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Open More Lanes: Viral Churches, part 8

I've been in a series of articles about how Christians, by thinking differently, can see a Church Multiplication Movement here in the West--those parts of the developed world where the church has slowed in its growth and multiplication. Over the context of several posts, I've discussed things that we should and should not do in order to lay a foundation to see this happen. Today's characteristic is that we should "open more lanes."

As a general rule, I try and avoid making trips to Wal-Mart. If I have to go, however, besides the pure entertainment value in people watching there, I inevitably end up getting frustrated at the check-out counter due to combination of a long line and my short attention span. We have a Super Wal-Mart near our home, so when I go to check out, there are about sixteen lanes at the front of the store to make the process as efficient as possible.

The problem is, that for whatever reason, nearly every time I go there are only two of them open. Sure, there are those self-service lanes, but no one ever uses those because they know that they don't work. Instead, there usually are about twelve of us (somehow it always works out that everyone finishes at the same time) that end up waiting in those two lanes and we're all thinking the same thing. "Open up some lanes!"

All too often I feel that same frustration when I look at the state of church planting today. We've adopted a mentality of "clergification," believing that the only people who can plant churches are full-time, paid pastors. As a result, we have a long line of prospective planters (because church planting is definitely the hot thing right now) all waiting for someone to say, "You're clergy. You're full-time. Here's your money." And there's not enough money for all of them. We've bought all the church planting that we can buy, and that's not enough to start a church multiplication movement. So there they are . . . thousands of planters, stuck in line waiting for their turn and their funding. Unfortunately, many times, we let one's funding determine one's calling.

The solution is the same as Wal-Mart's. We need to open more lanes. I'm not saying to get rid of the fully-funded lane. We need to keep that lane open while we redirect some other people towards other lanes. For example, we need to create a strategy that helps some pastors become bi-vocational. We need to help them find other jobs and teach them how to lead a church while doing it. Another lane would provide permission to ethnic leaders to go ahead and plant churches rather than having to walk through several layers of Anglo hierarchy to do so.

Strange as it may seem, permission is all many people need. They need some way to say, "What I am doing is legitimate." Granting new people permission to step into church planting, especially in low-polity denominations, should be a commonality, and yet so many have an unspoken understanding of not thinking it proper for new people to plant churches.

Yes, I think that there are qualifications for the office of pastor (though not all churches need to be planted by pastors--that could come later). Passages like 1 Timothy 3 lay out those qualifications--but they do not list a full time salary and a seminary education.

Baptists and Methodists did not wait for permission in 1795 when they launched a Church Planting Movement in Kentucky and Tennessee. Nor did the Pentecostals in the 1920s. Or, the Vineyard in the 1980s. Pastors were MADE, not called--they raised them up from the harvest, gave them permission, and they planted churches. So it should be with us--and then seminaries can partner with us to train those planter/pastors "just in time."

Permission is something that needs to be continually renewed. Left alone, the permission-giving structures of a former era become the traditional parameters of the next. Baptists gave lay people "license to preach" and plant churches in the midst of their massive multiplication movements in the nineteenth century. Now a "license to preach" means that someone has permission to preach in a Baptist church, not plant one. That's quite a shift, but that is what happens--lanes get more formal over time. We need to constantly open new ones.

Beyond giving permission, we need to celebrate when people leave our church to plant another. They're not betraying us; they're following Jesus on His mission. We need to abandon territorialism and set aside our own egos and usher people from our own church into new lanes. As we do so, we will create systems of permission, letting people see others similar to themselves doing the same thing they're doing. The system might be small at first, but it can grow over time into something revolutionary.

So, find ways to MAKE, not just FIND, new church planters. It's be done before and most of the groups see that as their "golden days" (just ask a Methodist about a circuit rider). Those golden days can come again if we will just live on mission, and give permission, like they did then.

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Open More Lanes: Viral Churches, part 8