The CPM Storm

In keeping with my complete inability to leave well enough alone, I’d like to illustrate the point of my last post. Some of you will be surprised to learn that there was, in fact, a point to my last post.

“Church planting movement” is the term we’ve adopted to describe a phenomena in which many, many churches are sort of spontaneously planted and those churches quickly turn and plant other church-planting churches. In many ways, a CPM is like a storm (or an earthquake, or a drought, or any other “act of God”), in that it is something only God can do. We cannot cause a CPM to happen any more than we can cause a tidal wave or instigate a hurricane.

It makes no sense, then, to set as our goal something that we cannot do. Yes, I’ve heard about the importance of having a “God-sized” vision, but a vision and a goal are not the same thing. To continue with the illustration:

We can prepare for a storm. When the weatherman warns us and the sky turns dark, people run to the store and buy water, plastic, duct tape, and granola bars. This is how many of us “prepare” for a movement of God, CPM or otherwise. We get a hint that God is working somewhere, and we rush to get ready. We write requests for volunteers and we notify the prayer networks that we’re going to need extra coverage. We put unresponsive people on the back burner and concentrate our energy where the action is. The problem, in my opinion, is that rushing to facilitate a CPM is not the kind of strategy that called people should depend on.

Why not? Because only God knows when and where He’s going to make it rain, and whether it will be a slight drizzle or a torrential downpour. I think that’s why he called me to Western Europe well in advance of whatever it is He’s going to do. This wasn’t a “priority” area for the IMB. There were places with more “strategic significance” and higher “concentrations of lostness.” But He know what He was doing, and I trusted Him, even though I haven’t seen the results I’d hoped for.

Which brings me to another type of readiness that we should consider. It’s the long-term, not a cloud in the sky, “wait for it… wait for it…” sort of approach. It is modeled for us by Noah in Genesis 6-8. When people saw this old man building a giant boat in the middle of the desert I’m sure they called it insanity. I think we should apply it to missions, and call it “nonstrategic obedience.”

God gave Noah a vision of the deadly waters that would flood the earth. That was something only God could do. Noah’s goal, then, was not to create a storm, but to build the boat. His goal was a big boat full of the people and animals God told him to take inside. His strategy was to build the boat exactly according to God’s detailed instructions.

Church Planting Movements are a vision, not a goal. Proclaiming the gospel, teaching people to obey, living as incarnational witnesses- these are goals. Our strategies need to get us to these goals. Focusing on Church planting movements distracts us from doing the things God has instructed us to do because we assume that we know how God wants to take us to the vision He’s given us. We start to see our goals as means. We should make disciples because God told us to, not so that we can facilitate a greater movement.

Getting ahead of ourselves (and God, if it were possible) is pretty common for us. We love people in order to share the gospel with them, and we share the gospel with them in order to plant a church. We plant a church in order to start a CPM, and we do that in order to “finish the task” and glorify God (and bring Jesus back). I say, let’s let go of all the “next things” that we think may happen. Let’s focus our attention on who God has brought us today. Let’s obey regardless of whether a CPM starts or not. It would be like building an ark whether the floodwaters came or not.

Now I’m left with the question of the vision. Are we sure that God told us that He was going to start church planting movements all around the world? How long do you suppose Noah would have worked on the ark without seeing evidence that God was getting ready to bring the storm? How long will our people (trusting the vision as it’s been cast by our organization) continue to pursue a church planting movement before they should start to question that vision? If it’s from God, we should never give up. If it’s just a good idea, we should change course immediately.

28 thoughts on “The CPM Storm

  1. First of all, let me say that I totally dig your new buzz word ‘nonstrategic obedience’. I am writing that one down. I have lived it, in other’s eyes at least, for a long time.

    “Our strategy is Victory!” -GW Bush

    You’re saying victory is not a strategy? You must be a liberal democratic heretic.

