BEYOND HOLIDAY CHARITY & How to be a good-doer, not a do-gooder #YearAroundService

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 6/12/10.

A church that brings food a couple times a year to a needy family does little to minister to their long-term physiological needs or safety needs. Such churches in Dan’s mind were comprised of “do-gooders.”

Action C: Be a Good-doer, not a Do-gooder.

The difference between a do-gooder and a good-doer was revealed to me ten years ago. Dan was auditioning to be the drummer in a worship team I led. Though he was more than suitable for the task, I was confused because he looked familiar. “You visited me last Christmas,” Dan responded noticing my bewilderment. “Brought a lot of nice things for the kids.” Each year our church visited needy residents, giving them gifts and singing carols. “You were nice enough to come,” Dan would say to me later. Dan and I had become friends, and now our team was planning to visit needy households. “You go, I won’t,” Dan stated. “I want to be a good-doer, not a do-gooder.” Further conversations revealed with Dan saw a difference between “do-gooders” and “good-doers.” On the one hand, Dan saw do-gooders as people who go around doing limited and inconsistent good deeds. He perceived that they were doing good on a limited scale to relieve their conscience. Thus their good deeds were perceived as self-serving, insincere and limited. A church that brings food a couple times a year to a needy family does little to minister to their long-term physiological needs or safety needs. On the other hand, Dan saw “good-doers” as those who do good in a meaningful, relevant and ongoing manner. And, he was right. In hindsight I had been striving to do good, not trying to do good better. Therefore, a church should connect with its community by offering ongoing ministry and not just holiday help.

Excerpted from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2019), pp. 48-49.

BLENDED WORSHIP & Sharing our homes & lives creates more unity than sharing a pew #BiblicalTheology

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/26/17.

A biblical theology of worship.

Churches often want blended worship services because they seek to create cross-cultural understanding and unity. But, while earning my PhD in intercultural studies at Fuller Sem., I came to believe a Biblical theology of worship does not include creating unity.

Do we try to make worship do too much?

Because we feel we only have people for 1 hour on Sunday morning, we cram too much into that one hour.  That one hour becomes announcement time, unity-building time and worship time.  If that is the case we should call it the “Communication – Unity– Worship Hour” 😉

My goal is to get back to a biblical theology of worship which includes encounter, more than unity.  Theologically I think that unity and encounter are mutually exclusive (see the excerpt from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (2013, below).

Sharing our homes & lives creates more unity

If you’re there to encounter God, you’re not going to spend time encountering your neighbor. Jesus created unity usually over meals.

Thus, I would suggest that sharing our homes and our lives creates more unity than sharing a pew.

Here are some thoughts I’ve written with more detail in The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (2013).

“… the Hebrew word for “worship” implies God-directed, not neighbor-directed reconciliation.(Footnote 1)”  p. 64

(Footnote 1) The Hebrew word for “worship” means to come close to God’s majesty and adore Him. It carries the idea of reverence, respect and praise that results from a close encounter with a king, see Francis Brown, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament Based Upon the Lexicon of William Gesenius (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 1005. Thus, worship should not be about fellowship (the New Testament Christians had meals for that), but rather worship was to be about personal communing with God. This reminds us that worship should be about connecting with God and not about creating friendships among people (we have time before and after “worship” for getting to know one another in “fellowship” halls and in common areas). Making worship into a fellowship among humans, robs its place as the supernatural intersection between humans with their heavenly Father. We shall discuss the Multicultural Blended Model shortly, but I have noticed in most blended models I have attended, that supernatural connection is not the focus or their aim, but rather unity is the objective. While the later goal (unity) is needed, it should not be attained at the expense of worship which is primarily intended as a environment in which to connect with God.  p. 158

METHOD & 3 basics every Christian should know about Wesley’s ministry method

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 10/12/17.

The Power of the “Method

The method … “gave rise to church denominations such as the

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  • United Methodist Church,
  • African Methodist Episcopal Church,
  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion,
  • Christian Methodist Episcopal,
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance,
  • Church of God in Christ,
  • Free Methodist,
  • Freewill Baptists,
  • Church of the Nazarene,
  • Assemblies of God,
  • Church of God (both Tennessee and Indiana affiliations),
  • Seventh-day Adventists,
  • Church of Christ,
  • Foursquare Church,
  • Calvary Chapels,
  • Vineyard Churches,
  • Salvation Army,
  • many others and of course, Wesleyans.

Today, 26% of the Protestant Church around the globe can be traced back to these “enthusiasts.”(1) What could God do in the next century if we reclaimed their methods?“(2)

John Wesley was the most influential Christian leader since the Apostle Paul because he carried out the Great Commission in it entirety. When Wesley died, there were 243 Methodist churches in the United States.  By the War of 1812, there were 5000 Methodist churches.  Wesley not only preached the gospel to lost people, he raised up an army of circuit riding preachers, each one of them planting up to 50 – 100 churches.  Within in one generation after the death of John Wesley, his movement, the Methodist Church – became the largest protestant movement in the world. (Elmer L. Towns, Nov. 3, 2014, Co-founder and Vice President, Liberty University, Dean of The Liberty University School of Theology)

So, what is the Method?

