Friday, September 30, 2011

Multi-siting: History

"Moses listened to his father — in — law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens." Ex 18:24

M and I went to our son's Parent / Teacher evening at school last night. It was outstanding. Not only was the warmth and excellence of presentation inspiring, but there was no weak teacher. But, lest I rant and rave too much, let me cut to the chase, the history teacher [Mrs TL] was inspiring. Her quest to marry the Roman world and parallel it with modern USA was captivating. I wanted to take the class. Add in her deep love for Jesus and boy coming home and talking about the torture methods of the Romans, then I knew we were onto something good here. I love history. Well taught, it reflects the immanence of God in the great redemptive narrative of humanity.

Steve Turner, the English poet wrote: "History repeats itself, has to, no-one listens". The Ecclesiastes author wrote that: "There is nothing new under the sun." History must always be the pastor's friend. To think we are facing things for the first time is misguided ignorance. To think that we will automatically not make the mistakes of the past, is willful pride. To be an honest student of history, is to prayerfully reflect humility and teachability, so essential for these days of rapid change.

What has history taught us of "Multi-siting" so far?

  • In the 70's, Paul Yongi Cho brought the notion of "Cell, Congregation, Celebration" to the church world. His church was growing so rapidly that he needed an evolving structure that would cope with this remarkable growth, through salvations, that came from their deep and profound passion for prayer. May I suggest that multi-siting happens because we are experiencing growth, not to grow? I have seen a number of churches do it to grow and end up with exhausted folks who are simply spent by being called to duty twice per weekend.
  • We tried that in the 70's. It did not work nor did it last. Here are some reasons: firstly we took a model that worked in Asia and tried to simply apply it in Africa. We did not do our cultural / contextual homework to find a form that truly was ours by revelation and conviction. Secondly, the leadership set in place was not well chosen nor well trained before or ongoingly. We floundered. Thirdly, the areas chosen to "congregate" were not given enough forethought, with no pre-launch services. Fourthly, these gatherings were not perceived by the people as weighty priority times. The Sunday night service was the big gun because the loaded gun preachers ministered there. The 'congregations' were the experimental form for emerging worship leaders and teachers. That was a recipe for failure. It was not long before we brought everyone back to the central base with another good God idea left in the trash heap of poor management. Looking back, it certainly could have worked and prevented the future calamity of the celebrity resigning, but we simply handled it so badly without substantial theological homework and thorough sociological study.
  • Jethro counseled Moses to divide the Israeli community into smaller to larger manageable units. There are a number of wise pieces in his counsel: firstly, there are different sizes of leadership giftings — captains of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. This form of local church architecture empowers these leaders of different capacities. Choosing the right leaders for the right grouping size is essential. Secondly, these leaders must be men who are comfortable to be captains and followers at the same time. If not, this tug — a — war will exhaust and deplete the lead guy as the wrestle for final captaincy will gut all involved. Thirdly there is room for individuality without losing the central DNA of the brotherhood. Conformity is not the goal of multi-siting. Gospel expansion is, therefore multi-sites will take on the flavor of the context more than branding of home base.
  • Collaborative leadership matched with very sharp discernment is imperative to doing this well. There is a renewed model of divinely inspired leadership on project planet earth. The old style one man, top down, impositional style is yesterday's story and as always, is a one generational gig. Multi-siting is impossible without a truly inclusive leadership heart. There needs to be such honesty at the eldership level that they can find the heart of God together. I cannot state that strong enough. Coming to faith in 1976 and being part of church planting movements, every time there is one strong leader who dominates the landscape, the movement has a one generational dimension. It will be captivating for a decade or so, then it will wain as his influence diminishes. True trinitarian team work will not only work better but will go beyond the one generational wonder.
  • Project intentionality is absolutely essential. Multi-siting costs. Allow me to be blunt. This is not simply a "lets try it and see if it works" type gig. It has to be driven by theological conviction, prophetic affirmation, effective leadership training and ongoing development. It has to be treated as one does a church plant with the same level of excellence in advance. It needs to push for maturity to stand on its own feet soonest but benefits from the depth of ministry investment that the central base offers.
These are some passing reflections. I hope they help. Thank you for your kind tweets, facebook comments and emails. We are loving serving you in this way.

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