Saturday, December 10, 2016

Always Forward looks back on church planting mistakes

The Always Forward podcast is settling into a rhythm of podcasts every 1-2 weeks, and now officially has had five episodes of about one hour each.

As with the other podcasts, Thursday’s Episode 5 — inaccurately labelled “The Top 10 Mistakes Church Planters Make” — features the ACNA’s canon for church planting Rev Canon Dan Alger and Rev Shawn McCain, who are respectively planting churches in the Diocese of the South and C4SO. One is a cradle Episcopalian and Trinity School for Ministry grad, and the other a latecomer to Anglicanism and Nashotah grad.

The “10” mistakes turn out to be about 7.5 — two of the 10 are identical, and on a third they take opposite positions. In order of presentation:

  1. DanPlanting without assessment or training (Dan). Assessment allows the planter to understand his strengths and areas where he needs additional team members. Assessment is particularly recommended for married couples, to help the spouse — typically less involved in planting and the plant — to understand planting and their roles in it.
  2. Pretending you have all the answers (Shawn), i.e. an inability to say “I don’t know.” The latter turns out to be a great way to identify opportunities for others to step up to responsbilities.
  3. Premature launch (both Dan and Shawn), a very common mistake (and one identified by many church planting books). The pressures to launch public worship will be high, but the church needs a critical mass to sustain public worship — and to have enough people in the pews to connect with visitors — for it to work. As an alternative, the launch team can pray and even commune privately as they prepare for launch.
  4. An “over-obsession” with contextualization (Shawn) or A failure to contextualize (Dan). For the former, the church should know what it is, why and not pander to the community. For the latter, the church can make major mistakes if it doesn’t understand its community. Both agree that the church must be ready to explain what (and why and how) it is to new members from the community.
  5. Handing out leadership roles too quickly (Dan and Shawn). The prospective leaders need to understand and buy into the vision, and the pastor needs to size up the prospective leader before handing over responsibility. During the pre-launch and early launch phase, the emphasis needs to be on the church and not on “leading”, power or control. (Both men also argue that early one, there should also be no vestry or formal lay control with the planter reporting to the bishop and the diocesan church planting dean/canon).
  6. Not communicating expectations (Shawn). If people don't do what you want, it’s often because you didn’t tell them; if you let them down, it's often because you didn’t tell them what to expect. Or as (Dan quoting) former ACNA church planting canon Alan Hawkins says, “Unmet expectations = pain.”
  7. Planting a worship service, not a church (Dan). A church can be successful in terms of ASA (average Sunday attendance) and giving, but not be accomplishing the mission of the Church. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Who will lead 21st century church plants?

By J. West

Fr. John Linebarger, a bivocational priest in the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest (ACNA), on Friday posted a provocative essay about how Anglican clergy will raised and called in 21st century America. It resonated with those of us involved in clergy formation in my diocese.

He begins with his overall premise:
Clergy formation and ministry are undergoing a time of transition in America. Residential seminary is giving way to more diocese-based training. Full-time positions are giving way to various mixes of bivocational ministry. Larger churches with full-time staff are giving way to smaller churches with volunteer staff.
He makes four other points:
  • There are less conventional full-time positions and thus clergy will have to either be bivocational or find some clever way to support themselves. Most churches will be led by a combination of bivocational clergy and volunteer staff.
  • Dioceses can’t afford to sponsor clergy education, and so a full-time MDiv at a residential seminary is being replaced by local efforts at the diocese (or using residential online courses). In my own experience, everyone I’ve met in formation in the past five years has paid for his own education from the income he has from his previous job.
  • Given the responsibilities of a priest are so complex, the MDiv needs to be supplemented by a multi-year curacy and continuing education.
  • The ACNA is attracting more clergy from other traditions, and if it doesn’t do a better job of steeping these clergy in the Anglican tradition, “ it is inevitable that in a generation or two ACNA runs the danger of morphing into a denomination that has left its Anglican heritage behind.”
I would recommend the article for any one considering the priesthood, the dioceses and parishes involved in clergy formation, and laity who hope to someday call a priest to their church plant.

As a layman, I would only add that this raises the importance of having well-trained lay leadership. The most successful church plants that I have seen began with strong laity with a good business background, an understanding and love of the Anglican faith, and a respect (and deference to) Anglican church polity.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Some virtues of the Benedict Option

By J. West

Recently Christians have been discussing the so-called “Benedict Option.” The idea — promoted by Rod Dreher — is that American society has never been more hostile to Christianity and its principles (including those principles that led to founding the ACNA). Thus, they argue it would be better for Christians to focus on strengthening, supporting and growing their community of believers rather than fighting an uphill (if not futile) battle with the culture.

