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Sisters, skin-color, and sustainability in church planting

Church planting is a man's world, baby! The sisters have moved on to more holistic missional enterprise. Multi-ethnic churches are only part of the solution. Africa must move beyond a handout-mentality and embrace a more sustainable way of doing ministry if it is to be a global player in missions.

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Efrem Smith's response to my blog post got me thinking and out of respect to Efrem, and to get a few things off my chest, I have posted some thoughts here.

A little intro: A lot of people resonated with my post "12 Reasons Not to Plant a Church in 2012, even if it was a little . .  well . . . provocative and sensational. A few days ago it was translated into French [thanks].

And some people didn't like it at all. Thats OK.

The most well-thought out response was by Efrem Smith, church planter and a speaker at Exponential. I tried a few times to leave a comment on his blog but was unsuccessful. So instead I will just give some quick response to his objections which he called "My Take on, 9 Reasons Not to Plant a Church in 2012"


One, the advice on church planting begins with C. Peter Wagner’s outdated principles on church planting. If this is where we are beginning, not only should we not plant churches this year, we should stop completely. Planting churches doesn’t begin with what C. Peter Wagner says, it begins with what Scripture says. For example, “How does the book of Acts speak to whether we should plant churches or not?”


Efrem, I agree that we should start with the Scriptures but the impact of C.Peter Wagner on the church planting movement seems obvious to me. Pick up a few books on church planting or read some articles and you will see his influence.

'This is why a leading missiologist like C.Peter Wagner can say, "Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven." Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches, PDF


Second, the writer then roots his advice in his travels to Europe and Asia. Many theologians have been saying for the last few years that the new center of Christianity is in Africa, Central America, and South America. Why don’t Africans, African-Americans, or Hispanics get any say in the writers’ commentary on church planting? We are in a multicultural reality and I believe he should have diversified the foundation his comments more.


Efrem, I have been to a dozen countries or more in Central and South America and have spent time in Africa on a few occasions. I will be speaking in Brazil in June. Although there are good examples of holistic and sustainable ministry enterprises in these places [read A black guy and a white guy in the emerging church] my experiences in USA, Asia and Europe are more recent to me and I feel a little stronger. But that is not to discount the others.

Hey . . .  it was just a short blog post, not a comprehensive panorama of global mission trends.

I have been asked before whether I agree that Africa is the new center of Christianity and I have given a hesitant "NO!" Africa might have an impressive number of church goers and it has much to teach the world about power and spirituality [and who doesn't LOVE its music?] but the church there often struggles with a crippling nominalism, a corrupt prosperity influence that redirects the flow of God's resources into the suit pockets of his mega-church pastors and it lacks international reach in global missions. Worst of all, ihmo, is a beggar-mentality that drives much of its mission and church and an accompanying inability to launch sustainable mission/church projects without everlasting handouts from the Western world. This is not something we want exported. This is also NOT how missions started in Africa [see the article I wrote for Church Mission Society)


Third, his #8 reason for not planting churches in 2012 is, “Church planting normally thrives in wealthier areas or suburban areas but ignores the urban poor.” Well, maybe the answer is not to stop planting churches this year, but to plant abnormal multi-ethnic and missional churches.” You don’t have to separate missional ministry from the experience of corporate worship. The writer presents an “either or” instead of a more holistic and biblical, “both and.” I wonder if he has experience in planting multi-ethnic and missional urban churches. I do, and I know others who are leading a new movement of church planting that is needed in 2012.


Efrem, in case you were wondering, YES, I have experience in inner-city ministry and church planting in many large cities. And I have observed that to truly impact the poor with the power of the gospel we have to go beyond starting a worship service on Sunday to actually helping people feed their families and start small businesses. This is not an ethnic thing. Its a getting-people-out-of-dehibilitating-poverty thing.  There are good examples among most denominations, whether mostly white or mostly colored. Driving across USA last year, I was happy to see some African American churches starting strip malls where they can gain some rental income and pay for their church facility at the same time. Good thinking!


