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GUEST POST: Josh Blunt

I spent the better part of the last eleven years as a church planter in a small, protestant denomination known as the RCA.  I was trained and vetted at the height of the attractional church model’s heyday, when pastors flocked to conferences at Saddleback and Willow Creek for inspiration and when Rob Bell’s fledgling ministry at Mars Hill just seemed quirky and innocuous.  Those were days in which innovation was king and the postmodern landscape of the culture around us promised to flow with milk and honey if we could only crack the code and infiltrate it for Jesus.

It was also the dawn of my denomination’s foray into intentional church planting, a season in which young, idealistic, evangelical pastors emerging from seminaries were encouraged to bypass the quagmire of tradition, bureaucracy, and stasis inherent in existing churches.  We were enjoined to boldly go where no RCA pastors had gone before, claiming a new share in the Harvest for an increasingly obscure yet historically evangelical family of believers.

The RCA has always been a mixed denomination, boasting of its ability to balance both mainline and evangelical elements in one household.  Nevertheless, our denominational landscape at the time seemed divided into two camps:

1)  traditional methodology + progressive theology = mainline protestantism

2)  progressive methodology + traditional theology = evangelicalism

The assumption in church planting circles was that, at least in terms of denominational survival, equation #1 led to death and equation #2 was the path to life.  In this sense, planters genuinely believed that we and our new churches were going to be the great hope for the next generation of RCA believers.

Many within our little tribe insisted that church planting could restore our dwindling numbers, and even revitalize existing congregations who would parent new, daughter congregations.  This plan seemed explicitly biblical and patently apostolic to me then, and it still does now – healthy, biblical, new congregations and church networks DO reach new people and expand the Kingdom.  When I started out as a planter, however, most of us assumed that this growth potential would be largely connected to the new congregations’ ability to more nimbly and rapidly deploy progressive, attractional church methodology.  In other words, we would adapt to the emerging needs of unbelievers far more easily, having fewer sacred cows to kill along the way.

I can assure you that no one foisted this rationale on me explicitly or activistically.  All the appropriate reverence and spiritual language one would expect in churchmanship were judiciously injected along the way.  I heard no one openly advocating for a radical abandonment of the ordinary means of grace on which all believers have historically depended for sustenance (God’s Word, the sacraments, and prayer), nor did anyone imply that the true Church should no longer be marked by discipline, purity in proclamation, or right administration of the sacraments.  Rather, an excessive optimism about progressive methodology and focus on attractional church accoutrements steadily overshadowed our faith in such means.  This blind preference was instilled by the emphasis and tone of well-intentioned and hopeful people, not by any strategic rhetoric from jaded deconstructionists.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter how the idea got into my head or the heads of other planters of my era – what matters is how it affected us and the churches we planted, and how the Holy Spirit has challenged and exposed our assumptions along the way.  What I have learned, and what Kevin has graciously invited me to convey through a short series of posts here, is that the future of ministry in historical denominations can’t be reduced to equation #1 OR #2 above.  Whether a congregation is being freshly planted, or revitalized over time, I believe the math is something much more akin to this:

3)  ordinary, historic methodology + orthodox, gospel-focused theology + patient, painstaking contextualization = sustainable fruitfulness

Over my next posts, I will offer some of the things I observed over the course of my decade-long church planting journey.  I will explain the transformation my congregation and I underwent as our adherence to an attractional, progressive model of methodology inevitably worked against our traditional theology and tore irreparable rifts in the fabric of our fellowship.  I will describe the attempts we made to change horses midstream and how they helped.  I will also show how the previously lost and unchurched perceived each model, and how the pre-churched and re-churched among us did, as well.  These dynamics tended to revolve around three key areas, each of which will be a focus in my remaining posts:

-  Proclamation (Preaching of the Word, Worship, Evangelism)

-  Life Together (Prayer, Discipleship, Sacraments)

-  Unmentionables (Discipline, Conflict, Gender Roles, and Governance)


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Comments:


11 thoughts on “From Metro to Retro (1 of 4)”

  1. Chris Taylor says:

    This piece is so well written, and so compelling that I can’t wait to see the rest of the articles. However, I get the feeling that the title of the series does not do it justice. Isn’t ‘retro’ just last year’s ‘metro’? It appears you are pursuing something more substantial than that.

