I have said often that I thrive on change. It is really life giving to find myself in that ‘in between’ space, which is full of possibility. This is one of the reasons I resonate so positively with the name Threshold which pictures that liminal space, the place of letting go of the old and venturing into a future ripe with Kingdom potential. This future is necessarily unknown but we trust it is better, no that it is good, because by faith we know He leads us.
In light of my oft repeated claim I find myself somewhat chagrined at my attitude toward the uncertainties which face Taylor College. I have decided that I will embrace this place of liminality and follow Him. I do not know how we will emerge but I am excited about the possibilities. For the last few years I have felt like we were building a ship while at sea and now I am presented with the opportunity to do so in port. I will get the opportunity to be a part of a reshaping of how we equip evangelists for 21st Century mission in the Western World. I believe much of what I have already written will be important in this venture.
One of the areas which Threshold has identified as key is that of “New Ministry Initiatives” or Church Planting. The difficulty with the term ‘church planting’ is that it is so easily misunderstood to mean starting something which will eventually have four walls and a steeple. This is not what we mean; instead we are interested in the creation of worshipping communities with a determined focus on the mission of God, extending His Kingdom of justice and peace. The early church provides a model with its disinterest in buildings but keen interest in ‘the work’ of planting churches. I believe there are four models of church planting which we can learn from Acts.
1) The Dandelion Model
During the first persecution the apostles stayed in Jerusalem while others scattered. Where they went they shared their excitement about Jesus and communities of faith sprang up. Apostles visited and encouraged these new mission outposts.
In this model the ‘Apostolic Leaders’ stay out of the mission except to encourage. Persecution scattered the multiplying church in the same way wind scatters the seed of the dandelion! We see little of this model today in the West, though the tremendous growth in China falls under this heading. In the West our learned ecclesiology hinders this spontaneous growth. Perhaps if all our professional ministers were expelled we might know China’s level of evangelism?
2) The Itinerant Planter Model
Paul provides the clearest model of this and Roland Allen in his book “St. Paul’s Missionary Methods or Ours?” makes the case. Paul in a very short time preaches Christ, establishes a ‘baby’ church and moves on. He only returns occasionally. He entrusts the continuing health of the Church to God and the locals. There are few recognized Itinerant Church Planters and again they do not fit easily in most institutional church ecclesiology. Threshold Ministries sees itself as a part of the answer to this dilemma. Our formation must reflect this (see below).
3) Training School Model
In Ephesus Paul seems to have rented ‘The Hall of Tyrannus’ and there for five hours a day for two years trained: Titus (from Antioch), Timothy (from Lystra), Gaius (from Derbe), Aristarchus (from Thessalonica), Secundus (from Thessalonica), Sopotor (from Berea), Tychicus (from Ephesus), and Trophimus (from Ephesus). These students went on to use the itinerant model to plant churches throughout the region. We see Taylor following after this model.
4) The Roman Model
In Romans chapter 16 Paul addresses 26 people many of whom he seems to have sent to Rome for the very purpose of planting a church. They go to Rome from churches Paul already planted. In Romans 15 Paul states that he will not build on another person’s foundation but makes clear that he is looking forward to coming to Rome. He obviously sees this plant as one of his own, as he mentors and instructs from a distance.
Again I want to re-iterate that we do not seek to necessarily plant churches which erect spire laden buildings but make no mistake our New Ministry Initiatives is all about Church Planting! Exciting isn’t it?