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Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Kingdom First" (Jeffrey Allan Christopherson)

TITLE: Kingdom First: Starting Churches that Shape Movements
AUTHOR: Jeffrey Allan Christopherson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015, (280 pages).

What is the meaning of the kingdom of God? What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God? How do we live as kingdom people? For author and pastor Jeffrey Allan Christopherson, it begins with four paradigm shifts. First, the Church is to be the means to the kingdom, not the ends of the kingdom. In other words, the kingdom does not exist for the Church. The Church exists to usher in the Kingdom to come. Second, the principle is more important than the model used for Church planting. Once the principle is set, the model will follow suit. Third, Church plants must learn to fund themselves rather than to be dependent on being funded. This is what the author calls the need to launch more "intentionally bivocational church planting teams." Fourth, planting churches comes from evangelism and not for evangelism. The rationale is that only churches that were planted from evangelism will know what that means. With these four assumptions in place, the author launches with the descriptions of his eight steps to practicing "Kingdom First" method of Church planting.

The first thing to remember is the way Matthew 6:33 proclaims the words of Jesus: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." For Christopherson, kingdom means "God’s active and sovereign reign through history bringing about His purposes in the world through Christ Jesus. In the simplest of terms, the Kingdom of God is what the world looks like when King Jesus gets His way." When Jesus has it his way, size does not matter. Small is formidable. Status is irrelevant. This kingdom is full of beauty and those who catch a glimpse of its glory will treasure and pursue it passionately. The kingdom appeals to the lost and the spiritually hungry. We learn about the contrasts between "self-seekers" and "kingdom-seekers"; "brand expanders" and "kingdom expanders." Success is redefined in terms of number of new believers; new disciple makers; new church plants; and transformed communities that the Church is in.

The second thing is about the character behind the church planting efforts. The leader must don the character of Christ. The leader will realize that the most difficult person to lead is oneself. The irony is that at our peak, we are also at our weakest spiritual state. In the West, we are basically stuck in an individualistic world where privacy is high and transparency is low. For that, the leader ought to be one who is willing to be upfront and personal; be publicly accountable; and let ourselves be the example for others. Such a leader is also known to lead one's family well. He does not idolize his family but remembers not to let his life revolve around his family. 

Third, being a church planter means great sensitivity to the contexts. Financial matters are not primary considerations. Instead, it is about setting realistic expectations on projected needs, funding, and manpower situations. Knowing the contexts will determine which models are most appropriate. Each of these models all grow out from a specific context. The trouble with many church planters is that they have imported these models with little awareness of their original contexts. The "missional attractiveness" model was developed as a result of frustrations over the ineffectiveness of evangelism. The "missional cell" was based on Ralph Neighbour's cell-group church ideas which originated from the Korean churches that were growing rapidly and needing lots of pastoral care. The "missional house church" appeals to people who are increasingly suspicious of institutional religion, structure, passive worship, and rigid liturgy. The "legacy church replanting" is about renewing old structures and efforts to renew old churches. It requires church leaders to ask once again whether the Church is in the location where it can be the lighthouse to the community. Does it need a new vision for replanting? Does it need to move? All of these four models are examined with an understanding of each one's strengths and weaknesses. 

Fourth, the role of communications is crucial. There is no perfect way, but a need to understand how we communicate, who we are communicating to, and other contextual understanding. Since there is no one-size-fits-all way, we need to understand the barriers in our hearers' hearts, minds, and wills. This includes the preaching to be adapted for church planting. Preachers will be sensitive that the audience may not have a Christian worldview. They share how the kingdom perspective helps build a better community and a better future. Five ingredients shape the kind of preaching: 1) Issue framing; 2) Biblical perspective; 3) Two applications; 4) Introducing bigger problem; 5) Proposed resolution. 

Fifth, no Church planting effort can work without a team. This means focusing on developing a healthy team. Teamwork means that members are open to learning; being constantly encouraging; helping one another fight the spiritual battles. Christopherson suggests the team members be people with a sense of calling and commitment.

Sixth, churches can only make a difference when they project kingdom-first practice in all they do. This means proclaiming the gospel, the person of Jesus, and the kingdom according to Jesus. It means boldness to cross social fault lines such as our comfort zones; our outward care for others; areas of opportunity; and the whole Church to be a "missionary." 

Seventh, this brings us to the need to make disciples. We learn about what discipleship is and what it is not. There are tips on processes about making and multiplying disciples. The processes all rely heavily on Matthew 28:18-20. We discover disciples by looking at the fruits of people, obedience, and character. Equally important is to learn how to recognize the wrong metrics of discipleship. Some programs like leadership development tend to make people consumers rather than reproducers. We are cautioned against cultivating small-group huddles or "groupies"; measure discipleship with Biblespeak ability; and self-focused development. 

Eighth, being kingdom first is about multiplication. Even a new Church ought to begin with multiplication in mind. The author provides eight paradigm shifts needed toward vibrant church planting. After highlighting eight myths, he introduces five different ways NOT to multiply. He also explores three common church planting approaches and points out the pros and cons of each: 1) Sending; 2) Multisite; 3) Incubator.

This is one of the most comprehensive treatment of Church planting I have ever read. Even though Christopherson starts with "kingdom first" in his eight part treatment of the book, he maintains this perspective throughout the book. As we settle our minds and hearts on letting God's kingdom be first, we model our character after Jesus, the King of the kingdom. We study the contexts of our neighbours and ours for the sake of the Kingdom. We communicate in a way that exemplifies our credentials as kingdom people. We work as a team as united members of the kingdom. We want to make a difference for the benefit of the kingdom. We make disciples because that is what the kingdom requires. We multiply because that is exactly what that means as we pray "Thy kingdom come." Why do I like this book? I like it for three reasons. First, there is a lot of experience shared by Christopherson. He walks the talk. In fact, he writes from personal experience about his church planting efforts. Many of the cautions and the exhortations clearly have a practical perspective. When reading the book, one can sense pastoral wisdom flowing through from print to reader. It is like having Christopherson sharing about the topic up close and personal. This in itself makes it less of a theoretical paper and more like a manual for action. Second, the coaching questions at the end of each chapter prepares the reader to put the chapter immediately to practice. This is crucial because good learning only comes with practice and not mere head knowledge. Brief and easily understandable, the questions also motivate readers to check back on parts of the book that need clarifications or reminders. Some of the questions also force us to examine ourselves more. This is important because of certain tendencies among some readers to apply stuff to others without first applying them to self. Authenticity is best practiced when we learn it ourselves first. Third, the many models and best practices will help kick start any church planting initiatives by ANY church. There is no limit to what one can do. The scale of church planting may differ, but the idea of desiring to plant churches are similar. Anyone interested in practicing kingdom first must remember Jesus' parable about the kingdom. Take the parable of the Sower. Very often, we use it as some kind of an individualistic exercise pertaining to one's own talents or giftings. I believe it applies to Churches as well. Churches that multiply are also those that have seeds growing on fertile soils. The seed is the Word of God. The fertile soil is our obedience to do the best we can to let God grow the seed in us, through us, and with us.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of B and H Publishing Group and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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