The term comes from the final paragraph of After Virtue, a 1981 book by philosophy professor Alasdar MacIntyre.  (My men’s book club read and discussed this last week). The book traces the long history of how philosophers, theologians and popular culture treated virtue over the past 2500 years, with Aquinas and especially Aristotle being the exemplars of the pre-modern era. Virtue was part of the central nature, being and purpose of human life, rather than associated with a particular sphere or activity.

However, with the Enlightenment, modernity and post-modernity, the idea of virtue has fallen away —  because of the disconnect from absolute external standards (whether philosophical or theological) which renders incommensurable differing perspectives on virtue. Today, virtue means not inner goodness and right behavior but adherence to bureaucratic rules.

In the final paragraph of the 1981 book, MacIntyre drew parallels (with major caveats) between the end of the Roman Empire and today [emphasis added]:
A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead — often not recognizing fully what they were doing — was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St. Benedict.
In his prologue to the 2007 third edition, he elaborated:
In the last sentence of After Virtue I spoke of us as waiting for another St. Benedict. Benedict's greatness lay in making possible a quite new kind of institution, that of the monastery of prayer, learning, and labor, in which and around which communities could not only survive, but flourish in a period of social and cultural darkness. The effects of Benedict's founding insights and of their institutional embodiment by those who learned from them were from the standpoint of his own age quite unpredictable. And it was my intention to suggest, when I wrote that last sentence in 1980, that ours too is a time of waiting for new and unpredictable possibilities of renewal. It is also a time for resisting as prudently and courageously and justly and temperately as possible the dominant social, economic, and political order of advanced modernity. So it was twenty-six years ago, so it is still.
This vision suggests changing the nature of church and Christian community, away from one optimized for the suburban postwar Christian America in which many of us grew up, towards one adapted for the post-Christian society of the 21st century.

One member of the task force, Fr. Lee Nelson of Christ Church Waco, has written two articles for Anglican Pastor on the applicability of the Benedict Option to Anglicanism. One article notes the Benedictine character of Anglicanism, as reflected in our prayer book and life of prayer:
One can hardly deny the Benedictine character of Anglicanism, in her Prayer Book, in her mission, or in even the unique spiritual tradition of the English people. In the Middle Ages, England was often referred to as the “land of the Benedictines,” dotted as it was with monasteries, typically tied to the cathedral cloisters, following the Rule.
In the other article, he argues that Anglican pastors need to teach and serve as spiritual directors for parish members in their life of prayer through the Daily Office. His conclusion:
Christian virtue is formed by the work of the Holy Spirit in and through vital Christian fellowship – a closeness of life which results in generations of Christians who have not only the resources, but the courage, to live lives of faithfulness in the midst of a culture which sees them as their enemies.
Another member of the task force, Bp. Stephen Scarlett of St. Matthew’s, Newport Beach, is developing and sharing the idea of churches growing the spiritual practices and beliefs of their members through shared participation in a daily Rule in the context of what he calls a Mission Community.

Together, these suggest a specific opportunity in 21st century America for Anglicanism, with its emphasis on Daily Office inspired by the Benedictine orders. More on this opportunity another time.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Semimonthly ACNA planting advice

The ACNA’s Always Forward effort has inaugurated a new podcast to replace the five years of podcasts it (until last year) had posted on the Anglican 1000 website.

So far Always Forward has posted four podcasts. The first one introduces the podcast and the two hosts, both members of the Always Forward leadership team. A familiar name is Canon Dan Alger, the ACNA (and Diocese of the South) canon for church planting and a church planter in Georgia. Less familiar may be Rev. Shawn McCain, a church planter in Texas who is part of the C4SO diocese.

The second podcast, entitled “Casting The Question - Can Anyone Plant A Church?” is an example of the shorter (15 minute) format of answering a question (other questions can be emailed or submitted using the podcast web page). In this case the focus is on assessment, which Alger notes has both evaluative (how ready are you) and formative (how can you get better) elements.

The 3rd and 4th podcasts relate to a theme that Alger considers a mantra of Anglican church planting: "Church Planting lies at the intersection of ecclesiology and missiology." He attributes this to Baptist church planter Stuart Murray, author of Church Planting: Laying Foundations.

