Over the past few weeks we’ve been asked by some of our ministry partners why I decided to take part in Forge training. Since I don’t think it is something I can sum up briefly, I thought I’d take up some space here on our blog to write more about how I got connected with Forge, why I’m going through the training, and what I am learning. This post is the first one addressing this.
First I should probably point out a couple of things. Forge was begun by Alan Hirsch, who has had a huge impact on how I (and many others) think about church. You may remember a year or so I go when I shared that an important consideration for me in connecting with Christian Associates (CA) is their connection with Hirsch.
Also, Forge is not a denomination or a church planting organization. They focus on training church planters who desire to plant missional churches. (The Forge international site is a bit wonky, but the Scotland & US sites have a lot of info on them.)
(A quick definition of ‘missional church is probably in order. Here is an article in Christianity today where Alan Hirsch explains what a missional church is. You can find a plethora of thoughts and links, over here.)
A bit of my history.
In 1999-2001, while we were in the early stages of planting in Ithaca, I had the opportunity to be part of a group of young leaders in the Vineyard that Todd Hunter invited to meet a few times each year and think through some of the stuff that was coming out around the topic of missional church.
(Darrell Guder’s book Missional Church had just come out in 1998 and impacted how a lot of people thought about the church.)
Remember, when Liz and I began church planting, we were coming from a campus ministry background, and the stuff I was hearing around this discussion of missional was really resonating with us.
A few years down the road, that young leader group had disbanded, and the church in Ithaca was struggling. We weren’t growing…or we’d grow and then shrink back down. Of course this meant that there were also a number of financial stresses. And I was pretty discouraged.
The guy who was coaching me and our team, had built a solid growing church, but it was very much an “Attractional”/Saddleback model, using the latest in church growth principles.
At that point, other than books that were, to be honest, more theoretical than practical at that point, we had no one encouraging us to keep on with our vision to be a missional church (or even dig deeper into what that even meant). And our coach, as well as almost every denominational conference we went to encouraged an attractional model.
So we tried it.
And sure enough, we grew. In fact in about 4 years, we went from around 80 people on a Sunday to 280. And in our community, that qualified as mega-church.
We were still trying to figure out what it meant to be a missional church, but over time found our Sunday morning attractional event needing more and more of our time and energy. And while it took a couple of years for us to begin putting words to it, the fact was, those of us in leadership were finding less and less life in what we were doing.
In the middle of all of this, I came across a book by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, The Shaping of Things to Come. It re-ignited a lot of the ideas I’d had, and made so much of what I’d wrestled with make sense. I continued to read a lot by Hirsch and Frost over the next several years and continued to be excited, and challenged.
I wrote earlier that other than books, there was no one in my life who could encourage me in the model of church that we were trying to do.
That was my fault. I could have sought people out….reached outside my denomination/group of friends. I didn’t. So I decided that this time around I’m going to be surrounded by people who are wrestling with the same stuff I am. Who rather than encouraging me to scrap it and do something else, believe that this matters. Liz and I believe we have found that with CA.
An added bonus for us was that shortly after connecting with CA, they formed a strategic partnership with Forge, where Forge would begin training CA staff who were interested. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I was more than interested.
So, that hopefully explains a bit about my interested in Forge. Next I’ll write a bit about what I’m hoping to receive from being part of Forge.