Larry Walkemeyer

Larry Walkemeyer

Larry Walkemeyer, D.Min., is the lead pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, California; the director of equipping and spiritual engagement for Exponential; and a member of Azusa Pacific University’s Board of Trustees. He is the author of “Multiply Ministries,” “Together With God,” “Led,” “Play Thuno,” “A Good Walk Home” and the co-author of “Together With Family,” “The Mobilization Flywheel” and “15 Characteristics of Effective Pastors.”

By Larry Walkemeyer

 

Our first (OK, our only) trip to Paris had Deb and me checking into our Airbnb early in the evening. We were hungry so we went walking through the neighborhood when suddenly we heard simple, yet captivating music. We followed our ears to a quaint street with a few tiny cafes where a four-piece band was joyfully playing for a group that had gathered to listen.

As we were swept up in their music, I recalled a news piece I had seen previously describing groups such as this. The clip reported on a four-piece band that was part of the Orchestre de Paris, yet played in the streets far more than in the concert hall. Even more impressive was their commitment to teach ordinary students of all ages how to play their instruments. They encouraged their students to “play in the streets.” Their mission was to multiply music throughout the city.

My thoughts then turned to our mission as Christ-followers. The gospel is the most exquisite and transformative music under heaven. Our culture is starving for its melody, and we must multiply the band members who play it.

 In 1890 B.T. Roberts, our denomination’s founder, seemed to forcefully say, “Let the bands play.” Roberts was an ardent supporter of the Free Methodist Pentecost Bands. These were small groups of zealous evangelists and church planters. These bands primarily consisted of ordinary lay people, both women and men, and especially young people. Their faith, creativity and passion were contagious. These bands were rapidly bringing the “music” of salvation and holiness to unreached people.

But at the 1890 General Conference, new leaders sought to squelch the work of the Pentecost Bands, which Vivian Dake founded. Roberts argued to “let the bands play,” and he was deeply disillusioned when they were regulated instead.

As equally disappointing to Roberts at the 1890 conference was the narrow defeat of his resolution to ordain women. These sisters who had been so instrumental in spreading the gospel and establishing new churches, were relegated to a second-class status in the mission. Since that conference, the full empowerment of women has been a significant, yet inadequately confronted, barrier to multiplication.

Perhaps Roberts felt so passionate about these two issues because he saw in them the shift from gospel movement to church institution, from multiplication to maintenance. While reflecting on the results of this 1890 decision to legislate the Pentecost Bands, David McKenna writes in “A Future With a History” that “the fires of aggressive evangelism that characterized Free Methodism during the first 30 years of its history were banked, if not snuffed.” Dakes died in 1892, and Roberts died in 1893 — one year before the next General Conference.

McKenna’s analysis is convicting and instructive: “The action of (the 1890) General Conference symbolized the shift of the church away from the risks that must be taken and the creativity that must be exercised to sustain the energy of aggressive evangelism.” More than ever, this season demands the recovery of the risk, creativity and gender inclusiveness of the Pentecost Bands.

Jesus’ model of ministry was one of “going” and “sending.” His “Pentecost Bands” are described in Luke 10 when He sent out the 36 pairs of anonymous disciples to evangelize. It was a movement that multiplied disciples, leaders and eventually churches. It empowered ordinary people to take the music to the streets. Jesus transformed fishermen, tax collectors, business women, former prostitutes, and tradespeople from listeners to street musicians to instructors.

Have we overly focused on our concert halls, the role of conductors, and the precision of our performance instead of “letting the band play”? My experience indicates we have.

I often ask the pastors that I minister to across the nation:

“Who have you personally shared Christ with in the past three months?”

“Who are you intentionally discipling with the agreed-upon goal they will disciple someone else?”

 “Who are you investing in to replace your leadership role?”

“What new ministries outside of your church have recently been launched by the lay people in your church?”

“How soon will your church plant another church?”

The usual response to these questions: Silence. Crickets. Then, rationalizations.