  2. Josh Blunt says:

    Point taken, Chris. The title is just a way to frame the idea of abandoning certain innovations of postmodernity in favor of more ancient and proven methods. Think retro in the sense of “reversal” or “return to a former state.” Either way, thanks for reading and the kind words. I hope you enjoy the sequels.

  3. Josh, I look forward to the next three. Thanks to K.DeY for the excellent guests he has invited who add much to his already insightful commentary.

    Josh, is it possible to ask that you include links or references at the end of your posts that might give us some of the resources that challenged or guided you for those of us in the midst of similar grapplings who will want to continue reflecting and working through these issues in some depth??

    Many thanks,
    God bless,
    Michael
    (NSW, Australia)

  4. Josh Blunt says:

    Michael – I cannot add to the posts themselves; they are already written and being posted on autopilot while Kevin is away. However, I will do my best to post some relevant resources in the comments section after each post. Some of the best resources are books I have had the privilege to edit that are not yet released – I will check with the publishers to see if they mind me hyping them here before they are released. Some of the most influential resources behind the basic thesis are lectures by Mark Devers (and the many wonderful books in his Nine Marks series), as well as lectures and interaction with Ligon Duncan. These men dealt with churchmanship in a way that helped me to reframe much of my experience and put handles on the different paradigms I was trying to describe. The Ligon Duncan lectures from 2011 (as well as some great lectures by Kevin DeYoung, Carl Truman, and others) are available on audio and video for free at http://www.rcaintegrity.org/#/media. I will post more resources soon…

  5. Josh Blunt says:

    Ok, Michael. I have permission from publisher to mention two upcoming books that helped my thinking a lot: First, “Center Church: Ding Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City” by Tim Keller. It is his new layout of their ministry and planting model, and it is EXCELLENT at laying out very thoughtful and scholarly expositions of the relationship between reformed theology and culture. He redeems and refreshes our understanding of biblical, faithful contextualization (not a dirty word), and does a very thorough job of laying out a balance between creativity and faithfulness. Release is in August, and you can see it on Amazon (I will post the link in a minute).. Second, a book called “Insourcing,” by Randy Pope from Perimeter Curch. This is an amazing and apt exposition of discipleship that deeply convicted me about the errors and failures I had made during my planting cycle. Not only is it grew theory, it is wonderfully illuminating about practice, sharing vignettes into a composite group experience from a fictional composite of one of Perimeter’s journey groups. It is set for release in February, but can be seen on Amazon, as well (I will post that link in a minute, too). These are some of the most helpful resources, but don’t forget to soak up Kevin’s great work on “Don’t Call it a Comeback,” “The Good News We Almost Forgot,” “What is the Mission of the Curch?” etc., which all relate to topics I am addressing here.

  6. Ed Bowmqn says:

    When I left seminary in 2006 I was convinced traditional orthodoxy combined with real evangelism, that of actually building meaningful relationships to both tell the Gospel as well as model the gospel both in the pulpit and without would bring life back into the dying church Christ called me to serve. Its been slow, challenging and rewarding. Lig Duncan once told me “Ed, preach the gospel and fear no man.” He was spot on. The church h has quadrupoled and her service usefulness is increasing.

  7. Eric says:

    I highly commend you for this series. Chuck Colson, in his book, The Body, spoke of a pastor who winnowed his congregation down to a faithful core…and his church, as a true church, “took off” from that point on!

    It sounds like you were making real headway, and then had the rug pulled out from under you. Is that how the RCA works? Success equals numbers (people and finances) rather than spiritual depth and growth?

    Here’s hoping you plunge back in!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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