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(1) Geordan Hammond, Ph.D., F.R.Hist.S., director of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre, Manchester, England, email message to author, 2017.

(2) Bob Whitesel, Enthusiast! Finding a Faith that Fills (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2018), p. 17.

Discover the 30-day devotional guide to the method here:

#6:15 seminar sermon Methodist method Ft. Wayne

WOMEN PREACHERS & A description of Susanna Wesley’s innovations

A crowd gathered outside the kitchen window. They had come to hear the pastor’s wife explain Scripture. Tradition forbade women from preaching as a pastor might, but the crowd knew Susanna Wesley as the theological and homiletical equal to her husband, their pastor. On occasions when Samuel traveled to London on religious business, attendance at the Epworth church dropped. But because Susanna believed so strongly people needed a regular feeding of God’s Word, she threw open her kitchen window as an invitation for others to hear the Word. The pretext was that she was teaching her children, gathered around the kitchen table. But the open window allowed her message to touch the hungry hearts of the townspeople. Never before had such delicious provision come out of this kitchen.

Excerpted from Enthusiast! Finding a Faith that Fills (Bob Whitesel, The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2017), p. 135.

CASE-STUDY & From Gathered to Scattered, St. Tom’s Church in Sheffield, UK

(The following is excerpted from Bob Whitesel’s chapter, “St. Tom’s: From Gathered to Scattered” in Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibb’s book, Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions [Baker Academic, 2012]).

From Gathered to Scattered: a Dispersed Missional Structure Results in England’s Largest Anglican Congregation

 by Bob Whitesel

Dr. Eddie Gibbs has been involved as a member and board member of St. Thomas Anglican Church (Sheffield, England) for over two decades. As a PhD student under Eddie Gibbs, I studied the rapid change that St. Thomas underwent when the leaders had only five weeks to vacate their church facility due to asbestos. As England’s largest Anglican church with a congregation of 2,000 meeting weekly in Sheffield’s largest indoor arena, simply moving to a bigger locale was not feasible. The rapidity of the move would not allow a new facility to be constructed or converted. The result was that a congregation where 85% of the attendees were under the age of 40 had only a matter of days to inaugurate a strategy, implement change and maintain ministry effectiveness while holding true to their theology and values. The result was that not only did St. Thomas expand its cultural pluralism though a creative dispersed model, but it also created unity amid hybridity. Yet, the seed for this change was planted many years earlier.

COMMENT by Bob Whitesel

I have seen few churches embrace a scattered model without being forced to do so. This may be due to the establishment of fiefdoms that so often characterize ecclessial movements. I and other researchers would welcome examples of churches that are proactively disperseing from a mega-model to a scattered-approach. Bob Whtiesel

From Gathered to Scattered to Gathered: A History[1]

A Yoked Congregation

In 1978 renovations at St. Thomas’ forced it to share facilities with Crookes Baptist Church. In 1982 the two churches became a yoked Anglican and Baptist Congregation designed a Local Ecumenical Project or LEP (Mallon 2003:20).s

In 1983 Robert Warren became Rector of St. Thomas. Two years later John Wimber, leader of the network of Vineyard Churches, conducted a series of renewal meetings at Warren’s request. Soon after, Robert Warren invited a local charismatic community, the Nairn Street Community, to conduct a 9 p.m. alternative worship celebration on Sunday nights (Warren 1989). This became known as the Nine O’clock Service (NOC) which has been called the “birth of a postmodern worshipping community” in the UK (Gibbs and Bolger 2005:82).

Mike Breen’s Leadership.

In October 1993 Warren resigned to work with the Anglican denomination and Paddy Mallon became the Baptist minister of the LEP (Mallon 2003:25-26). Soon after Mike Breen accepted the call to St. Thomas’ and sensed the Lord underscoring the word “Ephesus” in his prayer life. Breen emphasized to the congregation that in Acts 19 Ephesus had several unique characteristics (Mallon 2003:26): it was the principal city of the region, Paul trained local leaders in a rented building, leaders went out from Ephesus to plant churches in neighboring areas, and from there “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:20). Breen concluded that, “the church of St. Thomas’ was to function as a resource to its city and region. It was to be a base for church planting and mission and a centre for teaching and training” (Breen 1997:25).

In March 1994 Breen introduced an icon-based training program based of Biblical principles eventually calling it Lifeshapes (Mallon 2003:18, 25). The six icons of the training tool were readily adopted by the expanding base of small “cell” groups. Mallon credits Lifeshapes as “the most fundamental change in this period … an easily transferable method of planned, disciplined and structured membership activity, at a person as well as a corporate level …” (ibid.). Small group participation was also expected. “In the UK it is different,” stated Johanna Saxton, one of the early leaders. “It is not popular to be part of a church in the post-Christian culture of the UK. So if you are going to get involved, you get involved all the way and you attend a small group” (Saxton 2011).

