Lance Ford is on the national leadership team of Forge America and Co-Director of KC Sentral. He is the Co-founder (along with Brad Brisco) of the Sentralized Conference, an annual missional conference in Kansas City. Some of his responsibilities include coaching, consulting and writing. He is the author of several books including Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People (co-authored with Alan Hirsch) and Unleader: Reimagining Leadership and Why We Must and Missional Essentials: A Guide for Experiencing God’s Mission for Your Life (co-authored with Brad Brisco). I recently spoke to Lance about church planting in general and the missional conversation that he helps lead.
Tell us about your family. How are they part of what you do?
Sherri and I have been married for 27 years. Our kids (Oldest is our son, 2 girls) are all grown and on their own. Sherri’s passion is gardening and that is her favorite form of reaching out to neighbors.
When did Jesus become real for you?
When I was in grade school. But I walked away in my teen years but had a prodigal-like experience shortly after graduating high school. I came back to him and never considered leaving again. Once you realized you’ve eating with pigs everything changes.
What do you like best about what you do? Why?
My favorite thing is helping men and women discover and use their God-given gifts and resources. I love nothing more than working through that stuff with people who are on mission. The other thing I get to do that I love is writing. In both of these things the richness of God’s goodness just seems to manifest to me.
What is the difference between “church plant” and ‘missional community?’
I believe most church plants are one of two things: Many are what I call Church Transplants—a group of Christians dropped into a community. The other is Church Service Planting. Most often both of these are continually trying to catch up to mission.
A missional community is a group of people who agree to dig deep into a locale by assuming the position of missionaries in that community. By planting a core group of people, with mission in the neighborhood as the organizing principle, a church will emerge from that. They define themselves not by what their weekend gatherings look like but by their effect on the quality of life in the neighborhoods they live into. Add a celebration service as the exclamation point of your weekly missional living and disciples will emerge and a church plant will sprout, rather than a church service transplant being plopped in the middle of a community.
What do church planters need to know about being missional?
Two things come to mind. First, If YOU are not missional, your church will not be missional. Do you know your neighbors? Do you share meals, do you interact in real living life ways with them. The macro of missional is a product of missional micro—individual lives incarnating into their neighborhoods. Second, Missional is not an outreach scheme to grow your church. Don’t view or try to use the idea of missional as a method or program to get your church started. Missional is more about being than doing. This is core discipleship stuff. Be a disciple of Jesus. Make disciples. Let Jesus make/build his church.
What is one thing you would tell church planters to STOP doing.
Stop putting church building before disciple making. If you can’t tell me the names of the people and the places you hung out with those people last week, you’re most likely more into building the church—which is Jesus’s job, than making disciples—which is your job.
What is ONE THING every church planter ought to do?
Easy. Throw more parties! Seriously…throw more parties.
How are you reaching out to people far from God in your community? What advice would you give to planters trying to do the same?
I know it sounds simple and redundant but it really just comes down to “loving your neighbor as you would yourself.” Most every morning I sit in my upstairs home office and look out the windows and pray for my neighbors. I pray the kingdom of Heaven will come on earth (my street) as it is in Heaven. As you get to know your neighbors and the needs and concerns of the neighborhood as a whole, pray, pray, pray for the reign of God to manifest over and through it all.
What is the role of leadership in the missional world? How are you developing people for leadership?
It’s been said that the first task of a leader is to define reality. Jesus is reality. He is the way (to do life), the truth (about life), and finally….he is life. That is the reality we bring in leadership. If you can’t conceive in your mind that Jesus would be leading and treating people you’ve been assigned to oversee in the same manner you are doing it then stop…and do it like he would if he were living your life. According to Jesus, leadership does not begin with leading—it begins and continues through serving. If you want to be a great leader out-serve everyone on your team.
What is/was the great challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
For me, it was after 20 years of church planting and pastoring, coming to the reality that I had wrapped my identity in my role as a pastor and leader. Admitting and then working through that took a long time. Don’t get me wrong. Leadership is important—most of my time is spent with leaders, etc. The big problem is that we give a wink and a nod to what Jesus emphatically said about being great servants. The sin and deception in leadership fixation comes down to the identity thing. If you view yourself as a leader, leader, leader, rather than “How can I serve someone today?” or “How can I decrease so Jesus will increase in this guy or gal on my team?” Then you are off track.
In your work you often talk about collaboration and partnership. How do you build these?
It comes down to really knowing those the Lord has sent to be on your team. You must be over yourself enough to believe that every person on your team brings something you (and the rest of the folks) don’t have. A significant task of the leader is to know the gifting, calling, and anointing each member brings. Then you must trust Jesus in that person to get the job done. It comes down to management—and I know this will sound strange or crazy to some—but people don’t need to be managed. They are adults. They are not stupid. If they are stupid then you shouldn’t have brought them on your team in the first place. Collaboration means making sure everyone gets the job done, which is different from making sure how everyone gets the job done. My buddy Brad Brisco holds a pen in the weirdest way I have ever seen anyone hold a pen. But he writes great stuff. Who cares how he held the pen?
Who inspires you and why?
As far as really being inspired and challenged, it is the people who most people have never heard of that are our there in the trenches, in the neighborhoods doing the Jesus stuff. I try to tell their stories in my writing and we bring them to speak at our conferences (Sentralized). Most of these folks are too busy doing mission to write or speak about it. They are the real missional heroes.
How are you caring for yourself spiritually? What do your personal spiritual rhythms with God look like?
Over the last few years I have come to love the practice of the daily office, so I use a few readers that I cycle through each year as I observe that. There are also a handful of books I re-read every year: Abraham Heschel’s The Sabbath, Henri Nouwen’s The Way of The Heart…a few others. Plus, the observance of the Sabbath is huge for my wife and myself.
What is the one thing you would like to see happen in the church in your lifetime?
Churches across cities that work together in tangible ways with the only goal that Jesus gets the credit. That the reputation of the church would change from being judgmental and hateful to loving and accepting. I would hope that there would be no need for books like UnChristian, or They like Jesus but not the church to be written.
I encourage you and your team to attend the Sentralized Conference. It’s a great way for you and your teams to plug into the missional conversation.
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