I was struck by this provocative "LEADING LEADERS" article and believe it will be helpful to everybody who is struggling with issues surrounding how we do church. Please note the following...
It will take you longer to read than my usual Simple Church Letters.
I believe the time spent reading it will be a worthwhile investment of an extra 10 or so minutes.
It is an interview with two very influential pastors who have extremely contrasting views on doing church.
It doesn't provide any 'pat answers'.
I trust that it will make you do some serious, important and radical thinking.
Their contrasting personalities are paired with very different approaches to ministry. Ed Young Jr. is senior pastor of
Neil Cole is a pastor and the director of Church Multiplication Associates (CMA), a "growing family of organic church networks." Cole advocates a decentralised, micro-church strategy to reach the growing number of people who will never be attracted to a worship service. CMA began in 1990, the same year as Young's
The contrasts between Young and Cole are striking: extrovert and introvert, mega church and micro church, centralised and decentralised. But what's surprising is what these two leaders share in common. Beyond a passion for reaching the lost, both men played basketball in college and both majored in art. Both cut their pastoral teeth at mega churches, and both followed their fathers professionally Young is a second-generation pastor; Cole is a sixth-generation lifeguard. These commonalities only make their divergent ministry strategies that much more intriguing.
Leadership editors Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien met with Young and Cole at
While most pastors are probably not as committed to the seeker model as Ed Young Jr. or as gung-ho for the organic/missional model as Neil Cole, investigating the divergent ends of the spectrum is helpful for clarifying your own church's strategy for reaching out with the gospel.
How did you come to faith, and how did that inform the type of ministry you do today?
Neil Cole: I came to Christ in college and grew at a very strong mega church. I ultimately went on staff there. Later, when the senior pastor left, our church went from 3,500 people to 600. So I've seen the struggles of being part of a large church staff.
What went wrong?
Cole: I think God wanted to teach us something. The parables about the kingdom are usually about starting with something small, like a mustard seed. We learned a church cannot be bought; it must be planted. And that means starting small.
Ed Young: I grew up in a pastor's home, but when I went to
I eventually went on staff at my dad's church in
Big is an understatement. You clearly invest a lot of energy and creativity in your worship services. Why?
Young: The worship event is the port of entry into the church. We have many, many, many, many other things that connect people to the church, like small groups and hospital visitation. Relationships are really important, but worship is the biggest entry point. So we are very intentional about our sermons and creating an experience.
Is it about attracting as many people as possible?
Young: Yeah, we want people to come and hear the gospel, but it's also about creativity. I think church should be the most creative place in the universe. That's a big part of who we are. The movie series we're doing right now, and the way this whole place is decorated and transformed, that's about creativity.
I've heard that you once preached from the turret of a tank. Is that true?
Young: (Laughing) That story always comes up. We had a guy in our church who said he owned a tank. I didn't believe him, so he took me to see it, and sure enough he had a tank. I was planning a message on spiritual warfare, so I thought it would be great to have a real tank in the church.
Are those ways to create buzz; to draw a crowd?
Young: Honestly, it just seemed like fun to me. Ultimately the creative stuff we do is about good communication. A tank is a great visual in a sermon. It's got to be about communicating the message. Period. We're not interested in creating a sideshow. Church cannot, cannot, cannot become a circus. If something isn't going to reinforce the message, we just don't do it.
Young: I suppose, but that's not why we do it. We want people to connect with the message of Christ, and we'll use creativity to make sure that happens.
Neil, how does your approach differ?
Cole: I was trained like Ed to create a church experience as an outpost and invite people to find Christ there. One of our early plans was to rent a coffeehouse to reach young people in
Rather than trying to convert people from their coffeehouse to our coffeehouse where we could then convert them to Christ, we decided to bring Christ to them. So we started hanging out at their coffeehouses, and things started rolling. People started coming to faith in Christ. That's the difference between being centralised and decentralised.
What happened after they became believers?
Cole: We organised them into home groups that met every other week. They were so eager to grow and be together that they started meeting every week. Eventually I tried to launch a worship service, because that's what I was taught to do. People who had grown up in the church came, but none of the new believers did. I was expecting people to leave life to come to church. We learned that wherever life happens, church should happen.
So, the meetings in the coffee shops became their churches?
Cole: Right. And it also meant that the mission continued to spread. After a person becomes a believer, we tend to extract them from their context where they're primed to make an impact. Then we plug them into the church. It isn't long before all their friends are Christians and the impact is lost.
What's been the impact of your decentralised model?
Cole: We are seeing churches multiplying because we focused on the micro level, not the macro level. We all begin life as a zygote; we start multiplying at the smallest possible level. If we can't multiply on a small scale, we'll never multiply on a larger scale.
Ed, we're sitting 1,500 miles from your church's main campus. Why have you chosen a large scale, multi-site model?
Young: First of all, I didn't think it would work. I sometimes call the multi-site movement the gymnasium of 2008. I remember as a kid all these churches were building gymnasiums and buying roller skates thinking that would cause growth. It may have worked for a few churches, and then everyone just copied the trend. It's tempting to think if we just open another site or launch satellites we'll grow. I was sceptical.
But do you believe it's working for Fellowship?
Young: Yes, it's working, but I'm not just talking about numbers. I'm talking about lives being changed. Numbers are great, but what do they represent? We're seeing people come to Christ. If that wasn't happening, it wouldn't matter how many sites we have or how many people are attending.
With multiple sites in multiple cities, how do you now see your role as the pastor?
Young: I like to say I lost control of
Neil, what does leadership look like in a dispersed, organic church model?
