Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Don't commit church planting incest

There are some tough questions that people of faith in our contemporary times must wrestle.    Here are two that boggle my mind:

1.   How did America become a Post-Christian nation?

2.   Why are some neighborhoods and suburbs in America's global cities described by the secular media as church deserts?

There are probably at least 30 good answers to these questions.    The questions are complex.    Here is one answer.    Many church planting organizations in North America practice incest.   As a consequence over generations the health of the church planting organizations are on a rapid and steep decline.

Now these organizations have clear rules about relationships.   No one is marrying their siblings.    Yet most also have a clear social expectation that they express through tribalism.     That social expectation is actually just the raw prejudice of denominational protectionism.    It usually is expressed when a newbie tries to cross the unwritten social taboos of the organization.   The newbie is told, "We're a tribe.   You can only be part of one tribe."    (The "tribe" refers to the denomination.   The translation is you have to choose a denomination and only give certain intimacies and loyalties to that denomination."

Then the tribe is described.   The one giving the illustration many times is native born European-American denominational administrator.   The one receiving the tribal instructions many times is a Diaspora from the Global South.    Many from the Global South come from communal or clan based societies.   As he listens to the description of tribe he hears not discussion of tribe but a description of clan or extended family.      What the administrator is communicating is you and your family must marry only your cousins if you want to be part of our church planting organization.  

For those not familiar with the the distinctions between nation, tribe, and clan let me elaborate.

A nation is a political state.   It has clear boundaries that usually require documentation to cross.   It has a clear government structure.   It has laws.  It collects taxes.    It goes to war.  It negotiates peace.

A tribe is an ethnic grouping.   It usually shares a common land.   It shares a common language and culture.    Many times it has a common purpose.   Some nations have many tribes within them and sometimes the nation has a common expectation for the behavior and attitudes of a specific tribe.  

A clan is a large extended family.    It shares great nuances and history.    It is the points where one gathers to grief and celebrate.    It is the social substance of birth, marriage, and death.   It is the social substance of graduations.   It has traditions.   It many times has an economic function of small family run business.  

For many church planting missionaries when one takes the groupings of nation, tribe, and clan there are distinct expectations.

Our Lord called us to His Kingdom.    Our national passports are only temporary documents.   We dare not pledge an eternal allegiance to a temporary nation-state.   For church planting missionary types our nation is our Kingdom.   Our Lord is our King.   We follow His commands and learn them through the teaching in His Word enhanced by the whispers of His Spirit.    At times we are on a journey that is like war.    Yet, we pray for peace and do all we can to be at peace with all.

Tribe is the place where we feel at home yet not quite in the intimacies of our clan.   A denomination makes almost no sense as a tribe.  A denomination as a tribe is too big numerically but too small in purpose for us.    The kingdom tells us missionary church planter to go.   We are the scouts and soldiers of an expanding Kingdom.   We missionary church planters are our own tribe.   We get one another outside of the boundaries of denominational loyalty.    We speak a common language of expansion while giggling at our failings.   

Within clan is our denomination.   Here is the nuance that most outsider can't easily get.   It is the point where we gather in grief and celebration.    Within our clans we solemnize birth, marriage, and death.   We have our traditions within our clans.   If we're going to start a family run business we'll turn to our clan mates first.    Yet, when our business needs to become global we'll look for our tribe mates.

Why has America become a Post-Christian nation?   Why do our American global cities have such large church deserts?

Of the many valid answers church planting incest is one.    Many North American church planting organizations are too denominationally loyal to allow the different church planting clans to intermarry.   

Allow me to poke fun at a fellow church planting missionary friend.   Many years ago, he served in a
nation where security was a concern.   He bought a sibling pair of beautiful German Shepherds.   The were strong and fit.    They were both kind and protective.    They inspired awe as they moved around the edges of our church planter's home compound.    My church planting missionary friend had an idea.   Why should he neuter or spay this fine pair of siblings?   If he let them reproduce he could sell the puppies for profit and put the profits back into his church plant.   Or in his most benevolent moments he could give away the puppies and improve the security of his neighborhood.

His incestuous puppy business began and at the first generation things just didn't seem quite right.   The puppies were a bit smaller and not quite as bright as their parents.  Yet, maybe the issue was nutrition or just bad luck?   He let the experiment go on.   It didn't get any better.   He let it continue and it got much worse.   With each generation the dogs became smaller, weaker, dumber, and many times meaner.   They never inspired awe.   Finally, he had a home full of sick and mangy animals.   The only solution was euthanizing the lot.  

If you closely watch church planting organizations that are struggling you'll notice quite a similar pattern to my friend's puppy business.   The founders are awe inspiring.   Then health declines in each generation.   There is little new blood.   The conversations go in circles.    The foundation relationships have become incestuous.     When the organization is in trouble it looks for a super star celebrity (that looks like a pure bred and expensive dog.)

True, if you look you can find well bred, handsome, and productive dogs with pedigrees.

However, you don't often find good church planters that look like pedigree dogs. 

 Instead, most good church planters look like mixed breed farm dog.    They have features from several lots.   They can
guard, hunt, and herd.   When they are described in detail they phrase most say is, "They're good kid dogs."   Day and in and day out you find these dogs with children.    They intuitively follow the relationships.    They intuitively make the most out of the relationships.    Everything else of hunting, herding, and guarding is just the gravy of their life.   We need church planters with diverse gifts and backgrounds who just intuitively follow and enhance the relationships of their communities. 

In a post-Christian nation no clan has the strength or wisdom to go it alone.   No clan can adequately address the church deserts of North America global cities.    There are strengths to each clan that must be brought to bear.   When that happens there will be sharing of ideas, personnel, institutional capacity, and even financial resources.    The church planting tribe must expand the Kingdom.

Incest among single clans can no longer be our mantra.   So help us God.