This is an overview of PJ Smyth’s Advance Movement from South Africa. This post looks at its doctrine, belief about church planting and hubs, how it defines mission, leadership and what is expected financially. This also looks at the history of the movement in differing continents. There remains a lot of questions that need to be asked and a lot of gaps in information. This is a follow up to a prior post about PJ Smyth.
“Of course, this is not really optional. We are under Christ’s orders to take the Gospel to every nation in our generation.  And, it really is a matter of life and death. A few years ago we helped Malcolm and Megan Gammon plant a church in the east of Joburg. I was recently at a funeral in Malcolm’s church for a seventeen year old called Lebo who died of cancer. At the funeral his father Colin said that one of the happiest days of his life was carrying his first-born son Lebo home from the hospital. Then he said that maybe the second happiest day of his life was when Lebo came home from a church meeting in this same building saying that he had been re-born; that he had become a Christ-follower. A year later he was dead. Well not really, because God had reached out to Lebo through the Gammon’s church and granted him eternal life. Through Malcolm and Megan doing it again, Lebo is now enjoying a Christ-filled eternity. This generation has millions of Lebo’s needing to meet Jesus through existing churches and brand new churches. Let’s get them planted. Let’s get them strengthened. Let’s do it again.”
PJ Smyth on Advance
“Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases”
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:7-8 ESV
Last month I wrote an article about PJ Smyth and him preaching at Covenant Life Church. I listened to him and researched the history of him and GodFirst in South Africa. If you want to read that article you can do so here. Today’s post is the second part of that article. I wanted to research what is the Advance Movement and where is it planting. What is its goals in North America, Africa and Europe and beyond? I want people at Covenant Life Church to better understand what they would be getting involved with if PJ Smyth becomes their senior pastor. There is a lot of material to go through and I am wrapping my mind around some of this information. I pull a lot of information from their website. If someone is in the know about this and catches a mistake please correct me, as I invite correction. Let’s start with the basics and go from there and proceed.
What is the Advance Movement?
According to what I have read about Advance the Book of Acts is the driving book of the movement. Acts is key and should be the foundation for church planting and growth. PJ describes it like this, “And this same commission comes to every subsequent generation – it has to be because the generations are not born believers. Every generation needs to be freshly evangelised. The Book of Acts needs to happen in every generation. “
The overall idea of Advance can be broken down into five sections in which PJ explains what Advance is all about.
- Let’s do the Book of Acts again. The 28 chapter book spans about 30 years. PJ states, “Why could similar gospel advance not happen again in our day? They were as normal and flawed as we are. Their God is our God. Their success can be our success. What could we do in the next thirty years if we took God at His word, drew on His power, and partnered together to see people saved and discipled through planting hundreds of gospel-centered, gospel-proclaiming churches?”
- To go over the walls. In Acts 8 persecution hit the church and it grew into Judea and Samaria. In Acts 12 Jerusalem could be described as a church planting hub and Antioch is growing as well.
- Set apart for the wider mission. In Acts 13 Saul and Barnabas go beyond Antioch. In Acts 15 Paul is visiting the new churches. Then Paul goes and plants as he moves through Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus where he enjoyed success. By the 28th chapter of Acts Paul is in Rome. PJ then states “Think back thirty years. How old were you? Think ahead thirty years. How old will you be? You may have two Book of Acts ahead of you. You might have one. Maybe you have half. But who says we can’t enjoy similar progress to what they did in the Book of Acts? With the technology and resources at our disposal we could know even greater progress then they did in the Book of Acts.”
- PJ’s first 30 years as a Christian. PJ states this, “At the time of writing I am 43 years old. I really got going with Jesus in my early teens so you could say I have already lived through one Book of Acts. The highlights of these thirty years were crossing the line of faith, then starting to help others across the line of faith and move deeper into faith territory.” He describes his last 30 years as a Christian which you can read about here.
