My Brief Take on NPL

No Place Left is a church-planting movement that makes free tools and trains people for planting and growing healthy churches. Their materials are based on Four Fields methodology (book) by Nathan and Kari Shank. The Shanks were missionaries to South Asia. The Memphis group trained us on evangelism. Originally, was strictly an evangelism site trying to condense their 10-16 hrs of training into minutes to an hour for other people. Cru was another forerunner I leaned on. Then, I put NPL's methods to the test both in Scripture and in places like Walmart. Those experiences taught me a whole lot, changed how I saw God working in His churches, and I enjoyed meeting many interesting people. Later on, I decided to distance from NPL, or at least their mission model.

Memphis/NPL are highly-committed believers. They focus on the fundamentals like the NT churches did: faith in Christ, studying the Word, sharing Jesus, discipleship, and planting and growing healthy churches. They train others on all of that for free. Their published works are open-source: free to share, modify, and even sell. They went out at least once a week to share the Gospel door-to-door. They'd go out with churches to help them get experience, too. Their Psalms worship didn't require fancy equipment: just a Bible and the right attitude. Their training took about a day. They fed us Chic-fil-A. The free coffee was a top-notch blend whose sales support evangelism. They had a neighborhood map marked with everyone they visited along with their spiritual condition. All we could say was, "Wow! These people are for real about living for Christ!"

Their methodology, Four Fields (book), started and is still used overseas. Actually, our church sent a team to India to train pastors in what turned out to be NPL-style churches. The team reported that our brothers and sisters over there were wholeheartedly committed to their faith in worship, sharing the Gospel, and discipleship. They had been multiplying a lot in hostile areas. One person described it as Acts 2 happening right before their eyes. That's what happens when your church is committed to the fundamentals like Jesus and the Apostles were. The strength of NPL, along with NPL churches, is that they focus on those same things.

Now for the critics of "church-planting movements," "NPL," and "Four Fields." They accused NPL of cherry-picking passages that supported a pre-existing view of missions. They claimed some passages were misinterpreted. They said NPL was doing for church numbers what pyramid schemes did for finances. People in competing, mission groups claimed all NPL churches die off with no proof. They said they don't disciple in or maintain churches. Much of what critics said versus what we saw in NPL activities was as different as night and day. I'd almost call it slander.

Also, NPL churches gave free tools and training in their spare time when not in church, doing ministry, and going door-to-door. Their critics were at expensive conferences with thousands of people advertising dozens of books, asking for donations, and charging up to ten grand for their missions training. Testing the spirits, I lean toward groups whose practices look more like Jesus' and the Apostles'. Who would you trust?

While applying NPL's model, I still carefully reviewed many critiques. I did that after taking courses on reading the Bible in its proper, historical, and grammatical context. Just trying to better understand God's Word. I agreed with critics that NPL's model, or how it's commonly presented, seems to contradict the Bible in several ways. First, church growth moved way more slowly than they had me thinking. Jesus' disciples spent 1-3 years learning from His teaching and example. Paul's personal development and missions often required a lot of time invested. Second, examples in Acts show that both the elders and the church bodies pick their best people to either run or plant churches. Churches sent people who met the elder requirements. Third, members stayed in a host church permanently or for long periods of time while staying under elder authority. NT model seems church-centered while NPL's might let you do what you feel like. Maybe NPL's materials could be modified to address these things.

I'm still mentally processing all of that. For now, I switched my site to clearly promoting the church-centered model in the NT. We work within churches to grow upward (holiness) and outward (evangelism/missions). Church benefits for individuals include teaching, helping, accountability, and prayers. We can still share the Gospel as much as we like, anywhere we can. All those NPL tools keep paying off. The churches themselves choose who to send out to support other churches. Corporate support includes prayer, finances, good teaching, and extra bodies to serve with them. If not officially sent, we only plant our own church when we can't do God's will within an existing one. And after much prayer to ensure it's God's will.

What most people can do is small groups. NPL training strongly emphasized one-on-one and group meetups for outreach, studying the Word, and discipleship. Biblical examples seem to support this. For good teaching, I suggest reusing a lesson or sermon from an established teacher. If doing your own, check it against good commentaries before sharing it. Try to learn to listen to and encourage them to do these things on their own. It's fellowship and apprenticeship, not a content dump. They'll grow you, too.

Remember that your main goal is getting these people plugged into a good church, yours or another. Know Bible verses about us gathering to encourage that. It might help to keep a list of churches with different practices, locations, etc. Recommend one that fits them best. Your ministry here is meeting people, getting them closer to Christ, and into obedience to the Word (eg in solid churches). God will do the rest.

Well, let's say they won't plug into existing churches, your group keeps growing, and the group itself starts meeting the definition of a church. At that point, the group might decide to make it official. When picking a pastor, stay as close to the elder requirements as possible. You might start with a leader they'll accept, try to bring in a good pastor, and keep growing members toward leadership ability. If you can't do that, then do what feel God is calling you to do with whom you have. Pray He helps them serve the best they can. What I'm saying is don't let potential benefits, such as growth or ego, justify disobeying God's Word. Follow His Word in every area at every step the best you can.

That's about where I'm at on my model. I'll do another run at it in the future. That includes re-reviewing NT passages, NPL's materials, and maybe others like Nine Marks. Maybe I'll just visit NPL to present all this, hear their take on it, and we can all discuss improvements. Meanwhile, both NPL and I would each rather spend our time serving Christ and His church than endlessly pondering and debating missiology. Hit your Back button if you feel the same way. :)