Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Others' Views on 'The Sinner's Prayer'.

....and what they have to say 

I have included three responses I received from my last letter regarding “The Sinner’s Prayer.” Another detailed response (that I haven’t printed) included the idea that once you say “a prayer” the Holy Spirit takes over and new life begins. The person writing this is an esteemed colleague of many years experience and I know he has seen the Spirit of God at work in the lives of people who have cried out to God. And I don’t deny this can happen. Who are we to limit the Holy Spirit? But I have printed the shorter letters of people’s experiences to allow you to see what I believe are more typical of our journey to God.
Hi Jack
What you have written is so true and seems to me to be endemic in the institutional church. I’ve noticed that invitations to find out more about Jesus or Christianity are sometimes tacked on at the end of the Pastor’s message. We need genuine repentance not tickled intellects or appeals to our emotions. I remember the experience of a friend of mine who had become interested in Christianity after his cousin was converted. About the same time his father died and I remember my friend saying ‘if they give an altar call next time( the context was a Barry Smith series of meetings)I’m going up! Well, they did and he did, but he soon fell away. I met him a couple of times after that and his words betrayed the true state of his heart, still unregenerate. I don’t think the fault was necessarily the evangelist’s here, but my friend’s. I felt that after his father died he was looking for something or someone to replace his father, to fill an emotional hole. I thank God that I was not inoculated with the gospel but had gone through the real experience of being an awakened sinner;a convicted sinner; a repentant sinner and finally a converted sinner. May God revive us once again and may we see that’ apart from Jesus we can do nothing’ but what is impossible with man is possible with God.

Good morning Jack,
Thank you for sharing this.  I was wondering too, but unlike Angela (thank-you Angela) I didn't take the time to write.
In the early days of being 'saved' in the Pentecostal Church I struggled when people said you are not 'born again' if you cannot remember the day and hour when it happened. It took years to accept that my many small steps of enlightenment were genuine, and I can recall most of them, starting at age 6 when I accepted God as my Father as I had no earthly one.
Your explanation reminds me too of how different was/is Jesus' response and actions regarding people's healing. Every one being especially designed for the individual needing it.
So enjoying this email fellowship.
I love your response, Jack!

I've not been a fan of 'the prayer' for quite sometime myself. You explained it beautifully...
You hinted at this - but one of my other 'concerns' about 'the prayer' is that it is treated like a 'ticket to heaven' - say this prayer and you're good to go.

Now - I don't like to debate the whole 'once saved, always saved' topic - but I do believe that following Christ is a lifetime of making one decision after another. Some are more 'important' than others, but each one is a step in the journey with God. The prayer can carry with it the idea that you can take one step with God and then a thousand in whichever direction suits you...
I'm not one for formulas, but if we had to have one for 'salvation' - I would suggest that baptism is more scripturally sound as the 'monument' to a new life in Christ. But... I'm not one for formulas and I don't think Jesus was either. Relationship, relationship, relationship. ;)
What do you think? I’d love to hear! And so would others!!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Does the 'Sinner's Prayer' do more harm than good?


....what do you think?

In my last SC Letter (JAS 2) I made a statement in my intro that elicited the following response.
Thank you Jack.  Interested in your comment re not being a fan of the
sinners prayer.  Have heard this spoken of before, could you elaborate
please.  Thanks.
Hello Angela (not her real name)
Thank you for your question. I appreciate you making the effort to ask.
First, I want to say that I love praying with a person who is genuinely
repentant. Who knows what they are embracing when they choose to become a
follower of Jesus. I believe prayer - the Christian praying and (hopefully)
the convert praying - sets a seal on their commitment. But, here's my
problem 'the sinner's prayer'....
In our country only between 3% and 5% of children attend a Sunday School.
So, we have a growing population who know very little about the demands of
the true Gospel. These Christianity-ignorant people are encouraged to repeat
this prayer - the so-called altar call - at the conclusion of many church
services. After repeating the prayer, the congregation claps and the
pray-ers are told they are now forgiven and on their way to heaven.
Now, for somebody who has faced the challenge of the changed life style that they
will face, who has been under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and who has
a genuinely repentant heart, this can be, and I'm sure in many cases it has
been, their moment of salvation. BUT, for somebody who has had no dealings
with God and no knowledge of the claims of the Gospel, it can be a disaster
(though of course the Holy Spirit's miracle power isn't limited). But disaster
in this sense.  When the 'glow' of the meeting fades or the evangelist adds
another notch to his belt, and the realities of life come face-to-face with
the disciplines demanded by God's Word there will likely be a spiritual
meltdown. Then, If the person walks away from their 'decision', their
understanding will probably be, "I've tried being a Christian and it didn't
work for me." Like being inoculated with a 'shot' of the Gospel that now
gives them immunity from embracing the real deal.
When we look at the people in the Gospels who became followers of Jesus,
there's a tremendous variety in the way they came to faith. Think of each the 12
apostles; Zacchaeus; the thief on the cross; blind Bartimaeus; Levi;
(Matthew) etc.. They all heard the 'call' of Jesus, but in each instance it
was very different. Not a one-size-fits-all pattern.
A survey in the UK of the amount of time it took from a person beginning to
consider the claims of Jesus, to the moment of true decision, was
approximately four years.  I believe this proves that, as Jonah prayed,
"Salvation is of the Lord." And we could add, it is not of man.
Angela, I hope this goes some way to answering your question. Please write
to me if what I have written is not clear, or you have
issue with.
I'm very interested in everybody's thoughts/beliefs/convictions
You're free to pass on this SC Letter 