- That we need to advance together. PJ says this, “And what about the next thirty years? Conscious of James’ exhortation not to speak presumptuously about tomorrow, if God graciously spares me I want to keep doing it again. And specifically help others in different parts of the world do it again. I want to keep doing it with my amazing friends in Advance. Doing it together means we can do more, do better, and have a lot of fun along the way.”
In discussing partnership PJ stresses the following points. The first big theme of the Book of Acts is the theme of advance. Second is prominence of local churches. Third is how churches partnered together with trans-local teams. There are four key features that PJ stresses in partnering. Those are doctrine and values, shared mission, genuine relationship, and recognized leadership. Fourth theme is the importance of the Gospel and the fifth theme is the importance of planting churches. The sixth is strengthening churches. The Great Commission drives Advance and PJ says the following about the basics of hubs:
“Hubs seemed to be a New Testament reality, with the places like Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus and Thessalonica emerging as centres for gospel advance. We refer to a Hub as a group of Advance churches partnering together to plant and strengthen churches around leadership, usually in a geographical area such as a town, city, state, or nation.
Churches in a Hub will work to plant and strengthen churches together through doing things such as training elders and leaders, collaborating on certain ministries, gathering for high moments, pooling finance for the Hub mission, and serving society together. Some hubs may even collaborate for a preaching series every now and again to help train preachers and speak to their town/city with one voice for a few weeks.”
The challenges that the Advance movement deals with are multiple according to them. They vary from planting churches is hard, to “genuine Gospel extension” is very difficult. Every church when planting needs to take responsibility and success must be viewed holistically. Desire is not enough, and each church must produce number one plant leaders. The applied Biblical principles of church planting include the following:
- Importance of strong churches (Jerusalem and Antioch were strong churches)
- Convinced of both local and global realities (Involved in both local and global activities)
- Ensure growth and not reshuffle (Focus on growth and not reshuffling people from different churches. Reshuffling people doesn’t mean one crosses the line of faith)
- Multiplication of leaders (to create three times the amount of leaders than they need)
- Short strengthening visits (short visits to explore led by the Holy Spirit and to get the new church up and running)
- Long region establishing deployments (People are to re-locate in support of church planting to support efforts for several years)
- Systematic training of leaders and planters (Advance believes in training church planters and senior leaders in their ACPC and E+ program)
- Back gifted reproducers in key regions (Certain people in key places emerged in hubs for example the apostles in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, and Paul in Ephesus. In Advance they believe in partnering and supporting churches in key nations, not going in per say but raising from the ground up)
- Contribute in finances and prayer
- Partnership with trans-local team (The New Testament pattern is churches partnering with other churches and trans-local teams teams in order to plant and strengthen churches.)
- Robust in the face of setbacks (In Advance they realize that there are risks and challenges and there will be setbacks.
- Organized and flexible and spiritual (In the New Testament planting churches was the result of hard work, the spontaneous and the supernatural. They also believe in cultivating prophets and prophecy in churches)
Here is the statement of faith for the Advance movement.
Our Statement of Faith outlines what we consider to be the primary, non-negotiable biblical doctrines that we believe as partner churches. Churches are free to adopt this Statement of Faith as their own, or minimally to use it as a plumb line of truth against which to help gauge the doctrinal strength and accuracy of their church.
This is the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Alliance of the UK. We are happy that it captures the main beliefs that Advance partner churches would subscribe to.
We Believe In:
The one true God who lives eternally in three persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The love, grace and sovereignty of God in creating, sustaining, ruling, redeeming and judging the world.
The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.
The dignity of all people, made male and female in God’s image to love, be holy and care for creation, yet corrupted by sin, which incurs divine wrath and judgment.
The incarnation of God’s eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ—born of the virgin Mary; truly divine and truly human, yet without sin.
The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross: dying in our place, paying the price of sin and defeating evil, so reconciling us with God.
The bodily resurrection of Christ, the first fruits of our resurrection; his ascension to the Father, and his reign and mediation as the only Saviour of the world.
