I am talking about church planting movements that go viral and out of control, producing hundreds and thousands of lean startup churches and communities in a very short amount of time. Does that get your blood pumping?
Last year was my first time in China, as well as my first time in Indonesia and a few other South East Asian countries. I learned a hecka lot. I met young people starting movements that have grown huge and expanded way beyond what anyone expected. I spent time with a movement that is seeing their hundreds of simple spiritual communities reproduce themselves into the fourth generation. One movement in a country I visited has tens of thousands of new communities all started quickly and with little resources.
In looking at movements like these, it is clear they have a simple pattern for ministry that is reproducible, even in an oral society. Perhaps it is because of the emphasis on oral communication that such success has occurred.
3 interesting things emerge:
1. Church planting movements that kick ass tend to have a simple oral pattern of teaching that is passed on from new believers to new believers and so on.
2. It is possible, and even probable, that a recognizable pattern of discipleship is recorded in the Scriptures and was utilized by the early church, enabling new believers to learn, remember, apply, and efficiently pass onto others the essential of the faith.
3. If such a pattern in the Scriptures exists, a New Zealand theologian wrote about it in the 1940’s
This is where I introduce you to the Most Rev. Philip Carrington (6 July 1892 – 3 October 1975).
Philip became Rector of Lincoln, on the South Island of New Zealand. His father, who was Dean of Christchurch Cathedral, must have been proud. Philip later moved to Canada, unfortunately 😉 where he slipped off the NZ radar but managed to do alright for himself, becoming Archbishop of Quebec, Metropolitan of Canada and the guy who renovated the Canadian Anglican lectionary.
[Renovated is NOT the right word – no offense to Anglicans.]
During those years, he was gripped with the idea that the early church had a pattern of discipleship and teaching.
“The history of my own country (New Zealand) up to about eight centuries ago depends upon the organized oral tradition of the Maori race, who had no writing at all. The Jewish Mishnah, as its name implies (it means ‘repetition’), consists of such oral tradition; it was arranged and edited and written down a century or more after Mark wrote his Gospel. It is fortunate that the tradition of Jesus and his apostles was written down at once.” Carrington, According to Mark, Introduction.
Carrington suggested that the oral tradition of Paul was something handed over to him and contained “rules or precepts for life, or walking (halakah) as the Rabbi’s called it, as well as narrative (haggadah).
That narrative finds expression in what Paul says he had “received” and “delivered” in turn to the Corinthian church (1 Cor 15).
Its content is summarized in the statements (a) that the Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (b) that he was buried, and© (c ) that he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. This looks very like the titles of the three narratives that would correspond to (a) the Passion narrative, (b) the burial narrative, and (c ) the Easter morning narrative, of Mark. (Carrington, According to Mark, page 15)
Over a few decades, Carrington published a number of books that outlined his intuition that the early church had a recognizable pattern, an early form of catechism. He believed the Gospel of Mark was written in such a way as to move the story forward each week and to correspond to the Jewish festival seasons. Some scholars, like DA Carson, disagree with with Carrington on his view of Mark.
Must be an in-house Canadian thing, ay?
The most fascinating book that Carrington wrote was also one of his earliest – The Primitive Christian Catechism, 1940 – and this is the book you will find quoted in regards to rapidly multiplying church planting movements (CPMs) like the one I mentioned in South East Asia, in which a startup church planting effort became 160,000 churches and saw almost 2 million people come into God’s economy. Steve Smith, explaining this and other movements, says,
In CPMs there is a person to provide an example – the trainer is growing in godliness and can provide an example to those he trains / disciples. But at the same time there is a pattern that is simple and easy to pass on for each generation. A study of Paul’s letters makes apparent something that we might normally miss: Paul had a pattern (Greek tupos from which we get the word “type” or pattern) of discipleship he used repeatedly in every place:
For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:17, NASB)
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed. (Rom. 6:17, NASB)
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim. 2:2, NASB)
Because he repeated the same themes of discipleship, these could be easily reproduced by the new believers. It was a sort of early Christian catechism.
At this point, Smith references Carrington’s 1940 book, The Primitive Christian Catechism and those that have continued on with this idea of a pattern for ministry. Most notably, Bro. Thom Wolf in his Universal Disciple. What Smith doesn’t know is that Carrington’s idea of pattern, and the chart that was shown to me by Thom Wolf when he taught my church planting class at Fuller School of World Mission, was the basis of my teaching A Tree by the River – which makes the teaching more of a movement than a diagram. More on that another time.
But this is what I actually want to share with you – Carrington’s chart from his 1940 book which shows the basic pattern in the epistles.
Here is the chart.
I will expand on the chart another time. In the meantime, I wrote an article earlier in the year entitled 11 Practices of a New Jesus Movement where I offered a few suggestions on why I think rapid growth and multiplication like this happens.
Thanks for this fascinating post Andrew. I find the relational emphasis of making disciples helpful and am intrigued by the idea of catechisms. The key for me is that the teaching and the training is bonded within the closeness of a relationship – “the trainer is growing in godliness and can provide an example to those he trains / disciples”. I am busy working through Elton Trueblood’s writings (also in the 1940’s) where he also explored movements. The chart looks interesting, I would love to read your thoughts about it.
yeah my thoughts soon. 60 young people turning up right now for a retreat so i will be busy tonight.
I wonder whether this could be related to the information in the book “Jesus through middle-eastern eyes” by Kenneth Bailey?
We have the gospels in Greek. In the Syriac version of the gospels, which is essentially written in a dialect very closely related to Aramaic, the stories are clearly structured to allow for memorisation.
The stories are structured using patterns of related lines and parallelism, The result being that the hearer would have a structure to aid the memory.