    But seriously, I like your post but the main point of CPM methodology has been precisely what you proscribe. It is the day to day what to do’s that I have learned from. And of course, the day to day what to stay away from stuff that has been very informative and challenging to who I am and who I am called to be.
    CPM as a worldwide goal is fairly useless. But so far it is the best way for us to describe how it is that we as an organization are to operate.
    I will be bold enough to say that I understand your post and I agree with it in principle. But in practice we have been shallow and mediocre in our M endeavors with too many using Noah’s 120 year wait as an excuse to maintain really poor methodology. Now, I have seen and so have you, the pendulum swing too far the other way. Stessed out burned out guilt ridden M’s who can’t understand why they don’t have their movement that has been ordained by God yet. But I don’t want to go back to the old days of small individual visions of mediocrity either. CPM principles need to be promoted as relevant methodologies but we need something else as a vision before us to keep us sharp and fired up for the battle.

  2. Stepchild,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now, but I still don’t understand how you can continue to question the authority that you yourself have committed to submit to. I’m not trying to be rude here, but if you don’t like the CPM strategy, find another organization to support you!

    CPM is the Biblical mandate for missions. You may want to settle for just making disciples but there’s much more to missions than that. People are dying and heading to an eternity in hell while you waste time and money trying to make friends and analyze everything to death.

    Maybe you should start your own mission board. That way, you can do it however you think God is telling you to. Otherwise, you need to exercise your integrity and follow the principles of CPM with a joyful attitude.

  3. Anon- Stepchild certainly does not need me to defend him but what you say was quite offensive to me.
    I have not yet read a post where Stepchild questions the authority of those he has submitted to but I have seen him consistantly ask questions of those authorites. His purpose- uh oh here I go reading his heart and mind- is to challenge all of us to find the most biblical missiology not to denounce some ‘obvious’ biblical mandate about CPM, which mandate has escaped me or in the newer translations is the phrase “CPM” used in a verse recording the command of Christ that I am not aware of?
    I am all about doing whatever it takes to reach the nations and as I read him I think that Stepchild is to. What is offensive to me about your comment is that notion that asking questions, analyzing, and seeking answers is disrespectful or wrong. This attitude generally comes from those who are insecure about their positions, prideful of their power, and afraid of being questioned. The leadership of the IMB is not. They are godly men and women who seek God and his ways with their whole heart and welcome everyone’s input with the certain knowledge that we are multi-gifted family.
    Stepchild- I have been writing on your blog more than my own lately. I will shut up for awhile now and give someone else some white space.

  4. Anonymous…well that says it all.

    Can’t put your name down to own up to your words. How then can they mean anything? At least if you’re an “m” then say so and that you can’t name yourself for security reasons….as we do.

    Stepchild,
    Thanks for writing about this. My husband and I have been wrestling with this whole idea over the last two years. (We’re almost 10 years with the IMB)

    Just now, I told my husband about this post and needing to come read it….he told me that just before I called him he was thinking about our “strategy” while he was washing the dishes. (I have an awesome husband!) He recalled hearing our supervisor tell us “you guys just need to start a church”. Huh? As though that solves the lack of CPM going on in our part of the world? What does starting a church have to do with us getting on with the mission? It would be so easy to “start” a church ,or ten for that matter if we paid for a building and put a national in charge. Then we’d be successful in the eyes of …..who?

    We have chosen “nonstrategic obedience” in answer to our call. We will be obedient to what God has called us to do; never letting apathy get in the way, or sitting back and waiting for something to happen. We’re being obedient and trusting that He’ll see things through in His way…..which is so much higher than our own.

  5. to-obey, you’ve hit on the crux, the center of tension: God’s ways are not our ways. We want them to be, but they just aren’t. It is not easy to translate God’s call into a plan of action, and I’m not sure God intends it to be. It’s supposed to be a struggle, as we each seek His will in every thing we do. If we ever break it down into an easy twelve-step process, well then we wouldn’t need the Spirit anymore, we could just do it on our own! And we all know how that turns out.

  6. Being a missionary in western europe is…well…tough. In my second year of being here…I have realized how good I am at being in a church culture, yet how foreign the unchurched world is…Here in amsterdam we get the whole world and every kind of belief possible. I want to see God use me to start a church planting network. The other day I found myself wondering, what if tha does not start a network. Then I had to realize, one step at a time. Let us get a good mama church going and take it one step at time. Otherwise, we will not make it in western europe.

  7. Everyone,
    Thanks for your thoughts on this post. I’m not sure why some people (like anonymous, above) seem to equate questioning with insubordination. We are careful to insure that our work her fits squarely into the vision, strategy, and parameters of the IMB as interpreted by our local leadership.

