“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” ― Zora Neale Hurston link
For the sake of this post I am going to work with the assumption that the authors, pastors and networks involved believe that only men can be pastors. Working within that complementarian framework, I still see some issues with the marginalization of women. I am focusing on the latest hot topic of church planting. Those of you who attend church have probably been present when your church "sent out" a team to plant in a church in what is billed as an underserved or godless city.
Who is involved in church planting?
About 5 years ago, I attended a service at David Platt's former church in Birmingham. While there, Platt called up a team that was going to start a church in the Seattle area which they deemed an unchurched area. I sat there with a smile on my face because it appeared that there was an assumption that there were no other churches serving Jesus in Seattle.
However, what struck me was that there were a number of women on the team. I assumed that the women were considered part of the church planting team or they would not have been there. It seemed to me that Platt believed that women should be an integral part of a church plant. Knowing his friendship with Matt Chandler and the Acts 29 network, I assumed that women would be a vital part of any planting team. I now believe that my assumption was wrong.
I have been reading a number of article about church planting. We know that church plants fail on regular basis but the statistics on the numbers of these failure are all over the place, ranging from 10%-80%. We know of one expert church planter who presided over the startups and failings of 3 churches. Why is that.
In an article by Geoff Surrat on why church plants fail, he implicates the failure to have a team approach to church planting.
Church planting is a lonely business, and every planter needs a team. A great indicator of future success is the ability to bring a team along on the mission. While there are challenges when a pre-existing tight knit group tries to start a church in a new community, it is much better than the alternative. The Lone Ranger parachute drop into a new town makes the path to a thriving church incredibly difficult.
Women do not seem to be recognized as an essential part of the church planting team in Acts 29 or other complementarian groups.
There are more women than men who attend church. Even the strictest complementarian would agree that women are essential to functioning of the local church. However, it appears that women are not part of the picture in planting a church.
Justin Buzzard wrote 15 Life-Giving Habits to Cultivate As a Church Planter/Pastor. Look for a mention of women in his paradigm.
…I think planters/pastors should be men who have incredible friendships, there’s just no way to navigate this calling well without great friends.
Jesus invested his life in a handful of men and changed the world. As the lead guy, investing your life in a handful of guys will set the culture of your church. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a few guys who will invest in others and invest yourself them (2 Tim 2:2).
➔ Action Question: Who are your guys?
8. Go to where men work
Nine years ago I started to visit men in their workplace. I realized this was the first time anyone had done this for many of them. This is a great way to care for the men in your church, spur them on mission, and get to further know your city (#1) as you see and observe these work environments.
➔ Action Question: Whose workplace can you visit this week?
He mentions one woman: a wife.
10. Date your wife
I wrote an entire book about this, because If your marriage is strong and healthy, you can face almost anything. Pastors are in the unique position of having the one job where marriage can disqualify you. Men, we can do what we do because of our wives. Don’t forget this.
➔ Action Question: Are you taking good care of your wife?
Read the entire piece. Where are the women in his plan of action? They don't exist except for his wife.
Where are women in the Acts 29 church planting network?
Matt Chandler is now the head of Acts 29. Do women have any role in church planting in his paradigm? Acts 29 holds boot camps to train pastors and church planters. Look carefully at the wording. It mentions teams and then goes on to define who is on that team.
The Acts 29 Network helps pastors plant churches that plant churches so more people can know Jesus. One of the ways we do that is by offering training for pastors and their ministry teams on how to plant churches that plant churches. Acts 29 boot camps are a key part of that training.
Over the last ten years, God has used our boot camps to encourage and equip men to plant churches across North America and around the world.
Jesus has called every single one of his followers to tell his story throughout the entire world in a way that results in many, many more people becoming his disciples. Acts 29 thinks the best way to do this is by planting churches that plant churches so more people can know Jesus. We hope our boot camps help train and encourage many more people go join Jesus on his mission.
How does Acts 29 define itself?
Are women important to their organization?
Over the last ten years Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 500 churches around the world. We want to allow a unifying, uncommon movement of God to happen through Acts 29. Centered on the Gospel, we desire to advance the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. It is our hope to see this leading to millions of lives changed by the power of the Spirit for the glory of God.
