Race Relations, the "Talk," and Ryan's New Normal

In July of 2016, police killings of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota made national news. Subsequently, a peaceful protest in Dallas became violent, leading to the deadliest single incident for law enforcement officers is the U.S. since 9/11.

Here at Soma, these events led our leadership to hit the pause button on a Sunday message to address these issues lament the loss of life and to consider our response as Christians in our community, our neighborhood, and our own church family.

I walked out that day feeling burdened, without a clear understanding of how I could become engaged and involved in these issues and what an appropriate response looked like. I wanted to say something that day to my friend Mike, but I didn’t know what to say, how to say it or if I was even allowed to say anything for fear of offending him, appearing trite, or disingenuously forced into it by the emotion of what we had just heard. So I couldn’t bring myself to say anything of substance and left.

A few days later, Mike sent an email.

***

Two guys from a Soma MC having dinner at Twenty Tap doesn’t really seem like much of note, but I was definitely apprehensive. On one hand I was excited to have the opportunity for this type of conversation but on the other hand, this was something brand new to me.

I think to fully understand this story, some context is appropriate. When we started the night, one of the first questions I asked Mike when we sat down was, “as an African American, when you were growing up, or even now, what areas around Indy were you taught to avoid?” The reason I asked this question was because I was confident that I already knew the answer. I knew my hometown, the place I was born and raised, was going to be on his list. In fact, it was one of the first places out of his mouth. I grew up in Morgan County, on the southwest side of the city and for those who lack education in historical Central Indiana race relations, I’ll simply say that Morgan County has a race reputation and history, and I mean that in the least positive way possible. To say the least, entering into this type of conversation wasn’t something I had done or felt like I had the opportunity to do before.

By the end of the night, I was so appreciative of Mike’s openness to my history, and to sharing his own personal experiences, concerns and fears. He basically gave me a green light to ask questions and to try to better understand a community that I had never really had to interact with in my life. On the other hand, he had the go ahead to challenge me when he thought I was off base on a topic or needed to see another perspective, which fortunately, he was willing and comfortable to do.

***

From our initial conversation until now, one of the biggest things I’ve gleaned from this relationship is the opportunity to view things from a new reference point, which has lead to the ability to see or hear things through a different perspective. Today, instead of taking news stories or clips and thinking about my own point of view and how it impacts me and my family directly, I think about Mike, his family and how the impact of that very same thing may look different in his life or the lives of others in the black community.

***

Within these expanded conversations, God has opened my eyes to experiences I never realized I didn’t have in my life.  After a race conversation with Mike and some other guys from Soma a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about a couple months back when my family went to the Lockett’s home for dinner. It was so within the normal of our lives and friendship that it didn’t dawn on me until that later point, that in 38 years, I had never been invited to, or had dinner in, the home of an African-American family.  That fact, as surprising as it was to me, made me think about the rest of our Soma family. I wondered how many others might be able to say the same or similar things and how this story could be used as a way for them to take a step into a new experience.

Why We Plant Churches

On September 16th, 1787, the US Constitution was signed. These signatures, however, did not finalize the adoption process. The Constitution still required ratification by at least nine of the thirteen states. But there were obstacles. How would this new government actually function? How would ordinary people really understand and contribute to the polity embodied in this groundbreaking document? In order to persuade the states to ratify and follow the Constitution, an exposition of its meaning and an application of its content was required. 

Perceiving this historic opportunity, Alexander Hamilton organized the production of The Federalist Papers—85 articles and essays, written largely by Hamilton, to interpret the Constitution and help people understand how it should work within their new government.  

With his unparalleled prescience, Hamilton predicted the path. For the Constitution to be adopted, it must be understood. To be understood, portions required definition and explanation. Hamilton’s instincts were accurate: the Federalist Papers provided the clarity necessary to galvanize the states, ratify the Constitution, and they remain a national treasure today. 

While this paper, ‘Why We Plant Churches,’ could never assume the genius of Hamilton, it shares the intent behind his Federalist efforts. 

Sojourn Network must plant churches; this is our constitutional mandate—anything less represents willful disobedience. 1 For ‘church planting’ to be achieved, however, it must be understood. To be understood, it must be defined. To be defined, it must be clarified in writing. We chalk a line at that place, then, and mark it as our starting point.

  1. We believe, and hope to defend within this paper, that extra-local partnerships are given primarily for the mission. Therefore Scripture forms a constitutional mandate for our passion. Additionally, the Sojourn Network Board holds the organization accountable for the mission ends outlined in our incorporating articles as follows: Sojourn Network exists to see healthy pastors planting, growing, and multiplying healthy churches that last.

For ‘church planting’ to be achieved, however, it must be understood. To be understood, it must be defined. To be defined, it must be clarified in writing. We chalk a line at that place, then, and mark it as our starting point. 

Defining Church Planting

Church planting in Sojourn Network means, quite simply, sending planters to start new churches. 2 While church planting often entails more—for example, church planters will hopefully experience the rigors of assessment, on-going training, team-based collaboration, sufficient funding, and strategic coaching—it is no less. By defining church planting in this way, we are not necessarily grounded in the biblical soil which makes this endeavor fruitful. To reap the best harvest, we must plow within a Scripture-rich field. 

  1. While churches in Sojourn Network may be multi-church/multisite, a church plant happens when a congregation is formed holding a separate 501c3.

For Sojourn Network, church planting is:

  1. Embedded in the Great Commission
  2. Entrusted to the Church  
  3. Executed by qualified pastor-planters
  4. Contextualized to culture
  5. Connected through partnerships

Embedded in the Great Commission

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” Matthew 28: 18-20

The Great Commission starts with the glorious gospel, fastening the mission of God to the triumphant reign of Christ secured by his death and resurrection—“all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v. 18). The reality of Christ’s authority forms the foundation for the mission of church planting. The Great Commission announces the contract is inked, the rights are reserved, the deal has been sealed—Christians can serve God’s warrant of good news to a broken world. We get the wild privilege of telling lost souls they are loved…and wanted by a risen Savior. 

