Polygamy, making disciples and church planting

I’ve been reflecting on our recent season of starting a church from a first missional community / simple church. I gave some background on our experience, shared our dreams – our What if? -, and wrote about why we started in Crown Point. I said “thank you” to God for the cool things we’ve seen. I wrote about practical things we learned in part one and two of “We thought…but found…”

Two conversations have been rumbling around my mind since the beginning of these reflection posts. They are helping me frame the 10,000 feet aerial view of what we’ve experienced.

The first conversation was a few months ago with J.R. Woodward. (I highly recommend his book about “poly-centric” leadership.) He painted a picture that has stood out to me. We were talking about the local culture in Crown Point and our attempt at starting first with a missional community. He said something like “if you have a vision of church as a ’10,’ but the culture is at a ‘1,’ you can’t start at ‘6.’ You have to start a ‘3’ and lead well in the right direction.”

polygamypicThe second conversation was a few years ago. I was in a class with Chuck Kraft (a retired missionary prof at Fuller) and he often told stories about his missionary work with a polygamist culture. The missionaries before him made converts choose just one wife. Even spiritually mature converts couldn’t be elders or leaders unless they divorced their wives. Talk about a dilemma in pastoral leadership!

Kraft’s team took a different approach — they made disciples among the people and took a long-term view of changing the culture. They took a 100-year perspective at church planting instead of a 5-year. They lived in the tension of the not ideal (polygamy) and the ideal (monogamy), moving toward the ideal. They discipled people over time on their worldview levels and planted seeds of cultural change in and through the new church.

If missionaries came into American Suburbia from a radically different culture, what would they identify as our “polygamies?”

This is where the missional movement is speaking loudly: Our “polygamies” are our individualism, our consumerism and our mechanism (viewing living humans as machines and systems). They are our love of security and safety, and our high control of life and relationships. These are not Kingdom values and ultimately hinder the life of Jesus being formed in us in community.

But we can’t go from ‘1’ to ’10’ overnight. We need to think, “polygamy!” What would it mean to disciple well over time?

Of course there are questions with this. Who gets to say what ’10’ is? A ’10’ on what? And the honest truth is that we as “missionaries” have “other wives” too. We often have the same grid on life that we are trying to lead others out of.

One of my crazy thoughts lately has been “what if suburban church as it is – “polygamies” and all –  is the best expression of church that we can do given our culture?” What if it’s the best place to start?

I don’t know. Lord have mercy.

All this to say, I do believe that we have shot too high here in Crown Point; we have started at a 8 when our culture is a 1 or 2 on the Kingdom value of living life-on-life on mission.  And to be honest, I’m probably just a 4 myself. Perhaps we need to think “long-term changes” and start closer to where the culture is.

In your local culture, what are the “polygamies”?

What are small things that you can do to start moving toward Kingdom values? 

What is needed as a leader to disciple well in the the midst of the tension?