The 3rd podcast is thus a discussion of ecclesiology with Bishop Stewart Ruch, bishop of the ACNA Diocese of the Upper Midwest, while the 4th podcast is on missiology with Bishop Todd Hunter, bishop of C4SO. Each interview is about an hour, although the former has an extra 15 minutes of introduction to the podcast series. These longer interviews are promised to be posted twice a month.

For those that spend a lot of time driving (or jogging), the podcast offers a way to keep up on ACNA best practices for church planting. For those that are more visual, Always Forward is running a blog with a Cliff’s Notes summary of each podcast.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thursday's Always Forward church planting panel

From Thursday-Saturday, the ACNA church planting effort Always Forward is hosting their 2016 conference near Denver. It has four tracks: church planters, potential church planters, churches that sponsor church plants, and others (such as dioceses) that help church plants. As with the earlier Anglican 1000, it promises to be a major event for those ACNA members involved in church planting.

One session will be broadcast live on Thursday morning, courtesy of C4SO, ACNA’s non-geographical evangelical diocese. According to a blog posting by Rev. David Roseberry (a church planting consultant who until recently was rector of Christ Church Plano), C4SO is conducting a weekly webinar on church planting every Thursday, and this week’s conference session will be part of that series.

The panel discussion is called “What I Wish I’d Known Before I Planted” and will feature various church planters from the conference. As with the other C4SO webinars, it starts at Thursday 8:30am PT, 9:30 MT, 10:30 CT, and 11:30 ET. (Joining the webinar may require installing Adobe software so participants should plan to join early).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The heart of an Anglican church planter

Fr. Chris Culpepper gave his personal testimony last month of how and why church planting is doing God’s work in 21st century America. He spoke at the 28th annual assembly of Forward in Faith North America; his 42-minute talk on July 21 was recorded by Anglican TV and is now available to watch on their Facebook page.

Fr. Culpepper is the head of the FiFNA church planting task force, and the most experienced planter in the Diocese of Ft. Worth. He first quoted Proverbs 29:18: “where there is no vision, the people perish,” and then summarized his thesis: “I think church planting … is at its core bringing the Kingdom of God to a place where it does not now exist.”

“A Desk and a Phone”

He highlighted two phases of his journey towards planting churches. The first phase came in a series of jobs that he described as “a desk and a phone.” The latter story began as a young adult (as a lapsed Episcopalian) leading a UT Austin fraternity, and then a job in real estate sales. He returned to the Church at his home church — St. Andrew’s (Ft. Worth) — as youth minister for five years.

From this, he concluded “It became pretty obvious to me that church planting was where my heart really was,” attending church planting conferences and workshops before attending Nashotah House from 2002-2005.

From meeting other church planters, he drew two conclusions. His first was that “They possess one innate quality about them and it’s a certain dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire to do something about it.”

The second is that church planters are driven by the Great Commission: “we want to see that taken to every pocket and every nook and every cranny and every territory where the kingdom of God is not — because we have a burning passion for the salvation of souls.”

“Giving Birth”
Fr. Chris Culpepper at the FiFNA Assembly
Photo from Anglican.TV

The second phase of his journey he termed “giving birth”, because it’s one thing to have a vision to plant churches, but another thing to put it on the ground.

Upon his ordination, Fr. Culpepper started as the curate at a TEC parish, until that congregation decided to stay in TEC while almost all of the Diocese of Ft. Worth left to join ACNA. He decided to leave that church and turn his attention to church planting, and was fortunate to find financial support from his bishop (and some former parishioners).

In 2008 he began to assemble a group in Ft. Worth, and by early 2009 they were meeting monthly; in the fall of 2009 Christ the Redeemer Ft Worth began meeting weekly. Fr. Culpepper credited both coaching and other resources for his successful efforts to transition from an assistant priest to head of a new church plant.

Before CTR was fully launched, a group from Waco asked Bp. Iker to plant a church there. So Fr. Culpepper made the three hour round-trip monthly (later biweekly) to meet with the Anglican faithful. As part of the effort, some trips to Waco became a family road trip with his wife and their two pre-teen children.

Today the Diocese of Ft. Worth has two healthy church plants. Christ the Redeemer has an average Sunday attendance of 120 and a budget of half a million dollars. In Waco, he grew the mission to 75 people meeting biweekly; in 2014, Christ Church Waco called Fr. Lee Nelson to be their first full-time vicar, and they began weekly Sunday worship in the Fall of 2015.

As Fr. Culpepper said, “this is what God has managed to accomplish by his grace. … when we continue to make people the priority, through prayer God makes the provision possible.”