The justification of sinners solely by the grace of God through faith in Christ.
The ministry of God the Holy Spirit, who leads us to repentance, unites us with Christ through new birth, empowers our discipleship and enables our witness.
The Church, the body of Christ both local and universal, the priesthood of all believers—given life by the Spirit and endowed with the Spirit’s gifts to worship God and proclaim the gospel, promoting justice and love.
The personal and visible return of Jesus Christ to fulfil the purposes of God, who will raise all people to judgment, bring eternal life to the redeemed and eternal condemnation to the lost, and establish a new heaven and new earth.
The statement of faith doesn’t get into many details believing that should be worked out amongst the Elders in the local church. For churches that partner with Advance they want them to be Gospel Centered, Mission Focused, Disciple Making, Spirit Empowered, and Elder Led.
Furthermore Advance believes the following characteristics of a New Testament church in today’s world includes the following.
- Enjoying God’s grace and sovereignty
- Encouraging faith-filled exploits
- Prizing and preaching the Bible
- Worshipping whole-heartedly
- Prioritizing prayer
- Cultivating a family culture
- Celebrating diversity
- Nurturing healthy home life
- Excelling in financial generosity
- Practicing baptism and communion
- Modelling servant leadership
- Pursuing societal renewal
- Loving mercy and doing justice
- Honoring other churches
- Partnering with trans-local teams
Advance on Hubs, Leadership and Finances
Hubs according to Advance are the way to do planting. According to their interpretation of scripture they believe that examples of hubs are Thessalonica, Ephesus, Antioch and Jerusalem. As Advance says, “A Hub is a group of Advance churches partnering together to plant and strengthen churches around leadership, usually in a geographical area such as a town, city, state, or nation.” When it comes to hubs Advance believes they work together to leverage the power of the body. They also require a high level of trust and active promotion of each other. People have to buy in, Elders cannot abdicate to the Hub. This is how the hub is structured:
We have three levels of hub leadership:
A Hub Host organises and hosts certain hub events on behalf of an externally based Hub Leader. A Hub Host will:
- Be trusted by the external Hub Leader
- Have administrative and hosting skills
- Be open to taking more responsibility in the future and to receiving training to that end
A Hub Coordinator coordinates most aspects of the Hub on behalf of an externally based Hub Leader. A Hub Coordinator will:
- Be a strong carrier of Advance values
- Be relationally well connected in Advance
- Have a record of local fruitfulness
- Be received as something of a pastor amongst pastors
- Facilitate incoming trans-local input
A Hub Leader is recognised as a mature trans-local minister by the churches in the hub. He will display growing characteristics in the following areas:
- A father bringing security to pastors and churches
- A foundation layer of doctrine and values
- Gifted to take the mission further to new ground
- A producer of future leaders
To read abut Advance leadership I recommend you read here. To read about finances in the Hubs system and how its structured I have lifted this off the website.
Three Guiding Principles
- Excellence in grace of giving: Part of the role of a movement is to help provoke churches to excellence in the grace of giving (2 Cor 8:7) for both their local mission and our wider mission, and to coordinate the effective spending of money for the wider mission.
- We give mostly to planting and strengthening: We give the majority of our pooled finance to church planting and strengthening. There may be times when movement funds are given to crisis relief or ministry to the poor, but we believe these areas are better handled at local church level, or sometimes hub level.
- Empowerment of both partner churches and the movement leadership: If the movement asks local elders for too much money then local elderships may not have enough in their war chest to give to causes that they wish to give to, and/or they might feel personally disconnected from where the movement money is going. Conversely, if local churches don’t give enough to the movement war chest then the movement can be hamstrung when it needs to act fast or it needs to embark on an initiative for which it is impractical or inappropriate to canvas multiple local churches. Therefore, we need a way forward that both empowers and resources both local elders and the movement. To this end we do things as follows:
Three Action Points
- We encourage partner churches to sow at least 10% of their monthly income towards church planting and the poor, under the oversight of their local eldership team. We understand it may take some churches time to work up to this level, but we warmly encourage churches in this direction.
