To say that I’m euphoric about the new conversation happening within church-planting circles would be an understatement. Exchanges that have progressed from “planting a church” to “planting a Kingdom movement” are key indicators that we may be heading toward a more hopeful future. I have written extensively about this in the past because it is my earnest conviction that the only way we’ll ever see a reversal of gospel fortunes that may finally affect our post-Christian world is the practical implementation of this dialogue.
But before a church planter can pursue Level 5 multiplication, a number of heart shifts must take place. Before any movement is possible, planters must prioritize several counter-culture shifts:
A Shift in Heroes: From Me to Them
Personal insecurity among pastoral leadership might be the single greatest limiting factor for movement. As long as our insecurities lead us to singularly occupy center stage, our overcompensating and fragile egos will never create enough space for genuine discipleship.
Movements require a change in our hero stories. Just as King Jesus, restful in His own identity and mission, could humbly announce that the upcoming power of His disciples would supersede His own (John 14:12), as modern movement makers we must emulate the humility of His example. Movements revel in new and unlikely heroes.
A Shift in Urgency: From Aid to Ownership
What happens in the life of God’s people when they draw a red circle around their community, and declare, under God, that they will take spiritual responsibility for it? What happens when God’s people are not be satisfied until every man, woman, boy and girl within that circle has the opportunity to hear and see, taste and smell the Good News of Jesus Christ on multiple occasions?
A gospel shift occurs. Suddenly, the church ceases to exist as a benign spiritual aid to a faceless geography and instead shifts to becoming the passionate owner of gospel responsibility for the eternal lives neighboring among them. Following in Paul’s footsteps, a church like this sees movement as it recognizes the race God has designed it to run (Acts 20:24).
As long as starting and sustaining your church is your exclusive ambition, you’ll never understand, nor experience, the amazing power of the Kingdom of God. This spiritual authority seems to be exclusively reserved for a selfless spiritual community that’s Heaven-bent on bringing Good News to a desperate world that so frantically craves it.
As long as starting and sustaining your church is your exclusive ambition, you’ll never understand, nor experience, the amazing power of the Kingdom of God.
A Shift of Expectations: From Ingestion to Reproduction
If I could shuttle myself into a church history class of the future, I would not be too surprised if the professor referred to the downward spiritual trajectory of our era as, “the age of irrational exuberance.” Unfortunately, I doubt I’d even blink when he characterized the church growth era as the season in history when disciple-making became discipleship; discipleship became spiritual development; and spiritual development became a cafeteria of personal growth options. It sputtered because it was an era of excessive ingestion with pint-sized reproduction.
Movements have always required an unswerving commitment to disciple-making. Jesus’ “Plan A” of “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17) has always been integral to the advance of His Church. Any church planter who chooses to attract a community rather than create community through disciple-making is destined to a thankless ministry of arranging buffet options for his consumers’ fickle yet voracious appetites. However large and exuberant the feeding frenzy becomes, it’s irrational to imagine that it will transform itself into a disciple-making movement.
A Shift of Opportunities: From Ours to Yours
As long as the term “missional” refers to a church’s corporate strategy of community engagement, movement is unlikely. Creating missional opportunities might be a great way to introduce the evangelistically wary to their assignment as disciples, but it doesn’t translate to living out the gospel within the everyday context of life. The “as you go” part of Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) assumes that disciples will minister in the natural fields of their credibility and competence.
By shifting the primary disciple-making opportunity from “our” to “you,” new churches strategically position their people to make disciples out of the relationships with the strongest bridges of credibility. As a church planter consistently moves toward the shift of, “you can do it; we can help,” leaders of movements emerge.
A Shift of Celebration: From Numbers to Ratios
Planters that are truly taking spiritual ownership of their community will never be satisfied with planting a self-sustaining church of 250. Being the largest is insignificant to them. Instead, they’re burdened that only four in 100 are likely Christ followers and will multiply their outreach efforts to affect that ratio. To these planters, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” (Matt. 28:19) means multiplying ministry and likely not receiving personal credit. Which leads us to the sixth shift.
A Shift of Motivation: From Now to Later
Perhaps what best distinguishes first-century from 21st-century ministry motivations is found in ecclesiastical pragmatism. First-century leaders seemed largely unconcerned with quarter over quarter returns. Instead, with eternity in focus, they performed ministry motivated by their certain appearance before the judgment seat of Christ.
With eternity at front of mind, Paul describes his ministry: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24, ESV).
And with eternity imminent, Paul testifies, “… the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day …” (1 Tim. 4:7-8, ESV).
Both first-century and contemporary-movement leaders seem to be highly motivated by a later judgment rather than the temporal and hollow accolades of men. These movements emanate from leaders who ensured that the multiplication of the gospel never, ever, becomes secondary.
A Shift of Kingdoms: From Mine to His
What is the Kingdom of God? I often describe it as, “what the world looks like when Jesus gets His way.” The above six shifts are really the practical living out of this seventh one. Movements emerge from the humility of leaders quietly pouring their lives into a lifetime of Kingdom advance. They arise from a soul conviction that joy and life can only be experienced through the exchange of kingdoms (John 15:11)—dying to mine, living for His. And in that exchange is all we need to prepare our spirit for His Kingdom movement: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, ESV).
Movements emerge from the humility of leaders quietly pouring their lives into a lifetime of Kingdom advance.
As vice president of the North American Mission Board for the Send Network, Jeff Christopherson has a passion to see a Kingdom-centered church planting movement happen in North America. He is author of Kingdom Matrix: Designing a Church for the Kingdom of God and Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements.
Currently, Jeff and Level 5 multiplier Ralph Moore are working together on a book focusing on the multiplication pathway: New Church to Level 5.