church, church planting, Musings, theology

Starting from Scratch? Church Planting as Deliberative Theology

The current trend of church planting has certainly seen a revival of sorts in the last few decades. For those who aren’t hip to the way cool church terminology of the day, church planting is the process of starting a new church “from scratch”. It usually involves a lead planter who will likely become the pastor (at least for a time) and he/she will pull together a team of people to be the building blocks of this new church community, usually called a core team. These people may be seasoned Christians or new believers; they may be local or from other places. Regardless, once they begin meeting together regularly, they begin the process of becoming church (or many would say, are church). The goal is to grow numerically and spiritually, with the desire to fulfill the mission they’ve been given. This, of course, plays out in different ways and forms, but the idea is that the “making of disciples” thing happens, because Jesus told us to do that. 🙂

Now, there are so many things to talk about when it comes to this process, and I am by no means an expert. Seriously, I’m not. I was brought in to that “core team” to help plant the Gallery Church of Baltimore in 2008. Eventually, I was able to come on staff for the church, fulfill a variety of roles, and now pastor one of our neighborhood churches. It has been a blast. It has been incredibly difficult. It has been rewarding. It has been frustrating. It has been instructive. I love it.

Which leads me to the particular topic of this post (and perhaps future ones). While this desire to “share the gospel” is certainly central to church planting, or it ought to be; there is a certain novelty in seeking to “begin again” with one’s church expression. My own initial draw to church planting was, to be perfectly honest, selfish and idealistic. In my view, everyone else got church wrong, I think I have it right, and if we just start over without all the baggage, we can “fix the church”.

I’m not alone in this; at least, I don’t think I am. Even in our own city, there is a newer church community endeavor called the Slate Project. On their website, they state the following:

“We are asking, “What if we had a blank slate for being and doing church?” (That is where the “slate” comes from, get it?) What would we choose to wipe away? What would we leave behind? What is no longer working or serving us? Where do we need to confess and repent and turn back toward the path, the Way?”

I am not criticizing this process or statement at all (actually, I find what they are doing intriguing, compelling, and very honest). And I have no insight into motives and am not even trying to guess or judge them. I’m sure they are far more pure than mine were. (to be clear: zero criticism here!) However, what I want to point out is something of which I personally haven’t seen a lot written: the fact that church planting is often just as much fueled by what it doesn’t want to be; namely the same old system. And as such, this creates a different framework and even theological process.

This process, to borrow a term from Stone and Duke in their book How to Think Theologically, is called deliberative theology. Deliberative Theology is the understanding of of faith that emerges from a process of carefully reflecting upon embedded theological convictions, questioning what has been taken for granted, reflecting on multiple understandings of the faith implicit in the life and witness of Christians, and identifying and/or developing the most adequate understanding possible. In short, it is the process of examining, rejecting, and accepting certain aspects of ecclesiology and tradition (in all their various forms).

So, here is my question/thought: could it be that church planting is, at least partially, an exercise in deliberative theology, writ large? Could it be that many who are even “attracted” to newer churches are in a place of doing deliberative theology themselves, their old answers and expressions no longer being satisfactory for their new questions and life situations?

Lastly, is this good or bad? Dangerous or beautiful? I hope to examine that more in a future post.

What do you think?

Stone, Howard and James Duke, How to Think Theologically. 3rd ed. (Augsburg Fortress, 2013).


5 thoughts on “Starting from Scratch? Church Planting as Deliberative Theology

  1. I think it’s good, bad, dangerous, and beautiful. Ultimately, I think, if not lead by the Holy Spirit, Deliberative Theology just creates “new” motions, forms, liturgical practices, and doctrinal nuances/emphases. God chose men before there was a religious framework, saved men within the religious framework, and reached men outside of the framework (us, those that are gentiles/non-jews).

    It’s probably one of the most interesting thing about men driven by belief, some are driven by God for God and others are not but the Gospel goes forth nevertheless. Even in our error, even in hour honesty, and even in our unwitting deceit, God remains faithful. Even though there are vessels for honor and those for dishonor; even though not all that proclaim Lord, Lord will enter, the mission continues until the last knee has bent and the last tongue truthfully (not just subjectively) acknowledges the Sovereignty and Rightful Authority of Christ over all.

    Long fluffy way to say, all of the above.

    • Thanks, Julian. Great thoughts. My desire is to join with the mission of God, not have God accomplish it in spite of me. I am curious as to what this would look like: to plant a church with the flow of mission.

  2. I think it’s part of the creation and destruction process that has existed throughout human history and will continue to exist. We see this in all aspects of life, not just church planting. A successful company is one that continues to examine, reject, criticize, and accept their business model and practices in light of emerging changes and new information. A faith that is lasting must continually be destroyed and recreated. As the koan says: “If you meet the Buddha, kill him”.

    • Thanks, Colter. Is this process really creation and destruction, or is it more creation and innovation? Is it ever truly destruction? I am not convinced. We all begin our process of examination having benefitted from or having been influenced by the creative process of others. When we then critique, I imagine it is never fully destructive, but has a “renovation” style to it. I suppose different people do different things. But for me, nothing is every fully destroyed, perhaps dismantled or rearranged. Would love to know your thoughts here.

      I think I will write a post about the differences in ideology between renovating a house in a way that is in keeping with the character of it versus completely gutting a house and starting from scratch. My fear in the church world (and this could apply to other arenas as well…though it is not my area) is that we too quickly gut a house, throwing away some historical jewels in the process and causing our house to feel very much “out of step” with the history of the block.

      • I think you’re right…the traditional modality is “creation, destruction”, and that was the mantra running through my mind when I responded, but I think you’re right…innovation is really the appropriate term. And perhaps Innovation is actually a dualistic concept of putting together, dismantling, and then putting back together again. Given that “there is nothing new under the sun”, perhaps creation is not the proper term to use either.

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