feel like God is telling me to give up drinking. I need two shoes and if I hadn’t had so much to drink, I would have them!”

So he stops drinking. From then on.

Over the next few years, under this man’s leadership, literally hundreds of churches are started in the back country of Nepal, deep in the Himalayas. It is a revival the likes of which we read in the book of Acts with thousands and thousands of people coming to know Jesus. And he’s illiterate. No high school education. No formal training. Just the bare essentials of the gospel, a week in a small, rural Jesus community and the power of the Spirit.

You see, no one told him that it couldn’t happen this way. Now would we say that this is the optimal situation Probably not. We would probably all say that we’d at least like some formal training, some education, etc.

But this story really tapped into a stream of thought that’s been running through my mind the last few years: Here in the United States, we over-value education and to a certain degree, information, when it comes to the church and Kingdom of God. Notice I’m not saying education isn’t important, I’m simply saying we overvalue it.

It’s a little like (real) Heresy

Many of us approach books, education, seminary and the like as if to say: “If I can just learn more, gather more facts, know this a little bit deeper, then I’ll really understand and the puzzle pieces will fit together.” And if this is the case, isn’t this a different (and more elite) form of the Aryan heresy and what led to the spread of Gnosticism? That somehow we who have “special knowledge” and ascent to a higher level of thought have the answers?

I wonder if we have put education over and above the work of the Spirit, his work in his Body, and trust our Father who, in case we didn’t know, wants his Kingdom to advance and succeed more than we do.

I wonder what would happen if we spent less time trying to “educate” ourselves via post-graduate education, endless sermon and theology podcasts, spending hour upon hour reading everything that comes out…and a little more time practicing and learning the rhythms and power of the Spirit.

What if we spent just as much time actively listening to God as we did reading about him?

The fact of the matter is that the church we see exploding in scripture was led by, for the most part, uneducated, unqualified, often illiterate, average men and women.

They simply did what Jesus told them to do: “Do everything I’ve taught you and teach your future disciples to do everything I’ve taught you.” What were some of the basics? Well, Luke 9 & 10 outline it pretty clearly when Jesus gives the most basic instructions to the 12 and 72: When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Like a loyal Christopher Nolan fan, I really do enjoy the movie Inception (and I’m a fan enough to think that Interstellar is a highly underrated movie!).

What struck me hardest, though, was that it was an infinitely simple plot: What if you could dream inside of a dream? It really was that basic. But where the movie became complicated was when it dove further into that simple principle: What if you could dream inside of a dream inside of a dream inside of a dream?

Suddenly, it gets quite complex.

But the thing is…it wasn’t terribly complex if you fully understood the simplicity of it from the beginning.

I think there might be a very strong parallel here for us when it comes to education. I think we have never fully embraced the simplicity of the Gospel and chosen to give ourselves, through grace, to the very simple things that Jesus has asked of us. After all, the Gospel is not complex, but hard to do. Rather, it’s simple, but hard to do.

What is the fruit of our lives revealing? I wonder if it reveals we are over-educating our obedience levels.

What if we chose to live out of simple obedience first and then dive deeper down the rabbit hole into the complexity of theology. I realize this isn’t a binary thing, sequential thing. But I’m suggesting maybe it’s a posture of our heart. I think we sometimes believe that the reason people aren’t more like Jesus is because they just don’t have all the information, as if the right puzzle pieces need to be put together and then it will all just click.

That really is just a different form of Gnosticism! If the answer is to believe the Gospel harder, or to understand doctrine or theology more fully, that feels like we’re right back where we were pre-Reformation. Rather than “salvation by works,” it’s become “salvation by right thinking.”

What if what people really need is for us to do and live out the simplest truths of the Gospel and the simple things that Jesus gave us authority to do and then they’ll listen more as we dive deeper into the complexities of theology? Do we have a lens, a world view, a pair of glasses that would let us believe that an uneducated, simple, illiterate man is capable of being one of the next great leaders in the Christian faith? Here. Today. In the 21st Century.

If we don’t, how do we ever hope to lead out into mission ourselves?

Disclaimer: I understand I’m not stating important points on things like theology, doctrine, scripture, etc. I’ve specifically left those out to over-exaggerate the point I’m trying to make.