These are gospel multiplication questions. These are “launching the band to the streets” questions. These are the questions that must be answered differently for the Free Methodist Church to become a movement again.

Five Essential Understandings

As I reflected on the Parisian band playing in the neighborhood, it seemed a metaphor for five essential understandings for Christ-compelled multiplication.

First, there was a passion and belief in the power of the music. These musicians believed music could change the world.

You cannot multiply what you are not passionate about! Ask any multilevel salesperson.

Steve Addison, who wrote the authoritative book on gospel movements, “Movements That Change the World,” identified “passionate, hot faith” as the number one characteristic of movements. Gospel multipliers believe in the necessity, authority and power of the gospel. 

There is a rapidly growing cultural resistance to the word “evangelical.” That makes sense given some of the headline failures of those claiming that title. While we might be reluctant to use the word “evangelical,” we must all the more boldly proclaim its meaning and priority — the good news of salvation through Christ alone!

Have we become hesitant or demur about the gospel’s power? Does Paul’s defining statement beat passionately in our heart on our ordinary days? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16).

Brian Warth, the Free Methodist lead pastor of Chapel of Change, is known for his fervor in sharing Christ with people from gang members to business owners to public officials. Part of his passion flows from having been miraculously released from prison while serving a life sentence during which he met Christ.

But isn’t this each of our stories? We are imprisoned in our sin and hopelessness until Jesus sets us free. This changes everything for us, now and forever. This is the music we are passionate about playing for the world. 

Second, the Parisian musicians played from concert halls to streets. They loved when people came to the hall to hear them play, but they were adamant that the music didn’t need a concert hall. The people needed the music so they went to where the people were.

Jesus could have set up a “concert hall” in Jerusalem and preached to overflowing crowds on a daily basis. Instead, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” (Matthew 9:35).

At the start of COVID-19, I read a headline in a major Christian publication, “The Church Has Left the Building.” I wondered to myself, “Has she just left the building or has she been sent to the harvest field? Will she retreat to her comfort zones to wait out the pandemic and try to return to normal? Or will the church surrender and say, ‘Here I am, send me’ and advance the gospel beyond the walls.”

The early Pentecost Bands of Free Methodism went to the streets like Wesley went to the fields. They understood that Sunday-centric, building-centric evangelism was not what would multiply the gospel across the nation.

“Gospel” music must be played wherever we live, work, study, hang out, or play … wherever we are in-person or online, one on one or in large auditoriums. Jesus loved individuals on the beach and in crowds of thousands. We need multiplying microchurches and multiplying megachurches to get the music to the streets. 

Third, the Parisian group kept the music conductorless and simple. No conductor was controlling their cues, and each of the four players led at different times. They played without sound systems, stage lights, smoke machines or acoustically treated walls.

As I listened, I could not help but think of the classic 2006 business leadership book, “The Starfish and the Spider.” Jesus unleashed what was predominantly a “Starfish” organization. Starfish are an example of a “decentralized” system. If you cut an arm off of the starfish, you haven’t killed the starfish but have given birth to a new one. The life and power of multiplication is not in “one head” but in every part of the organization, in every band member. It’s life is organic, not centralized.

The people in pastor-centric churches expect the music to flow from the pastor instead of learning to play their own instruments. The more emphasis we place on conductors, the less music will reach the streets.

The Apostle Paul, though able to debate the deepest theologian, kept the message simple and transferable — “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). He simply shared and practiced the power of the cross.

The more simple the song, the more the song will be sung. For example, how many millions of people were singing “Amazing Grace” while watching the presidential inauguration? You can play that song on the guitar with just three easy chords, G, C and D. 

The Pentecost Bands were simple. They advanced often without a pastor in their midst. Did they make mistakes? Yes. Did they get a little wild? Sometimes. Did they advance the gospel powerfully? Absolutely.

Calvin Tatupu — a church planter from our church, Light & Life — would have fit well in one of those Pentecost Bands. Calvin never graduated from high school, but I meet people often who received Christ because of his life and testimony. He knew the simple power of the gospel and he shared it daily. He’s now gone home to his eternal reward.

