Cutting-Edge Florida Church Network Rediscovers the Life of Mission

Brian goes on. “I have a problem with a single leader who comes down the mountain like Moses, saying ‘This is what we’re all supposed to do.’ As a disciple, God’s called each of us to bring the gospel and announce the kingdom. Our work as leaders is as equippers—to help people hear him. And at the end of the day, God is creative. He thinks of things we never could.” One of the Underground’s recent microchurch proposals is for people with multiple personalities—dissociative identity disorder. Another is to start a recording studio for homeless musicians. These would join ministries in all kinds of neighborhoods for all kinds of people—all led by simple Christians who have heard a call to meet a need.

I ask if he’s planting church planters—he demurs, says that it depends on my definition of church, that most people think of folks who go off to start church services, and that this isn’t that. “I say church planter, but what I mean is missionary,” he says.

There’s nothing easy about such work. One of Brian’s key roles is encourager—and it’s needed. “The leaders of these communities are my heroes,” Brian says. “They work for almost no money, laying down their lives for the kingdom of God. They’re everything we dream and wish the church could be. But they get discouraged. They desperately need each other, and they need leadership too. A lot of my work is saying ‘Don’t give up,’ and ‘God is pleased with you.’ Failure and experimentation are part of the missionary life, part of discipleship. They’re not to be scared of or avoided. They’re to be celebrated as expressions of obedience. Not all of our ideas are going to work. Not all of them are going to turn into amazing ministries. Some will be really humble. Some will be really hard. On the one hand, that’s the presence of Jesus—so profound. On the other, it’s super tiring. Discouraging. I need to lead people by cheering them on, and to hold them to faithfulness.”

So—is this replicable? “I’d call it an archetype rather than a prototype,” he says. “This would not be easy to copy. It’s sophisticated, and feels unique. But we have an obligation to share what we’ve learned.” But Brian is convinced that it’s not unfamiliar. “People come see what we’re doing, and recognize it. ‘This is what I believe!’ It’s in their hearts already. They just get to put their eyes on it here. ”

Yes, the Underground has grown into an international network, “but we’re not great at that,” Brian is quick to add. It happened nearly by accident. They all share a manifesto and a leadership covenant and meet at a yearly conference.

Some sister movements maintain close oversight. Some don’t. But it makes him happy to see their work inspire others.

***

It’s 2016, and Brian Sanders is joyful.

“In the beginning, we were hurt and angry about church. We needed a prophetic leader—one who could say, ‘We’re going to change things.’ If you want people to live in a different way, you have to promise them change—the possibility of a different kind of church. That was my motivation after all,” he remembers, “the sense that ‘this isn’t good enough. There has to be more.’ Just rolling into town and saying ‘let’s plant a church,’ isn’t eternal enough to inspire people to lay down their lives. I wanted to call people to something authentic.” He feels that he is.

And it’s not just because it is successful—though that doesn’t hurt. “Anyone in ministry has to have this conversation with God—deciding that you’ll do what you’re called to whether or not it ‘works,’ whether or not people come. You have to decide this is who I am, this is what I believe in, and even if only 20 people show up for the rest of my life, I’ll do it with joy, because this is how the church should be. When that happens, you’re liberated. You don’t have to be successful. You don’t have to be famous. You don’t have to attract a bajillion people. I had to die on that altar of success, in order to truly see what success was—empowering people to live their call, their ideas, in service of the kingdom.”

He and his team are beginning to feel the happy obligation to tell others of that success. Maybe, he muses, 10 years in, it’s time to share the Underground with the world. “We’re starting to think about how to help other people now,” he says, and for a second I hear the passion of a younger and angrier Brian Sanders, imagining the men and women like that original 50, scattered around the world. For a moment I hear the edge of that voice reaching out to those who sit in orange chairs, boiling and wondering and dreaming like he once was. But no—that’s not anger I hear.

I think it’s just the call of love.

Paul J. Pastor, an Outreach magazine contributing writer, is a writer and editor, and is the author of The Face of The Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit (David C. Cook).

Paul J. Pastor
Paul J. Pastorhttp://PaulJPastor.com

Paul J. Pastor is editor-at-large of Outreach, senior acquisitions editor for Zondervan, and author of several books. He lives in Oregon.