Viral Churches: Chapter 2

This is an ongoing review of Stetzer’s and Bird’s Viral Churches.

First, I mainly agree with the idea that planting churches—which in turn desire to plant churches—is biblical, effective, and necessary. I also agree that multiplication, not addition, is the answer to changing the communities, regions, and the world in which we live. Finally, I agree that new churches are more effective than existing churches in evangelism. However, there are some things that trouble me about this chapter.

First, I would like to have the idea of planting “among ethnic groups” fleshed out. Surely the idea is not to have only homogenous churches? I know they are easier to get going, but they are not a picture to the culture of what God can and wants to do—reconcile all people not only to himself, but to one another.

Second, there is a palpable tension as I read that this is a personality-driven movement. I am hoping to be dissuaded that this is true.

Third, they claim that Paul’s strategy was “to plant new churches that in turn planted new churches.” But surely that is implied from the NT, not spelled out. Again, I am in agreement that this is a proper way to think about the DNA that a church plant should be instilled with, but is that more methodological than explicitly biblical?

Fourth, I would love to read or hear stories of how existing churches retooled. From reading this first real chapter, one almost gets the impression that older churches should close up shop and allow the newer churches to take over. This is not stated, but one could certainly draw that conclusion. But surely churches have “restarted” or woken up to the reality of what they need to be, changed course, and engaged their community. How does that happen? What energy and teaching needs to be put in place to avoid mission drift? And how can a church change its DNA to be a multiplication church? I realize that this is not what the book is about, but maybe a footnote to direct someone toward someone who has written on that subject. 

Finally, their use of the word apostle to describe a church planter irks me. I know this is not uncommon language in church planting circles, but in my own, limited experience, it mostly seems to mean maverick. If an apostle is simply the “role of initiator who plants churches that in turn plant more churches” then that’s fine, but pick a different word than one that Scripture relegates for certain people, who are not simply church planters. Someone who leaves a church to plant another church, despite much counsel against and then plays the God card to justify his actions (This is an apostolic endeavor, God sent me), is not an apostle.

Despite those negatives, I am looking forward to the rest of this book a great deal, getting down to the nitty gritty of making the theoretical a reality.

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Viral Churches: Intro

2015 is upon us. I will start the year (a little early actually) by blogging through two books simultaneously: Ed Stetzer’s and Warren Bird’s Viral Churches, and Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling. I have chosen to read these two books together as a sort of balance to what I am assuming I will hear. I admit I come into the books with some prejudicial thoughts about both.

I assume Viral Churches will deal with church planting and it will be very outward focused. In terms of a church planter (pastor who plants churches?), the focus, I assume will be on reaching the community, evangelism, and training future leaders who will also plant churches. I assume Dangerous Calling will deal with shepherding a flock and will be inward focused in two areas: the pastor’s own life and relationship with God and the pastor’s relationship with the flock God has entrusted to his care.

I don’t see these two roles of pastor as mutually exclusive, but I am assuming the two books will look at one side versus the other. So I want to read them both at the same time for the sake of balance. I may find out that I am completely wrong, but just in case…

Probable Impossibles

Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water quotes Aristotle: “That which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable.” Fiction works this way. We buy the boy riding the dragon (an impossibility) because the author has made it a probable occurrence in his novel. However, when a normal character does something that the author has not set up his character to do, even if it is something he could do, the reader doubts. 

So what’s the point? My troubles with The Shack belong in this category. Mack keeps doing things that just seem improbable. I wish I were reading instead of listening as I can’t give you a direct quote, but Mack, racked with sorrow and depression, will hear something from God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit and all of a sudden all is well. And I don’t think God’s explanation answers Mack’s questions. In fact, God has promised a better explanation later about a couple of issues (hell and judgment), but as of yet, He (or should I say, she) hasn’t delivered. For me, Mack’s character is possible but improbable. And that makes The Shack less fun than this interesting theological treatise should be. I don’t want to be thinking, “Mack wouldn’t do that!” when I’m trying to wrestle with the theology of the book. For me, the writing distracts from the message. 

Sexism in Literature

A week or so ago I read this piece about sexism in Prince Caspian. While I wasn’t fond of the author’s editing out things she was reading to her children, she does go on to say in the comments section that she does deconstruct what she reads with her children. Whether you agree or disagree with her beliefs, the fact that she sits down with her children and discusses what she reads with them is a plus. But I digress. 

Shortly after reading that blog, I read a piece from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water. Her point is not the same as Deborah’s, but she is talking about sexist language in literature. She says,

I am a female, of the species man. Genesis is very explicit that it takes both male and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word, man, includes both.…

That is scripture, therefore I refuse to be timid about being a part of mankind. We of the female sex are half of mankind, and it is pusillanimous to resort to he/she, him/her, or even worse, android words. I have a hunch that those who would do so have forgotten their rightful heritage. 

I know that I am fortunate in having grown up in a household where no sexist roles were imposed on me. I lived in an atmosphere which assumed equality with all its differences. When mankind was referred to it never occurred to me that I was not part of it, or that I was in some way being excluded.

I don’t know what Deborah would think of this statement by L’Engle, and I won’t assume, but I do know it would not sit well in lots of places. And yet I wonder if girls were raised in the type of home as L’Engle, would the generic he be such an issue? I don’t know. The real issue of sexism in my mind deals with the way we treat one another.

Is a woman inferior to a man? That is a loaded question, and the follow up question should be: In what way? No black and white answer to that question exists. For every “in general,” an exception to the rule can surely be found. In general, though, men’s physical and emotional make up is different than a woman’s. This leads, unfortunately to stereotypes. Stereotypes are based upon some truth, however hidden. 

So men are generally stronger than women physically. Women, in general, are more empathetic. I am sure picking those examples will get me in trouble. But the pendulum has swung too far. Instead of seeking balance and righting clear wrongs, some have dug in their heels to avoid any and all hints at differences. This is plain silly, for differences exist that cannot be denied. The problem, then, rears its ugly head when someone takes a difference and makes it an issue of better or worse, right and wrong, can or can’t.

We are not the same, and we should rejoice in the fact that together we can complement one another as we fulfill the functions that we were created to fulfill instead of fighting against those and trying to do what we were not created to do.