Here are reasons to plant a church in 2012-

1.) The church in the US remains over 90% racially segregated. Church planting is the best path to the multi-ethnic and Kingdom Church.


I feel the problem is bigger than this. Churches in the US are generally mono-cultural, even if they are multi-ethnic. There might be a variety of skin color but most likely the majority are middle-class, white collar, slightly-over average income earners who like the same worship music and dress pretty much in the same clothes . . . regardless of what country their parents were born in. Add to that the problem that most Pentecostals will not attend events hosted by Catholics, Orthodox and the other way around so what we have are churches that might be multi-ethnic but actually are insulating themselves from the wider world [and the wider ecclesia} rather than taking steps towards a wider and deeper integration.

I am all for integration but let's go beyond beyond skin color and eye-shape. And let's go beyond church planting. What about global missions? African Americans make up 12% of the US population but only 1% of the American mission team.Who is pushing for a multi-ethnic mission team from the USA?

According to the 2007 African American Missions Mobilization Manifesto by Columbia International University, blacks make up less than one percent of the total number (118,600) of U.S. missionaries. Source: Black Christians Largely Absent from US Missionary Force, Lillian Kwon, noting Richard Coleman's attempt at multi-cultural missions.


2.) For those of us who believe in the call of women to pastoral leadership, church planting is one avenue to providing opportunities for our Sisters to live out their calling.


Efrem, here I have to disagree strongly. Although missions in general has been dominated by females, sometimes 4 to 1, sometimes 2 to 1 [read "All the single ladies"], church planting is a little boys room in the corner of the global missions scene. The sisters are not there. They have moved on. The church planting sisters I worked with years ago when I was with DAWN International Ministries and BGCT have left the CP world to start holistic social enterprises and they are not coming back. A good example is Shannon Hopkins who was on staff with me at the Church Multiplication Center of BGCT (Texas). Look what she is doing now here: Whatever happened to the girl who started the emerging church network?

Last month the results of a continent-wide church planting survey came back and guess what? Out 600 participants working in 35 countries, "90% of the respondents were male". Not only are the sisters absent, they also don't really care enough about the subject.

If the American church planting scene is at all accurately represented by the Exponential Conference, in which you are a contributor, then church planting is a man's world. I am not the first to say this.

I am thankful for Dave Ferguson who has addressed this subject in his post "Do you know any female church planters?". The links are worth following. Look at this comment from Holly Ostlund, [comment], Do you know any female church planters?"Three Exponential Conferences ago one of the featured speakers at the closing session made it clear that church planting is a 'man's world'".

Dave also recommends reading the blog-post The Final Barrier for Women: Church Planter by Kevin Miller in which Kevin asks, regarding his experience at Exponential . ..

Are there no women engaged in church planting? Their absence was conspicuous:
? Of the 8 plenary speakers, the number of women was zero.
? Of the 96 speakers listed in the program, only 11 were women, and almost all of those were teaching in the spouses' track. Most of the few exceptions taught about kids' ministry. . .
? I hate to mention that the worship band comprised 5 men and 0 women, for the band was chosen because it came from a church plant, a decision I applaud. But it reinforced that the main stage was a Women Free Zone.


3.) It’s biblical. Without the biblical mandate for church planting, some of the books in the New Testament might not be needed or make sense. (Book of Acts, etc.)

4.) The challenges of urban and rural poor communities calls for the planting of new church models.

Ajj100animateddelayedFair enough, Efrem, churches were planted as a result of Paul's ministry but lets not reduce the full missional strategy and impact of Paul to a simple and reductionist church planting formula. Paul also started a tent business, he taught at a school, he hosted and taught out of his rental house, he formed a nomadic, itinerant team, he did lots of stuff. I find it problematic when we say the answer is church planting and then work backwards to find a Scriptural precedent. Why not allow God and the story of the church in the Scriptures to guide us into some creative solutions for today's unprecedented problems, just as the early church did in their day?

Efrem, thanks for considering my post and giving response to it. Every blessing to you as you impact the needy in your world. I hope your talk at Exponential goes well.