Recently, I’ve noticed a couple interesting posts related to church planting along the lines of “here is why you shouldn’t try to plant a church”. As a church planter and supervisor/mentor of church planters it seems appropriate for me to offer some commentary related to those posts. So, I’ll get to that in a moment. First, I thought it might be worthwhile to share with you my own thoughts on the larger subject of why you shouldn’t do church planting.
Perverted Church Planting
That is, during the past several years as I have been engaged in the church planting world, I have become aware of the fact that often aspiring church planters have rather perverted or underdeveloped motives for seeking to plant a church. During our local assessment and training events (“First Steps Weekend”), I usually try to lay out some of what I think are the most common of these. Let me share three top reasons why you should NOT plant a church:
1. Church-Splitting – Let’s say that you find yourself as something of a de facto leader of a group in an existing church that is for one reason or another antagonistic towards another group (perhaps even the majority) in that same church. Your group wants to “plant a church” essentially in order to get out from under the thumb or away from the conflict with the others. This is called church-splitting and should not be confused with church planting. Not that I am saying that there is never a legitimate cause for a split. But if church planting is akin to giving birth, church-splitting is rather like divorce. Church planting efforts should have as a central motivation the desire to make disciples among a people or in an area where there is some kind of deficiency in effective gospel witness.
2. Christian-Clubbing – In this situation, you put forth a vision for starting a certain kind of church (i.e. house church, mega church, postmodern church, cowboy church, or whatever) simply for the sake of having such a church. This however is not really church planting but rather a kind of Christian club-making that is motivated more by the self-interest, curiosity, or angst of the aspiring church planter rather than by Kingdom growth. In church planting however, the contextual realities of a given mission field should inform and determine the methodology or church planting models undertaken. Particular models or approaches should be readily and eagerly discarded should the demands or bringing Christ to bear on a given mission field require it. I direct your attention to one of my favorite passages, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Paul’s “all things to all people” is no game. It is not curiosity or the novelty of certain “cutting edge” models or methods that drives him to make himself a slave to all. It is a passion for the lost. It is this question, “How must I pour myself out so that the people of this mission field might be saved?”
3. “Just Get Busy for Jesus” – There are, of course, a number of people who end up at our church planting assessments who just feel hungry to do something for Jesus. This is not a bad thing, by the way. But we must know that a passion to serve the Kingdom of Christ is not the same thing as a call to church planting. Church planting, particularly in North America, has become something of a trendy thing. There is a sense in which it has become the default avenue of Christian service for young, North American Christian leaders. Want to do something for Jesus? Why not plant a church? Lest you think I’m joking, that’s exactly the pitch I received when I first got involved in ministry here in Chicagoland. Fortunately, it was a good fit for me. It isn’t for everyone, and we need to embrace that truth. To be sure there are many people ready to just do something for Jesus who should indeed plant a church. But the majority should not. Discernment is essential.
The Kiwi’s “9 Reasons NOT to plant a church in 2012”
Now, on to a couple interesting posts that I’ve come across on the web. First, I direct your attention to Andrew Jones’ (a.k.a “Tall Skinny Kiwi”) post entitled “9 Reasons NOT to plant a church in 2012”. Andrew highlights a number of very, very important points that should be carefully considered. Top of the list, in my view, is the concern for Kingdom transformation. Writes Andrew,
“But now it's 2012 and while some young, enthusiastic people are out there planting churches like its 1997, others are focusing on launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions. . . . The measurement criteria of the church planting project, focusing on numbers of attenders and momentum of new church launch, is too narrow, too shallow, unholistic and ignores more vital measurable signs of a transformed society in its various spheres (economic, environmental, social, impact outside the church environment, etc).”
In light of my own mission board’s (the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) recent restructuring and re-budgeting to elevate church planting as essentially our exclusive focus in the United States and Canada this point cannot be passed by lightly. I fear that in our zeal to plant lots of churches we may inadvertently leave off the part where we intentionally aim to plant the kind of churches that truly bring the Kingdom of God to bear on communities, peoples, and cities.
Anglican 1000’s “10 Ways Not to Plant a Church”
Next we have Aaron Burt writing for the church planting initiative called Anglican 1000 that has been giving us his top “10 Ways Not to Plant a Church” (pt. 1, 2, 3). Burt’s list is a bit more of a mixed bag of usefulness, in my opinion. There are certain points that I strongly resonate with. For example, his number 10 may need to be upgraded to number one. Burt reminds us that church planting is not a Disney movie, you really can’t do it regardless of how much you “believe in yourself”. I like that emphasis. We do a disservice to aspiring planters if we fail to tell them bluntly that this will be very, very hard.
On the flip side, I feel very uneasy with Burt’s suggestion that we “accept the failure rate” (#3) and avoid “putting all our eggs in one basket”. Writes Burt,
“What about exploring several potential church plants simultaneously and running with the one that looks most likely to take root? How about not putting all our eggs in one basket from the get-go? And if your plant fizzles, did you reserve some hope and energy to make another attempt? …Or are you emotionally bankrupt? You’ll never see a professional poker player go all in when the odds are against him four to one. Perhaps we church planters should ponder that.”
Well, I’m for pondering all sorts of things. However, I think this statement reveals are rather different perspective on the “why” of church planting from my own. For me, a church planting effort begins as the Spirit of God awakens our spirit to the needs of a particular place or people. God puts the people of his heart on our heart and one thing sort of leads to another. Church planting should not be driven by a desire to “get something off the ground”, but rather to bring the Incarnate Word to bear on the mission field to which God has called us. Such a motivation will always require an “all in” mentality. Failure in such an endeavor should break us. I’m not sure what is meant by being “emotionally bankrupt” nor what it means to “reserve hope”. But if failure means to walk away from a lost people who are still lost after faithfully serving in that field for an extended period of time (I’d argue that this isn’t really failure at all), then, well, why shouldn’t that be painful? Truth is, church planting is extraordinarily painful when people are coming to know the Lord right and left. How much more, when after years of service a faithful missionary is unable to point to any lasting fruit? From my perspective, I don’t even want to begin to work with an aspiring planter that isn’t ready to give everything.
What are your thoughts? What points would you want to add to any of the lists?