Friday, October 18, 2013

Instalment 2 of Kayla's Story

My last Simple Church Letter was the story of our 15 year old granddaughter and her "Jesus at School" (JAS) activity. And I've never had so many heart-felt responses to a SC Letter. So, I'm sending instalment No 2. I didn't ask Kayla for this next email, but as you will see, her enthusiasm for Jesus just overflows.

I must admit that I'm not a fan for praying the so-called sinners' prayer. But I cannot deny that the Holy Spirit is at work through Kayla's God-given desire to see her school mates won to Jesus, and to assist them experience God. In a situation like this, I can leave the results of Kayla's ministry with the God who is so much greater than any of my reserves.


So crazy things have been happening in my school since my last email.

This school term started last week on a Tuesday, which meant JAS group was on
the first day. About 7 people showed up and I introduced something new. I
made a 'prayer request box'. Many requests went in that day and we prayed
over them together. Me and my friend explained how prayer is so powerful and
I used Jasmine (my cousin) as an example - how she use to be a wild child yet nan and pop never gave up on praying to God about her. I shared about how she now loves God and her life was forever changed only few years ago due to nan and pop never giving up on prayer. Anyway, during the week me and my friend would pray and believe for these requests to be in Gods hands. We have this
box in every week.

My friend and I decided we want to fast every Monday for JAS group. So
yesterday we fasted from when we woke up till we got home from school.
During recess we handed out invitation cards to JAS group and at lunch we
prayed for our school and the for the prayer requests. Also my Muslim friend
prayed for her English to get better! She didn't really know why we were
fasting and drinking water. She said you're not allowed to do that during
Ramadan! We explained to her that it's about leaving the distractions and
instead of feeding your self with food we are fed with the Spirit of God by
praying, reading the bible and trusting in God.

WELL, today was the second JAS group of the new term. And woah can I tell
you I am excited to write this paragraph! Ok, so as soon as I walked in the
room today and set up everything a guy that put a request in about his
physically and emotionally unwell dad said to me "My dad is now HEALED, so
thank you so much"!! I told him, the requests were in Gods hands and the
glory is to his name!

NOW: today around 30 people showed up!! I was speaking on the 'Broken being
Chosen'. As I did the alter call  I said, "If you are broken right now or
feel life is so dark and you think there is no hope and you want to live for
God who gives you a HOPE and LOVES you endlessly and you want to be
forgiven, put your hand up". To my amazement 20 HANDS WERE RAISED! 1 of
those hands was my Muslim friend!! They repeated the prayer after me and I
told them what this prayer and decision meant and they were over the moon!
Me and my Muslim friend prayed together again because she wanted to. She
wanted me to pray that she could live like Jesus Christ. How he was
forgiving yet didn't need to forgive. Loving yet was unloved etc. She said
she wants to pray with me everyday about this.

It's so crazy how this group has worked out. To my amazement the people that
show up open my eyes. Like from the beginning this girl has come. She is
pretty much a bully. I can see the insecurities in her life though. She says
that this group makes her so happy. I think that her attendance reminds her
of the LOVE Jesus had towards those who were cruel to him! She is one of the
many who raised her hand today.

