Skip to content

Is your family worth imitating?

April 11, 2012

My friend Chris Norman said this a little while ago and thought it was worth posting:

Discipeship is about whether you have a life worth imitating.
Oikos [your extended family on mission] is about whether you have a family worth imitating.

I wonder how many of us are living in such a vibrant, healthy, missional extended family (probably 20-40) that when people see it, they see a family they’d like to be part of. That when they see it, they’d want that kind of family, but could also model what they do in their family based on what they see in yours?

Is Church about the Superstar Pastor? | What America can learn from the European Church | Part 5

April 9, 2012

[This is the fifth post of a 6-post series titled “Letters to America,” written by Paul Maconochie, the pastor at St Thomas Philadelphia. Paul was the pastor who followed me at Philadelphia and now, 8 years later, it is one of fastest growing churches in Europe, doing some incredibly imaginative things in a truly post-Christian context. I hope you enjoy the series, and if you’d like to read a little on the history of St Thomas, check out this blog post on how I chose Movement over Mega.]

When Mike Breen led our church in Sheffield, UK, he introduced a number of important concepts to us.  We began to grasp that we’re all missionaries, even if we’re living in our home city. We learnt the importance of raising up people into positions of leadership so that our groups could grow and multiply. And we took hold of living  an ‘extended family’ lifestyle, living life-on-life with each other and finding ‘people of peace’ (Luke 10) to disciple. During the 1990’s we saw substantial growth as a result, becoming one of the largest churches in the UK.

I became the Senior Pastor of St.Thomas’ Church in 2004 and during the next three years almost the entire senior team left and we saw almost no growth at all.

Can you imagine how that felt?

It was pretty grim to be honest. By the fall of 2006 I was in hospital with a serious back problem and I was feeling stressed (to say the least).

There were two things I needed to learn.

The first was that I am not Mike, and I needed to stop trying to be him. Mike had already told me this many times, but I began to really understand what this meant. I’m an introverted prophetic leader, always asking the question ‘What is God saying to us?’ My personality, my way of interacting with God and with the team was very different to Mike. But I was trying to be an extroverted, apostolic leader (who asks the question “How do we build a movement?) And it just wasn’t working.

The second thing was that our new generation of Missional Community Leaders needed to stop trying to be the first generation. Our early Missional Communities had grown under the leadership of some very gifted people who had made leading 40-50 people in their spare time look easy. Most of these early leaders are now successful church or business leaders themselves; visionary pioneer types who quickly latched on to the ideas Mike was preaching and made them work. But a lot of the new generation of leaders were, necessarily, every day folks who had been raised up within the communities and had stepped up into leadership positions. Many of them were pastors or teachers who loved to look after people but found it hard to be really intentional or strategic.

As I came out of hospital and started to engage with leading the church again, the phrase we started to use was ‘no longer one size fits all‘. We started to ask the question ‘This is my call, what is yours?‘ We also reduced the average size of our Communities down to around 30 adults instead of 40-50, which meant they had to multiply more often.

Of course, Missional Communities never were ‘one size fits all’, but we needed to release people from the concepts they had in their heads of what a Missional Community ‘should’ be. The fundamental questions we wanted the leaders to ask, and to answer, were

  1. What is God saying to us?
  2. Who is He calling us to reach?
  3. How is He calling us to live as a community?

Once people could start to answer those questions, then we could hold them accountable that they actually did what God was calling them to do. We could train them and help them to be effective in their community life and their missionary endeavors.

Groups started to blossom everywhere.  Missional Communities reaching out to suburban neighborhoods, urban housing projects, outward-bound activity groups, soccer teams, university students. Others focused on supporting each other in the work place or in businesses, or reaching out through their teenage children or their elderly relatives in nursing homes. Over the next five years we quadrupled in size in Missional Communities. So far this momentum has continued; we grew by as much this year all over again.