Church planting is not anchored by teams, techniques, technology or binding territorial spirits. Nor should church planting be the product of driven disillusioned pastors, the fiends of fame, or as a quixotic quest of self-fulfillment. Rather, church planting is grounded in the explosive message embodied in Christ and entrusted to us in Matthew 28. The gospel is the one message that makes all the difference. Through church planting, we become God’s megaphone to the world.

Some have objected to the use of the Great Commission as the foundation for the church’s call to witness and multiply. Representing a brand of missional cessationism, these writers—primarily Protestant—think that Matthew 28 applies only to the original church founders—the Eleven. 3 But the Great Commission was entrusted, not just to the Eleven as apostles who walked with Jesus, but to the Eleven as representatives of the church. 4

  1. “Several reasons for (the) general lack of foreign missions work by Protestants have been suggested. The worst, perhaps, was the argument offered by some of the magisterial reformers themselves, that the Great Commission in Matthew 28 applied only to the Apostles and thus that missions activity was no longer necessary for Christians.” Martin I. Klauber and Scott M. Manetsch, ed., The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2008), 13.

  2. “These missionary commissions are indeed given to the Twelve (or the Eleven). We need to note at the same time, however, that the authors of the Gospels, who provide an account of the ministry of Jesus for the local churches, see the entire church of the messianic people of God represented in the Twelve. This means that if the Twelve go their separate ways in fulfillment of Jesus’ missionary directive, then the ‘Great Commission’ now applies to the local communities of followers of Jesus established by the ministry of the Twelve.” Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Paul and The Early Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 56.

Four specific pillars support this thesis about the Great Commission:

Pillar # 1: The Commission Is a Command: Granting for a moment the apostles were commanded to teach Christ’s followers “to observe all that I have commanded you” (v. 20), then we can infer their instruction would include obedience to the Great Commission. If we deny this logic, the church should not teach everything nor baptize since these duties were given only to the apostles.[5] 

Pillar # 2: The Commission’s Scope: “Make disciples of all nations” (emphasis mine). Is it possible that these eleven men could circulate to “all nations”? The obvious and technical answer is ‘not-by-a-longshot.’ It’s evident that other people—a lot of people—are in view here. 

Pillar # 3: The Commission’s Duration: “To the end of the age.” The Eleven may have been special, but they certainly are not eternal. That means the “you” referenced in verses 20 and 21 refers to people beyond the Eleven. Christ is speaking to the Eleven and to the church lasting to the end of the age.

Pillar # 4: The Commission’s Application: If Acts and the remainder of the New Testament chronicle the early disciples’ understanding and application of the Great Commission, local churches seem to emerge as the fruit, focus, and fuel of missions. Paul’s missionary journeys are essentially church planting ventures. From Acts to Revelation, the missiology of the New Testament is primarily church-based and church-generated. We’ll detail this more in the next section. 

To summarize, the Eleven apostles received the Great Commission (v. 16), but the church must finish it.[6] “It was not merely given to the apostles for their ministry,” says John Piper, “but was given to the church for its ministry as long as this age lasts.”[7] A Day has been appointed where Jesus will return to personally wrap up his mission. Until that glorious moment where the heavens rend and the clouds roll back, we are instructed to ‘hasten’ his coming by the fulfillment of the Great Commission.[8]

Entrusted to the Church  

Growing up, my mom’s lasagna was a potent palette-pleaser among our clan. Mom always worked from a specific recipe—bequeathed from her mother and preserved through faint scribbling on a worn, crumpled, sauce-spattered 3X5 card. The recipe specified the exact ingredients needed for the best results. Likewise, the Great Commission is the best recipe for responding to God with our mission efforts. As with any “recipe,” the right results spring from careful attention to the Commission’s ingredients.

The Great Commission resonates with initiative and momentum: Go, make disciples, baptizing them, teaching them. The epicenter of this passage lays in verse 19 where Jesus commanded, ‘make disciples.’ As an imperative, the phrase conveys an authoritative direction or command. In fact the commission’s three participles—going, baptizing, and teaching—are weighted with imperatival force[9] because of their semantic connection to this disciple-making command. Nothing here is optional. “Going” without “making disciples” is an aborted commission. “Baptizing” without “teaching” is birth without growth. 

For the commission to be great, we need all the ingredients. 

Making disciples, baptizing, teaching…where does that actually happen in the New Testament? In other words, what is the locus in Acts and the epistles where the Great Commission was uniquely embraced, embodied, and executed? The answer, of course, is the local church.[10] 

Paul the missionary was sent by local churches and received into churches. His labors resulted in more churches and his letters were addressed to churches.[11] The aim of missions is never to separate the work of missions from the church. The aim of missions is creating new local churches through the efforts of local churches.[12]

For Sojourn Network, this is why we believe in church planting.

Church planting establishes a mission base for believers to replicate the Great Commission. Together, we send out planters and teams (go) to reach the lost with the Gospel (baptizing), build the local church (making disciples and teaching them everything), and finally send out new planters and people into the world (go once again, re-starting the cycle). We embody the heart of Christ’s command. We reach with the gospel, build them as the church,[13] and send them into the world as “gospel-ized” churches resulting in more local churches reproducing themselves. 

Pairing missiology to a robust ecclesiology does not diminish our regard for parachurch ministries, frontier missionaries, or gifted individuals who operate extra-locally. We are, after all, a network and not a local church. But we derive our existence from local churches and exist to serve churches in their mission to plant churches. And we believe the most biblical approach to missions work will not abandon local church involvement but work instead to keep the local church engaged. Later, we will examine further how Sojourn Network partners with local churches.