Also the guy who wrote the request about his dad. Many people don't like him
because he is also a bully. He has come since the start and he is also one
out of the many who raised his hand today.

I'm really in awe of what God is doing in my school. One thing I am proud of
is that, although it took a lot of effort to start this group - look at what
Jesus is reaping now. This is the least I could for him because he never
gave up on me.

I can't encourage people enough to gather to share the gospel and their
testimonies because this is how salvation starts. I really believe that from trusting in God that history won't repeat itself; that the generations to come will rise up and praise God. That people won't be fending for themselves but will have love and compassion toward one another. And this really starts with one person!

Much love, Kayla
Daughter of the most high KING

Did you pick up Kayla's faith, her boldness, her dedication, (fasting, praying, encouraging, challenging, accepting - bullies, and a Muslim girl), her enthusiasm. In the words of Jesus, "You go now and do the same."  Lu. 10:37.

Your comments, and/or opinions are most welcome.
You may forward this to anyone you choose.

Waikanae, New Zealand

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kayla's faith-story

....of her remarkable small group

I’ve talked over the years in my Simple Church Letters, of my dream that every believer should have a goal of starting a regular get together – held anywhere - with two or three friends or acquaintances (preferably not-yet-Christians). The long-term goal must be a group where faith is shared, and members become devoted followers (disciples) of Jesus,
My 15 year old granddaughter has a story to tell along these lines. I trust and pray that you will catch Kayla’s enthusiasm and confident actions that brought her vision to fruition.
Hey nan and pop! It's Kayla here!
Today was Tuesday which means J.A.S Group at school. J.A.S group is a lunch time group me and a friend started. JAS stands for “Jesus At School”. We started it a few months ago but as it went along 3 people would show up as we started this group. All we could do was pray and stay expectant.
As weeks went along 10 people came and it blew my mind. I was so happy and thankful that they showed up. After that we would bring free food every week to pretty much bribe people into coming. Sabina (older sister) is our 'Catering Manager'. She stays up to all hours of the morning baking goods for the good! She is greatly appreciated! Well the term was over and 10 people was our highest amount that came and heard about God.
When this school term started my friend and I were expectant and remained faithful towards this group. I started an instagram account which is a social media site posting photos. I post a flyer every week outlining what is happening, who is speaking and where it will be. 10 people soon became 15 and then 20 and one week there was 30 kids sitting in the science room (we were lucky enough have) and hear the word of God. We have students from all denominations sharing their testimonies, opinions and thoughts. My Muslim friend never misses a week! One time she said she almost forgot to come but she felt God telling her to go. We even had an autistic girl (Bethany) who shared the word about 'Destiny'. Later that day I went up to see her. We got talking about Jesus and his love for her. I asked if she had given her heart to The Lord and she wasn't sure. I asked her if she wanted to pray a prayer with me inviting Jesus into her life and she said "ok."! So she repeated the prayer after me and I explained how there is a party in heaven and that is the best decision she could make. She was over the moon that she is now a Christian!
We were lucky enough to move to the library! I always wanted to have that room because I noticed that's where kids with no friends hang out. From starting in the library we often have 'strays' walk in! My friend and I create invitation cards out of train tickets and playing cards and we hand them around the school. We are so lucky to have the Christian librarian who supports us 110%! He even wants us to put posters up advertising the group when other teachers said we could only advertise by word of mouth!
At Church Youth Group
I had on my heart to start a 'be the change meeting' at church for the youth-age kids. I wanted to start this because it occurred to me that, it's about the power of one young person accepting Jesus into their life to changing their entire world! Anyway I was talking to mum and Sabina about it and they were so encouraging and said it was a great idea! I was then talking to my friends at Youth Group about it and they said that they were so angry this week about their school and school friends. Then I knew it wasn't my own conscience saying this but it was God. I was talking to this kid called Martin who is doing crazy things in his school. He fasted and prayed over his school for 1 year and he is now reaping from that. Hundreds of kids show up to his lunch time group and surrender their lives to Jesus! He is only 15 and is prepared to save his whole school of 900 kids by the power of Jesus Christ!!!!! I asked him if he wanted to help me start the group at church, and he was over the moon too! We met 4:15 before the night church service. 13 kids from Youth came. I was encouraging them about getting out of the boat like Peter did and keeping their eyes focused on Jesus and being set apart from what everyone else says about them at school. Martin and I were saying to these kids, what works and how to start a group. I prayed over everyone who came. We are meeting every Sunday, 4:15 pm to pray over our schools.
In conclusion; hahaha!!
Today was the last J.A.S Group of the school term before the holidays start. Oh my goodness God is good! Nan and Pop listen up now: 50 PEOPLE CAME THROUGH THE DOORS! I was in awe. I preached about anything and everything that was in my notes. But my main point I was getting across was Gods LOVE for each one of them. Nan and Pop listen up now: I did an alter call and 3 people gave their lives to Jesus. I couldn't even focus the rest of the school day but I had to because my teacher I had next yells at you if you press the wrong button on your calculator! Haha. Revival is happening in our city and its not going to stop! I can not wait to see what next term has to offer! When we started J.A.S, my friend’s and my goal was a 100 kids by the end of the year! We are already half way there! And we never doubt what God can do.
 Anyways, hope your house is not too much of a shemasal. Remember
Romans 8:18
'The pain you’re in can’t compare to the joy that is coming!'
Love to you all!
Trust you’ve caught the fire. Now spread the flame!
Pass this message on.
Your comments are welcome.