When I look at the church in the USA I see many examples of huge congregations that have gathered around the amazingly gifted teaching of ‘superstar’ Pastors. The numbers of people who gather are impressive, but I cannot help asking the questions:

  • Are the people taking hold of a vision from God and living to bring it into being? Are they being released and equipped enough to be able to do this?

  • Are the leadership teams of churches effectively holding the people accountable to the vision God has given them and helping them to fulfil it? Or are they just asking them to listen to teaching, help with programmes and pay their tithes?

However we do it, I believe that building a culture of low control (what is God saying to you?) and high accountability (what are you going to do about it?) is essential if the Church is to become all that she has been designed to be and if we as Christians are to begin to look like Jesus Christ.

Paul, along with Rich Robinson, are spearheading much of the 3DM efforts in the UK. To check out their blog, click here.


Weekend links

April 6, 2012

Here’s a short list of some of our favorite blog posts, articles and videos from this past week from 3DM bloggers and others around the web.



What summer webinar topics would you suggest?

April 5, 2012

As you know, 3DM has started doing webinars in the last couple of months and we have seen quite a number of people attend these webinars. We’ve done them on church planting, how to use the Bible in a missional church, raising kids who love Jesus, marriage and mission and many, many others.

We are looking to begin planning our summer webinar schedule and we’d love your help.

What topics would you suggest we cover this summer? What would be most helpful?

Would love any input you have! Feel free to comment below.



The plug-and-play problem of church leadership

April 4, 2012

The following is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book Multiplying Missional Leaders, which comes out at the beginning of May. 

Imagine that it’s a Tuesday morning, and that the staff of your church has gathered for its weekly staff meeting. Staff members discuss the weekend service and whether it delivered the message and experience they hoped it would. They discuss the attendance numbers; small group numbers and effectiveness; budget, buildings, and cash flow. You know, the normal staff- meeting routine.

Then, there’s a soft but decisive knock on the door. Someone says, “Come in!”

Into the room, dressed in normal clothes, step Peter, Paul, James, Priscilla, Timothy, and Lydia. (Obviously, we’re in a hypothetical situation here.) They introduce themselves and say that the Lord sent them to your church to serve in any way they can. They ask, “What can we do? We don’t want to be on the stage or anything. You’re doing the preaching/teaching thing really well. But we’ll do anything else you need. Just tell us what you’d like.”

A stunned silence comes over the staff — after all, this is a strange situation. But soon enough, the staff members snap out of it.

“Uhh, well, OK. Well, how many of you are there? Six? Well, let’s see. Could three of you be small group leaders? We’re looking to start some new small groups, and clearly you’d be great at that. Peter, James, Paul, could you do that?

“Hmmm . . . you know, we lost the person who heads up our First Impressions team a month ago, and it has been a bit lackluster. It has lost the punch it used to have. You know it’s important that people have a strong impression of our church within the first 15 seconds when they come to the service. Priscilla, do you mind heading that up?

“Timothy, we could sure use another usher, you look like you could handle that. Lastly, Lydia, I hear you play a mean bass and can sing too. We’re down a bass player and would love to have you in the band. Maybe you can even fill in and lead worship from time to time. Are you up for that?”

This is called plug-and-play. This is about having various positions we need filled in the machine of our churches and plugging people into those roles. Now don’t get me wrong: there are always going to be logistical needs when the scattered church gathers. That’s reality, and we need to attend to that and do it well.

But does anyone really think this is where a church should be using Peter, James, Paul, Priscilla, Timothy, and Lydia? Would this be the most effective use of their time and energy given the skill sets they have? Of course not.

There’s a leadership myth out there that programs that need leaders create leaders in and of themselves. But this hypothetical example shows us how systems can fall short.

Maybe we can think about it this way: If your church were suddenly given 250 missional leaders, would you have any idea what to do with them? Or would you just plug-and-play them in what you are currently doing?

We are starting a Missional Community with only 6-10 people. What should we do first to grow to 20-50?

April 3, 2012

Each week, via a short, 2-3 minute video we try to answer one practical question that we hear lots of people asking. Our hope is that these will be helpful, but will also spur on conversation and more questions in the comment section. If you want to keep digging around with questions related to this topic, post the comment, and we’ll be interacting with these daily.