Executed by Qualified Pastor-Planters[14]

We are a commissioned church and church planting must be executed by called and qualified planters. This is the section where we tell you what we consider to be a qualified church planter. Before we go there, though, let’s establish a few preliminary ground rules for this discussion. First, Sojourn Network does not approach our profile like it’s a groundbreaking revelation carried down by Moses from Mount Sinai. Our profile represents our best take right now from the data collected, church tradition reviewed, and experienced applied. No ecclesiastical council has met to debate it and we make no promises about each tenet’s permanence.  

Secondly, much of what we are looking for are qualities expected of all believers. To have godly character—for instance, to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable,” to be “not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money,” and to manage well one’s household, (1 Tim. 3:2–4)—these are claims from which no Christian is exempt.[15] Still, it’s slightly unsettling to see the criteria all assembled in one place, seemingly raining down unreachable standards from a cloud of condemnation. But Sojourn Network is not looking for super-heroes. What we’re actually looking for is God’s grace. This leads to the final clarifying point…

If you are called to plant, then God will deliver the grace, gifting, and godliness necessary to lead this new church. The verb tense carried throughout the two most common passages speaking to the requirements of eldership (1 Tim. 3:1–7;  Titus 1:5–9) is present tense.[16] Paul is not looking here for potential qualities, but present ones. Assembled here are not aspirations for the pastor-planter, but preconditions which have surfaced in the man’s life through the distinct workings of God’s grace. The aim of assessment, then, is to uncover the on-going evidences of grace already present in his life. We want to partner with a candidate to search for God’s empowering activity—to discover God-charged impulses bringing forth the gifts and godliness needed for a successful church plant.  

What are these evidences of grace? The Sojourn Network identifies four categories with twelve total components to aid in holistic assessment: 

HEAD[17]

1. Theological Conviction – The planter aligns with Sojourn Network’s Statement of Faith and doctrinal distinctives. In broad strokes, he is reformed soteriologically, baptistic, complementarian, connectional, continuationist, and committed to planting an elder-led church by practicing plurality. For a more complete reading list on our theological convictions, please click here.

1. Holistic Vision – The planter believes all theology is practical and all practice is theological. His convictions are consistent and cognizant to the theological framework of the Sojourn Network consisting of Whole Vision (God’s Glory, Our Growth, and Great Commission) displayed by the Whole Gospel (Kingdom, Cross, Grace), forming the whole church (Worshiper, Disciple, Family, Servant, Witness) fueled into the Whole World (Home, Work, Neighborhood, Need, and Nations) and changing a the Whole Person from the inside out into every part of their lives (see Sojourn Network’s theological vision, North Star). The planter articulates a missional urgency for the holistic restoration of broken people, places, and things. Embracing a theology of presence, he is convinced his church is in this specific city/region for the glory of God and the good of that city/region. In whatever ways possible, he is committed to cultivating environments to overcome ethnic, generational, socio-economic, and gender barriers. 

2. Gathered/Scattered Ministry Strategies – As the planter works his theological convictions through a holistic theological framework, certain Scripturally-rooted, local ministry strategies necessarily manifest themselves. These shared strategies in Sojourn Network churches include gathering together (Hebrews 10:25; Acts 2:46), preaching/teaching (John 21:15-17; 2 Tim. 4:1-2), scattering together (Acts 2:46-47), equipping (Eph. 4:11-12), leading the church (1 Peter 5:13), discipling the saints (Matt. 28:19), engaging the culture (Jer. 29:4-7), serving the poor (James 1:27; also, see Beyond Charity by Nathan Ivey), and multiplying the church locally, nationally, internationally (Acts 1:8). Rather than leading our churches to adopt the same local programs and practices, however, these shared biblical strategies help inform and lead to a diverse and highly contextualized suite of local church programs and ministry practices common in Sojourn Network churches. Further, these strategies reflect the theological convictions and holistic theological vision outlined above.

3. Multiplication Mindset – With a conviction about gospel saturation and possessing a robust ecclesiology, the planter seeks to multiply disciples and churches. He understands redemptive history and his God-given place within it, and he seeks to obey the Great Commission in his personal example and does the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4: 5; see Being a Gospel Witness by Daniel Montgomery). In his evangelistic and discipleship fervor, he is devoted to and dependent upon the Lord, knowing the results are in the Father’s hands (see A Theology of Church Multiplication by Jamin Stinziano). 

HEART[18]

5.         Spiritual Vitality – The planter has a clear love for Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is growing and evident in his life. There are discernable marks of a growing dependence upon the Holy Spirit. His character is marked by faithfulness to the Lord and a commitment to pursue intimacy with him. He actively engages with God through the Scriptures, prayer, and other spiritual-disciplines. His life—physical, emotional, sexual, financial, rhythms of work and rest (see Why Retreat? by Mike Cosper) etc.—reflects this vibrancy and others appear to be spiritually provoked by him. 

6.        Humility –The planter is self-aware, knowing his place before the Lord as redeemed and being redeemed. He owns both his strengths and weaknesses. He embraces his dignity as an image-bearer and lives out his calling in service to Christ and others. He does not think of himself too highly, nor is there a contrived self-deprecation. He is teachable, and therefore knows the need for others to speak into his life, including his friends, spouse, and a local plurality of men in his local church (see The Plurality Dashboard: 4 Indicators For Inspecting the Health of a Plurality by Dave Harvey).

HANDS[19]

7.         Pastoral Aptitude – In submission to Christ, the candidate displays leadership qualities unique to the calling of “pastor.” He senses a call for this type of caring influence and others affirm this fruit in his life. He also understands the need to equip God’s people and release them to minister in their spiritual giftedness. He is not domineering, but rather he serves those under his care. 

8.         Preaching Aptitude – The candidate appears able to handle the Scriptures faithfully. His preaching is empowered by the Spirit, exalts Christ, and articulates the Father’s heart. He exhibits an awareness of the biblical narrative and seems capable of communicating God’s Word in a winsome and understandable manner. Past preaching opportunities have led to others (local elders) affirming his calling and giftedness in this area. 