In 1996 the leaders combined three to seven small groups into what they called “clusters” to better manage the burgeoning small group network (Saxton 2011). Clusters gave the small groups an “extended-family” feel providing a social gathering larger than a small group, but still smaller than the church-wide meetings (Mallon 2003:37-43). To the surprise of St. Tom’s leaders, most evangelism now took place through the semi-autonomous environment of the clusters (Hopkins and Breen 2007:38-39). Clusters also become the social action arm of the church. Breen reflected, “If you say you are going to help someone in need, say paint their house; and a small group of 12-16 people plans to do this, you only get 3-4 people showing up. It’s a disaster. But, if you cluster together three to seven small groups to do this, you get a couple dozen showing up. Then you get something done!” (Breen 2007).

An Anglican Mega-church

In September 1998 leaders began to sense that the size of the parish facilities was “restricting growth” (Mallon 2007:1). To alleviate this problem, the congregation held services one Sunday each month in a community center (Mallon 2007:4). Because the venue was more accessible for unchurched people than the parish facility, growth among unchurched attendees increased. The temporary nature of the facility was fostered in part because the facility was only available 35 Sundays a year, it was expensive to rent, and much labor and time was spent in setup and teardown (Mallon 2003:36).

In January 2000 The Roxy nightclub became available for lease, and appeared to overcome the sociological strangulation of the community center. Media attention was fostered because The Roxy had been a bawdy concert venue. In one month 400 people joined the church (Mallon 2003:36-37). “I think what we saw was every time we created space people joined us,” recalled Mallon. “Some of that was transfer growth, but a lot of it was conversionary growth” (Mallon 2007:4).

Three different worship expressions drew three different audiences. Sunday mornings at The Roxy mainly attracted Baby Boomers, while Sunday evenings attracted Generation X. Services also continued at the parish church in Crookes and were attended by approximately 300 people committed to the local Crookes parish (Mallon 2003:36-37). Almost without strategic intent, St. Thomas’ had evolved into multiple sub-congregations (Hunter 1979:63; Whitesel and Hunter 2001:26-27). They designated these sub-congregations “celebrations” after a term used by C. Peter Wagner (1976:101-2).

From Mega-church to Dispersed-church

In January 2001 Mike Breen sensed God saying to him, “What would you do if I took away The Roxy?” (Mallon 2003:38; Breen 2007:1-2). “I was in a bit of a panic about that,” recalled Breen. “Because we had just been surveyed with the rest of the churches in Great Britain…. as being the largest church in Great Britain at that time. So most certainly we were a mega-church. And, it felt like God was giving me the option of really going in the mega-church direction or really embracing this thing he had been developing in us the last few years” (Breen 2007:2).

In December 2001 an attendee who had concerns about the safely of the “torpedo-style heaters” used to heat The Roxy contacted the local authorities requesting a safety inspection (Mallon 2003:39; Calladine 2007:14-15). A subsequent inspection revealed that asbestos rendered The Roxy an immediate health hazard (Calladine 2007:4). “If we were going to do the work on the building that we wanted to, we would have had to put a bubble over the building and put people in space suits” remembered Calladine. “It would have cost around $7 million to renovate…We could’ve come up with 60 thousand, but it’s 60 thousand into a money pit …” (Calladine 2007:4).

“One minute we were in the building and basically several weeks later we were out because we had to close immediately due to the health and safety issues” remembered Woodhead (Woodhead 2007:2). Though this event occurred just before Christmas 2001, the leaders were able to negotiate a five week grace period before they were forced to leave (Mallon 2007:2).[2]

Maconochie recounts the spiritual preparation for this change, stating “We’d been talking about it for nearly a year and so we just said to the guys ‘well the Lord said it was going to happen and it has happened and there you go’.” (Maconochie 2007:2). Woodhead added, “So he’d (Breen) already shared that with the staff team, the senior staff and then the staff team and some of the cluster leaders were aware of this word. But was it going to happen? We don’t know because we’ve got this building and then that was it … it was taken away so they (the leaders) were ready to go” (Woodhead 2007:2).

On January 27, 2002 the last celebration was held in The Roxy with 17 clusters commissioned to begin meeting the following week to replace the two Sunday gatherings at The Roxy (Mallon 2003:39, Calladine 2007:15). The diffusion from two weekly Roxy events to 17 weekly cluster meetings, democratized the process according to Woodhead, for “people had to really begin to sort things out for themselves. They couldn’t depend on the center for everything. So leadership took on much more of a dynamic, much more of a community (that) ‘we’re in this together’ for each cluster. ‘We’ve got to go out and find the venues. And, we’re looking to see what God’s heart is for this particular area.’ So there was a whole different dynamic it seemed to me when guys were reporting back” (Woodhead 2007:1).

