Author Archives: Craig Whitney

10 Keys to Raising Up the Church Out of the Culture

At Emerging Leadership Initiative, our mission is to mobilize leaders who will raise the church up out of the culture – which causes people to ask, “What do you mean by raising the church up out of the culture?” I’m glad you asked…


Out of the culture is an idea introduced by John Burke in his book, No Perfect People Allowed,

“This is…not a church for a post-Christian culture, where Christians huddle up behind the fortress walls and make forays outside into the messy culture, but a church molded out of a post-Christian people ~ an indigenous church, rising up out of the surrounding culture to form the Body of Christ!”

In the simplest of terms, raising up a church out of the culture is what happens when ordinary people are introduced to Jesus and begin to follow him together. In biblical terms, think Corinth. In modern terms, think missionary. In post-modern terms, think messy ~ as unreserved grace is expressed in a community of radical transformation.

As we have worked with leaders in the North America, Europe and Australia, we have discovered these 10 keys to raising the church up out of the culture.

Leaders must create a culture that:

  • Is keenly sensitive to the perceptions of those who don’t yet belong. They know how big the gap between Christ and culture is and do everything they can to bridge it.
  • Openly extends grace. They know how messy people’s lives are and relentlessly communicate that no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, you’re one of us.
  • Is committed to humbly presenting the truth. They know that Jesus came to proclaim freedom, but the message won’t ring true unless it’s delivered with humility.
  • Cultivates authentic relationships through community. They know that unless people can openly be who they are they will never become anything more.
  • Is focused on transformation. They know that every person is a masterpiece waiting to be revealed and see anything less as a cheap substitute.

In order to do this well, leaders must be people who:

  • Live authentic, representative lives. Jesus was the word made flesh. He didn’t talk about grace and truth; he was grace and truth. As much as spiritually possible, out of the culture leaders are too.
  • Are zealous for people far from Christ. Jesus was described by the Pharisees as a “friend of sinners.” He never corrected them. It was a label he wore proudly. Out of the culture leaders do too.
  • Do life and work in relationship. Jesus was never out of relationship. Even when he was alone it was to be with his Father. He always put people first. Out of the culture leaders will too.
  • Joyously embrace the mess. Jesus hung out with corrupt businessmen and let prostitutes wash his feet. He was okay with the mud because he was in love with the masterpiece. Out of the culture leaders are too.
  • Communicate with excellence. Jesus drew crowds and kept their attention long enough for them to forget to eat. His words brought life. Out of the culture leaders will too.

How are you and your faith community effectively bridging the gap to raise up the Church out of the culture? Where are you stretching out of your comfort zone for the sake of those who are far from Christ?

How do you know when you’ve got one?

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.”  Whether you currently lead a small group, a missional community or a new church, Jesus’ words answer the all-important “Why?” We lead these initiatives because we want people to become disciples of Jesus. How do you know when they have?


In my experience, we are pretty diligent about, and even good at, counting.  We  count how many people attended.  We count how much money was given.  We count how many decisions were made or people baptized.  I’m not against counting – I suggest you should be counting all of those things – but counting doesn’t answer the question.  Counting attendance, offerings, decisions or even baptisms doesn’t tell us how many people have become disciples of Jesus.  It can’t, because counting only measures quantity and discipleship demands us to measure quality.  It’s the difference between asking someone how many kids they have (quantity) and asking how tall they are (quality).  To do that, we need some kind of standard, a yardstick, that tells us about the quality of the people we lead.



In my freshman year of college, I volunteered as part of a youth ministry in a local church.  I attended events, led a D-group of 3 Jr. High boys, and went to youth staff meetings. There I was given a worksheet that entitled, “How Do You Know When You’ve Got One?”  It was one page filled with a table.  Across the top were four age groups, from older elementary through college.  Down the left was a list of various aspects of discipleship, Bible, prayer, fruit of the spirit etc.  In each square in the table was a standard, a statement that said what a disciple looked like in that category.  This worksheet was how we agreed to measure disciples – it was our yardstick.