- We ask partner churches to sow an amount to their Hub Mission (also from within their 10% if they like). This amount is determined by each Hub and might be a percentage or an ad hoc amount according to the vision of the Hub. Note that because the Hub is closer to home than the global mission, the local church will have a much greater say in where the money goes, and be closely connected with where the money goes. Hubs finance their own church plants, gatherings, training programs, travel/hosting costs of incoming speakers/leaders whether from inside or outside of Advance. Some hubs might pay a portion of the salary of their hub leader or coordinator. In the event of a hub / emerging hub not being able to pay their own way, the Hub Leader will use his initiative and/or approach other Hubs or churches for assistance.
- We ask partner churches to sow 2% of their monthly income to our Global Mission (from within their 10% if they like). This money is used for:
Direct planting or strengthening initiatives that either we want to do together as Hubs from around the world, or that is beyond the reasonable reach of a single hub or group of hubs. Current examples include partly financing church plants in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and our Hub launch in the UK. It is hoped that all three of these costs will be absorbed into Hubs in due course.
Indirect planting or strengthening initiatives that serve all/most hubs around the world, such as a resource rich website, administration and accounting, and a very limited number of salaries (currently, PJ Smyth and Stephen Jack are have a portion of their salaries paid from this fund, as does Dave Adams who runs ACPC).
The team that guides our global mission oversees this fund. They endeavour to keep an approximate 50-50 split between direct and indirect planting and strengthening initiatives. In the event of excess building up in this account, surplus will be given to direct planting and strengthening initiatives.
Also note worthy is how people partner with Advance. You can read that right here. The one point that bothered me, and I’ll say it right here is that a number of items were password protected on the website. For example, I couldn’t access the recommended reading list or see the audio downloads in their church planting course. I am honestly wondering…would Paul hide his motives or intentions in the New Testament church? According to Godfirst’s website on June 24, 2014 PJ Smyth and Stephen Jack announced they were dedicating all their time to Advance. As to when Advance was formally founded that information I have not been able to find.
Advance Movement in Africa
As of this writing there appears to be at least nine Advance churches in Africa. I could be mistaken and invite correction if I am wrong. Seven of them are in South Africa which I honestly expected. It appears as if Johannesburg is going to be one of the hubs in this model. GodFirst church in Tembisa is planning a church plant in Ivory Park. Advance is going to be doing two church plants in Brammfontein and downtown Johannesburg in both January 2016 and January 2017 respectively. Also in the nearby area is a coming plant in the “Greater Parks” area in 2017. In 2017 in West Rand plans are to plant a church with The Journey Church in 2017. In the northern suburbs of Johannesburg another church plant is scheduled to occur in January 2016. Finally in rounding out the work of Advance in the area is Stirling Baptist in Sunnyridge. So in the Johannesburg area alone Advance is involved in at least 7 church plants. In Cape Town South Africa, Common Ground Church planted in Table View in January 2015. However, South Africa is not the only nation state in the continent where church plants are occurring.
In the eastern horn of Africa Advance is making preparations to plant in Nairobi, Kenya. In Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, Advance is planting a church which had leadership come from Johannesburg and Cape Town. The church plant is called God’s Tribe Church and launched on September 8, 2013.
Advance Movement in UK, Europe and Asia
According to Advance’s website there are 10 to 15 churches in the stages of being planted or becoming partners with Advance. However there is not a lot of information out there about Advance in Europe. I Googled and played around in searching but I could not find a thing. For example I Googled “Advance and Europe” or “Advance Movement and Poland” or “Advance and Romania” and I could not find a thing. I am actually very intrigued as to where planting will take place in the UK and Europe. But as of this posting I don’t have much to go on. One additional point is that on the website they state that Advance Europe and UK is where South Africa was at years ago. So my question is this….where is the hub going to be? With PJ Smyth’s relationship with New Frontiers and Terry Virgo will that influence where the first hub is going to be? Due to Terry Virgo’s connections to Kings Church Kingston will the first hub be in the London area? In Asia in 2016 Southlands an Advance church in Los Angeles will be planting a church in Myanmar. That church plant is going to be led by Daniel and Marcia Yu. Plus on the Advance website there is mention of activity in Singapore and India. To my knowledge that is all I am aware of at this writing about church planting in Asia or South Asia.
