Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Don't be Stupid!: Church Planting "Jugulars" Part II

Ever see otherwise intelligent folk do something that could qualify for the $1000 award on "Country Fried Home Videos?" Every time I watch that show I am amazed that the same people who attempt those mindless stunts manage to hold a steady job, speak in complete sentences, or even breed.

But if we are honest, we all would have to admit times when we have done things that call our intelligence and sanity into question. Trouble is, when you do stupid things in the early stages of a church plant, the effects are long term.

While at New Orleans Seminary last week, I was asked to speak to students on the most frequently committed "bone-headed" acts of church planters. More to the point: what were some of the top problems I have observed from watching guys come onto the field here. Below is a list of "bullett points" I used for my presenation, and I pray it is helpful to anyone who wants to plant, or anyone who wants to help a planter:

1. They have a vision for the church, but not for the community. In his book Winning, former GE CEO Jack Welch laments the overuse of vision and mission statements in the business world. I share these lamentations because I have seen winsome statements crafted by church planters in their training that have little to nothing to do with the area they are seeking to reach. Simply put, many church planters I talk to know how many they want to show up, they know what kind of building they want, and of course, they know what their salary should be! The problem is that these ideas are seldom expanded to include how the church system they design will impact the community around them.

Those tempted to define their church's vision in this way should read Bob Lewis' book The Church of Irresistible Influence. To make short a long story that is worth the read, Lewis' Fellowship Bible Church of Little Rock, AR came to the conclusion that although their attendance exceeded 3000 people every Sunday, if their church disappeared the city of Little Rock would not notice, which made their church a failure by default. The subsequent story of their efforts to become a city-impacting church is inspiring, and worthy of emulation.

Any church planting vision that is worth the paper on which its written will have an "end game" that reaches beyond the walls of a building and sees the transformation of an entire community by the Gospel.

2. The depend too much on the denominational system, As a denominational guy,its hard for me to admit it. Nevertheless, the truth about denominations is while we can be a great help to you, we can also handicap you, especially if you depend on us too much.

This is particularly true of the guys who go "full time." The temptation is to act as an employee of the system rather than the church planting missionary God has called you to be. Lately. my top reccomendation to church planters is that they begin in a bi-vocational role. Intentional outside employment is good and healthy. It gets you into the community, and forces you into relationships with people who don't know Jesus. In addition, it tests your stamina and resilience. While planting a church, I worked two additional jobs while simultaneously finishing a doctorate. Needless to say, I have little tolerance for guys who think they can't do this unless they are doing it full-time.

But regardless of whether you are full-time or part-time, from day one you should refuse to see yourself as a denominational employee. To be sure, if part of a denomination, you are accountable to the spiritual authorities there. At the same time, God has called you to plant a church, which means that if you are spending more time around the associational office than you are in the field, you aren't fulfilling your calling.

3. They have unrealistic expectations. I'm currently writing a book with Missional Press that should be released next fall, and it deals exclusively with this issue. Too many guys come to the field having read Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll, and Bob Roberts, and they think they will be next in line. Subsequently, when they haven't broken the 50 barrier after their first year in the field, they feel like a failure. In addition, there are a few denominational folk out there who also make them feel like a failure, when the truth is there plant is simply the "norm."

A recent research project has just been completed by Leadership Network, which found that churches whose attendance exceeds 100 after four years are a small minority. The problem is that when church planters read the stories of Northpoint, Saddleback, and Mars Hill, they forget that people love these stories because of how extraordinary they are. If you are a church planter, know that while I pray you are indeed one of those exceptions, more than likely your experience will be quite "ordinary." Just remember that throughout the Scriptures, God used ordinary people, places, and events to accomplish great things, and don't give up!

I'm sure there are many more land mines I could warn you about. But these are the "top three" I have seen our guys in Maryland stepping on. My prayer is that if God has called you to plant a church, these warnings will serve to help you as you move forward.


Leonard Smith said...

Thanks, Joel. Your hard work and encouraging words are a blessing, as always. Thankfully, as we began the work here, God sent me into the fray of some planters who had lots of experience and could provide similar council. Even before we launched I quit reading the "experts" and started talking to men on the line. Those conversations are worth more than all the church planting books in my library.

David Phillips said...


As one who is trying to facilitate planting churches and who is a pastoring a restart, I have to say your words are a fresh wind.

Good stuff.

Earl said...

Everything you said crosses over into existing church ministry, too - excellent applicational food for all of us. One of your best yet . . .