    The value, for me, is in the conversation. When I was I kid, I’d always ask, “Why?” whenever she told me to do something. Sometimes she’d sense my rebellion and just say, “Because I’m you mother and I told you to.”

    I had to learn that unless I’m obedient, I’ve really no room to question. My mom had to learn that it was easier for me to obey when I understood some of the reasoning behind her directions.

    Through this post, I’m trying to question some of the Board’s directive (being submissive all along).

    I’m also saying that, “Because we’re the Board and we told you to” isn’t good enough anymore.

  8. Did you see Clyde Meador’s letter to all today? I think he is reading your blog.
    For those not worthy to merit a letter from Clyde he told us that most of us are not seeing a CPM and that does not mean we are disobedient or incompetent but just that CPM’s take time and we may or may not see one in the next hundred years where we are but we should keep doing the right things by serving obediently knowing that in the end He will bring glory to Himself. Clyde of course, used more sentences than I did.

  9. Strider – I’m curious what you mean “those not worthy to receive a letter from Clyde.” Dr. Meador is a very fine man. He served overseas for a number of years, some of those years as your RL.

  10. I’ve realized that I misquoted you, Strider, and I am very sorry. Still – my question remains about what you meant?

  11. Hang on Ruthie, Don’t take me too seriously. Dr. Meador is a friend and we are priviliged to have him. I don’t know how you are reading my words but the only flipant intent was to say, ‘those who would not get his letter’ as in those who are not M’s here on the field. The letter I got looked like it was addressed to all IMB M’s but these are not the only ones reading this blog.
    My writing can occasionally be humorous but I try to never write to offend. So, I apologize if my words were flipant or misunderstood.

  12. its comments like one by annonymous that i actually took seriously and finally left the institution. i got tired of the “shut up and dance” replies anytime i had a question.

    I believe there are not many questions finer that the ones that begin with “why.” Without a “why” question, i would doubt we would have the discoveries we do today. Would we have a cure for polio if Jonas Salk had not asked “why,” why are these babies dying?

    “Why” can be asked two ways: Inquisitively and Defiantly. The bad thing is people like annonymous can’t tell the difference. These are the guys who left seminary after two weeks because they couldn’t understand how a professor could ask so many threatening questions about the bible. For them, to inquire as such meant they were on the brink of compromising all that was sacred.

    besides all that, thanks for your inquisition, stepchild. i will continue to enjoy reading.

  13. Strider – thanks for the clarification! :)

    Watchman – It is certainly hard to read intents and motives behind comments. Yes, Anon’s tone seemed a bit harsh; however, it is challenging on blogs to get a sense of whether the “why” is being asked defiantly or inquisitively. When the why is not balanced by any affirmation or framed as “truth spoken in love,” it is certainly easy to be exasperated by criticism.

    Stepchild – (getting a new moniker might help others not see you as critical most of the time – just a suggestion) – it is interesting to me to read your comments because I think that sometimes they are indicative of a post-modern generation. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. You seem to want to know Why and feel that you deserve an explanation for all actions or decisions.
    If you don’t feel that CPMs are a direction to focus in, what do you think is? Are we being faithful followers of Christ if we do not see the church as the primary strategy of disciple-making? How does one set the priority for the day?

  14. Strider,
    I did see that message from Clyde Meador today. I was pleased and encouraged by what he had to say. That was just what our people on the field needed to hear from him.

    Ruthie,
    Thank you for commenting. I appreciate that you took the time to read and share your thoughts.

    I think it’s interesting that you find the perspective of some of my posts “postmodern.” Usually, when people call me that, they don’t mean it in a good way.

    I don’t really feel as though I deserve an explanation, but for me, all of this questioning is necessary for integrity and accountability. I ask questions because if I don’t agree with the answers, I cannot in good conscience continue to accept IMB support. My questions also show my leadership where I am and what I’m thinking. If by my questions I show myself to be someone that they can’t/won’t support, they can withdraw that support.

    A lot of the questions I pose here, especially regarding CPM, are not unique to me. Many of my colleagues and the people I am responsible for are struggling with these same things.

    Ruthie, I try to give positive ideas whenever I criticize, but I think they sometimes get lost in the post. For example, my “nonstrategic obedience” and the whole Noah illustration was my attempt at providing an alternative understanding of vision, goals, and strategy.