Top 10 Reasons Spiritual Families Fail

Top 10 Reasons Spiritual Families Fail

Video of the Jesus Pattern Tool

There are all different forms that “spiritual family” takes. Some are are really organic and seem to happen by accident, and some are a little bit more organized (things like small groups, Missional Communities, etc).

I’m using the term “spiritual family” in a broad way, but roughly speaking, I mean a group of people committed to living out the pattern of Jesus’ life together of UP (life with the Father) , IN (life with each other) and OUT (life demonstrating and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus with those who don’t know Jesus yet).

I helped create something called the Jesus Pattern Tool to help illustrate this. (You can even download the video here.But generally speaking, a spiritual family should grow and multiply over time, but they principally do that through people growing spiritually as they live on mission.

 

So what are the Top 10 practical reasons Spiritual Families fail?

 

1) The leaders of the spiritual family don’t know how to disciple the other people, apprenticing people and raising up future leaders. 

This can result in a few different outcomes:

  • The groups becomes the warped version of the culture they are trying to bring the Kingdom into. The leaders don’t know how to disciple people to be missionaries to a culture, therefore they never truly learn how to be “in the world but not of it.” Because of that, they are more influenced by the culture than redeeming the culture they find themselves in. In this case, there is a lot more cultural relevance than there is Jesus.
  • The group becomes a very religious space and is all about who is in and who is out. Doctrine is used as a weapon of defense and not something that helps to describe the reality of God’s Kingdom. People who don’t know Jesus find the MC the equivalent of running into a brick wall. In this case, there is a lot more law than there is Jesus.
  • When people become Christians, there is no one to disciple them as most (if not all) of the spiritual family doesn’t know how to disciple people. New believers become stagnant, and the life they were told about in the Gospel never comes to fruition and they become disenfranchised and divisions within the MC start to occur.

2) Lack of a clear mission vision.

Every single Christian could say, “We exist to love God, love people and serve the world.” But a spiritual family has a special Ephesians 2:10 calling. There are things that God has set aside form them to do. What are those things? A spiritual family should be discerning the crack or crevice of society where there is a lack of Gospel presence, and then form a Jesus community in that particular crack/crevice. It’s not generic, it’s specific.

For example, one spiritual family I worked with focused on artists.

In this case, the mission vision was very clear: Artists. However, this particular group of people in the burgeoning spiritual family were also VERY eclectic (and I mean that as a sincere compliment) and many of the things they commonly enjoyed weren’t necessarily artistic, but eclectic. What they ended up doing was many activities that eclectic people would have liked , but artists actually wouldn’t; so they never really grew by exposing artists to the Gospel. At the same time, the eclectic friends they had were never terribly interested in the community because it was stated that it was for artists…but they weren’t artists. So neither artists nor eclectic people found a family. In this case, the leader needed to decide: Does this group exist for artists for for eclectic people? Because it will actually be hard to do both. And because of that, the group found itself stuck in the middle, unable to grow or gain momentum.

 

3) Launching with too few people.

I think sociologically, families work best at the extended family size. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for nuclear families; it’s just that nuclear families exist as part of something larger than itself. So with spiritual families, it’s most common to see them thriving and multiplying in the size range of 20-40 people.

One critical mistake many groups make when launching is doing so with less than 15-20 people in the core group as they are starting. Why you may ask? The reason mission works so well with this size group is that new people who don’t know Jesus are welcome to hang out, observe, form relationships, but they can also be semi-anonymous if they choose. Because of the number of people, they don’t feel uncomfortable if they don’t fully participate or are simply in observation mode when the “family” has spiritual time together. There is a certain gravitational pull to these group dynamics; it really brings people in. HOWEVER…if you have fewer than 15 people, you’ll almost inevitably default to the social dynamics of a small group (6-12 people), where it’s very personal, everyone shares, and is very inward focused. That’s not terribly comfortable for someone who doesn’t know Jesus! We’ve found that at 15 people, there is a shift in these dynamics.

One exception to the general rule: If the leader of the group is an OUTSTANDING people gatherer. In other words, they could start something with 6 people and next week there would be 25 people there…they just have a gift.