Growth as a Dispersed Church

On February 3, 2002 17 clusters, meeting weekly, were planted throughout Sheffield as St. Thomas’ takes on a “dispersed church” mode (Mallon 2007:3). The Bishop gave permission for clusters to meet within the boundaries of other Anglican parishes (Mallon 2007:2-3). That same year, the Diocesan Handbook indicated the average Anglican parish in Sheffield has 25 worshippers (Mallon 2003:36). One year later St. Thomas’ Church had 34-35 clusters (Mallon 2007:4; Breen 2007:2) comprised of 2,500 members with 85 percent under the ages of 40 (Mallon 2003:36):

In one year the church had morphed into a network of 34-35 small churches meeting across Sheffield. Mallon believes this one year period was “the greatest growth we saw as a church. It showed us what we weren’t going to go down the mega-church road, which was an option. And when we had The Roxy, a plan was to make it a large worship complex that would have been glass and chrome and glitter. And now, we were spared all of that” (Mallon 2007:4).

This growth surprised the leaders. Mallon recalls, “Even developing the resources for the clustering for the six months beforehand, we had no idea we would double in size in terms of cluster leaders in the subsequent 12 months that we were in a dispersed mode. It’s a bit like The Acts of the Apostles: the idea of expansion, contraction, consolidation and then you grow again” (Mallon 2007:6).

By 2005 the church was comprised of a network of clusters, which in turn were joined together into seven “celebrations,” including Connect (ministry to young adults), Encompass (ministry to specific neighborhoods), Mother Church (the original church in the Crookes area), Community Church at Crookes (an urban outreach based in Crookes), Expression (outreach to college students led by Johanna Saxton), Radiate (ministry to young professionals in the workplace), and The Forge (inner city ministry). The diversity of celebrations allowed the church to reach out to Sheffield’s diverse population. The dispersed model created a multi-cultural church by emphasizing culturally and aesthetically different celebrations united within one church organization.

A Rhythm From Dispersed to Gathered to the Present

In 2006, sensing that unity was needed among the seven culturally diverse celebrations, the leaders created a Sunday evening “uniting” worship service. Leadership and worship teams from the different celebrations were rotated each week, allowing attendees from other celebrations to hear testimonies, music and preaching from the culturally distinct celebrations.

In 2009 the availability of a large warehouse provided an alternative to the often packed Sunday evening unity gatherings. This space also compelled the leaders to combine celebrations on Sunday morning. Soon, the church no longer had more than seven Sunday morning celebrations but only two: the warehouse celebration (increasingly identified as the “Philadelphia Campus” to which the Baptist leaders and congregants were attracted) and the “Crookes Campus” (e.g. the Mother Church). With this contraction into fewer culturally distinct celebrations, the church may have contracted into what Mallon described as a rhythm where, “it’s a bit like The Acts of the Apostles: the idea of expansion, contraction, consolidation and then you grow again” (Mallon 2007:6).

Recently, the church has functionally returned, if not officially, into two, possibly three congregations: The Anglican St. Thomas Church (at the Mother Church venue) and the Philadelphia Church (at the Philadelphia Warehouse) along with a new experiment called “city:base,” an emerging urban congregation. Though attempts have been made to maintain a degree of unity, for instance with the commissioning of Anglican Vicar Anne MacLaurin as a leader with Baptist Paul Maconochie at The Philadelphia Church, the church is moving back toward 2-3 distinct mega-congregations. The remarkable growth appears to have subsided, perhaps as a result of fewer culturally distinct celebrations, though according to Saxton the ministry to youth continues to flourish (Saxton 2011).

Lessons from the Dispersed Model of Church

Worship in Dispersion

In just five weeks in 2001-2002 St. Thomas morphed from what one leader describes as “going down the mega-church road” (Mallon 2007:4) to an indigenous network of 17 “clusters” which resembled small churches. One year later there were 34-35 of these clusters dispersed throughout Sheffield. The organizational complexity of the move also forced the church to link culturally similar clusters together into what they called “celebrations.” These then created a multi-cultural church with nine different worship expressions.

Lessons to replicate:

Multiple worship expressions exist in the same church, allowing the church to connect with more cultures. By linking together two to eight clusters into “celebrations” the church was able to eventually offer nine culturally distinct styles of worship. This connected the church to more cultures within the Sheffield community.

Unity gatherings emerge as venues for creating unity amid diversity. The Sunday uniting service exposed the burgeoning congregation to its various cultural counterparts.

Lessons to avoid:

Facilities can undercut multiple worship options. When the Philadelphia Warehouse became available, a push to fully utilize this facility steered the church toward fewer worship celebrations. This is not too dissimilar to churches across England and North America who build a bigger facility and then combine multiple worship expressions into fewer options with fewer cultural styles.

The energy created at large worship gatherings can undermine diversity. St. Thomas’ “uniting service” was even more animated than the other celebrations I visited. This could have to do with the pan-cultural feel of this Sunday evening event. However, when the large Philadelphia Warehouse became available this enthusiasm for energy and largeness seems to have resulted in combining celebrations into bigger gatherings. A secondary result was that this consolidation would fill up the warehouse space, but this also resulted in fewer cultural options. Subsequently, the nine distinct cultural celebrations received less attention and eventually two larger gatherings (Sunday mornings at The Philadelphia campus and at the Crookes Mother Church campus) replaced the nine culturally distinct celebrations. Thus, the energy created at the large gatherings seems to have influenced the church to move back into contraction and consolidation.