9.        Leadership Aptitude – The planter is entrepreneurial with a vision for where God is leading, a willingness to go there, and an ability to bring others along with him. He is both knowledgeable and invested in the brokenness of the community where he desires to plant. There are compelling qualities in his leadership, such as the endurance to push through setbacks, losses, disappointment, and failure. He is adaptable, able to shift priorities, and handle multiple tasks while staying focused on the mission. Further, the planter collaborates towards unity when leading teams of people.

HABITAT[20]

1. The Planter’s Home – If applicable, the candidate has a flourishing marriage in which God’s glory is on display.[21] In his grace, God is using the planter’s wife as a primary instrument to encourage, strengthen, and sanctify her husband. Both the candidate and his wife seem clear on their roles within marriage and, though not perfect, their union brings joy to the couple and others who know them. If applicable, the planter’s children are growing up in a home where they see and experience their earthly father in devotion to his heavenly Father, while also loving and serving Christ his wife, his kids, the Church, and the community. Neighbors, outsiders, and the needy are welcomed into his life and home with warm compassion. 

1. The Planter’s Local Church – The candidate is currently a member of a church, has a track record of humble service and leadership in some local church, and has submitted his call to plant a church to his local church’s leadership for assessment and affirmation (see How Do We Partner [With Local Churches] to Assess Church Planters? by Dave Harvey). He is not planting reactively or impulsively, but prayerfully and in community with others who affirm his calling and gifting. 

1. The Planter’s Network Chemistry – The candidate exhibits characteristics that are consistent with Sojourn Network and appears able to articulate why planting through Sojourn Network is the right decision for both his church and himself. He also appears to accurately comprehend the blessings and limitations of the network (see What We Mean When We Say Care by Dave Harvey), understands what it means for churches to partner and has faith to sign the SN Partnership Agreement. The candidate is postured to both receive from and pour into the network. He desires to partner at a local, regional, and national level and appears to connect relationally with other pastors and ministry leaders. In fact, the desire to develop meaningful relationships is a desire and priority for a potential SN planter-pastor.  The category of ‘chemistry’ ultimately means that the candidate’s presence in the network would likely move the mission forward and other pastors would probably be drawn to leading and learning with him.

Contextualized[22] to Culture

In his native city, everyone liked Sal’s preaching. But when he moved to the rolling foothills of Tennessee, Sal’s theological language and illustrations from church history fell from his lips to the sanctuary floor with a thud. He was a stellar church planting candidate. He was likeable, caring, gifted, and a distinguished graduate from a respected seminary. But what happened?

Ken, an urban pastor, believes the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. He holds that conviction so deeply he feels like gospel preaching is the only thing his inner-city congregation really needs. After all Ken was once an opioid addict liberated from his prison by the gospel. He wants others to experience and enjoy the same power that set him free. Still, Ken is relatively unknown within his community. He rarely attends any neighborhood events and spends much of his time office-bound doing sermon-preparation. After two years, he is disillusioned and ready to give up. “Nobody listens to me,” he laments to his wife. “Why do I still feel like an outsider in my own city?” 

Both Sal and Ken remind us that, to use the SN vernacular, head, heart, hands and habitat are wonderful to behold, but not necessarily enough for church planting success. Gifting, or even a great wife, do not constitute a slam-dunk in the planting world. Church planters must love their community well enough to understand it, to speak its language clearly while sharing the gospel within the culture[23] they inhabit. In the parlance of missiology, they must be assessed for how well they ‘contextualize.’

This section is not meant to be an extensive analysis of the study, history or essentiality of contextualization. Such an endeavor, while legitimate, is beyond the scope of this paper and may already be assumed by the audience. The goal, rather, is to provide a broad overview of what kind of contextualization is necessary for church planting through Sojourn Network. 

Not A Brand 

Sojourn Network has a Statement of Faith and a set of values we joyfully affirm. At the same time, we are devoted to ensuring our model adapts appropriately to the specific people and cultures where God calls us. We are not seeking to ‘brand’ Sojourn Network, nor do we desire to populate our land with look-alike churches. Alas, we are a young network and we are still learning. The way we think about contextualizing as a network has not yet been tested by time, or trials, or sustained dissent.

This is not alarming, but humbling. Culture can confound and we must recognize that the gospel is never proclaimed outside of culture and all churches are planted within some culture or cultures. 

Planting aware of culture, and adapting, where permissible and appropriate, is the aim of our contextualization. Towards that end, we want to affirm two applications of contextualization vital to our model. 

Heart Language

Contextualizing, at least in the way we encourage it, begins with hearing the heart language of a people. Looking and listening are the keys. Do we hear and understand what specifically drives our new community? Are we able to exegete the culture we inhabit? A culture carries values. As you listen, ask and look: what shared beliefs and standards appear to be surfacing? What seems important to the people you are called to reach? What are their hopes, dreams, idols, fears, symbols and stories? Can we define how they understand and reach for the ‘good life’?  

Don’t settle for superficial surveys; a little digging can unearth invaluable cultural treasures of insight. What are their felt needs? How does sin and brokenness express itself uniquely within this community? 

Most church planters assimilate into their community; for church planters, it’s a first step, perhaps even a heroic step. But real church planting begins by arriving with eyes wide open even if our location is a familiar space. We must learn to speak the language and understand the values of the community we serve. Both Sal and Ken, our church planters above, lived within their community borders without truly understanding the people they were called to serve. 

A church planter should be fluent in the community’s heart language—their values, metaphors, the way they mourn, celebrate and gather together. Luke records one day while waiting for Silas and Timothy, the Apostle Paul was strolling through Athens when, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). The Athenians worshipped hundreds of idols. They even had one ‘to the unknown god,’ just to make sure no one was excluded.

