Sunday, March 04, 2007

Traditional or Simple?

Today I am going to take my family to a church where I have been asked to preach a missions mobilization challenge. It's a traditional church. I was present for some of the original meetings of this church when we first arrived in South America. Now it is moving ahead at its own pace, hopefully under the power of the Holy Spirit.

But, as most of my missionary colleagues who may read this know, traditional churches can be cumbersome. They move slowly. The reproduce (start other churches) at the speed of sound traveling through a tar pit. Traditional churches spend more on themselves and less on reaching others. This particular church is going on 20 years old. I think they have been involved in one other church start, maybe two. And one of those is still a preaching point--a mission that has been in existence for about 5 years. As I said, reproduction is slow.

What is the answer? Guy Muse and his team, in Ecuador, have found house churches to be functional. That's good.

Others have found cell churches to be the answer. That's good, too.

The obvious thing is this: the church in South America needs to assume a simplified form if it is to reproduce rapidly. It needs the least common denominator of life in a given community.

The church needs obedience-based discipleship. They need to be reminded that they are to DO those things that Jesus commands them, as opposed to just learn them.

The church needs empowered leadership. In traditional churches the established, formal leadership often fails to empower the informal leaders of the church. This gross failure costs the church in too many ways, especially when it comes to planting new churches.

And the church needs to rise to the expectation that they are to be intentional church planters. That's part of that "doing" thing I mentioned above.

If you can think of other things, feel free to tag it on.

Jesus is Lord!


GuyMuse said...

One of my favorite church planting quotes is by Neil Cole that pretty much sums up my own feelings about church planting and the "traditional vs simple" discussion. Neil says, "We want to lower the bar on how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple."

GuyMuse said...


One other thought...

I ran across Rick Meigs, Asking the Right Questions where he quotes twelve questions all maintenance-type churches need to ask themselves. One of the things I have been thinking about in our on-going work with traditional churches is a shift in our approach to working with them. Maybe we should be seeking to make them "missional" rather than trying to convince them to become simple. It seems there is so much resistance to the whole house/simple/organic concept, so why not begin them to at least be missional in their outlook?

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


I believe you are on target with the traditional churches. We are challenged if we believe we can "unscramble the egg." Once it embarks on the road of traditionality, it will be difficult to get it off that road. Our energies will be far better spent leading the church to focus on being missional. A focused, outward-reaching vision is the right direction.


Outoftheshaker! said...

Kevin and Guy,
Good afternoon to all, one of the things that I have run into here with the local traditional church is this. He (the local pastor) has told me that he has tried to start the cell church model. No success. He had 3 cells going but once he stopped leading all three they died. This was before I arrived. Now, I arrive thinking we need to focus here in town before we go out and about. He tells me it is not worth it. Reason, there are so many different Pentecostal churches. I have tried to start something on my own but an obstacle is that if you don't have the local church support or name, you don't carry any validity. He has tried a simple church type system and still no results. What he is focusing on now, is traveling 3 hours by bus outside the town, where there is no other "type" churches. The type would be Pentecostal.
I'm trying slowly to bring the focus back local but without causing any waves. Is this wrong or should I just support what direction he is going with the reason he is going.

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


I am sure that at some point Guy will jump in and share some thoughts. He has some good ones and may be able to address this issue from a different perspective than I can.

Here are some thoughts that run through my mind: what size is your primary target city? What is the percentage of evangelicals there? How many churches of all kinds are there? How many of the Pentecostal variety?

Like you, I am chagrined that a pastor feels no compunction to reach his own city. But we see that over here, too. We are just now beginning to see a desire to rectify that.

Assuming there is an overall low evangelical population, and that there are a signficant number of unreached communities, here is what I would do (something you have undoubtedly considered; I don't have that many original thoughts): I would try to show the local pastor(s) the gaps--the places where there are no evangelicals of any kind. And I would ask his permission to try to start a church in one of those areas. Yes, the ideal is for the pastor to be on board and to lead out in that. I would ask if I could train certain people from his congregation to help me.

But if he is unwilling, then go win some to Jesus, give them some basic witness training, and try to build a group and find leaders from within. It may sound simple, but it is like running up Mt. Everest. It's doable, but very, very difficult.

GuyMuse said...


I tend to agree with Kevin's last paragraph above me. Our experience here has been that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to work with traditional churches in church planting CPM-style. There is just too much baggage to overcome. Our approach here has been to try and maintain good relations with the traditional churches, but we actually work with a cross-section of GCC believers from all over the city.

In the beginning these lay leaders are usually dually aligned with both the new work they are starting, and their home church. We never tell anyone to leave their home church in order to start a new church. That is the Holy Spirit's call to make, not ours. However, what generally happens is that the lay leaders themselves begin to see fruit in the new work, and little by little begin to make a break from their home churches. I can't really think of a single house church leader we work with who are not wholly committed to the new work they have helped start, but sometimes this takes a while.

My advise is to 1) pray the Lord of the Harvest for laborers, 2) train those He sends your way, 3) empower them to do all that Christ authorized in the GC, 4) be there for them, but let them be the ones to actually do the work.