4) The Spiritual Family isn’t part of a larger, worshipping body.

Church plants might be able to get around this (though in many cases they can’t either), but the reality is that life on the missional frontier isn’t easy. It’s incredibly exciting, an amazing adventure and it’s worth every ounce of prayer and effort you put into it…but it really is hard. Because of that, it’s really important that spiritual families regularly cycle into a worship service with a larger group of people (more than 75 people) to be reminded they are part of a bigger story, to hear how God is working in places other than just theirs, to hear teaching/preaching for the wider community, to take the sacraments together and to worship with one, unified voice. Another way of putting it: The scattered church gathers in order to scatter. Perhaps another way of putting it: We gather together so mission is sustainable. Spiritual families that operate alone will eventually wither and fall off the vine because it’s generally too hard to sustain apart from a wider community.

5) Leaders who aren’t accountable.

A good spiritual family is built on the principle of “Low Control/High Accountability” in how they relate to living under the spiritual authority of someone other than them. If your leaders aren’t willing to be held accountable, this is a spiritual problem (i.e. also a discipleship issue) and it WILL come back to bite you. You don’t want spiritual families to be the place where the rebellious renegades of the church are leading…the mission is simply too important. If you’re a leader at the wider church and they are refusing to be held accountable in whatever leadership accountability system you have, have some serious discussions with them about whether they should be leading a spiritual family under the spiritual protection of your church. Eventually, whatever is toxic in them that refuses to let them submit to someone in authority will eek out into the rest of the group and the toxicity will spread. Be clear what accountability looks like, what those rhythms look like, what the expectations are and make sure you follow through on these expectations as the person holding them accountable.

 

6) Too little mission…particularly at the start.

If you’re just starting, you need to do a LOT more mission than you do worship/teaching(UP) or times of hanging out with people already in the group (IN). You need to be out doing things that connect to Persons of Peace (people God has already prepared in advance to be open to you and your vision). This is essential to life as a spiritual family. If it doesn’t get into your DNA early…it probably won’t get in.

A general rule of thumb: For every time you do something UP or IN focused in the first 3-4 months, you need to do AT LEAST 2-3 outward, mission focused things.

7) The leaders do everything.

In many ways, when we talk about Spiritual Family, we’re talking about the texture of what we see in the early church. The word used in scripture is oikos, meaning household, and when we get down to the historical data, we see the average church size was maybe 40-60 people. So the book of 1st Corinthians is written to a fairly small group of people. The book of Romans is written to a collection of Spiritual Families (and Paul addresses the various household spiritual families in Romans 16). In chapters 10-14 of his first letter to Corinth, Paul outlines some really clear principles of how this community gathers, functions, participates, etc when they are together. One of the key principles? Everyone participates. Everyone gets to play. That’s the beauty of this Spiritual Family life.  Everyone brings something (food, a word of encouragement, a prayer, a song, etc). The point isn’t just that you’re together. If the leader is doing everything and isn’t dispersing either leadership or responsibilities, the group is done for.

 

8) The time together looks like a mini-Sunday service.

This is one of the more common mistakes people make. They don’t realize that what we’re talking about is a spiritual FAMILY on mission together, so the task is to build a family, not an event. But because all they have seen most of their lives is a Sunday morning church service (i.e. event), they do that…just without the same quality or number of people to make it appropriate from a socio-dynamic perspective. These communities sink faster than an anvil in the ocean. If people who don’t know Jesus were interested in going to a worship service, they’d find one that’s done well with a number of people that allows them to observe in an anonymous fashion.

 

9) The Spiritual Family doesn’t actively and regularly engage in evangelism.

I think there are two realities to this.