As Paul saw this city submerged in idols, his spirit was provoked. He was deeply distressed. We often think of provocation only in negative terms. For Paul, provocation revealed perception. He was distressed because he understood that the Athenians were seduced by paganism and pantheism. They felt truth was only a voyage, never a destination. “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:20).

Paul studied Athens. He walked through the community, stopping and stooping to read the idol inscriptions. What did having an altar to an unknown god mean to them? Paul understood that culture not only carries values but reveals needs. By listening, he was able to discover those needs. The Athenians’ lostness began to take shape in Paul’s mind. He gained gospel insight. The community’s heart language began to be heard. [24] 

Gospel Speech

For a doctor, diagnosing the illness is an essential step but not the only step. For a doctor to heal, he or she must supply the solution. Likewise, in gospel speech, contextualization supplies the solution of the gospel in a wise and loving way. 

When Paul stood to speak to the Athenians, he was prepared. He informed them of what he learned (Acts 17:22-23). Then he skillfully used the ‘altar to an unknown god’ to bridge over to the gospel. Paul saw the idol as a kind of “redemptive analogy”[25]—a gospel analogy set within the culture—to provide a bridge from the Athenians to Jesus. Paul didn’t just understand the problem of idol worship, he knew how to prescribe the solution. Knowing the heart language provided the opportunity for gospel speech.

Gospel speech for a church planter happens as he displays a facility for connecting community brokenness to gospel hope. Gospel speech moves us beyond simply perceiving idols or protesting idols to unveiling how the gospel speaks lovingly and prophetically to a people enslaved by idolatry.

Paul continues his tutorial to us on how to contextualize by turning a cultural artifact, the ‘altar to an unknown god,’ into an Intro to Theology course: He speaks of God the Creator (v. 24), God the Sustainer (v. 25), God the Ruler (v. 26), God the Father (v. 28-29), and God the Judge (v. 31).[26] Paul continues by referencing a popular hymn by Epimendes (v. 28), cites a stoic poet, and then lands the sermon with a call to repentance. Paul spoke Greek, thought Greek, and loved these Greeks enough to contextualize the unchanging gospel to speak to the Athenian heart.

Gospel speech means Paul was able to see what the Athenian idols revealed about their longings, desires, and sins in order to point them to Jesus. He set before them examples from their music, religious life, and books using gospel speech to trace the image of God for the Greek mind and heart. Paul was neither hip (pandering to pop culture) nor a fundamentalist (reacting to the world with rules and laws). 

This is gospel speech. Sal and Ken were never assessed for it. As a result, they arrived to their mission fields with the right skills but ignorant on how to navigate the terrain. 

It’s not enough to send church planters to the field. We must ensure they know the right language. 

Connected Through Partnerships[27]

Sojourn Network is a family of autonomous churches spread across the United States. While treasuring the robust eldership, local accountability, and local innovation stirred by our autonomy, our pastors still desire a well-defined interdependence and ecclesiological unity with other leaders and churches for mission effectiveness. Sojourn Network exists for this reason. Our purpose is primarily missional and relational, not hierarchical or governmental. To find the authorization for our existence, we look to the connectional nature of New Testament missions.  

Paul’s ministry in the New Testament forms a beautiful pattern[28]: Paul establishes a church in a new location, he moves on to plant another church in a new city or region, and then he returns to previously planted churches to further cultivate his connection with them. Paul’s ongoing cultivation of relationships and collaboration amongst a diverse body of churches strengthens those churches, encourages their leaders, and advances the gospel in tangible ways. 

Every generation of leaders must strive to enjoy the kind of fruitful interdependence that reproduces this biblical pattern. “The narrative of Paul’s missionary work,” writes Eckhard Schnabel, “provides a paradigm, a model for the mission of the church.” [29]

Perhaps these churches could have survived on their own. But history proves they were better together. They gave generously to the poor together, they helped plant more churches throughout the Mediterranean together, and in the coming centuries they would contend for orthodox theology together. 

Radical autonomy is never celebrated or encouraged in the Scriptures, nor within the Trinity. The need for deep connection across diverse churches does not undermine the autonomy of local churches anymore than the deep communion experienced between Father and Son diminishes the role of the Spirit. In other words, a church leadership choosing to lead with absolute independence from other churches is missing God’s design for both local and universal church.[30]

There is room in Scripture for various ways to reflect this interdependence and we must be careful not to overly spiritualize our own preferences or traditions.[31] “Networks” [32] exist to balance the tension between God’s local design for congregations and his global design for vitally connected churches. Professor of Missions, Paul Hiebert, puts it this way:

“The future of missions is based in the formation of international networks rather than multinational organizations. Networks build up people, not programs [sic]; they stress partnership and servanthood, not hierarchy; they help to build up the local church, not undermine it.”[33]

Networks are voluntary associations, not hierarchical obligations. They are at their best when flexible, dynamic and nimble.[34] Their focus should not be on growing the organization, but rather strengthening and equipping churches for mission.[35] However, while we necessarily talk in terms of network ‘churches’, the primary target for network training, counseling and care is really pastors. Aiming at pastors rather than whole churches ensures the network does not create mission goals without the role or authority to achieve them.[36] So the aim of strengthening churches is achieved primarily through the training and care of pastors. But the lines here are soft enough to allow networks to speak of ‘member churches’ or ‘churches partnering together’ over merely a club of like-minded pastors. 

Therefore, Sojourn Network’s working definition for what it means to be connected through partnership or, to be more specific, what we mean by ‘church planting network’ is as follows:

A church planting network is a group of churches joyfully partnering through pastors to start churches, train leaders, and supplement the care of pastors.[37]

How Do We Partner In Assessment

Roles are the lifeblood of partnerships. Where they are present, clear, and readily embraced a union pulses with life. Marriage endures because the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ have clear meaning to the couple. The British music invasion of the sixties would have stalled on the beach if the Beatles had all played the same instrument. The Temptations, the Stones, the Red Hot Chili Peppers–there’s just no rock without roles. Think business or entertainment: Hewlett and Packard, Ben and Jerry, Penn and Teller; the Batman, and his lamentably-named sidekick Robin. Each alliance flourishes, not only because of a partnership but due to specific roles within the partnership. 

