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J. Michael Feazell: Welcome to Dimensions of Ministry, where we take a candid look at the opportunities, resources, possibilities, and challenges facing Christian pastors in today’s multi-faceted world. We’re talking with Rod Koop, National Director of Church Multiplication Ministries for the Foursquare Church. Rod’s experience includes service as a youth pastor in California and Oregon, as a senior pastor in Stanwood, Washington, and as a District Administrator and Director of Church Multiplication in the Midwest District of the Foursquare Church. Now as National Director of Church Multiplication, Rod is in the final stages of his Doctor of Ministry degree at Bakke Graduate University.
It’s a pleasure having you with us today, and we appreciate you taking a few minutes out of this conference to spend some time with us.
Rod Koop: Thanks for having me, Mike. I appreciate that.
JMF: We’re talking about church planting in connection with multiplication ministries. Planting is, for a lot of people, kind of an ambiguous, mysterious, almost intimidating word. Is there a way you could take some of the fear factor out of that?
RK: I think that it’s a term that a lot of people struggle with. For me, it’s just starting a new church. It’s recognizing that there is a group of people in a community who don’t know God. And church planting, or starting a new church, is a way that we would use to be able to reach them with the gospel. It happens best out of a local church or with support from a local church that would support a leader who feels called to that people, whoever they are, whether it’s a certain ethnicity or people group or just a culture just within our own cities. But it is about starting a new church and having that church have its own identity, its own calling, its own sense of purpose in reaching those people and having a unique expression that is contextually a fit for what it takes to be able to reach those people.
JMF: A lot of churches, they hear encouragement about starting a new church. Their first question is, “I need to build up this church and strengthen it and make it healthy first — this isn’t the time for me to think about starting a new church.” How does that process work, and how should churches look at that?
RK: I think all churches do a better job at assisting the starting of new churches when they’re healthy and strong. So we’re always a proponent of churches being built up individually. The part that I think that sometimes gets left out is that planting a new church or starting a new church can be a significant part of that strengthening process. Sometimes churches can become a little bit inward, and it’s through no fault of their own. A lot of times they’re just dealing with some issues of care for their own people.
However, the church is here on earth to reach people who are in desperate straits — people who are hurting. Jesus loves those people, and he put the church here to bring the gospel to them so that their lives could be changed. There’s something healthy about a church that would look outside themselves and begin to ask the question, “What is our responsibility to our community?”
Sometimes when you’re looking around and you’re seeing limited resources, those can be hard questions to ask, but it does involve making disciples, and that’s probably the thing I would like to emphasize more than anything. As a guy who oversees church planting for a denomination, I often find myself viewed as the person who is after someone’s assets. It’s that [the new church] must have a leader or they must have money or they must have resources.
JMF: So there’s the sense you’re asking a church to give up some of its leadership and assets to go somewhere else.
RK: Certainly. Whenever churches get started, it requires all of those things. But to be honest with you, the thing that I think I care most about is that churches make disciples. Healthy churches will do that. That’s the command that Jesus gave. Here’s what I’ve discovered, is that churches that do a good job of making disciples will discover that some of those disciples will become pastors and some of those pastors will decide to start new churches rather than to take over an existing one. So I’m a proponent of health. However, as its natural outflow, one of the things that we want to come to expect is that starting new churches is one of the ways, it’s designed by God, that the church is advanced in our society.
JMF: So part of the process of starting a new church sounds as though it has to do with leadership development, and some churches have probably started a new church without even realizing it because they have developed leaders and those leaders have perhaps gone off to study and then they’ve gone and become a pastor of another church or started another church, and the original church started that process and it didn’t really click that, well, they were starting a new church by developing that leader.
RK: Yeah, it’s a proven fact that our seminaries do not prepare pastors. They can give them a credible theological command of the Scriptures, and there’s a lot of great things that seminaries can do. However, a pastor is really born in the local congregation. It’s been my experience that pastors who care about making disciples and investing their lives into leaders that are being saved in the church, that are finding a place of ministry and discipling those leaders — that those who have a call in their life actually begin to work their call out into ministry in the local church. If they go to college and they end up getting a seminary education, that’s great, that will help prepare them for the pastorate. But again and again, what we find is is that those leaders who excel in the pastorate really cut their teeth on real ministry under the direction and the care and mentoring of a pastor who cared about spiritual formation in their lives.
JMF: So in one sense, developing leadership is not just for the benefit of the local church (even though it is immediately)...but there comes a time when some leaders need to move out and start something fresh.
RK: Oh sure.
JMF: On their own.
RK: Yeah. The nature of the gospel and the kingdom of God is that it expands, it grows. Life finds a way.
RK: And one of the things that we’ve noticed is that a lot of these pastors who sometimes view themselves as, you know, they haven’t really had anything to do with church planting. They very likely have been involved in ways that they were unaware of. I guess a church planting guy like me though…I have noticed the kind of acceleration that happens when you have within a movement some of those apostolic leaders who have a particular gifting to stimulate the idea in the minds of up-and-coming leaders that their life can make a difference in an extraordinary way and that they can begin dreaming in that environment about how they might make that difference. Starting new churches, without question, the planting of new churches, is the most effective evangelism tool that we have. Study after study has proven that to be true.
