On June 20, 2017 my book, Proliferate, was reviewed by 9Marks in their journal on church planting. You can read the review here. I was honored to be reviewed by a ministry I hold in such high esteem. I have frequently leaned on 9Marks as a source of God-honoring and gospel-focused resources. Though I was grateful for the kind words they offered, I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to what I thought were some unfounded criticisms.
The thing with 9Marks is that sometimes they aren’t always the most practically-minded folks, which they admit freely. Ed Stetzer wrote a piece about it in the same journal, What 9Marks Purists Should Know About Church Planting. It’s a great piece, and shows that 9Marks is aware of a few of their blindspots.
My response to John Joseph of 9Marks
The Background of Proliferate
The bulk of this book is a more reader-friendly version of the Doctor of Ministry Project that I presented at Southern Seminary in May of last year. In that project, I shared our plan to multiply as a young church, and we were able to do so and do so effectively. We were blessed to see God do amazing things through our small church plant as we multiplied by God’s leadership and for His glory. I was encouraged by professors and other ministry leaders to share both our story, and the practical steps we took to multiply effectively in a more reader-friendly, less academic piece.
The thought was that small churches needed to be involved in church multiplication. As many have observed, one of the reasons that churches die is because they are inwardly-focused. My prayer was to “awaken a mighty force in this world of churches that feel like they are irrelevant. And that maybe through the Holy Spirit’s help this book might encourage many Everyday Church pastors and leaders to equip their churches to proclaim the gospel through church planting and multiplication.”
The plan is for this book to be used as a practical piece for conventions, networks, and associations to encourage the small churches in their care to engage in church multiplication. Emphasis on “practical.” It was not intended to be a theological treatise, but to address an audience of network and denominational leaders, and small-church pastors and planters, and encourage them to find a way to be involved in the important work of church multiplication.
1) Critique One: My Aim Wasn’t Met
In terms of the first critique offered — I will leave it to each reader of my book to decide for themselves whether my aim was satisfactorily accomplished.
2) Critique Two: Questionable Handling of Scripture
I do take strong issue with the second critique. I pointed this subject out earlier in chapter 3. At the end of the chapter I said,
“As all good, theologically conservative Bible interpreters will tell you, we shouldn’t build doctrine from Acts, much less from three verses. We can learn principles, however, that will help as we look to multiply our churches and efforts. These are key verses in the growth of the church, and they serve as the foundation for much of modern-day church planting.”(Kindle Location: 803)
Additionally, I wrote that my point wasn’t to encourage people to teach and preach the word faithfully, mentioning that as a brief aside in a more stream-of-consciousness moment. The main idea there was that they were using their gifts.
“The leaders that were mentioned are leaders with communication gifts. The leaders at Antioch possessed the gift of prophecy and the gift of teaching. They called out sin, taught the Scriptures, and called people to greater love for the gospel. They were seeing disciples made and multiplied. These faithful prophets and teachers tilled the soil so that it was fertile so church multiplication sprouted.” (Kindle Location: 1374)
I was not making an argument in this particular case to be faithful to the Word. My argument was that they were using their gifts, and in the faithful use of their gifts the soil for multiplication was readied.
3) Critique Three: Crandall’s Assumption
The final critique I believe to be a potential misunderstanding or perhaps a misreading. Mr. Joseph says, “Crandall clearly believes Everyday Churches can and should multiply rapidly.” However, I make the point repeatedly that not every church should multiply, but that every church should be involved in the work of multiplication. I said this clearly throughout the book. Here are a few examples:
“In this book I make the argument that all churches should be involved in church multiplication in some manner. This isn’t to say that all churches should be involved in multiplication in the same way, but they all need to be involved in the proliferation of gospel-centered churches both nationally and internationally.” (Kindle Location: 184)
“This book has a simple premise: every church, regardless of size, can be significant in the cause of gospel proclamation through church planting. Every church, regardless of size, should be involved in church proliferation. Let me be clear, not every church should be engaged in church proliferation in the same way, but every church needs to find its role in this effort.” (Kindle Location: 362)
“We all need to think about church multiplication but this doesn’t mean we multiply in the exact same ways. Some churches will be sending out plants consistently, year after year. Some churches should release (and fund) a young leader to plant a church in an area that is relatively nearby. Some churches should take serious percentages of their budget and use them toward multiplication rather than random building improvements. Some churches should do all of those things. Some churches should open their buildings up to different ethno-linguistic church plants. Some churches should consider closing their doors to give the keys of God’s property to a church moving forward and growing and seeking to plant more churches for the glory of God.” (Kindle Location: 794)
“The key to capturing your church’s vision for participating in multiplication is bound up in your particular church culture.” (Kindle Location: 1253)
“Not all churches are going to have a “going to the moon” vision for church planting, and that’s okay. If a church will do the hard work of assessing its culture and context though, then they are well on the way to capturing a vision for how they can be involved in church multiplication. Churches will begin to see what they are great at and where their weaknesses lie. They will begin to see the situation that they are in and what they can do about it. Thus, churches will have a clearer picture of what they can pass on to other churches that they aid in planting.”(Kindle Location: 1329)
I also disagree with the analogy that Mr. Joseph drew in the final paragraph of his weaknesses section in terms of a church being a body. Young believers are considered babes, but I don’t see a local church ever called a baby church in scripture. Our launch team for our pregnant church was made up of maturing believers who felt called to plant a disciple-making work in a new location. The sending church, CityView Church Pearland, had elders at the helm making the decisions as we sent off the mission church. We certainly still had our issues as a young church and we were not fully formed yet, but even then his analogy falters. Further, the Antioch Church had not been formed for very long before they sent missionaries to plant churches and they only had Paul for a very short period of time before they sent off Paul and Barnabas (commentators vary in the amount of time before Acts 13’s sending event, between 12-24 months though is the typical agreed upon timeframe).
I never argue in the book that anyone else should plant pregnant. Could other church plants find themselves in a situation where it might be possible? Yes. However, the book is not a mandate saying that all other church plants should do it. That was something we as a church plant were convicted over, not something we have ever told other church plants they needed to be convicted of. We have a vision for our church to plant 100 churches in 25 years. This isn’t from our church specifically, but includes the churches that we plant. We hope to have a movement of churches that are planting other churches.