Advance Movement in North America
As of this writing there are 7 Advance churches in North America. In Canada you have City Gates Church in the greater Toronto area. You can read the announcement and of the launch of City Gates in this blog post here. City Gates I believe is led by Vic Stander. There are six official Advance churches in the United States as of this writing. If PJ Smyth becomes the Senior Pastor at Covenant Life then its safe to state that CLC will become the seventh Advance church in the country. In North Carolina there is One Harbor Church which has two locations is in Beaufort and Morehead City. One Harbor, which by the way shows up in the 9 Marks church search as a 9 Marks chruch is lead by Donnie Griggs, you can read his bio and the information on other pastor’s at this link here. In southern California there is another Advance church called Southlands. It meets in both Fullerton and Brea. This church is led by Alan Frow, you can read his blog here. To read about their leadership structure you can do so here. To read about its history and its view of scripture can be accessed in this link. Finally these are the Elders of Southland, you can see their pictures here. Southlands is launching a location in Whittier, California in September 2015, this launch is included in the number above. By the way quick side note do you know that Richard Nixon was born in Whittier, and played football there in college? The last Advance church to my knowledge is in the Houston, Texas area of Webster. One Life Church is led by Brian Barr. You can read about the story of launching One Life Church here. In June 2015 One Life announced they are doing a church plant in 2016 in Seabrook. One other thing to note is that Advance just had their conference in Houston from September 15 to 17, 2015. At that conference was Josh Kouri from Frontline which is active in the Oklahoma City area. Frontline meets in downtown Oklahoma City, Shawnee, South Oklahoma City, and Edmond. If you are familiar with the Passion movement Charlie Hall is the worship pastor at this church. However, I didn’t see any mention on the website as to this being Advance, and when I ran Frontline in the Acts 29 church directory I see it listed there, so as of this writing I’ll just state that its Acts 29 affiliated. Will Frontline change allegiances in the course of time?
Some Analysis of Advance
Here’s something that troubles me that was bouncing around in my head as I was reading and preparing this post. I was looking into church planting and the logistics of planting with Advance and I notice how people are required and encouraged to move. Correct me if I am mistaken but does that sound a little bit like the modus operandi of PDI? I thought of this again when I was reading how One Life Church was started in 2008. I’ve had a lot of people email me but my very first email was someone who was involved in a Sovereign Grace church plant in Florida. In her email she told me that “she was done” with church. I could feel the frustration and pain that come through in her email. So I must ask…is Advance going to operate like PDI? Does Covenant Life want to partner with Advance in such a way? Will that make CLC “healthy?”
There are a couple of additional points that troubled me as well. For example when I looked at the Advance website they really didn’t have a directory of Advance churches. Compare the Advance website with the C3 movement which I think is out of Australia. On C3 you can easily find churches in Africa, United States and Australia. In Advance they do not have that in place. Is this a result of this movement getting off the ground, or it being disorganized? I honestly don’t know. The other thing that troubles me is that why are all the resource material under lock and key? I can’t look and find out? They won’t make that available? What are the recommended authors and material they use? Is it exclusively PJ Smyth? Is it from New Frontiers? Or do they use stuff from Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller or even Greg Boyd as unlikely as that is. I don’t understand why that would be closely guarded. Is that how Paul would operate?