JMF: You mentioned apostolic leaders. Can you define that?
RK: An apostolic leader in the church sometimes is more and more an accepted term. In Scripture we see that apostles are to be a part of the church. However, in the church that you and I are a part of, sometimes calling someone an apostle makes other people uncomfortable. But I think we can be comfortable with the term that somebody has apostolic gifting. An apostolic leader is somebody who sometimes is viewed by others as restless. They’re not going to be your type that’s going to settle in and pastor a 20-year pastorate.
JMF: So apostolic in the sense of apostle, one sent, that kind of a...
RK: Exactly...and also one with a gifting to begin things in an entrepreneurial way, to launch new things, to see the possibilities that exist maybe where other leaders might not see those things.
JMF: In your church and mine, the sense of an apostle has a history, but apostolic leadership is a description of a kind of leadership that’s entrepreneurial.
RK: Hopefully it’s a term we can be comfortable with.
JMF: Yeah — like evangelistic and other terms. And maybe even church planting at some point.
RK: Yeah. In our phraseology, I know that we use apostolic leaders as leaders that, like the apostle Paul, would open up new fields of ministry.
JMF: Now tell me about new fields of ministry. You have written about growing up in a small California town of Bodfish, or near it anyway.
RK: I have.
JMF: And how the soil was so bad there...and you’ve compared the work your father had to do with the soil to get it to grow anything, to soil preparation that a church has to do to bring in disciples. I think it would be interesting to hear about that.
RK: Well, out of Matthew 13, there’s the parable of the sower. In that parable, it talks about four different soil types. The church tends to focus on good soil. I want to make it clear: good soil doesn’t happen by accident. It gets there because someone took the responsibility to roll up their sleeves and go to work. When we’re talking about our communities, I think all four soil types exist. There’s going to be the rocky soil, there’s going to be the thorns, the pathway, and there’s going to be some good soil. It just requires of our pastor to take a look at the community that they live in and to just ask God, what is my responsibility? Because I don’t think that we’re going to be held accountable to anything God hasn’t asked us to be responsible for. But in that responsibility there’s going to be some tough soil. That’s when I think that it’s okay for pastors to have a vision for not what the soil is but for what it could be.
The story I write about and talk about has to do with the way I was raised, Bodfish, California. We were actually raised in Bodfish Canyon, seven miles out of a town of about 300 people, Bodfish. It was famous for the soil. We referred to it as Bodfish clay. When my dad moved us up there, he staked out a garden plot. In that plot was the hardest ground I had ever seen in my life. It was like concrete. And he said we’re going to have a garden here. I’m one of 11 kids, and I was realizing we needed to come up with a lot of vegetables to feed that many kids. And he contended it was going to be that dirt...and it did happen. It took a couple of years. I remember chipping it away, watering it down, mixing the sand. We would go across the road and find mulch. And we had a small farm, so we had cows and we had a horse and some pigs. We all would muck out manure and add that to the garden. Over a couple of years it finally began to produce, and eventually it completely fed our entire family.
When I think about that experience, I think about the man who raised me and who had the vision to look at a plot of ground and see something more than Bodfish clay. And I think that that’s what the church was born for. When you consider hard ground in our communities where it might be difficult to reach people for Christ, the real question isn’t “Can that happen?,” the real question is “Has God put that territory into our care? Has he asked us to do something about that soil?” Because if we will, and we put our hand to it, God will call others. My dad had 11 kids to help him and eventually, in the same way that that garden produced plenty enough for our entire family, I think that we will see an amazing crop come from our communities because our pastors become those vision-filled people. They’re already hardworking, but to work in fields that they maybe hadn’t been in before — I think they’ll find it especially fruitful.
JMF: What are some examples of way that pastors have done that, have prepared the soil when it wasn’t a productive soil?
RK: It really is important that a pastor, personally, and then as a leader of a church also, finds ways to get into their community. Because what we’re talking about is connecting with people. In Matthew 9 we see that Jesus did that. Jesus was ministering throughout the towns and the villages. He wasn’t confined to a building or an office. What marked Jesus’ ministry was that he was elbow-deep in people’s lives. Pastors do that. They come into contact with real needs. They come into direct connection with the pain that people experience. Part of what happens is that their own ears become sensitized to that.
I don’t think that you can really think about starting a new church unless you understand why you’re doing that, because otherwise it’s just an exercise in theory. A new church needs to be practical and it needs to be targeted. When a pastor gets out of their, kind of out of their office and out of the four walls of the church, and especially with their people...and there’s lot of ways to do that. If it’s just inviting people in their cul-de-sac to come over for a Saturday housewarming barbeque, that’s one way to begin. That’s something that my wife and I have done. On the other hand, it could be ministering in shelters, it could be, just...I’ve heard of churches just handing out water to people who are involved in one of those fun runs on a hot Saturday afternoon...whatever it takes, just getting out.
JMF: So it’s just making yourself present in the community, in a sense, keeping us humble...making ourselves present in the community is like spreading manure around and helping the soil become more ready for the gospel before actually putting out seeds.