Spiritual Formation in Dispersion

St. Thomas’ leaders built a foundational structure of small “cell” groups, eventually requiring participation in these groups as a condition of membership. Since the “clusters” were focused more on their extended family feel, the intimacy of small groups became the main teaching and discipling venue of the church. Small group leaders would meet with their “cluster leader” to go over that week’s small group lesson. The cluster leaders had already received this lesson in their weekly meeting with their “celebration” leader. The result was the teaching became a unifying connection among the expanding cell-cluster-celebration network.

Lessons to replicate:

Spiritual formation in small groups creates a flexible, indigenous discipleship environment. A small group leader meeting with people of a similar culture and often in a nearby locale, can adapt the church’s lesson plans for the small group attendees. And, if the message is not getting across or if accountability is needed, a resident small group leader can more quickly and locally meet that need.

Clusters create an extended family community that so many young people miss because their family is far away. According to former Rector Mike Breen clusters “create an extended family feel, like the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (Breen 2004).

Lessons to avoid:

Don’t overlook the importance of culturally diverse sub-congregations. When the large Philadelphia warehouse became available, a need to fill the venue replaced a focus upon the cultural diversity of nine celebrations. The church contracted from nine celebrations into two.

Be careful when absorbing outside groups because they may possess a different DNA. The NOC community was embraced by Robert Warren in part because of its similar Charismatic expressions. But, because it was not developed from within, but grafted into St. Thomas it did not have the connectedness for permanence.

Mission in Dispersion

Though it was the diverse “celebrations” that connected the church’s message to varying cultures in Sheffield, it was in the extended family feel of the clusters where commitments to Christ most often took place. Yet, clusters were initially organized to give small groups enough person-power to undertake community service. Mike Breen recalled that when a small group tried to undertake community service, only a few of the dozen or more cell attendees would actually show up. But, when the church leaders clusters two to seven small groups, if only a few from each group showed up, you would still have enough people to get something done (Breen 2011).

Lessons to replicate:

A church with multiple cultural bridges can connect with a larger segment of a community. At St. Thomas the clusters and celebrations had culturally distinct behaviors and ideas.[3] Diverse cultural options connected the church to more segments of the Sheffield population (Saxton 2011).

Clusters provide a suitable mixture of intimacy and anonymity to foster conversion. It came as a surprise to the leaders that many people came to Christ in the cluster environment (Hopkins and Breen 2007:36-37). The cluster’s mix of accountability and anonymity provided the right environment for the new Christian to focus on their commitment and their witness.

Lessons to avoid:

Fewer cross-cultural bridges can result in less connection with the community. In a desire to fill up the new Philadelphia Warehouse the church inadvertently undercut its support of the nine celebrations, eventually reducing them to just two.

Participation in the missio Dei requires diversity within unity. As St. Thomas went down the road toward a mega-church, the church mainly adopted church-wide, one-size-fits-all programs. As Johanna Saxton, an early leader, recalled, “The default position was to do something throughout the whole church. If we did an outreach, the whole church did an outreach. If we did Alpha small groups, the whole church did them and if we did nights of prayer, the whole church did it. But when we lost the Roxy we really had to disperse and this required us to culturally diversity to reach the city in an entirely new and more personal way” (Saxton 2011). Not surprisingly, the greatest periods of growth occurred in the dispersed church mode after The Roxy venue was lost and 17 clusters indigenized mission across the city (Mallon 2007:4).

Leadership in Dispersion

The loss of The Roxy created a dispersed church where “people had to really begin to sort things out for themselves. They couldn’t depend on the centre for everything. So leadership took on a much more of a dynamic, much more of a community (that) ‘we’re in this together’” (Woodhead 2007:1).

Lessons to replicate:

Small groups provide an incubator for emerging leadership. Because small groups are required of all members, at St. Thomas there was an upsurge in the number of small group leaders needed. This shortage not only resulted in greater emphasis upon leadership development but also easier routes into leadership.

A cell-cluster-celebration model creates manageable oversight. Because there are two to seven small groups in a cluster, the cluster leader does not have an unwieldy number of trainees to oversee. Celebration leaders enjoy similar ratios.

A cell-cluster-celebration model creates a leadership relationship based upon history, culture and proximity. Because an effective small group leader could be promoted to a cluster leader (while still remaining within the same cultural celebration), a leader did not need to leave their culture to move up the leadership ladder.

Breen’s Ephesus vision united the congregation through calamity and dispersion. Johanna Saxton recalls, “The story we shared had a huge role in what we did… so even if we were reaching outside of our culture, we had the shared story of being part of a church that was ‘calling a city back to God.’ The shared vocabulary helped too because we all used terms like clusters, celebrations, etc.” (Saxton 2011).