Acts 29 exists to resource church planters and church-planting pastors around the world. We accomplish this through recruitment, assessment, development.
Recruit – We provide ways to introduce men to our network, from national events to regional events. We also encourage the building of personal relationships with existing Network members.
Assess – We provide a clear process for Network membership, with an emphasis on church planting residencies and an evaluation that sets potential members up for success.
Develop – We provide opportunities for Network members to continue to develop the competencies needed to lead a church-planting church. We also provide resources that help men thrive as leaders of church-planting churches.
Acts 29 stands in the tradition of historic evangelical confessionalism. While we believe it is vital that the Elders of each of our churches determine where they stand on doctrines of second importance, we do wish to make known our convictions on the following five theologically-driven core values:
Finally, they mention women as being equal but jump right back to defining what men should do. Do women have anything to do with church planting?
- Gospel centrality in all of life.
- The sovereignty of God in saving sinners.
- The empowering presence of the Holy Spirit for all of life and ministry.
- The fundamental moral and spiritual equality of male and female and to men as responsible servant-leaders in the home and church.
- The local church as the primary means by which God chooses to establish his kingdom on earth.
Diversity in Acts 29 church planting does not extend to women.
Matt Chandler says that Acts 29 should be a radically diverse crowd. That diversity does not appear to include women and in that sense, they are mundane.
In 2012, Matt Chandler became the President of Acts 29 and outlined four values for the future of the network. As he states, “These aren’t complex and seem to me to be no-brainers, even though it might take years before some of them are a reality. I will be and am currently putting my efforts and influence to work in these directions.”
Plant Churches that Plant Churches
Be Known for Holiness and Humility
Become a Radically Diverse Crowd
Be Serious about Evangelism and Conversions
Acts 29 describes what men should be doing. Why not women? And did you know that the Cross of Christ creates brotherly affections?
As I have traveled and been asked questions about Acts 29, most people are encouraged by what the Lord is doing through the men and the churches they lead, but there are those who would consider some of us to be juveniles or a harsh type of theology police. The thing about these perceptions is that although there have definitely been situations and circumstances that I wish some of our guys (including me) would have been more mature about and some situations I wished we had handled differently, my knowledge of the network as a whole is that it is filled with some of the most godly, sacrificial, mature men in the world: men who would gladly lay down any and all of their liberties if it would serve the cause of Christ in greater ways, men who don’t seek conflict but aren’t afraid of it, and men who treasure Christ and the gospel above all.
For every story of one of our guys handling what we believe to be biblically correct in a way that isn’t winsome or gracious or waving the flag of personal liberties instead of the gospel I can point you to dozens and dozens who love Jesus deeply and are quietly training, coaching, and planting churches that will train, coach, and plant churches. We will continue to have our flaws and blind spots like all networks do, but my deep and abiding hope is that regardless of what is said of us — even by our enemies — it will have to be said that we are men who deeply and desperately love the Kingdom of God and are walking in holiness and humility. I’ll invite you to join me in praying this way.
3. Become a Radically Diverse Crowd
One of the great joys I’ve had as a pastor and a leader is learning from other pastors and leaders. That learning has taken place in a multitude of ways. I’ve learned from men who differ from me in theology and practice and I’ve learned from those who differ in philosophy and culture. The friends the Lord has graciously gifted to me over these past 10 years are staggering and I’m grateful for each and every one of them. No where have I learned more than when I am with men of a different ethnicity who share the same doctrinal understandings that I do. When I have sat down and had a meal or a cup of coffee with Eric Mason in Philadelphia, Doug Logan in Camden, Bryan Loritts in Memphis, Bryan Carter in Dallas, Leonce Crump in Atlanta or Lorenzo Elizondo in Oak Cliff, I find the Spirit of God churning my heart to see more of his glory in and through a bold ethnic harmony that reveals God’s glory and the power of the gospel in a visual and captivating way. My third hope for Acts 29 is that we might boldly and unapologetically become a radically diverse crowd over the next few years.