RK: Yeah. And can I say this? The soil that really needs to be prepared first is the soil of our own home.
RK: It really is. I have discovered that my insensitivity to people who don’t know God is directly connected to a separation that I have from them. It’s very hard in my job, very possibly in yours, to orchestrate times whenever I’m with people who haven’t made a decision for Christ. In my case, my wife is constantly involved in that realm and so I kind of hitchhike on that. Most of our friends have come because of her relationships that way. If I didn’t have that, there would be a certain separation, a certain hardness, that it can’t be attended to any other way. Just by pastors getting out and doing those kinds of things, finding ways to be with people, the tilling of the soil in their own hearts begins to happen.
It happens the other way, too. There are people who...they don’t know what to do with a pastor who will come rub shoulders with them, that will come to the county fair or come to the adopt-a-block that the church is doing and just rub shoulders with people like them. In the minds of your typical unsaved person today, they see such a separation with the church that there’s no relevance in their thinking. And by churches getting out of their walls and stepping out into their community and trying to make a difference, we can at least attempt to close that gap.
JMF: I found that you can be in the community in a pastoral kind of way, but you can also be in the community just as a human being where people don’t know you’re associated with the church, but as you get to know them and then a crisis comes up in their lives and then you meet them in a pastoral way, you’ve already established a friendship or a relationship. It’s like you’re... “I had no idea…” And there’s an immediate response to the pastoral care that’s available from somebody who they consider a friend at that point.
RK: At the core, starting new churches is about opening doors where Christians can reconnect with people who don’t know God, and then begin to gather those people, begin to introduce those people to the gospel. Those groups of people become churches, you know? It’s not rocket science, but it doesn’t happen by accident, either. It’s one of those kinds of things that if there’s an environment of care for the communities we live in, where our churches reside, then out of that environment of care, has the possibility of new churches being started.
JMF: We’ve been seeing different kinds of churches start in the last number of years. Can you talk about some of the different sorts of churches you’ve seen? In other words, as opposed to the standard structured sort of church we’re used to, different forms of churches have met the needs of some people.
RK: Yeah, it takes different things to reach different cultures. We know that by missions. We would never think about taking a method that works in China and trying to deploy that to Eastern Europe. It wouldn’t even cross our thinking. And more and more in the United States, cultures have become widely diverse. You don’t have to go through a missions agency to do missions. You can do it right here in the United States. What we found is that we had to help prepare church planters in a different way.
In essence, we just ask that our leaders would engage church planters in trying to help them answer this question — what does it take to be able to plant a life-giving, biblically faithful, Foursquare church in my context? You’re referencing different models. That’s where the contextual issues come in. In some cases it would be a house church. In Manhattan we might see simple churches take root in office buildings or apartment buildings where there are recreational centers, but where it’s prohibitive to try to lease or buy a piece of property for a traditional church. We might see in other settings that it’s going to take a different model to be able to reach Hispanics than it is going to be able to reach African-Americans. And then we have the 20-somethings today that...we don’t really know all the models that it’s going to take to reach that group. But what I’m discovering is that every time one of our church planters who is of that age group launches a new church, we see a new form of church that is still, and this is important, still biblically faithful.
JMF: When you’re going about starting a new church, what are some of the typical mistakes that a new church starter makes?
RK: The primary mistake, I think, that we have seen is that church planters would go out without a compelling sense of calling. You can’t go anywhere without a sense of calling. We really believe that that’s the first thing. And that needs to be confirmed by leaders who are in oversight. That’s a biblical value. So that’s the first thing — premature launch. The enthusiasm of a church planter — sometimes they want to go public. They want to start reaching people. They want to notify the whole city that they’re a new church long before they’re ready to do so. They need to give adequate time for their leadership core team to be discipled into roles of leadership, that they’ll be competent and able and confident to minister to people when people come. So those are two things — premature launch, I think, and launching without a sense of genuine calling. You know, launching with too few people is connected to premature launch. Not gathering the right kind of resource space to sustain the church plant. Those are all kinds of things. There’s a half a dozen others, but I think those top the list.
JMF: Let’s finish with one final question. What is one thing that you would like everyone to know about God?
RK: That is a great question. We’ve been talking about activity in ministry, planting churches, discipleship. Most of the people watching will be people who have a sense of calling on their lives. I know for me, it’s about my life making a difference. When this is all said and done with, I want to be able to look back and know that I gave it everything and that it mattered.
But along the way, I discovered something that matters even more, and that is something I’d like to communicate, and that is, that whether I did another thing for God, whether we planted another church or discipled another person, it’s not going to change his love for me. It’s not going to change his delight that I’m his son and his creative genius in making me was a good thing and that God is pleased in that. That turns my service into a free gift that I get to offer him, not something that I try to extend as a way of earning that love, because it can’t be earned. And that’s a pretty amazing thing.
JMF: That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
RK: Yeah, it is.
JMF: Thanks for being with us.
RK: Thank you, Mike.
JMF: We’ve been talking with Rod Koop, National Director of Church Multiplication for the Foursquare Church. I’m Mike Feazell for Dimensions in Ministry.