Today’s question is answered by Jo Saxton, who I’ve known for more than 17 years and who has served on my teams for almost that long. She is a BRILLIANT leader and today looks at how you can make the jump from 6-10 to a mid-sized group of 20-50. What should you concentrate on at the outset.




ALSO, Jo and my wife Sally are releasing a book next week in the UK that’s fantastic. It’s called High Heels and Holines. Definitely worth looking into getting this book.

We must expect different things from Pastors | What America can learn from the European Church | Part 4

April 2, 2012

[This is the fourth post of a 6-post series titled “Letters to America,” written by Paul Maconochie, the pastor at St Thomas Philadelphia. Paul was the pastor who followed me at Philadelphia and now, 8 years later, it is one of fastest growing churches in Europe, doing some incredibly imaginative things in a truly post-Christian context. I hope you enjoy the series, and if you’d like to read a little on the history of St Thomas, check out this blog post on how I chose Movement over Mega.]

When I trained at seminary to become a Baptist Minister, there were a number of assumptions that were made about what that ministry was going to look like.

The major focus was on theology, because of course it would be my job to make sure that my future congregation understood the Bible in the right way.

Other key components included pastoral care and a little on how to preach.

I had no training in leadership, no training in what it means to be a disciple or to disciple others (other than Bible study), no training in how to build or facilitate effective evangelism.

My training was equipping and shaping me to fulfill a certain role; one that most churches in the UK expect their Pastors to perform and one that most Church leaders go along with. The role I was being trained for was this:

  • To look after the people of the church and care for them
  • To teach the people and to feed them spiritually.
  • To help them to be comfortable and healthy as they try to live good lives in a difficult world.

The huge problem with this is that it’s a million miles away from the model of discipleship presented in the Bible. In fact, it could be argued that it’s the exact opposite. Jesus said:

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22: 25-26)

A benefactor is someone who provides for other people and in return is able to exercise some degree of control over their lives. The provision of a benefactor can be financial, intellectual, social or spiritual; sometimes it can be all of these.

Pastors in the Church seem to have entered into a ‘benefactor agreement’ with their congregations, where they are expected to be the providers of what people need pastorally and spiritually.

We have ‘taken hold of that for which the Church has taken hold of us’ instead of taking hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of us.

When we do this, we effectively become like a ‘shell’, insulating people from the life of discipleship that Jesus has called them into, instead of a skeleton supporting and helping people to disciple others.

The church becomes like a crab or a wood louse, with the staff surrounding the people with care and teaching, catering to their needs. But what we want to see is the church operating like a human body; arms, legs and torso supported by the skeleton and working together to achieve the commission that the head gives it.

Jesus’ commission is ‘Go and make disciples.’ Are we primarily doing that as leaders? Are we helping the people in our church to do that? If we are not, then are we really fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us?

In a city with rock-bottom levels of church attendance, we have seen folks coming to know Jesus on a weekly basis. We are seeing hundreds come into our missional communities each year in a country where the average church congregation size is 38. And we are not just producing consumer-Christians, but believers who get straight back out there, discipling others. Why is that? What have we done that is different?

I believe that it starts with us as leaders.

  • Rather than providing pastoral care, we should be building a culture and supporting structures so that our people care for each other.
  • Rather than providing spiritual food, we should be equipping our people to access God’s Word and receive food from Jesus directly.
  • Rather than making people into clients for what we provide, we should be making disciples who can in turn go and make disciples.
  • We can do this by ‘pruning’ out a lot of the management we do, and then start living the life. We form a core community, live life-on-life and reach out to others to bring them into the Kingdom. Like Jesus, we identify and call a group of disciples to go on the journey with us and ask them to do the same. We percolate this throughout the whole church.

We do our job of making disciples and let Jesus do His job of building the church.

Paul, along with Rich Robinson, are spearheading much of our 3DM efforts in the UK. To check out their blog, click here.