Friday, September 13, 2013


...about those so-called para-church groups

For years I followed the ‘party line’ that para church organisations were a poor second cousin to the church. They were “para”, meaning, alongside the church, but also below and according to some even outside the church. Their members didn’t worship regularly on Sunday morning, and they didn’t have the mystical, so-called “covering” of the church. So what were they doing?


The largest missionary movement in the world today is Youth With A Mission (YWAM). Yet in 1960 when Loren Cunningham presented his vision of waves of young people spreading around the world with the Good News, his denomination refused to endorse this God-given vision. Thankfully, later they did!
So, are missionary movements, Aid Agencies like World Vision and Tear Fund, prison ministry teams, or even Christian soup kitchens less, below or even outside of the church? I hardly think so. They certainly aren’t in opposition to the church. For me now I see them as a vital part of the church, out there obeying the instructions of Matt. 25:31-46 and Matt. 28:18-20. And from a Biblical point of view I don’t see a dichotomy between the two. From Paul’s analogy of the church as a “body” one could say that missions, evangelistic or travelling ministries are the arms reaching out to lost and hurting people. “...would that make it any less a part of the body?” asks Paul, 1 Cor. 12.
Other analogies could be marriage, a sports team, a corporation.  One entity, yet very different functions and responsibilities, with everybody supporting, respecting and praying for the success of the other.
When thinking about my wrong perspective I read this, this very morning, “Ask the Lord for rain in the spring, and he will give that every field becomes a lush pasture.” Zech. 10:1. What jumped out to me was every field....” whether mega church, house church, mission group or whoever and wherever the Good News is being proclaimed in the name of Jesus. Our attitude must be, “every field will become a lush pasture.” And we need to beware of the attitude of one of Jesus’ disciples who told him, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons. We tried to stop him 
because he isn't in our group!" I think we know the generous answer of Jesus. Lu. 9:49, 50.
My wife and I serve with an organisation named, freshperspective. May God give us all a fresh perspective of the expansive heart of God and the expansive, multifarious church which is his body.
Lord heal our blindness!
Every blessing

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


1) Embracing the blessing of not owning a church building. Of course if you have a building there may not be much you can do about that - though I did hear of a church in the UK who sold their building in order to give the money to a mission station! But if you don't own one, my advice is; don't get on the all-controlling mortgage merry-go-round of the Building Fund. Here's a number of reasons why not owning a church building is better than owning one.

  • The Early church evangelised the then-known world without owning any real estate.
  • The release of so much money. It is estimated that the world-wide church owns real estate with trillions of dollars. Imagine the good that money would achieve for health, education and evangelism.
  • They give the impression that the Most High dwells in temples made by human hands.
  • They anchor the church, hindering it from being the 'mobile force' it is meant to be.
  • One sole-charge church leader said, "Owning a building shifted my emphasis from 'filling people' to 'filling a building' ". 

2) The New Testament example of financial freedom and generosity.

The opposite of the legal, restricting Old Testament tithe is the freedom of New Testament generosity. A quick read of 2 Cor. chaps 8 & 9 will validate this. In fact if you use the O.T. Scriptures to practice tithing, you should practice keeping the Sabbath! Selah. My wife Averil and I sincerely tithed for 50 years. More recently we have changed to giving money, possessions and time as we've felt guided by God. And in no way do we want to go back to the mindless, non-responsible, Old Covenant tithe.  See Simple Church Letter, "What Should Christians do With Their Money?" and,  "Should a Christian Tithe.?"

