So, what do we do with the problem and the inevitable pain of being a multiplying church?
How about a plan?
1. Cast vision for multiplication from day one. From the very first time your church or missional community gathers, be intentional to talk about the vision for growth and then separating for the sake of new groups or new churches. The vision for multiplication has to be in the DNA of your church. Furthermore, this can’t be a one-time announcement. The people we lead need to be constantly reminded to not get too comfortable. Keep your shoes on people; we hope you aren’t staying long.
Anyone in marketing will tell you that exposure is key to buy-in. Expose your people often to the concept of gathering to part.
In the world of boxing, it’s called “softening up” your opponent. A steady diet of body shots causes the fighter to eventually drop their hands, and then comes the knock out. I am not suggesting that our fellow church members/missional community members are opponents, nor I am I suggesting that you should punch anybody. I’m simply saying that a steady diet of vision goes a long way in getting the desired response.
2. Pray that God would drive the vision in the hearts of the people. The idea of multiplication is not only an odd idea to the average churchgoer, it is fundamentally against our self-serving human nature. We can beat the drum of gathering with the goal of parting ways until we’re blue in the face, but until the Holy Spirit takes the vision and converts it to a conviction, it’s all for naught.
Remember… don’t move my cheese.
Our charisma and personal commitment to the vision can do nothing to turn the hearts of people; only God can do that. Pray that God would give the grace of open minds and hearts to love those around us with open hands, ready and willing to release whomever whenever and wherever for the glory of God and the good of the world.
3. Create a sending culture in your church where commissioning people to Gospel ministry becomes the norm. I’m not just talking about church planters and new missional communities. Think about where your people are “going” and commission them there for Gospel ministry. Jesus said in John 20, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Create a culture where practically everyone feels “sent” because they really are. Wherever we go, we are called to make disciples. (Matthew 20:28) We are all “sent” ones.
Acknowledge and celebrate that as often as you can.
Think creatively. Commission members that are moving to their new city or neighborhood. Commission your students back to their campuses. Commission your teachers back into the classroom. Commission new parents to faithful parenting. Commission athletes to their teams. Commission members to new jobs. Look at every arena and season of life as a mission field. Celebrate it and send your people with Gospel intentionality. The fields are white for harvest. (John 4:35)
You catch my drift? Create a culture were being “sent” seems to be the norm.
4.When it’s time to part, acknowledge the loss. Don’t ignore it. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t explain it away. Acknowledge the pain and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15) Remember, we are a family purchased and purified by the same blood and sealed with the same Spirit. We really are bound to one another in an eternal sense that carries great temporal implications.
Imagine the pain of one of your ears or eyes or toes or arms being separated from the rest of your body. That would hurt, right? Well, if the Bible is true (and it is!) we are part of one another within the body of Christ. (Romans 12:5) We should expect pain when part of our body is separated. If there is no real emotional, spiritual, relational loss when we part ways, I’d argue that we haven’t truly connected to the body as we should.
Separation should hurt.
Churches that are committed to being multiplying, church-planting churches should prayerfully prepare for and expect the suffering of separation. How might we do that you ask? We prepare our people best by preaching the Gospel – every aspect of the Good News – with its glorious, comfort-bringing truths.
Was our beloved Savior ever burdened with the pain of relational loss? I dare say yes. Every one of Jesus’ friends left Him when He needed them most. (Matthew 26:56) If that weren’t bad enough, as Christ goes to the cross, bearing our sins in His sinless body (1 Peter 2:24), His Father abandons Him that He might suffer the full wrath of God that we deserved. (Habakkuk 1:13) Jesus suffered the horrors of the cross alone.
Jesus knows a thing or two about mental, emotional and relational loss.
Believe it or not, this is part of the Good News. Because Jesus has suffered the pain of leaving and being left, He is not unable to sympathize with us. (Hebrews 4:15) Furthermore, He stands ready and willing to give us specific grace for our specific pains. (Hebrews 4:16) That’s really Good News. Jesus has walked where we walk. He has hurt how we hurt. He knows what we need and He walks with us as a faithful friend and Savior when we are called to leave or are left by those we love. What a sweet Gospel promise.
Multiplying, church-planting churches must be families of Gospel gurus, ready in an instant to apply the healing balm of the Gospel to the pain of parting. It’s real and it hurts, but Jesus is enough.
We come together on the Lord’s Day and in missional communities praying for the Lord’s blessing that He would add to our number so that we might part ways, sending our loved ones to plant new churches and new groups in different neighborhoods, cities, states and countries. We gather to part.
But be encouraged, we not only gather to part, we part to gather. One day when King Jesus returns, there will be a glorious reunion of all the saints. No matter the miles or states or seas that might separate us, we will gather again. That’s not a fairy tale. That’s not wishful thinking. That’s a reality for all those who are in Christ.
So, we can with tear-filled eyes rejoice when we, or ones we love, are sent.
We gather to part, but we part to gather.