Can you answer the question: How do you know when you’ve got one? Do you have a yardstick for measuring discipleship?  If not, here are some questions that will help you get started.

  • What does a disciple need to know?

There is information essential to becoming a disciple of Jesus, like knowing Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sin.  There is also information not essential to becoming a disciple of Jesus, like the dispensational interpretation of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24. Wrestling with what’s essential will allow you to focus on teaching things that are really important.

  • What kind of person does a disciple become?

This is the hard one.  The list of qualities is easy – just start with the fruit of the spirit in Ephesians 5.  The standards are where the real work starts.  How do you know when a person has peace, kindness, or gentleness?  Describing the fruit of the spirit in the same way you can probably describe a ripe strawberry will create clarity around the kind of people you are wanting to become.

  • What does a disciple of Jesus do?

Unfortunately, we are probably better at making lists of things followers of Jesus don’t do. Focus instead on clearly describing the things a person who follows Jesus does do – the habits that are evidence of being a disciple.  The danger of defining behavior is legalism. You can avoid that by identifying behaviors that are easily observable, yet undeniable evidence of discipleship.


Taking the time to define what it means to be a disciple will enable you to answer the all-important question.  How are you doing at making disciples?

The 9 Deadly Sins of Startup Churches

I’ve been reading startup literature recently which brought my attention to Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur, author, and teacher of all things startup.  He posted a blog today on the 9 Deadliest Start-up Sins.  Each is a temptation for Church Planters to avoid.


1. Assuming you know what the customer wants

Contrary to your personal conviction, there are not thousands of people in your chosen location just waiting to come hear you speak. In fact, recent research suggests the thing you should count on is not enthusiasm for your new church but apathy.


2. The “I know what features to build” flaw

Since you know what people want, you also know what to provide.  Ed Stetzer has great advice here:

“Don’t plant or pastor a church in your head. Plant or pastor a church in your community. That’s where the Gospel transforms real people who are living real lives. Know and live in your culture, not someone else’s. Don’t just bring a model, bring the Gospel. Lead a church; don’t lead a plan.”


3. Focusing on the launch date

Focus on a launch date shifts attention away from the more important tasks of church planting – and creates a false view of success when the launch is achieved.


4. Emphasizing execution instead of testing, learning, and iteration

Execution is needed, but only if and when you know the right things to do.  The good news doesn’t change.  Where, when, how and to whom you communicate it, will.   Start with learning the right things to do.


5. Writing a business plan that doesn’t allow for trial and error

This doesn’t mean you should go without a plan.  (That should probably be the 10th deadly sin). Your plan needs what someone recently described to me as “structured flexibility.” Why?  At some point in the process your plan will not work.  Executing the plan better won’t work.  You must learn and adapt.  The better and faster you do that, the sooner you will find effective ways to reach more people and make better disciples.


6. Confusing traditional job titles with a startup’s needs

Who are the key people on your church planting team?  Worship Leader? Children’s Director? Small Group Director?  That assumes your community needs high quality music, children’s programs and small groups.  What if what your community needs instead is a Recovery Director,  Business Liaison, or Sports Coordinator?


7. Executing on a sales and marketing plan

Buy billboards.  Friend people on Facebook.  Mail postcards. Record radio spots.  All potentially valuable – only after you know with whom you are communicating, and why they might listen to you.


8. Prematurely scaling your company based on a presumption of success

There are far more church planters bootstrapping than spending large budgets.  Even bootstrappers can be tempted to overextend when a crowd shows up for their launch.  A bigger meeting place and more staff can be essential to sustaining healthy growth.  They can also drown a new church in bills they can’t pay when commitments have been made prematurely.


9. Management by crisis, which leads to a death spiral

Any experience church planter will tell you, the crisis will come.  The question is, how will you handle them?  Will you let each new crisis shift your focus and re-shape your vision? or will you faithfully love and serve people with a message of hope until God reveals a path to fruitfulness?