Lessons to avoid:

Leaders can make strategic decisions based on the leader’s needs and not the needs of congregants. When the leaders reduced the number of celebrations from nine to two, this was largely based upon organizational needs to fill the Philadelphia warehouse and not indigenous needs to connect with varying cultures.

Leadership at times can be overly bureaucratic and undermine a church’s health. The early leadership of Robert Warren created some strategic alliances. But, significant growth did not occur until Breen’s strategic, yet consensus-building style of leadership emerged. Breen’s forthright yet not too hasty Ephesus vision, gave the leaders a chance to absorb the significance of the vision, and God time to act on their behalf drawing them out of The Roxy.

The Rhythm of St. Tom’s

From the history and innovations, St. Thomas Church and its partner the Philadelphia Church have emerged as flexible congregations not afraid to be, in the words of Paddy Mallon, “a bit like The Acts of the Apostles: (embracing) the idea of expansion, contraction, consolidation and then you grow again” (Mallon 2007:6). It is unclear if these churches have grown recently (Saxton 2011), but the fact that they embrace an elastic model of church growth indicates they are not outcome-driven, put process-focused. It is their cultural flexibility, wed with a focus upon making disciples in a cell-cluster-celebration structure, that has allowed this unlikely Sheffield church to emerge as one of the United Kingdom’s most innovative congregations.[4]

This story is both very cool and very alien and underlines, for better or worse, the importance of buildings.

I love the dynamics that apparently are possible at the same time — the dynamics of changing such a big church so many times in such a short time frame seems almost unbelievable. I think in the Dutch context this would require dominant and top-down leadership. It also feels like a big church machine, eating up all energy by doing church leaving little for holistic incarnational presence in the neighborhood.

There are some wise lessons and remarks on church services in dispersion or more centrally, very nice! Nico-Dirk Van Loo

COMMENT by Bob Whitesel

Nico-Dirk has tendered a fascinating summataion with the phrase “both very cool and very alien and underlines, for better or worse, the importance of buildingss.” The struggle of large churches to remain missional when facilities and organizational concerns steal energy and focus is probably under studied. The cyclical journey of St. Tom’s towards, at lesast in this author’s mind, a less missional pattern today begs the continuing study of whether mega and missional can be allies. I hope they can, though I am not yet convince of this. I leave it to the next generation of leaders to prove a positive connection. Bob Whitesel



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———. 2004. The Passionate Church. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Cook Publishing.

———. 2005. A Passionate Life. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Cook Publishing.

———. 2007. Personal Interview: June 7, 2007.

Calladine, Mal. 2007. Personal Interview: June 6, 2007.

Gibbs, Eddie. 2005. From Crossing Bridges to Building Pontoons: Regaining Lost Ground and Crossing Cultural Frontiers. Paper read at The Annual Meeting of the American Society of Church Growth, November 12, 2005, at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.

———. 2005. Leadership Next: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Gibbs, Eddie, and Ryan K. Bolger. 2005. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker.

Hiebert P. (1976) Cultural Anthropology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker.

Hopkins, Bob, and Mike Breen. 2007. Clusters: Creative Mid-sized Missional Communities. Sheffield, England: 3D Ministries.

Hunter, George G. III. 1979. The Contagious Congregation: Frontiers in Evangelism and Church Growth. Abingdon Press.

Maconochie, Paul. 2007. Personal Interview: Sheffield, England, June 14, 2007.

Mallon, Paddy. 2003. Calling A City Back to God: A Sheffield Church, Over 2.000-strong, Most Below 40 Years Old. What Can We Learn? Eastbourne, England: Kingsway Communications Ltd.

———. 2007. Personal Interview: Phoenix, Arizona, June 8, 2007.

Saxton, Johanna. 2011. Personal Interview: Los Angeles, California, June 1, 2011.

Wagner, C. Peter. 1976. Your Church Can Grow: Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Church. Glendale: Regal Books.

Warren, Robert. 1989. In the Crucible. Surrey, England: Highland Books.

Whitesel, Bob. 2005. The Perfect Cluster: For Young Adults, St. Tom’s, Sheffield Creates Extended Families, And Everyone Knows Where They Fit. Outreach Magazine, May/June 2005, 112-114.

———. 2006. Inside The Organic Church: Learning From 12 Emerging Congregations. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

———. 2007. Organic Change: 12 Emerging Communities of Missional Theologians. The Journal of the American Society for Church Growth 18:3-16.

Whitesel, Bob, and Kent R. Hunter. 2001. A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Woodhead, Mick. 2007. Personal Communication: Sheffield, England, June 14, 2007.


[1] This history was created from personal interviews (Whitesel 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011), personal visits (2006, 2009) as well as books written by leaders of St. Thomas’ (Breen 1997, 2004; Mallon 2003; Hopkins and Breen 2007).

[2] Communicating the venue change to a large congregation flowed through of the cell-cluster-celebration structure. “…The most effective way of communication was … through four phone calls” recalled Calladine (Calladine 2007:4). The Rector would (1) call the Celebration Leaders, who would (2) call the Cluster leaders, who would then call (3) the small group leaders, who would then call (4) the small group attendees

[3] For more on cultures as “integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society” see Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology, 1976:25.