Reality #1: In the last 20-30 years, we’ve seen A LOT of evangelism done very poorly and through a lot of manipulation. Because of this, we have a generation or two of people who are VERY leery of actually sharing the good news of the Kingdom and make it easy for people step into discipleship who don’t know Jesus. Timid would probably be the right word to describe it. What we’ve done is jump from ditch to ditch. There are some major soteriological issues at play here, but I’ll just hop on one in particular by summarizing some thoughts by Dallas Willard. He says two things that I think are really helpful as we think about “evangelizing” people:

  • The point isn’t to get people into heaven after they die, but to get people into heaven before they die. (The point of the good news is that the Kingdom is available now…you don’t have to wait!)
  • If that’s true, evangelism isn’t really about getting people into heaven after they die, but getting them before they die. (Which means if we aren’t evangelizing people towards discipleship rather than heaven, we’ve completely missed Jesus’ message)

What we understand is the Kingdom is exactly what Jesus said it was: Available to us now. That means that the sin, pain, sadness, shame, brokeness, injustice and isolation that affects all of us, that all of us live in and out of each and every day…God can bring life to that TODAY. Discipleship is the process of living in the Kingdom more and more each day while we are on earth. While we should be concerned about people being with us and Jesus for all eternity, it says something about us if we don’t really care about getting people out of the hell they are currently living in.

The practical reality is people don’t become disciples of Jesus by rubbing shoulders with us long enough. At some point…we have to take a step towards them with an invitation into a new life! A Spiritual Family who isn’t bold in asking people to live into the new reality of the Kingdom will be like dry milk toast.

Reality #2: For quite some time, evangelicals have sadly and frustratingly neglected Kingdom work as it pertains to social justice and inequity. Finally, that tide is starting to turn and we are thinking more holistically about the Gospel. HOWEVER, I’m also starting to observe a different ditch-to-ditch reality…one where Christians say they exist to bring heaven to earth in terms of social justice, but do nothing about evangelism. If you are working and trying to do something about injustice but care nothing for evangelism, you are still missing quite a large chunk of Jesus’ message…just like when you were saying that everyone was missing a large chunk of Jesus’ message without addressing social inequities. You can deal with SYSTEMS of injustice that are inherently broken or evil, but there are still broken, warped, sinful people in needs of God’s transformation living IN those systems (which is how those systems were first built, groups of broken people created them). We need the WHOLE of the Gospel, not just the bits we are personally passionate about.

Here’s what I can tell you: When you have both of these working in concert with each other (seeing the KIngdom advance in social justice arenas while being partnered with individuals being brought from death to life)…that will change cities.

So if your Spiritual Family is heavily involved with social justice engagement (sex trafficking, homeless, racial issues, poverty, etc), you will not be functioning as Jesus imagined it without evangelism as part of the coming Kingdom.

10)  You don’t really engage with the supernatural.

I don’t think I’ll ever be accused of being a wild “charismatic,” but I’m not going to beat around the bush: If your Spiritual Family isn’t very good at praying or listening to the voice of God and responding or engaging with the presence, power and leading of the Holy Spirit…you’re pretty much done (Yes, I’m implicitly saying you can be bad at prayer. In the same way you can be bad at tennis, it’s something you can learn to do better over time. In the same way you can improve communication habits with your spouse over time, you can improve your prayer life with your Father).

Don’t believe me? Try to imagine the early church not only surviving, but thriving without the Holy Spirit on the forefront. Prayer isn’t a box you check.

Does your Spiritual Family actually believe you can do nothing without God’s leading? Something to ask yourself: When your Spiritual Family prays, what happens? I’m not saying things always happen like you envisioned it, but are things different in heaven and on earth because of the prayer life your family on mission is tethered to?

 

BONUS!!

Not every Spiritual Family makes it…and that’s OK! Even if you attended to all of the things listed above. Paul failed as much as he succeeded. So if it doesn’t make it, learn from what happened, grab a season of rest, listen for fresh vision from the Holy Spirit…and have another go at it!

There are all different forms that “spiritual family” takes. Some are are really organic and seem to happen by accident, and some are a little bit more organized (things like small groups, Missional Communities, etc).

I’m using the term “spiritual family” in a broad way, but roughly speaking, I mean a group of people committed to living out the pattern of Jesus’ life together of UP (life with the Father) , IN (life with each other) and OUT (life demonstrating and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus with those who don’t know Jesus yet). The spiritual family should grow and multiply over time, but they do that through people growing spiritually as they live on mission. (Here’s a video you can watch that I helped created call the Jesus Pattern Tool. You can even download the video here.)