Scratch a fruitful partnership anywhere and it will bleed clear roles. Sojourn Network partners with pastors of local churches to plant churches. Vital to this mission is the assessment of church planters. Both the network and the local church play vital roles in this glorious endeavor; both must comprehend and gladly affirm those roles. Meaningful service to the man and mission effectiveness for the network demand it. 

An abridged summary of values guiding our division of roles in assessment would include:[38]

1. When it comes to assessing leaders for mission, the local church represents the first and most circumspect eyes for assessment. This means:
   1. The local church models a healthy church with healthy pastors. 
   2. The local church incubates and supplies church planters.
   3. The local church starts assessing potential planters in vital areas (character, family, and gifting).

1. The Sojourn Network, likewise, must be clear on its unique role - to serve the local church by marshalling proven ministry experience and specialized expertise. This means:
   1. Sojourn Network requires the sponsorship of a local Sojourn Network church. 
   2. Sojourn Network confirms theological depth and gospel grip.
   3. Sojourn Network assesses the candidate for Sojourn Network DNA (12 Components, see page XX).
   4. Sojourn Network corroborates character depth, marital health, and leadership breadth.
   5. Sojourn Network confirms public ministries skills sufficient to plant and pastor a healthy church.

We are a new network of less than 5 years. When it comes to wise and fruitful partnerships, there is still so much to learn. Clarifying our roles in assessments is an important step along this path. Still, our trust is not anchored upon our assessment model, defined roles, or the size of our network. We stand confident and united because Another was assessed in our place and found condemned, that we might walk in freedom and liberty; that we might stand united for the mission; that we might bow together before ‘the name that is above all names’ (Phil. 2:9-10).

WHY PLANT CHURCHES?

How often does the mere subject line of an unread email grab you? It happened to me a while back when I received an email where the subject line of read “Why Plant Churches?” 

The email came from a guy in a church we planted. He spoke of his father, a man entrenched in his apathy toward God. Prayers were lifted, tears were shed, but nothing seemed to penetrate the steely cynicism within his dad. Eventually a church planter came to town, God smiled on the launch, and in the process of outreach, the newly minted church came in contact with the dad who was dead in sin and lost in the world.

The grace of God through the people of God is fragrant and the father began to smell the aroma of Christ. The men of this new church were reaching out—a breakfast here, a golf game there, kind words and deeds—all simply to be a friend and communicate God’s love to this man. Slowly, God’s grace prevailed, and the gospel took hold of the father’s heart. On an evening marked from eternity past, the father bowed his knee to Jesus. Several weeks later he was baptized. Now, years later, he passed from this world into the arms of the Savior. 

In relating this story through the email, the man’s son, a quiet observer of this entire odyssey, wrote to say he now understood why we labor to identify church planters. We plant churches to see dads reconciled to God and then to their kids. We plant churches to see the power of God in hearts of broken people. We plant churches because it’s about life and death, with eternity hanging in the balance. 

Church planting is hardly efficient or expedient. Church planters toil in the shadows of hard places over time to reach sinners. Church planting also consumes an enormous amount of time, energy, and finances. 

If you are looking for flashy or statistically impressive ways to spread the gospel, church planting would be low on the list. 

But if we truly want to plant churches that will make a difference to a community—churches that multiply and that will ultimately last—the most effective way is the biblical way: one church planter at a time.

….and that’s why we plant churches. 


Addenda #1

Church Planting Process

Overview  

At the  heart of our mission is church planting: partnering with churches and pastors to identify and resource qualified planters to start churches that last. To do this well, Sojourn Network works in tandem with a potential church planter and his local sending church. Together, these three entities work through each of the following stages—exploration, alignment, assessment, development, and funding—with the ultimate goal of seeing a healthy pastor leading a self-sustaining, self-governing local church that is healthy and durable.

The Process

Exploration

Anyone interested in partnering with our network  begins by exploring who we are and what we have to offer pastors and churches. This first step is essential to achieving the following goals: (1) to establish and build meaningful relationships, (2) to ensure unity on our purpose, beliefs, and ministry methods, as well as a posture of humility and service, (3) to ensure that partnership details are clear and agreed upon, and finally, (4) to ensure that the church is eager to support and implement the mission of Sojourn Network. Prospective pastors and planters can learn more about us through exploring our website, building relationships with others pastors in the network, coming to our events, connecting with us on social media/newsletter, or joining one of our coaching cohorts. 

Alignment Weekend

Once someone has familiarized themselves with our online resources and relational connections, we encourage them to apply for our “Alignment Weekend” (AW). The AW is a training event conducted twice a year to draw potential planters and wives together to evaluate: (1) The alignment of their gifts and calling against what’s needed for church planting, (2) the alignment of their values against the values of Sojourn Network, and (3) clarify what it means to partner with SN. After the event, SN Staff will work with the attendees in upcoming weeks to help determine their next steps.

Assessment

Following a potential planter’s attendance at an AW is the assessment phase. The purpose of the assessment phase is to carefully consider the qualifications and chemistry of a potential church planter (and, if applicable, his wife) desiring to plant a church through Sojourn Network. The process begins with a written recommendation from a pastoral representative of his sending church which then leads to various written assessments for the planter and his wife to complete. The assessment phase culminates in a one-day assessment retreat where the planter and his spouse sit with a team of assessors. 

Development

A development process for church planters is a critical if we hope to send qualified and well-equipped men to plant healthy churches. Combining theological training with practical church planter mechanics, the goal of this stage is to provide church planters and their wives with personalized post-assessment development plans to create a strategic plan and also address any under-developed areas of their life and ministry. 