Why? Ethnic harmony/diversity is core to being explicitly Christian. The scriptures would teach that there are two races, the race of the first Adam and the race of the second. It’s only in Christ that we are able to find our core identity. Our different cultures carry history, traditions and legacies but the gospel transcends all that and makes us a new people, a family. We continue to value what is good and right in our cultures but submit gladly to the new family as adopted sons and co-heirs of Christ.
The cross of Calvary isn’t theoretical — it changes how we view ourselves and others. It alone can heal wounds and create brotherly affections and direction. It destroys the walls of hostility. Producing homogenous churches can be done with relative ease and a total lack of dependence on the Spirit. That’s not what I’m hopeful for. The production of diverse churches and ultimately a diverse network, that is not simply an assembly of multi-raced but assimilated people's, can only be done through God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what my heart is hungry for. I’m praying the Spirit of God would guide our steps as we seek to better display his love for all man.
Finally, women are mentioned.
…That we would train the men and women in our churches to see their neighbors, co-workers, and friends as an opportunity to love supremely by praying for and sharing the best news in the universe with them.
It would seem to me that women, even if they cannot assume the role of pastor in the Acts 29 paradigm, should be able to play some valuable roles in establishing a church presence in a new locale. But, Acts 29 does not seem to train women. Yet they claim to see women as equal in value. Is this some leftover DNA from Mark Driscoll's reign?
Here are a few examples.
The Acts 29 boot camps:
1. Carolinas Network Regional | Charleston, South Carolina boot camp in October 2014 was called Grassroots Gospel. Surely women would qualify for the "grassroots," wouldn't they? Nope.
The great southern author Flannery O'Connor famously observed, "while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted." But what would happen to our "over-churched, under-gospeled" landscape if a new generation of men planted gospel-centered churches that thrive in our context?
Over 100 men from 12 different countries assembled at St James Church in Clerkenwell for the inaugural Acts 29 Church Planting Conference to launch Acts 29 in Western Europe and to establish Steve Timmis as its Director. The men were anxious to learn and to interact with other church planters and church planting leaders.
How churches view Acts 29
1. Missio Dei Church, Portland, Maine.
Acts 29 is seeking to get behind the men who are planting churches
Of course, leaders are key to planting churches. Acts 29 identifies, assesses, and develops church planters. As Network pastors rub shoulders with other pastors in their region, men surface who have a gift and calling toward church planting.
Knowing that there are men close by who love me, who ‘get me’ and will do whatever they can for me, is a huge blessing. Right now, one of our men is walking through difficult times as his wife is dealing with cancer. Watching our men come around him and care for him has been special.”
3. International groups: Exponential East: Acts 29 Network Helps African Americans and Latinos Thrive as Church Planters
"What we've really invested in is our Thriving Residencies for urban planters, specifically African American and Latinos. We just spotted this reality that these guys oftentimes come to Anglo suburban churches for their residencies but then they're completely out of the context in which they'll actually minister," Chandler said during the conference's live webcast.
However, this one does mention a wife.
Part of their work within urban communities also involves spending much time with the church planter and his wife as a priority. Acts 29 leaders assess the couple and equip them first before training and working with the couple's team who will help them launch their church.
I am sure that Acts 29 sees nothing wrong with their focus on men. However, they are creating a culture in which a church will revolve around one man, the church planter, who is viewed as the leader. Women, in general, are not welcome to be trained unless they are married to one and then they get equipped.
Acts 29 claims to be open to the gifts of women. They claim that they are equal in worth. However, all of their writings on church planting is geared toward men. Even for complementarians, that is a shame.
Lydia of Thyatira.
Lydia used her house as a way station for Paul in his ministry. She is considered the first European convert. Maybe Paul should have sought out a man who would plant a church and have that man's wife speak to Lydia? How unmanly- a woman was the first European convert.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (NIV-Gateway)
Here's the bottom line. Church plants are successful because of a team of people. On that team should be women. If there are women on such a team then Acts 29 needs to do a better job of making them a part of the process. For now, it appears to me that Acts 29 does not view women as equal in worth when it comes to planting a church. They are supposed to stay out of the way and let real men handle it all.
I urge everyone to read the links and see if you think I am exaggerating the lack of any sort of concern about the role of women in church planting.
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 10:1-12:13 Matthew 20:1-28 Psalm 25:1-15 Proverbs 6:6-11