Cole: In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about five leadership roles, apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, and shepherd. And he says leaders are called to equip the saints to do the ministry. So the evangelist isn't called to reach the lost, but to equip other believers so they can reach the lost.
Cole: Yes, but not always. Back at my office we have a shelf we call The Shelf of Shame. We put all of our unsuccessful projects and resources on display there. Some resources may have been successful at addition, but they didn't multiply leaders they didn't translate into other cultures. So we shelved them.
I don't know too many ministries that display their failures like trophies.
Cole: I had an art professor whose critiques were harsh. People hated him, but I didn't because he taught me not to fall in love with my own creations. That's why we have the shelf of shame. It teaches us not to love our own creations too much. We've got to be willing to let go, to scrap things we've made.
Christianity at its core is about dying to one's self. The shelf teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously, and to trust Christ more. That shelf contains some of God's best lessons to us. So we're not ashamed of the shelf, we celebrate it.
Ed, what has been an unexpected lesson you've learned since launching
Young: When I started, I didn't realise the financial mantle the pastor carries. Even though I grew up in a pastor's home, I didn't understand what a significant part of ministry that was. Whether your church has a hundred people or ten thousand, the financial burden is a heavy one. I used to be scared to talk about giving, but that was a mistake.
Cole: A lot of pastors feel that pressure, but I don't. Church Multiplication Associates has only one and a half employees. We don't have any overhead. We don't really have a budget for anything.
And you've planted churches in forty states?
Cole: Early on, we were fully supporting our church planters, but we realised the cost of reaching even one city would be huge. Using traditional planting methods, it would cost $80 billion to reach
So fewer paid staff means more growth. That contradicts conventional thinking.
Cole: Three things deter spontaneous multiplication: buildings, budgets, and big shots. They may add to the kingdom, but they deter spontaneous multiplication. If ministry requires a highly trained, professional staff member, then an ordinary person is prevented from doing it.
Imagine that God calls you to make disciples in
What are some of the key steps in that process?
Young: We'd need to find a team and a campus leader to run the church in
Would you use video preaching?
Young: Probably. That's what is working for us right now, but we're always open to new ideas.
Cole: We would drop two people off in
Cole: We want to see a kingdom epidemic. That begins by sending a carrier of the virus. It doesn't really matter if that's me or someone else, but we think sending pairs is really important. You see that all the time in Scripture. But it starts very small.
Cole: Our two workers will walk the streets of
What about actually organising a church?
Cole: In Matthew 10 and Luke 10, Jesus sends his disciples out. He tells them to stay in one house, or oikos. The word really means a household; a social web of relationships. That's where they find the man of peace. When he comes to faith, rather than extracting him from his oikos and into a church, he is positioned to transform his original oikos. That transformed network becomes the church.
I think that's why Jesus told his disciples to stay in one house. He didn't want them to carry the gospel from house to house. He wanted it to spread like a virus, an epidemic, from one carrier to the next. That's a chain reaction. That's multiplication.
Apart from reaching the lost, how is your church maturing disciples?
Young: Sometimes larger churches are accused of not doing discipleship well, but that's not the case. The truth is we have more people at more stages of maturity, so just looking at a few doesn't give an accurate picture of what is really going on. I like to think of
As your paid staff has gotten bigger, has it made people less involved in serving and ministry?
Young: It's a big staff, but considering the size of our church it's small. That forces us to give the ball of ministry to the people, and we measure what they do with it. We're always asking, are they serving, are they tithing, are they bringing new people? We give them a lot of responsibility in our programs, and some don't like it. That's ok. I tell them that
Cole: Most churches try to mature people by using programs. But if the program is the agent of change, then the program gets the glory.
But can't Christ use the program?
Cole: Yes. I'm not saying it doesn't work. I'm saying it's not always the most effective way to mobilise changed lives. We want people to imprint on Christ from day one. Imprinting is a term from ornithology, the study of birds. When a baby gosling hatches, it imprints on the first moving object it sees. That object becomes its mother, and the gosling expects to be fed and protected by it.
When a person comes to faith in Christ, most churches tell them to just sit back and receive. They're spoon fed by the church. And what happens? They imprint on the church or the pastor. They expect the church to do everything. And we wonder why there are so many passive Christians.
What is the alternative?
Cole: Christ immediately deployed people. Matthew was back with his friends. The Samaritan woman went back to her village. When a brand new Christian is thrust into a hostile environment with a mission, they're going to pray like crazy. That makes them imprint on Christ immediately.
But they still need to learn and mature in their faith. How does that happen?
Cole: We use LTGsLife Transformation Groups. It's a gender-specific group of two or three that meets together once a week for about an hour. Every week, every person commits to reading thirty chapters of Scripture.
Young: Thirty? That's incredible.
Cole: They'll meet together to confess any sins. And the group's goal is to reach someone else for Christ. That is what makes it different from an accountability group, it has a missional focus. Our goal is to multiply groups of two or three, because ultimately a church is only as good as her disciples, no matter how good the programs are.
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the mission of the church in the years ahead?
Young: I'm always hearing about new ideas that churches are trying, but I'm concerned that we're making things too complicated. We've got to fight to keep things simple. I tell leaders, I don't just want to hear about something new you're adding. Tell me about the things you're subtracting. To be effective in the future, we've got to resist the temptation to make our systems overly complicated.
Cole: The way we've done church for the last fifty years, the attractional model, is going to reach a certain population, but we're getting close to tapping out that market. We have to think in terms of mobilising the kingdom to go where people are. Too many Christians are passive and unengaged. They may listen to Christian radio and read Christian books, but they're not communing with God directly. Therefore, they are not dynamic witnesses, and they rely on the church to do all the missional work. We need to help people hear from God directly and obey him.