    Thanks again.

  15. This is one of the most honest posts I’ve read in a long time. Good questions.

    We’re following the CPM model, too. But how do you strategize? Are we even supposed to? Or do we just abide, listen and then obey?

  16. Giving some educated guesses based on your observations and experiences, what would a contextualized church look like in Western Europe? (Pick any country in the region) What specific cultural characteristics would be brought over into the church – helpful and potentially not helpful.

  17. Ruthie,
    That’s a great question. In my opinion, answering this question should drive our strategy at every level.

    By “What …would be brought over..” I assume you mean from the U.S. Instead of trying to answer it here, I’ll go ahead and do a whole new post on it.

    Please stay tuned…

    Kiki,
    Thanks. I’ve missed your comments around here…
    We have been asking about the balance between strategy and abiding obedience. I’d love to hear your thoughts about that, and how you all are working toward CPM.

  18. No, I did not mean what would be brought over from the US. I mean, what would be brought over from the indigenous culture. For example, in one particular Southeast Asian culture, women are seen are the primary decision-makers in a family. Biblically, we know that is not the way that the church is to function.

  19. To-obey-is-better’s husband said that his supervisor said, “Just go start a church.” Ruthie asked about contexturalized churches where we are. And some regional administrator’s answers to both is for every missionary to start a house church or cell group modeled after what is being done at ILC (MOC for the old folks). I have seen how the house church that missionaries start do add to the overall tolal of “new church” starts on the field. And, possibly in some areas, such as Western Europe, the ILC model works well. I know that in my area of the 10-40 Window, the ILC model will almost 100% insure that no Nationals come. But this shows me that we still have a long way to go to understanding a CPM or even seeing one, when even our leaders give such advice.

    By the way, I must also not be worthy, as several days later, I am still waiting for the memo.

  20. 10-40 window mssy – ask your RL, SA, or RA about the memo. They are supposed to make sure you receive it.

  21. stepchild, I know you’ve often admitted to recycling the same questions over and over (not that it’s a bad thing), but do you think this gets back to the problem of Metrics? Of course we all want to create self-reproducing churches. The question is how we judge the qualitative validity of our ministry by the quantitative results of new churches/believers/cell groups/whatever.

    Despite some grumbling I’ve seen, it seems to my grossly uninformed self that the IMB does a better-than-most job of letting M’s follow the dictates of their conscience, at least as far as calling. Within the Body, they seem to allow fingers to be fingers, and not force everyone to be an eye, so to speak. Maybe it looks different on the inside, but I think you guys could have it a whole lot worse than you do…

  22. I’ve enjoyed your past two posts and all the generated comments from them. Seems you are scratching where a lot of M’s are itching.

  23. I really wish everyone could read Clyde Meador’s article. I think it answers almost all of the questions people seem to be asking about this. I wrote Clyde asking permission to publish it on my blog, but understandably, he said he is waiting for it to be published on a seminary journal (Mid-America), so he couldn’t give permission for now. In any case, I was very pleased by the balance coming from our IMB leadership on this vital questions.

  24. why is it when people question… which is a great practice… that those in power want you to leave? Why are we so exclusionary? Did Jesus ever say to His questioning disciples… pack it up and find somewhere else to ask your questions. I think one of the biggest problems in today’s church, not just the SBC, is fear and doubt. The God we serve it a whole lot bigger than any one’s question of a strategy put together. Methinks the commenter knew he or she was in error to make such a comment because he or she (very doubtful, if someone with any authority in the SBC it would be a she) couldn’t even identify him or herself. Ugh.

    Bottom line, Stepchild, is that these posts and your honesty are incredible. I wish more laypersons across America could/would read the struggles faced by today’s missionary. I also think that you are putting meat on the difficulty of making a relational God propositional. The X-ing and O-ing of God’s Mission simply isn’t possible for humanity. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan, but we must always plan for His work, not our own.

  25. Cpm is not the goal or the vision. God’s glory should be the main thing. Cpm is one way or method God uses toward that end. Maybe we have tried too hard to systematize God’s ways.

  26. Stepchild,

    What a great post and comment section. I’m just enjoying your thoughts and the conversation they generate. Keep it up

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