Planting for the 21st Century

He called church planters and other clergy and laity to recognize the new reality of reaching the unchurched. Even in Texas, “long gone [are the times] that we can paint our doors red and hope people will fall into them.” He noted that none of the youth that he ministered at St. Andrews were attending Christ the Redeemer (7 miles away).

Nor can Anglo-Catholics assume that faithful Christians from other congregations will “find their way to Canterbury Trail.” Instead, it’s up to the Anglican churches to fight to be noticed by those who need to learn about the historic catholic faith. And when they get noticed, to have a message about the substance of that faith that will win in the marketplace of churches.”

At the same time, limited resources can help with spiritual formation. Even the most Anglo-Catholic of church plants has to gradually phase in key liturgical elements (such as acolyte robes) as funds permit. At the same time, the introduction of new elements provides an opportunity for teaching the congregation. ”It’s like picking up these incredible things that had been hidden in the dirt, and dusting them off and making them new again. People have this incredible fresh perspective on things that happen when you plant churches,” he said.

Going Forward

The goal of the FiFNA task force is to augment the resources that are out there. Anglo-Catholic church planters can’t afford to re-invent the wheel, but instead must learn from what has been done before. That notably includes the ACNA’s Always Forward, and its own efforts to compile and disseminate best practice.

He noted that his own efforts were supported by a non-denominational church planting coach who had planted five churches of his own, and coached more than 100 others. While “every church has its context, [there] are abiding principles that are the same.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Adapting Church Planting to Anglo-Catholicism

By J. West

For much of the past 2000 years, the main way the church grew was to plant new churches in previously non-Christian areas. For example, every California 4th grader learns that St. Junipero Serra in 1769 started the process of planting 21 missions up the California coast. Most kids are asked by their schools and parents to visit some or (in our case) all of those missions.

Two hundred years later, the issue is creating missions to currently (or nominally) Christian territories. Beginning in the 1970s, a few Christian pastors in this country took the evangelical (small “e”) command seriously, and began to launch new churches within North America. This is the process that became known as “church planting,” and a considerable amount has since been written about the process.

Evangelical Protestant Church Planting Resources

In terms of both activity and writing, most of the activity of the past 30 years has been by the Evangelical branches of Protestantism. The most active denominations seem to be Baptist, other Reformed, and non-denominational churches.

One of the first books on church planting was the Church Planting Workbook, the first of many books co-authored by Bob Logan. It was then cited by Charles Ridley, the Fuller Seminary psychology professor who in 1988 published How to Select Church Planters. Ridley provided the first research-based system of what we now call “assessment” of potential church planters, including a recommended questionnaire and interview process for assessing candidates

In the succeeding decades, dozens of books, consultancies and training seminars have been offered to help improve the success rate of church planters. As with the earliest efforts, these bring the belief that training (and to some degree the 20th century principles of Taylorist scientific management) improve the success rate of church planters as it would for any other vocation. Among the most prolific authors have been Logan and Ed Stetzer, who writes about church planting for Christianity Today.

In 2009, Stetzer published a 17-page bibliography of church planting books on Christianity Today; Google offers more than a dozen other such bibliographies. Browsing Amazon for popular books published since 2009, the most interesting was Stetzer & Im (2016), the second edition of Stetzer’s earlier Planting Missional Churches.

Books are an essential and inexpensive resource for learning concepts and principles; however, humans learn by doing, and each planting context (unlike arithmetic problems or chemistry experiments) is different. Thus novice church planters — must like novice priests and other apprentices — need to be trained, mentored and coached by those who have done it before. At the same time, there is a heavy overlap between the experts who train, mentor, coach and write books for church planters.

The head of the FiFNA task force, Fr. Chris Culpepper (who launched two church plants in Texas) benefitted from training by Jim Griffith, author of Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by Church New Starts (which I would recommend as an excellent starting point for any church planter.) Griffith has planted five of his own churches, trained Methodist and AMiA planters, and ran a planting workshop for the ACNA-affiliated Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth. Griffith offers a series of workshops at his Dallas HQ and other locations (largely across the Southwest).

Another name is Logan, who Stetzer describes as follows
Few realize that before his keen insights and organizational acumen, church planters did not go through assessment, boot camps, and coaching networks. Why did Bob do these things? Because he cares about church planting and church planters. … Bob Logan is the most significant church planting leader in the last 50 years and every church planter needs to be aware of his writings and his toolkit.
Settler in particular recommends the Church Planter’s Toolkit as “the most widely known resource in North American church planting today.”

