Ever since I accidentally planted a church in a Starbucks, I’ve been on a quest. Arthur sent his knight errant in pursuit of the Holy Grail, whereas I am on a perpetual search for a link to what Paul did in the first century.
Something that will break out of the mold.
Something that will possibly even break the mold.
Something that can recover what has been lost.
Something that can restore it.
Something that can be relearned.
And if it can be relearned, it can be retrained for future generations to pick up where Acts left off.
NINJA STRIKE TEAMS
When I was a kid, we used to jump all over the playground whining shrill hiiiii-ya-s like feral cats, and clumsily unleash our lumbering kicks through the air at anyone stupid enough to get in our way. In at the time I imagined myself like Bruce Lee, but to my middle-aged mind’s eye of memory, I shudder to think how ridiculous we must have looked to the girls on the monkey bars. Like my childhood antics of kicking in an arc, and calling it a roundhouse, what we call church planting is simply not planting like the apostles.
After 11 years of planting, Paul was able to pen these words “From Jerusalem to Illyricum, I have finished the task that God set for me.” (Romans 15: 19). In other words, Paul had planted a church in every major city on the Mediterranean Islands, Macedonia, and Asia Minor. Imagine that; just eleven years, and Paul had to push on to Spain because he ran out of new frontiers.
Ever wonder how Paul went so fast?
Because he didn’t go alone.
Paul specialized in teams that planted together. He created a local network that moved around together as seen after Paul leaves Ephesus. “Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.
Know what’s more dangerous than a ninja?
A group of ninjas!
What the apostle Paul formed in Acts 20:4, I call ninja strike teams. Paul leveraged strategic church planting strike teams of qualified church planters who team up for a special attack, and penetrate the darkness together. And we’re not talking one leader with a core team of underlings who specialize in doing church chores. We’re talking about a team of equally gifted, qualified, experienced church planters who banded together for impact, so that they could spread out quicker once the foundation was adequately laid. We’re talking planters like Titus, Silas, Barnabas, and Epaphriditus. Most of us couldn’t keep up with Paul’s fellow workers, not to mention the big man himself, who ran circles around young men, and ate hirelings for breakfast.
A NEW MEASURE OF SUCCESS
Contrast Paul’s team planting methodology with the modern approach to church planting. For too long, we’ve been sending planters out alone, as if we’re flinging them at the wall and waiting to see what sticks. As if we threw enough at it, some eventually would.
And guess what? Not many do.
Statistically, 70% of them don’t.
Instead of producing sustainable church plants at an ever increasing rate, such an approach results in wasted time, wasted resources, and worst of all, hurt people.
Besides that, we tend to train them in the classroom, then send them out into the field to try out their Kung fu. Why not spar together, getting out there and flinging some kicks, throwing some punches and actually doing some karate together?
Imagine how different a strike team might look to what we’ve been doing.
Instead of five churches launching this year in one city, why not use those five planters to launch together in one place? Paul usually moved on after appointing elders, and depositing one strike force team member (like Timothy, or Titus) to stay behind. Imagine that we banded together as a team of five fully qualified church planters. Then imagine that 6-12 months down the road, after the new church plant is stable, we break the team in half, recruit more young people from the existing church, and send out another church planting strike team. Then imagine that 6-12 months later, we break that team in half, repeat the process and strike out into even newer areas. Now we have three solid church plants in 3 years. Not only that, some of those original five have now had experience planting three churches in that short amount of time. What you’re doing is apostolic church planter training.
But here’s the catch. Each of the churches you’ve planted continues to designate strike team members to the local network in order to keep the ecclesiastical cell mitosis reproducing itself.
This sounds great, right? Surely everybody would jump on board of this 1st century tactic and want to plant this way, right kids? Ironically, I was once taken aside by a short-sighted leader who chastised me for planting a network of churches out of my hub, rather than hording as many people as I could into one ginormous church. I told him that my measure of success was a network of churches that would continue to multiply with reproductive DNA. After all, one of the definitions of living things is that it reproduces. Dead things stop.
Perhaps the biggest litmus test is to ask what the Apostle Paul would think of the churches we plant, and the wider ministry we perform. Scholars estimate that Paul himself planted anywhere from 12-24 churches in the eleven-year period of his active ministry. Being able to build a team of super planters who could rapidly deploy in any given city, taking on various roles, increasing and decreasing according to their gifting and the need of the plant, would be a game changer. Even the girls on the monkey bars might be impressed.
Finally, if being so kingdom-minded that after laying a foundation, our planters were able to slip aside ninja-like into the shadows so that others could build on it, as Paul did (1 Cor 3:10), there’d be no stopping the church.
Besides how successful such ventures would be, the benefits would of a brotherhood team planting strategy would be:
- Stronger launches.
- Greater discipleship capacities.
- More than one type of leader would be able to use their gifts (enter the APEST roles).
- Shared responsibilities of mission and management in the beginning when desperately needed.
- Leaders able to take a break when needed by calling on faces familiar to the congregation.
- Local networks formed between multiple churches where leaders are known by one another, and have served together to accomplish kingdom work.
- Kingdom work becomes the driving factor, and replaces competition and empire building.
- We’d be able to continue to team up for special attacks or joint gospel ventures into our communities.
- Faster Multiplication.
- Greater support.
That would be what I would call success…and I’m pretty sure Paul would call it that too.