3) Making the poor a priority. 

I've already spoken about the 2,000 + Bible passages commanding us to be generous to the poor.  One of the great blessings of Simple Church is you've got plenty of money! With no property to pay for and maintain and no staff to pay and with people who are generous givers, you can easily help local and overseas situations where there's genuine need. And I'll leave you to count the 2,000 Scriptures, but here's one you may just have missed. It identifies Sodom's major sins, and explains why God judged her - and it doesn't even mention the word "gay"! Ezekiel. 16:49.

4) Demystifying the role of the pastor.

After being involved in a life time of pastoral ministry I have learned some important truths. These include:

  • Pastor (shepherd) is a gift, never a title -- except when applied to Jesus, Heb. 13:20, 21. Note Jesus' strict command regarding the use of titles, Matt. 23:6-12.
  • The majority of Christians who have the gift of shepherding, rescuing, compassionate caring will never have a title, and never want one!
  • The sole leader in most churches today is more of a gifted CEO than a shepherd.
  • There is no mention of the term "senior pastor" in the N.T.
  • When Paul and Barnabas established churches they appointed elders (plural) to lead the new flocks, Acts 14:23.
  • This last point speaks to me of team leadership. I've experienced that during the last nine years and it beats the one-man-band hands down.
  • James Rutz in his mind-boggling book, "Megashift" lists a sorry set of statistics revealing the percentage of (mostly sole-charge) pastors suffering 'burnout', 'discouragement', 'their job affecting their family negatively', 'struggling with Internet porn', and '70% of U.S. pastors who say they have no friends'!!! (page 120). I believe 'team' leadership would cut those stats to shreds as well as turn the idle pew-potatoes into functioning members of Christ's body.
5) Major on making disciples and let God do the converting miracle, Acts 2:47b.

It's common knowledge that Jesus didn't tell us to make converts but to make disciples, Mt. 28:18-20. cf 2 Tim. 2:2.

Actually Jesus didn't even tell us to plant churches, and nowhere did he tell us to invest? ginormous amounts of time, effort and expense on Sunday mornings in order to attract people to attend our amazing spectacle in the hope that the members wouldn't jump churches and hopefully, some people will pray the sinners prayer. (I hope the folk doing this know that, it takes an average of four years between conviction and conversion, according to a recent U.K.poll). Just imagine if all this Sunday morning energy was put into mature Christians, getting alongside younger-in-the-faith believers and walking them through the foundations of the Faith and letting them observe the older members' ministry and life-style. Wow! -- (stands for Walking on Water according to Robt Schuller).

Averil and I have, with others, prayer-walked the streets of a small town near where we live. We have now found (without looking) in this town a "man of peace", (see Luke 10), only in this case she is Gill. When praying about planting a church in Gill's town, we all felt that that should NOT be our goal. All that was needed was, first, relationship, time-consuming evangelism. This to be followed by instructing or discipling the people the Holy Spirit convicts, to do the same evangelism and the same disciple making. No doubt some sort of fellowship will grow out of this process, but that can wait for the important foundation to be laid.

Be guided!
Be blessed!



Saturday, August 10, 2013


....but which is the most effective?

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...


1. It will take you longer to read than my usual Simple church Letters
2.I believe the time spent reading it will be a worthwhile investment of an extra 10 or so minutes
3. It is an interview with two very influential pastors who have extremely contrasting views on doing church
4. It doesn't provide any 'pat answers'
5. I trust that it will make you do some serious, important and radical thinking



    Two leaders. One mission. Two very different strategies.





    Observing Neil Cole and Ed Young Jr. is a study in contrasts. The soft-spoken Cole quietly entered the vacant sanctuary where we were meeting. He lingered in the back for a while before anyone realised he had arrived. By contrast, Young burst into the room with a shout—every head turned. The sanctuary was immediately electrified.

    Their contrasting personalities are paired with very different approaches to ministry. Ed Young Jr. is senior pastor of Fellowship Church, a seeker-driven congregation that began in Dallas in 1990. After surpassing 20,000 in weekly attendance, Fellowship Church is still growing with a highly structured multi-site model that uses video broadcasts of Young's sermons. The megachurch now has four locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and recently launched its fifth campus in Miami, Florida.