Simplify to multiply. The more complex and controlling an organism, organization or church is, the less replicable it becomes. Institutions complicate, movements simplify.

Fourth, there was a persuasion that ordinary people should play, not just listen to the music. These musicians believed everyone had music in them. Someone just needed to ignite the song and teach them a few notes.

Free Methodist pastors undoubtedly hold to the orthodoxy of the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2:9), but, in our orthopraxy, we fail to inspire, equip and expect it. Instead we issue call after call for the “volunteership of all believers” — just volunteer to make our latest church program work … please, please, please.

The church in America is training people to be listeners instead of music-makers! We train believers to pass out bulletins while Jesus trained them to cast out demons. Then we wonder why believers are bored. The Pentecost Bands of early Free Methodism believed the Holy Spirit could powerfully use any woman or man who was willing and Spirit-filled.

Acts 2:3 should excite every Christ-follower: “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” All 120 believers in the Upper Room received “a flame,” a fire on their head. Not just the 12 apostles, not just the men, or the talented or educated or most holy but each of them. All of them began to proclaim the glory and love of God in a diversity of unlearned languages. The Spirit empowered and led them to do something beyond their own ability.

Terry Beasley was recently ordained as a Free Methodist elder. Terry was one of the best volunteers in our church for 15 years. Then he decided to go with one of our church plants where his new pastor made him an associate minister. Suddenly instead of ushering people to their seats, Terry was ushering them into the presence of God. He was leading people to Christ, discipling them, and building into other church planters. When I saw this the Spirit rebuked me and said, “Larry, you failed to see the fire on his head. You saw a volunteer instead of a priest.”

To multiply disciples, leaders and churches we must see the potential of every Spirit-filled believer, then give them opportunities to release the fire on their head.

Fifth, the Parisian musicians had a priority on multiplying the bands. These professional musicians’ primary goal was not to gather the largest crowd to hear them play, although that was a worthy goal along the way. Instead, they were focused on a different mission — filling the city with music. This meant raising up musicians. This meant “disciple-making.” But they focused on even a step further; they wanted to teach amateur musicians how to teach beginning musicians.

From Addition to Multiplication

The first call of Jesus was “follow Me, and I will make you fishers of people” (Matthew 4:19 NASB). His last commission was “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). When Jesus said this, He expected them to do with others what He had done in discipling them. His expectation was that the sign of true disciples is to help someone else become a disciple.

Or as Dawson Trotman, the founder of Navigators, used to say, “You haven’t made a disciple until your disciple makes a disciple.” This is the one key disciple-making shift that transforms disciple-making from addition to multiplication, from incremental growth to radical movement.

The first summary description of the New Testament church movement is in Acts 9:31 — “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (ESV). How did the church grow so rapidly in the midst of cultural, racial, economic and political persecution? Answer: Multiplicative disciple-making and church planting. 

COVID has opened a space for the American church to reengineer itself toward multiplication. The future of the Free Methodist church as an effective messenger of the gospel depends on aggressively leaning into Christ-compelled multiplication.

I sincerely believe every healthy Free Methodist church of any size can start another church by the year 2025. This will require fasting and prayer, a revived passion for the gospel, a re-envisioning of what church looks like, a simplifying of church models, a deliverance from unhealthy pastoral dependency and a fresh fire on ordinary believers. 

It will demand the risk and creativity of our original Pentecost Bands. Are we willing? Now is the time to add our voices to B.T. Roberts’ and declare, “Let the bands play!”

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Larry Walkemeyer

Larry Walkemeyer

Larry Walkemeyer, D.Min., is the lead pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, California; the director of equipping and spiritual engagement for Exponential; and a member of Azusa Pacific University’s Board of Trustees. He is the author of “Multiply Ministries,” “Together With God,” “Led,” “Play Thuno,” “A Good Walk Home” and the co-author of “Together With Family,” “The Mobilization Flywheel” and “15 Characteristics of Effective Pastors.”