Alan Briggs: Flexibility and Multiplication

“When we take the church out of the building, things get messy, and we may lose any control we thought we had.”

I spent most of my childhood playing outdoors. As a kid I was always building forts and playing with fire. (I have more than a few fire stories, but I’ll save those for another day.) During high school summers I worked all week and preferred to spend weekends fishing in the river, wearing ragged jean shorts (“jorts”) and no shirt.

During one college semester I received college credit to spend three months paddling rivers, backpacking through forests, rappelling into canyons and camping in snowfields, all the while learning to survive and lead people.

Thousands of hours in the woods paved the way for those three months of cooking, attending to sick comrades, repairing gear, setting up tents and navigating near emergencies. Over time we gained confidence that we could apply the few principles we had learned in nearly any situation. It was never pretty, but we traveled a lot of miles, overcame a lot of obstacles and “MacGyvered” our way home safely from every adventure.

I grew up on MacGyver, the TV show about a man with a mullet who could make bombs with paper clips and baking soda. He always found himself in dire situations, and he always had a solution. Some kids wanted to be Batman; I wanted to be MacGyver.

We could take a few lessons from the man with the mullet. We need to leave the confines of safe church behind and become more comfortable with “MacGyvering.” Things look nice and neat in the latest book or at the latest conference—until we actually begin. We make great plans for ministry, but then our ministry leads us into the wilderness of the lives around us. Things start getting messy, and we have to adapt in real time to the real lives of real people.

[Is this the end of discipleship as we know it?]

In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch compares the reproducibility of the early church to the systems of al-Qaida. Both, he observes, are network systems. The whole organism is reproducible from one single cell, which carries the complete DNA, ethos and message of the whole. Communities with this much internal consistency are simple and highly adaptable expressions of Jesus’ church.

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Living rooms, coffee houses, parks, pubs and schools become sanctuaries for gospel application and faithful presence. The leaders of these communities need not carry the weight of a heavy church structure. They can exist as one small appendage of a larger church body. The effectiveness of these communities of missionaries rests in their flexibility.

One of the greatest joys I find in working with church planters is they are some of the most flexible people on the planet. They have to be. We live in a dynamic, ever-changing world. Carriers of a message must remain flexible to tailor it to the complexities of changing environments. Context determines the methods. When we take the church out of the building, things get messy, and we may lose any control we thought we had.

Alan Briggs is the director of Frontline Church Planting and the multiplying pastor at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of Staying Is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You and, most recently, Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church. This article is excerpted from Guardrails by Alan Briggs. Copyright © (2016). Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.