Church planting has been the “talk of the town” for the last 20 years now. It has become a romantic possibility for anyone who has a desire to see the kingdom advance. Movements, models and churches have shot people out at a rate of knots to plant churches. Many have succeeded, and many have failed. In both the successful plants and failed plants people have been burnt. Most of the burnt people are those who have gone out to do the planting.
There can be no more fundamental step in the process of watching a church become healthy than finding the right spirit filled and God-gifted leader. Those called of God, prepared for ministry, and wired to plant new life-giving churches. Who leads the church plant is one of the most important issues to be determined. Too often the wrong people are placed in the wrong circumstance, with the wrong expectations and a new church becomes at best anaemic or at worst, dead.
When will we learn that a personal proclamation or desire to plant a church shouldn’t be the qualifying factor for sending someone out on the field? Just because I say I am a brain surgeon, doesn’t make me one! Likewise just because I say I want to plant a church, doesn’t make me a church planter. Yet too often well-meaning leaders are moved by an individual’s “call to plant” and send these self-proclaimed leaders out into field. Paul says “do not be hasty about the laying on of hands”? (1 Tim 5:22). We must not become so anxious to start a movement or make a name for ourselves as “movement leaders” that we hastily overlook a very fundamental issue? On other occasions where good leaders recognize that a person who wants to plant is not a church planter by calling, and explain this to the person, the person runs out anyway in this romantic relationship with planting a church, excessive expectations, and they end up hitting the wall of reality. It helps to listen to the advice given by others. For those wanting to plant, ask your leaders, and especially your spiritual fathers, if they see you as a planter. Even after two and a half years of leading our current church plant I still ask my spiritual father if he believes that we were called to do this task, or did we make a mistake in eagerness to fulfil the great commission. I once heard a man say to another: “loose the romance of church planting because it’s not what you think.” He was right! I didn’t understand at the time, but I sure do now. We must never loose our romance with Jesus, but church planting is far from romantic.
It has become increasingly important to help an individual discover God’s “shape” for their ministry in order to ensure the long-range survival of a new church. The task of planting is far more complex than a simple ‘yes go for it’.
Over the last decade the war has raged on in the church-planting world over models and methodology. We have clamoured for the latest and greatest way to plant a church. An array of solutions have been offered in an attempt to suggest “the right way”. Whenever a God-ordained, God-gifted leader starts a new church with great success, everyone jumps on the “new” wagon and proclaims a “new way” of doing church.
One man plants an organic church that explodes across a city, multiplying many times over and the pendulum swings. Across the state a person leads church as a bi-vocational pastor and experiences great success: The pendulum swings. And so on it goes.
My point is this; We watch an exceptionally gifted leader start and grow (not always numerically) a ministry and we automatically proclaim that this leader must have discovered the new “way”. Worse yet, if the leader grows a church in an unconventional way or something that goes against the norm of the established methodology, then we proclaim that a “new era has arisen”. We mark the birth of this new movement as proof that our culture has changed.
So, the solution is reduced to a thought processes, which might sound something like this: Frank planted a church as a bi-vocational leader. He was given no resourcing and needed no salary to begin with. So, since he was successful like this, things in our culture have changed. We now need to teach pastors to become bi-vocational, then we would experience greater efficacy. Right? What they fail to take into account is the simple fact that if bi-vocational ministry was the issue, then we should already be winning the war. The greater percentages of pastors today are bi-vocational .
Maybe we should stop throwing so much money at a church plant and do it on a shoe-string, then we would have greater success. John Smith did this and had great success. Yet, if that was the solution, the Church around the globe should be knocking it out of the park. The average church works with small sums of money from which to do ministry.
Use any other argument you want. You cannot properly draw a universal positive from one instance of success.
Whole denominations change strategies every time a “new way” was discovered.
While all of these issues are worthy of a discussion, are they the primary, foundational issue? The problems are many and far more complex than reducing it to a model or methodology. In fact, there is a whole diversity of issues we could bring to the table. But, models and methods on “how we do church” has been elevated above everything else, and this needs to change.
We have possibly focused for too long on the wrong issues. I would dare say that 98% of the speeches you have heard about “doing” church–planting, centres around “how”rather than “why” of the call to plant. It ceases to amaze me that through all the smoke and mirrors, we have failed to stop and look at one primary issue: The "who"!
A person “called” and “wired” to plant will be able to raise disciples in the current society that they find themselves planted in. It is these disciples that can change the spheres of influence that they are in. It is through this that the success of a church plant can be seen.
So it might be time to put down the church planting books, and pick up our Bibles and look at the method Jesus used and the way in which the early church reached the then known world with such great success.
Don’t get me wrong. I love reading the amazing resources available to planters today. But church planting is first and foremost about knowing and following Jesus deeply, intimately and authentically. And through that, knowing who he has made you to be, and being comfortable in walking in that calling, be it to be a church planter or not. Knowing this and following him is about 90% of it. Knowing the latest greatest "how-to’s" about planting the next amazing church plant is only about 10%.
In fact, reading the thrilling stories of church planters can be a bit intoxicating. You imagine that what happened to the church planter in the book will happen to you. But in the end it turns out to be an elaborate tale of make believe, a shot of excitement that makes you feel good until reality hits. Read enough books and you will actually feel like you’ve planted a church. You fancy yourself to be an expert on the subject when you actually just know a bunch of good planting ideas that worked well for someone else.
Yes, I know, reading church planting books and learning from effective church planters can be helpful. But starting a new community is not a paint-by-numbers game. It is the frontline of spiritual warfare. When motivated by a Kingdom calling, planting a new church is a direct attack on hell. And when all hell breaks loose, knowing the formula isn’t going to help you much. Knowing Jesus and knowing your calling is going to be what keeps you steadfast.
So read the books, go to the conferences and learn from other planters. Then spend enough time with Jesus to know what he wants YOU to do. And then do it.