Funding

At Sojourn Network, we recognize that church planting requires money. Consequently, Sojourn Network dedicates a significant portion of our annual budget to directly funding new church plants. This generous multi-year funding is available for all planters who are approved through our assessment and development process. The funding is reallocated on an annual basis. 


Endnotes

[1]We believe, and hope to defend within this paper, that extra-local partnerships are given primarily for the mission. Therefore Scripture forms a constitutional mandate for our passion. Additionally, the Sojourn Network Board holds the organization accountable for the mission ends outlined in our incorporating articles as follows: Sojourn Network exists to see healthy pastors planting, growing, and multiplying healthy churches that last.

[2]While churches in Sojourn Network may be multi-church/multisite, a church plant happens when a congregation is formed holding a separate 501c3. 

[3]“Several reasons for (the) general lack of foreign missions work by Protestants have been suggested. The worst, perhaps, was the argument offered by some of the magisterial reformers themselves, that the Great Commission in Matthew 28 applied only to the Apostles and thus that missions activity was no longer necessary for Christians.” Martin I. Klauber & Scott M. Manetsch, ed., The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2008), 13.

[4]“These missionary commissions are indeed given to the Twelve (or the Eleven). We need to note at the same time, however, that the authors of the Gospels, who provide an account of the ministry of Jesus for the local churches, see the entire church of the messianic people of God represented in the Twelve. This means that if the Twelve go their separate ways in fulfillment of Jesus’ missionary directive, then the ‘Great Commission’ now applies to the local communities of followers of Jesus established by the ministry of the Twelve.” Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Paul and The Early Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 56.

[5]I’m grateful to Rob Plummer for making this point clear in his paper titled, The Great Commission in the New Testament.

[6]“The command to witness to Christ is given to every member of his Church. It is a commission given to the whole Church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. When the Church recognizes that it exists for the world, there arises a passionate concern that the blessings of the Gospel of Christ should be brought to every land and to every man and woman.” Christopher J.H. Wright, quoting the Dutch theologian Adoph Visser’t Hooft “Whole Gospel, Whole Church, Whole World,” Christianity Today, 2009.

[7]John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 174.

[8]2 Peter 3:8-13

[9]“After the initial statement concerning Jesus’ authority, which has the parallelism ‘ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς’—‘in heaven and on [the] earth (v 18b)’— the commission proper consists syntactically of the main verb ‘πορευθέντες’—‘make disciples’—with three parallel subordinate participles:  μαθητεύσατε, ‘going,’ βαπτίζοντες , ‘baptizing,’ and διδάσκοντες , ‘teaching’ (v. 19-20a). The participles when linked with the imperative verb themselves take on imperatival force and function as imperatives.”  Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33b, ed. David A. Hubbard, Glenn Barker, and Ralph P. Martin (Dallas: Word, 1995), 882. 

[10]“The primary historical significance of the Great Commission lies in the fact that it gives to the church the pattern and purpose of missions. It defines and delineates the missionary task. We have in the Great Commission a compass, a charter, and a plan.” George W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (Chicago: Moody, 1972), 178

[11]“Proclaiming the gospel meant for Paul not simply an initial preaching or with it the reaping of converts; it included also a whole range of nurturing and strengthening activities which led to the firm establishment of congregations. So, his claim to have ‘fulfilled the gospel in an arc right up to Illyricum’ signified that he had established strong churches in strategic centres of this area, such as Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus.” O’Brien, Gospel and Mission, 43.

[12]“Paul not only proclaimed the gospel and, under God, converted men and women. He also founded churches as a necessary element in his missionary task. Conversion to Christ meant incorporation into him, and this membership within a Christian community. The apostle’s letters are addressed to such churches. Indeed, the existence of these congregations Paul regards as an authentication of his apostleship (1 Cor. 9:2; 2 Cor. 3:1-3). From his practice of residential missions (at Corinth and Ephesus) and nurture of churches (1 Thess. 2:10-12), from his priorities (1 Thess. 2:17-3:13; 2 Cor 2:12-13; 10:13-16), and from his description of his assignment (Col. 1:24-27; Rom. 1:1-15; 15:14-16) in relation to admonition and teaching believers to bring them to full maturity in Christ, it is clear that the nurture of emerging churches is understood by Paul to be ‘an integral feature of his missionary task.’ P.T. O’Brien, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 1993), 42, quoting W. P. Bowers. 

[13]“[In Peters’ study of missiology in history, he laments the development of] . . .the misconception that missions was the responsibility of individuals rather than the obligation of the churches. This erroneous idea, advocated by Zwingli and his successors, has only gradually and in part been overcome in recent decades. Zwingli maintained that missions is the business of specially called apostles, and that the church as such has nothing to do with missions. This same idea carried over later into Pietism and became dominant in much of Western Protestantism. It still survives due to the inertness of many churches and their inability to organize effectively for missions on the one hand and the strong and vital individualism of some leaders on the other hand. . . . Such development was most unfortunate and worked itself out negatively in at least three ways:
First, it left many of the larger churches passive and uninvolved in missions.
    Second, it set up a trade-company type of missions administration and complex with the mission societies becoming     autonomous agencies alongside autonomous church bodies, thus introducing a dichotomy on the home base. 
    Third, it related the churches of the mission lands to a missionary society rather than to a mother or sister church of the sending countries.
Thus individuals have felt called to follow in the steps of the apostles and to pioneer for Christ in mission lands independently of the churches and church direction. As a result, many churches as such have remained practically uninvolved in missions while individuals or small groups from within the churches have aggressively carried on foreign mission work.” Peters, Biblical Theology, 216-217.