One thing I will say is that I found it honestly refreshing that Advance said they were not out to reshuffle Christians but create new ones. Can I be honest about this? Most of the time when evangelicals do a church plant they end up stealing people from other churches. For example when McLean Bible (in the DC area) or Acts 29 does a church plant, most of the people who attend have been stolen by other churches. Church planting is looked at by some as being hip and cool. Its the in thing with the dude bros and the manly man look. So to see that Advance claim they are not interested in reshuffling I was honesty encouraged.
Another point to consider is the role Covenant Life would play in all this. Like I said in my previous post Covenant Life is still a church hurting from the scars of Sovereign Grace and fundamentalism. The scars of the lawsuit, alleged child sex abuse cover up, Nate Morales, and the spiritual abuse still linger and loom over the congregation. Even when Mark Hoffman was baptizing his daughter this issue emerged in her testimony. So what role would CLC play in Advance? I think CLC would play a key role and that is why PJ Smyth is pursuing it. It would be a hub in the Atlantic seaboard placed near Washington, D.C. and significantly expand his foot print in the United States. It also appears as if CLC would be the sole mega church of the movement if it becomes involved in Advance. Does CLC need another celebrity pastor? I would say no….what CLC needs is a pastor who will help it face its past and deal with it. CLC needs a pastor that will face the legacy and scars from Sovereign Grace. The next pastor at CLC needs to lead the church in repentance. And everyone from the Senior Pastor down to Kenneth Maresco, down to Charles Llewellyn and Mark Hoffman all need to repent. All wounds that are infected need to be opened and drained, and the only way that is going to happen is be sheer and pure honesty. Repentance is needed for Covenant Life’s soul. Pure repentance will help heal the families hurt by Sovereign Grace. No damage control, no running from the issue. They just need to deal with their past. Can one expect anything less from professing Christians? As I look at the Neo-Calvinist movement I see a movement that has produced more Jonah’s and really no Peters. The Jonah legacy applies especially when you look at CJ Mahaney and Mark Driscoll, they ran like cowards from their respective churches. All this talk about being a man, and in the end neither one was a man. CLC doesn’t need another Jonah who will flee from the difficult circumstances. CLC needs a leader and someone who will lead the flock in love. CLC needs to repent of its past history of Sovereign Grace. So do I think CLC needs PJ Smyth and Advance? I’ll let you deduce that from this post.
That said, there are many questions that I would like to know and ask. These question need to be asked by members of CLC as well. And if I hear about this then I will follow up with an additional post in the course of time.
- What does Advance believe about membership?
- What does Advance believe about membership covenants?
- What does Advance believe about 9 Marks? Especially if one of the churches (One Harbor) is affiliated with 9 Marks. Is it in time going to affiliate with 9 Marks? Will people become ensnared or enslaved that way?
- What does Advance believe about church discipline? Will you be disciplined because you had an affair and refused to repent and work things out after all other avenues are exhausted? Or will you be disciplined because you are a member of Covenant Life and Advance is doing a church plant in Oregon, and they want you to move from Gaithersburg to Portland to support the church plant and you refuse or balk. How does Advance define discipline? The devil is in the details.
- In addition to New Frontiers who else has influenced Advance?
- Are there back room drug deals going on between Advance and the Sojourn Network or Acts 29 to prevent “turf wars” in the United States (As they say in Los Angeles! 😛 )
- When you join are you free to walk away or are you enslaved to the Advance movement and can only move from Advance church to Advance church?
- Will Advance control or influence who you can befriend and who you can associate with? Will you even be instructed on how to keep the kitchen counters clean like another person did?
- What about the financial assets of Covenant Life? Correct me if I am mistaken but $17 million of $19 million is paid off in the building. If Advance takes control what happens to the assets? Will the hard earned efforts by members of CLC be used for other resources and purposes at CLC? Or in places like Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon, or Texas?
This is just a start and I hope that more of this information can be flushed out in time. I do want to follow up in time as more information becomes available. Meanwhile in the spirit of this I want to close out with Martin Smith’s Historymakers. I think that is appropriate for this movement. As always love you guys!