My former rector (now leading church planting for C4SO in Northern California) benefitted from monthly coaching by Logan. With his introduction, I was fortunate to meet the (LA-based) Logan last year, and was struck by the unusual mix of deep wisdom and utter humility that he brings to church planting.

Adapting for the Anglo-Catholic Context

Whether for church planting, liturgy, preaching or teaching, every Anglo-Catholic priest has had to adapt other Protestant resources to fit the Anglo-Catholic perspective on the Christian faith. The reasons for these changes include

  • Liturgical worship (for Anglo-Catholics above all others) constrains certain choices of worship, style or infrastructure.
  • Biblical. Unlike Mainline Protestants — and like many but not all Evangelical church plants — Biblical authenticity fidelity limits the cultural adaptation of the historic faith
  • Catholic. Our interpretation of the Bible and the transmitted faith is shaped by the traditions of the undivided church from the first millennium.

One key difference for Anglo-Catholic (if not all Anglican) church planters is that there is a limit as to how much the medium drives the message.  While any church can benefit from modern marketing techniques (have a good website, think about how newcomers comprehend your service), I believe that leaders of young Anglo-Catholic parishes must remember that such technique must be subordinate to belief.

Not evangelical church planting examples of “success” are good role models. In his 2006 book, Stetzer admitted that his initial efforts were not really about Christianity:
When I planted Calvary Christian Church at the age of twenty-one, I must confess that the church was more about me than it was missional and spiritual. When I planted Millcreek Community Church and its daughter churches, we were more attractional than incarnational and not particularly theological or ecclesiological. (Planting Missional Churches, p. 4)
One can assume that there are other church planters who share this problem, but are less candid (or self-aware). For any church planter, there is the risk of focusing strictly on organizational success measures (like attendance and income).

Leveraging Anglican Church Planting Resources

Over the last few years, American Anglicans have been developing church planting resources. Anglican 1000 became Always Forward, and now each ACNA diocese is designating a canon for church planting.

The ACNA is also working with Titus Institute for Church Planting to provide consulting and training to Anglican parishes. Meanwhile, the ACNA bishop for Southern California (Bp. Keith Andrews of Diocese of Western Anglicans) has also recommended a CoE book — Mission-Shaped Church — which emphasizes the importance of domestic missionary activity.

However, there are two limitations of these materials. First, although Always Forward promises that it will “help plant gospel-centered, sacramental, missional churches throughout North America,” its view of such churches appears to be entirely Evangelical in its orientation. For example, its nine leaders all represent the Evangelical (or Charismatic) perspective within Anglicanism. For example, a recent blog post on diagnosing church health asks “How will you maintain passionate liturgical worship?”

Second, most of the church planting in the ACNA since its creation in 2006 has been re-planting disaffected Episcopalians into non-TEC pots. While this has been important for the success of the ACNA — and provided essential spiritual homes for Christians who could no longer abide the theological drift of the TEC — such replanting did not produce a net increase in the Body of Christ.

Within the ACNA, Anglo-Catholic church planting is largely confined to those Anglo-Catholic dioceses: the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Missionary Diocese of All Saints, and the dioceses of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Meanwhile, after decades of post-ECUSA maintenance mode, the Continuing Anglican churches are independently developing their own church planting approaches.

Going Forward

Supplementing what is missing from existing Protestant and Anglican resources has been a major goal of this task force.

To some degree, the books and manuals can be adapted by Anglo-Catholics, just as early Anglicans adapted materials by Baptists and Methodists. However, what we feel is missing is providing advice from an Anglo-Catholic perspective, in the form of mentoring and coaching.

The task force has identified potential resources for such advising, and looks forward to working with Anglo-Catholic church planters at any stage in their planting process.

References

Archbishop’s Council on Mission and Public Affairs. Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context. 2nd ed., Church House Publishing, 2009.

Griffith, James. The 10 Most Common Mistakes Made by Church New Starts. Chalice Press, 2008.

Logan, Robert E. and Jeff Rast. Church Planting Workbook. Fuller Institute for Evangelism and Church Growth (1985).

Logan, Robert E. and Steven L. Ogne. Church Planter's Toolkit. Pasadena, CA: ChurchSmart Resources, 1995.

Ridley, Charles R. How to Select Church Planters: A Self-Study Manual for Recruiting, Screening, Interviewing and Evaluating Qualified Church Planters, Fuller Seminary, 1988.

Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply. B&H Publishing Group, 2006.

Stetzer, Ed and Daniel Im. Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply. 2nd ed., B&H Publishing Group, 2016.

See also Ed Stetzer’s (Christianity Today) 2009 bibliography of church planting books.