[4] Each year the church hosts a “Visitor’s Week” where attendees from around the world experience firsthand the principles of this innovative congregation.

TRANSFORMATION & 3 ways to walk a spiritual bridge to new life w/ someone

by Bob Whitesel, Church Central, April 30, 2017.

Two things are happening to a person in spiritual and physical crisis:

1. At this point they realize that only God, the one who created them, can effectively and enduringly meet their needs.

2. They also feel that their relationship with God is estranged because they have ignored him for so long.

The uncommon church will foster an environment where helping others navigate this bridge is the norm. Therefore, the uncommon church walks this bridge with others, not retracing their own steps again but walking alongside helping, answering questions, and encouraging others as they cross a bridge between natural and supernatural living. A verse that reminds us of the magnitude of the newness and that we represent God in it, can be found in 2 Corinthians 5:17–19: “What we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives” (MSG).

The importance of walking the bridge with them 

And so, as Christ’s representatives we need to tell others how God gave his Son to provide a bridge back to himself. I have found that in many growing churches almost all congregants know how to explain the story of Jesus’ bridge.

Thus, the last key toward helping others navigate the bridge back to a restored friendship with God is to have a congregation that can explain God’s biblical bridge. Sometimes called “the plan of salvation,” these are simple memory devices that the majority of all attendees in the uncommon church must know if we are to fulfill Paul’s admonition in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that, God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives” (MSG). Here are three of the most common explanations of that bridge:

The Four Spiritual Laws 13

1. God loves you and created you to know him personally (John 3:16; 17:3).

2. Humans are sinful and separated from God, so we cannot know him personally or experience His love (Romans 3:23; 6:23).

3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for human sin. Through him alone we can know God personally and experience God’s love (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3–6; John 14:6).

4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience his love (John 1:12; Ephesians 2:8–9; Revelation 3:20).

The Romans Road 14

To aid in memorization, this explanation employs the metaphor of a Roman thoroughfare:

• Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” (Everyone needs salvation because we have all sinned.)

• Romans 6:23: “The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (The price or consequence of sin is death.)

• Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Jesus Christ died for our sins. He paid the price for our death.)

• Romans10:9: “Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation.” (We openly declare that we receive salvation and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.)

• Romans5:1: “Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Salvation through Jesus Christ brings us back into a relationship of peace with God.)

Steps to Peace with God15

This explanation uses phrases tool: from John 3:16 as a memory

• For God so loved the world: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

  • That he gave his only Son:“While we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • That whoever believes in him: “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).
  • Should not perish:“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).
  • But have everlasting life: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

So pick an explanation that works for you. But hold one another accountable to be able to explain at least one route, for 1 Peter 3:15–18 urges:

Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God. (MSG)

Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012). For further online notes: See Chapter 8 Complete Notes. 

LEADERSHIP & 3 Perils of Modern Leadership by @BobWhitesel #ChurchCentral

by Bob Whitesel, Church Central, May 11, 2017

Leadership is an interdependent mixture of intuition, experience, and inspiration. And precisely because of this extraordinary fusion a starting place becomes difficult, if not impossible, to assign.

Staying power

As the weekend retreat ended, two influential elders of Clarkston Church3 drew me aside. “We’ve decided to call for Pastor Gordon’s removal,” began Julian. “It’s not that we haven’t tried,” continued Rosa, “but Gordon is single-minded and stubborn. This weekend has been one long sales job. He’s just trying to get us to buy his vision for a new building.” Within a week I received an e-mail announcing that the elders were bringing Gordon before the council for removal. As I thought back to my two years working as a consultant with this church, I marveled how quickly things had changed.

Two years ago, Gordon was fresh out of seminary and following a popular pastor at Clarkston Church named Joan. Joan had turned a dying church of forty attendees into a growing congregation of more than 120 worshipers. Tapped as her successor, Gordon had graduated from seminary after forty years of running an investment program for his denomination. This was his first pastorate, and I remember the passion he brought to his new vocation.

Two years later, the enthusiasm was gone, replaced by a spirit of pessimism and duress. “They wanted me to change things,” recalled Gordon in a phone conversation later that day. “And they gave me free rein. So I took it. They are forgetting that we grew a lot my first year.”

“But last year was different,” I interjected.

“Sure, they’ve got their own unrealistic ideas about how things should be done,” continued Gordon. “They don’t have the training. I do! They saw my way worked the first year. They should have listened to me last year too.”

Rosa, in her mid-seventies, and Julian, in his early thirties, formed an odd partnership aligned against Gordon. “We both feel that Gordon won’t support our ideas to help townspeople,” began Julian. “We’re the poorest area in the county, and Gordon just wants to focus on building a new sanctuary.”

“He’s afraid the new building won’t be built if we use our money to help the needy here in Clarkston,” added Rosa. “He’s forgotten our history as a denomination that looks after the poor.” Later Julian summarized: “Gordon is getting his ideas from what bigger churches are doing in bigger cities and the stuff he learned in seminary. He doesn’t listen to our input. But we’re more familiar with what people need around here because we live here. And he still doesn’t.”