As a church planter, are you prepared to navigate the pitfalls of models and plans and faithfully implement a process of discovering and creating the church God would use to reach the people and place he has called you?

Just Love


I was in Austin this week for some meetings at Gateway.  I saw this card and was intrigued. Free portraits is a unique way to serve the homeless. Unfortunately, since my flight left as the event started, I couldn’t go.  When I landed for a short layover in San Diego, I read the following email from John Short, one of the serve pastors at Gateway.


Tonight I meet a couple of volunteers from Gateway that just started dating.  Jim and Debbie.  Jim is from the D (Detroit, as is our family), we hit it off immediately.  Then, Ramy walks up to me and says he met a “legit” guy that needs some help.  He wants me to check his story, so I look over to where Ramy’s pointing and Jim and Debbie are sitting down with this guy Kyle, who is about 19, talking. 


Kyle is tearing up, so I go over to check his story and just see what’s up …what kind of help does he need?  Kyle tells us he has a good job up by Domain as a forklift driver.  He’s from Kansas and he’s just run out of money to pay for a hotel. I Google his work and find a hotel right across the street. Jim and Debbie agree to go with me to the hotel.  Debbie follows us, with Kyle and Jim in car with me.  Jim and Kyle talk MMA all the way to the hotel.  When we get to the hotel to check him in, they give us a break on the price.  Jim and Debbie take Kyle out to eat and exchange numbers after I leave to go home.  They are going to Goodwill tomorrow to get him some shoes and shirts. They plan to bring him to Gateway on Sunday.  Kyle gets paid on Thursday and we we’re able to get him a room until Thursday morning.


Jim and Debbie are the story here.  They were going to go out after, hang with friends, but God had other plans. They potentially changed the trajectory of Kyle’s life tonight.  It’s not just a room, a meal, or clothes, it’s “Just Love.”


It’s amazing what God can do when people are simply willing to love their neighbors.

Core Team or Launch Team?

Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. The pattern he set was that His followers go on His mission together. As a church planter, inspiring others to join you is essential for the birthing of a new church.

What is their role? Are they a core team – people who start with you and stay with you on mission? Are they a launch team – people who start with you, but may not stay with you or ever become leaders in the new church?  Let me suggest you need both.


Create a Core Team
A core team is 12-25 people whom you invited to do life and mission with you.
  • Church is a “who” not a “what.”  The core team is a church from the beginning.
  • Culture is how “we” behave.  The core team are the people who live out the mission, vision and values. Their lives create the culture of the new church.
  • The first activities in the life of a church plant are people intensive.  Who will build relationships? Who will create community? Who will serve their neighbors?  Who will lead people to faith? Who will help them grow? Who will equip the next leaders?   Creating a core team means other people, not just you, are giving their lives to these activities.
In my experience, a team of less than 12 is just too small to engage in all the activities of forming a new church in a way that creates momentum.  I have also observed that a core that is too big doesn’t really function as core.  A group of 50 or more can’t exist for long without significant energy focused internally – which ultimately detracts from the  mission.


Gather a Launch Team
A launch team is a group of 50-100 who are committed to starting a regular gathering that will catalyze both the numerical and spiritual growth of a new church.
  • Starting weekly services is task intensive.  It takes many willing volunteers to create an environment that welcomes people of all ages and engages them in a meaningful way.
  • Anyone can serve.   You don’t need to be a follower of Jesus to set up chairs or make coffee.
  • Everyone can belong. When the launch team is those committed to serve, not those who carry the missional DNA, you can include everyone who is willing – even if they need a cup of coffee to take the edge off their hangover before they setup the chairs.
In my experience, trying to pull together a weekly service with less than 50 people only leads to burnout and will most likely bring a halt to any and all other outward focused activities.  On the other hand, when a launch team grows to be a 100 people its time to go. Waiting to start a service will only dissipate the energy and momentum that has already been created.
Are you in the birthing season of a new church?  Wondering who will do this with you? Consider creating a core team and gathering a launch team.