[14]Four reasons why church planters should also be viewed as pastors:
1. By definition, church planters are called by God to a specific location to fill a brief or abiding role in establishing a local church. By doing this they become a form of ‘mobile-pastor/elders.’
2. The church planter begins pastoral tasks on the very morning that the new church is launched. Typically, within the first few weeks, the church planter serves a small group of attenders—perhaps even members—by providing shepherding care and leadership.
3. The church planter is—whether he desires it or not—endowed with pastoral status in the eyes of those attending the new church. It is, after all, in his title. 
4. The church planter is most often the first elder of the new church.  
No matter how you slice it, he’s an elder. This is probably what led Aubrey Malphurs to conclude, “The qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 . . . are qualifications for elders but are also essential for church planters” (Malphurs, Planting Churches, 111–emphasis mine). 

[15]“The minister today,” says Joel Nederhood, “is really nothing more than an ordinary member of the church of Jesus Christ, who is called to express His nature as ‘man of God’ in an especially high degree.” Samuel T. Logan, ed., “The Minister’s Call,” in The Preacher and Preaching (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1986), 39.

[16]“Very importantly, the controlling verbs of all the requirements of the overseer listed in 1 Tim. 3:2-6 are all Present tense. They are δεῖ  <Pres Act Ind 3 Sg> = ‘it is necessary,’ and . . . εἶναι  <Pres Act Infin> = ‘to be’ in 3:2.” George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 160.

[17]By “head” we mean the beliefs that a planter needs to know and believe that ground his life and ministry.  

[18]By “heart” we mean that the candidate’s wants, motivations, character, and attitude are being shaped and transformed by the gospel and that this transformation affects a candidate’s entire life—his habits, his work, relationships, etc. 

[19]Character alone is insufficient to plant churches. Where mission advances, it is typically due to gifted people moving toward the lost. William Carey echoes this point, which was captured by Klauber and Manetsch in saying, “He (Carey) expressed a settled conviction that the gospel spread in the world through the means of spiritually gifted individuals sent by the church.” Martin I. Klauber & Scott M. Manetsch, ed., The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2008), 94.

[20]By “habitats” we mean the venues God has entrusted to the planter to inhabit. These may include the planter’s relationships, his home/marriage, his neighborhood/community, his workplace, and the network of churches through which he chooses to partner. 

[21]If a planter is not married, a healthy home is still needed even if it looks different from a married man's home. A healthy home for a single man means his finances are well-ordered, his home is regularly opened to those inside and outside the church community, and he stewards his physical home as a kingdom outpost for ministry and mission.

[22]The term “contextualization” was first used by Shoki Coe in a Theological Education by Extension (TEE) document. Ministry in Context: The Third Mandate Programme of the Theological Education Fund, 1970-1977, (Bromley, England: Theological Education Fund, 1972), 139-45. 

[23]“Culture is the “artificial, secondary environment” which man superimposes on the natural. It comprises language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values.” H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ & Culture (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 32.

[24]“What is Contextualization? Presenting the Gospel in Culturally Relevant Ways,” accessed March 30, 2017, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/october/what-is-contextualization.html.

[25]This term was coined by Don Richardson who defines redemptive analogy as “strange cultural customs which provide analogies to the gospel.” Eternity in Their Hearts, rev. ed. (Ventura, CA: Regal, GL Publications, 1984), 112.

[26]Adapted from John Stott’s commentary on Acts, The Message of Acts. 

[27]This section is adapted from a network white paper titled “What Network Means To Us.” If you are interested in reading more, check out the entire piece at: www.sojournnetwork.com/downloads/.

[28]The patterns of this beautiful fabric of ministry are explored by these authors and other works drawing out practical conclusions about applying Paul's methods today: 
*        JD Payne, Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Church From New Believes. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015). 
*        Robert L. Plummer and John Mark Terry, eds. Paul's Missionary Methods: In His Times and Ours. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2012).   
*        C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest: A Comprehensive Guide (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002). 
[29]Schnabel, Eckhard, Paul the Missionary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008), 377.

[30]Thomas Nettles brings great insight into this challenge in saying, “The Baptist … view of the autonomy of the local congregation has caused numerous difficulties in maintaining the full cooperation of its many local congregations in a united action for missions.” Martin I. Klauber, Scott M. Manetsch, ed., The Great Commission (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008), 102.

[31]Eckhard Schnabel’s reminder is freeing: “Christians, missionaries and mission agencies should realize that they do not need to substantiate or defend every action, program or initiative with a biblical passage.” Early Christian Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2004), 1572-1573.

[32]In the April 24th, 2015 issue of Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer identified the explosion of church planting networks as one of the three most important trends which will continue over the next 10 years.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/april/3-important-trends-in-church-in-next-ten-years.html

[33]Partners in the Gospel, edited by James H. Kraakevik & Dotsey Welliver; a BGC Monograph. p. xiii.
[34]In Center Church, Tim Keller contrasts ‘movements’ (which would include networks) with ‘institutions.’ The four characteristics of a movement include: “vision, sacrifice, flexibility with unity, and spontaneity.” Tim Keller, Center Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 2012), 339.

[35]Speaking more globally, David Garrison says, “Without exaggeration we can say that Church Planting Movements are the most effective means in the world today for drawing lost millions into saving, disciple-building relationships with Jesus Christ.” David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources, 2004), 28

[36]Elders have the authority to lead the local church. If a network creates a mission aimed at serving and influencing the autonomous elder-led “churches,” the network assumes an authority it does not possess and could potentially confuse the people and undermine the elders role in leading the church. As we see it in Sojourn network, the best way for networks to serve churches is by serving pastors.  

[37]In their book Churches Partnering Together, Bruno and Dirks define the partnership as, “A kingdom partnership is a gospel-driven relationship between interdependent local churches that strategically pray, work and share resources together to glorify God by kingdom-advancing goals they could not accomplish alone.” Bruno and Dirks, Churches Partnering Together (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Press, 2014), 18

[38]For the full treatment visit: How Do We Partner to Assess Church Planters? By Dave Harvey