Gordon recently confided, “Look, Bob, I’ve got three years until I can retire with some denominational benefits. No one wants to hire a pastor my age. So help me convince my board to do things my way for just three more years. Then I can retire. The church can hire someone else to beat up, and everyone will be happy.”4 Gordon didn’t have three years. He barely had three months.

Stands for “others”

Among tomorrow’s leaders there is a passion not for themselves or their own accomplishments but for helping those most in need: the underprivileged, disadvantaged, and deprived. To understand this empathy, let us first look at what modern leadership has evolved into, for this will help us understand the millennial reaction. Here are three perils of modern leadership:

Modern peril 1: Others and their allegiance drive the leader. 

In the modern leadership world, numerous books extol leadership as the pinnacle of human ambition.5 And many of these books measure the leader’s success in terms of how many follow her or him.6 Harvard leadership professor Barbara Kellerman said, “The modern leadership industry, now a quarter-century old, is built on the proposition that leaders matter a great deal and followers hardly at all.”7 Another leadership
writer warned, “Many in leadership positions today believe that their leadership should be measured by how many people look to or depend on them.”8 A result has been that modern leaders often measure success by the number of followers who meet the needs of the organization (or meet the needs of the leader).

Subtle clues abound in the church world, such as when the leader’s name is proudly displayed on church signage and in advertisements. Doing this builds a church on a person rather than a community and inadvertently fosters a cult of personality. Another damaging result is that the non-church community can view the leader as the most important person in the congregation. Leaders exacerbate this problem when they use possessive terms: “Mychurch is located on Second Street,” “myboard does this,” or “myyouth pastor does that.” Ownership, self-importance, and dominance are the subtle insinuation, announcing that if you want to be part of this church, you should view yourself as a possession subject to an earthly person rather than to Christ.

Modern peril 2: Others are resources to be managed. 

A type of management arose during the Industrial Revolution that valued workers for their labor, not for their worth. In 1913 Frederick Taylor described this as “scientific management”9 and famously intoned, “The worker must be trimmed to fit the job.”10 To legitimize his conclusions, he conducted time and motion studies to show how jobs could be better performed at the workers’ expense. Modern managers embraced this research to prove that by manipulating people, work can be done faster and more efficiently (oftentimes, however, at the expense of the workers’ input, self-worth, and dignity).

The human resource movement rose in reaction,11 where fulfilling a worker’s needs and aspirations was seen as equally important. But this approach came to view humans as little more than just another “resource” to be allocated, deployed, and/or deleted.12 After a century of these trends, modern leadership often became too focused on propping up the organization and/or the leader at the expense of the people it managed or served.13

An autocratic leadership model emerged in many churches that paralleled the business world where all major decisions passed through a central leader.14 Known in the business world as the sole-proprietorship model, this is a mom-and-pop business approach where all-important decisions pass through “pop,” the figurehead leader. In the church this figurehead is usually a professional clergy person. But this creates a bottleneck in the decision-making process, stalling growth for several reasons. First, growth stalls because of the time needed to get a decision approved by a senior leader. Second, volunteers may feel their input is not trusted because the volunteers must “convince” a figurehead, far removed from the work, of the merit of the volunteers’ ideas. Third, the figurehead will often respond by using past experience to criticize the new idea. Leaders become trapped in an experience trap and dismiss the innovations of others.15 Volunteers such as Rosa and Julian often feel they do not measure up to the leader’s expertise. They feel unappreciated, unacknowledged, and eventually a commodity.

Modern peril 3: Others are led by vision. 

“Everyone keeps talking about vision statements. They spend too much time on these things. Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, that’s our mission!” said Leonard Sweet.16

An abundance of books today deal with how to fine-tune a church’s vision.17 Yet very little church growth occurs because of a more accurate vision or mission statement. Rather, I have observed churches preoccupied with scrutinizing the language of their statements. Wrangling over words in our statements preoccupies congregations with the minutia of church language, disregarding the important language of good deeds to a non-church community.

Similarly, when conflict arises (as it will in the church), a leader may be tempted to retreat to her or his vision, using it as a weapon to demote the vision of others. Often, the leader may try to win over others by scheduling a vision retreat, which more aptly might be called a “vision-selling retreat.” Then, if others are not won over, leaders such as Pastor Gordon may focus on Jesus’ warning that “my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (John 15:1-2 NIV).18 Usually, this indicates the leader wants certain people (who don’t agree with the leader) to exit the congregation, which in a worst- case scenario can lead to congregants being forced out. This can be exacerbated if the leader has come to see one’s vision as superseding any corporate vision. This malady allows the leader to dismiss others’ foresight for ministry.19 Such a leader develops a type of people blindness.20

Excerpted from Organix: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church, by Bob Whitesel (Abingdon Press 2011). For further online notes: See Chapter 1 Complete Notes.

Photo source: istock

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