    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 Fellowship Church. In that time, Cole's network has launched hundreds of churches in homes and coffee shops across forty states and thirty countries.

    The contrasts between Young and Cole are striking: extrovert and introvert, megachurch and microchurch, 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 megachurches, 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 Fellowship Church's Miami campus to discuss their different approaches to mission. Befitting Fellowship's attractional model, the entire church had been converted into a studio set for the summer sermon series, "At the Movies." Film posters and a marquee were displayed outside the entrance; even the restroom signage was changed to resemble dressing rooms.

    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 megachurch. 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.

    After finishing seminary and leading a small church in L.A., my denomination asked me to oversee church planting in Southern California and Arizona. We really wanted our first plant to succeed, so we poured in a lot of money. We paid for two full-time pastors, a sound system, worship teams, lots of publicity, consultants and toolkits. But a year later the church died.

    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 Florida State University my understanding of the church changed. I was attending a good, traditional church in Tallahassee, and I invited my teammates from the basketball team to come. Nothing connected with them. That shocked me. I began seeing the church with a different set of eyes.

    I eventually went on staff at my dad's church in Houston. Like Neil, I had the opportunity to be on staff at a megachurch. But I wanted to help start a new church that would be attractive and accessible to people like my college teammates. We moved to Dallas and began Fellowship Church. I didn't intend to start a megachurch; no pastor worth their salt does. We had no idea it would be so big.

    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.

    But as word travels about the crazy things you've done, doesn't that attract more people?

    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 Long Beach. We were getting ready to launch. But in the middle of one of our strategy meetings God spoke to us and said, Why not go to the coffeehouses where they are?

    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 Fellowship Church as soon as we grew larger then one hundred people. The role of the pastor changes as you get bigger; it become less about control and more about influence. I believe churches are led by leaders. I believe God gives one person the vision—the pastor. I don't believe a committee-led church can be as effective as a pastor-led church. That doesn't mean a pastor shouldn't be accountable to anyone. It's not a dictatorship, but there needs to be strong leadership. My wife and I have four kids. If we put everything up to a vote, the immature would win every time. It doesn't work.

    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.

    The difference between a skilled Christian and a true leader is how interested they are in the success of other people. It's about equipping others instead of being the superstar yourself.

    Has your movement been effective at that kind of leadership?

    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 Fellowship Church.

    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.

    It's part of ministry, and it's part of growing in Christ. I feel that burden, but I use it to help people grow in their faith through giving.

    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 Atlanta! To have a spontaneously multiplying movement, we needed everybody involved. So we stopped paying church planters. The next year we got more, and better, leaders because they weren't looking for their next career move.

    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.

    And buildings may be useful, there's nothing immoral about them, but they don't multiply. If buildings grew out of the ground, that would be nice. But they don't. If we have to wait for the space and money to build facilities, we're not going to multiply very quickly.

    Imagine that God calls you to make disciples in Chicago, where we live. How would you begin?

    Young: Fellowship Church started in order to reach people, like my teammates, who don't connect with the church. I'd probably launch a church in Chicago like we've done in Dallas and in Miami—one that connects with people who don't go to church.

    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 Chicago. Our leader here in Miami came from a site in Dallas. We'd need someone like him to move to Chicago. There would be a giving campaign to support the effort—there's that financial mantle again. We'd need to find a facility to rent or buy. Eventually we'd launch a worship service and start reaching out to the community.

    Would you use video preaching?

    Young: Probably. That's what is working for us right now, but we're always open to new ideas.

    Neil, how about you?

    Cole: We would drop two people off in Chicago and then spend a lot of time in prayer.

    That's it?

    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.

    What happens once the team is on the ground?

    Cole: Our two workers will walk the streets of Chicago, in prayer, with their eyes and hearts seeking God's direction. Once they make some connections and engage a community, they'll look for a person of peace that God has prepared. We believe that if God calls us to start a church somewhere, then he's already prepared a person of peace in that city. When that person comes to faith, a chain reaction begins.

    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 Fellowship Church as a table, and the pastor is the dude with the food. In one chair are people who don't know Christ. In another chair are the new believers. In the last chair are the most mature—what I call "the core." We want to move people from the first chair to the third.

    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 Fellowship Church probably isn't for them.

    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 LTGs—Life 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.

    Your feedback is appreciated. 


    Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.



    Subject: Can an ordinary believer start a House Church? SCL No 34




    New Zealand