Thursday, May 07, 2009

One Vice Guaranteed to Kill a New Church

Note: At times this post may seem more like a rant. Just thought you'd like to know in advance.

Planting new churches is, without a doubt, the most high-risk, difficult and precarious thing one can do in ministry. As such, doing this kind of work puts an inordinate amount of stress on anyone who dares to try and call together a body of Christ-followers from what J. Nelson Kraybill called "the alley-ways of neo-pagan Western society."

Because our association is keenly aware of these stresses, we take great care in ensuring, as best we can, that there are no vices present in a potential planter's life that could exacerbate these stresses, finish off his ministry, or even worse, his family. Because of the ease with which some will turn to the liquor bottle in times of stress, we require planters to abstain from alcohol while they are planting. Because of the propensity of any man to allow himself to succumb to sin in our over-sexualized society, we encourage--and pay for--accountability software and other tools that will guard against sexual immorality. Because we know the planter's marriage will be tested and possibly strained we require--and pay for--periodic counseling for our guys in the field and their wives.

We do all these things because: 1. We love church planters and don't want to see them hurt. 2. We love church planter families and don't want to see the wives and children hurt. 3. We love the Kingdom of God and don't want to see it hindered.

Still, in spite of these guards, vices will sometimes slip by us. But contrary to what most believe, most church plants don't fail because of major moral failure. In spite of what the media would have you believe by their constant references to men like Ted Haggard and their seeming refusal--more than twenty years later--to stop talking about Jimmy Swaggart, most men in this line of work are good men who are faithful to their wives, and genuinely love the Lord Jesus. I'm becoming convinced that most young churches don't make it for one reason only: the vice of LAZINESS!!!

Now, that's not to say that every failure we've had is the result of a lazy planter. I've seen guys work themselves nearly to death only to watch their attempts at converting and congregationalizing unbelievers fail. At the same time, I've also had plenty of expriences with aspiring planters--enough in the past few years--to recognize another, barely noticable vice that will eventually result in their personal failure, uneccesary stress on their families, and a gigantic waste of Kingdom resources. Furthermore, I've noticed that this lazy-streak in would-be church planters generally manifests itself in one of three ways:

Seeing the "full-time" option as the only option: To be sure, we fund a select number of guys on a full-time basis because the strategy, the target population, and other missiological implications demand a full-time position. But most who plant churches will do so on a bi-vocational or even "tentmaker" basis. If, for example, you are trying to plant a church among Hispanic migrant workers who work three jobs and make less than $30K, its not realistic to think that you will be able to garner $60K in salary from that congregation once it is established. I can't tell you how many guys I've talked to who simply don't get this. They think working an additional job or two will take time away from the "ministry" when it fact, the right job will put them in the midst of the real ministry for several hours per week.

While planting a church in upstate South Carolina years ago, I started a janitorial contract business, which had me cleaning toilets and scrubbing floors twice a week. Additionally, I ran a paper route during the summer months (which paid very little), taught at the local Baptist college (which paid even less), and managed to finish a doctoral degree. I did all these things because I knew church planting among the people I was trying to reach would likely never result in a full-time salary, and it was my responsibility to support my family.

I don't share all of that to brag, but instead to illustrate why I don't have a lot of patience or sympathy for a guy who thinks the ONLY way he can plant a church is if he can colect a full-time salary for doing it. Jesus died in a bloody mess on a Roman cross for you, as well as for those you are trying to reach. If you aren't willing to get a little poop under your fingernails for Him, or if you think such work is "beneath" you because you have a seminary degree, such attitudes are a sure sign of a laziness that will most likely kill your ministry, and church planting is probably not something you should be investigating.

Financial dependency on your wife: Usually during the initial interview process, I will ask a bi-vocational guy "how do you plan, outside of our financial support, to take care of your family?" If the canddiate says something like "my wife will work and pay the bills while I do the ministry," I generally find a way to end that interview quickly.

Now, I'm not saying that the wife can't work outside the home if she feels the calling and desire to do so. At the same time, if her desire is to stay home and be the caretaker of your children then you, as the head of your home, have a responsibility to do everything you can to try and make this happen. Yet entirely too many men are willing to let their wives work themselves to death in order to financially prop up the "ministry" he's involved in.

These are the guys I'd like to beat with a rubber hose, because they have allowed their laziness to infect not only their ministry, but also their own homes. In turn, they have disqualified themselves from pastoral ministry because their commitment to the church planting ministry clearly outweighs their concern for the well-being of their wife and children. What kind of example are you setting for your children--especially your sons--when you send mom out like a slave to fund your ministry while contributing little to nothing tangible to your own family? What are you communicating to your wife about your commitment to her when you use her as a tool to bankroll your "call" while you play the harlot with your church? Additionally, think about the horrible message you are sending to the other men in your church (if indeed, you have even attracted any real men to your church with this kind of attitude) about the priorties they should be setting related to their own families.

Substituting church growth gimmicks for genuine, Gospel-labor: Tele-marketing, direct mail, slick banners, attractive signs on the highway, messages that communicate to the deepest felt-needs of your target audience, and other so-called "gimmicks" can actually be useful tools in gathering and getting to know the people God has called you to reach. But relying on slick marketng methods alone and assuming quick growth because of them almost always leads to ecclesiological still-birth. Regardless of the mimistry model you employ or the focus group you target, nothing--absolutely nothing--can take the place of the hard work of building relationships and sharing the message of Jesus one-on-one.

This is especially true in rural neighborhoods, and even in "front-porch" communities in highly urbanized areas. The decade-worn belief that "door-to-door visitation is outdated" is largely a myth. If you genuinely want to reach these people, you have to get into their lives, have your kids spend time with theirs at the park, invite them to your home, accept invitations to their homes, live life with them, laugh with them, cry with them, rejoice when they come to Christ, and be willing to deal with rejection if they terminate the friendship because of your commitment to Christ.

I've seen a lot of guys spend the lion's share of their first 6 months on the field in the "office," developing kick-butt vision statements that nobody will read and designing a comprehensive marketing campaign with thousands of mailers--90% of which will end up in someone's kitchen trash-can before its even read. Then three months post-launch, they are still "in the office" trying to figure out yet another way to attract a bigger crowd so that the one they currently have--the one that has been precipitously dwindling since launch day--will have the appearance of vibrancy and spiritual health. The whole time I'm telling them "get out! Get into the neighborhoods. Get into their lives! Build relationships first, make disciples second, and then worry about congregating those disciples!"

There is a reason Jesus uses the farming metaphor so often to describe the labor of the Gospel. As anyone who has ever worked on a farm can attest, it ain't easy!

Problem is, that takes work, and some guys are just to stinkin' lazy to do the work!

I'm convinced that laziness, in one form or another, is what is killing a lot of new churches. Gentlemen, these are the front-lines of ministry. It takes blood, sweat and tears to accomplish what God is calling for in this area. It requires long hours, lots of uncertainty, tons of resilience, mountains of faith, and the tenacity of a marine battalion attempting to secure a beach-head.

So with all of this in mind, if your idea of church planting involves anything less than this--any less effort, please call someone else. There are plenty of lazy people here already among our 10,000 church members, and Mid-Maryland Association isn't interested in accumulating any more of them, especially to plant churches.

But if you are ready to play the man in a big-time way for the One who demonstrated on the cross the lengths it takes to bring salvation to the world, it would be our honor to talk to you, pray for you, fund you, coach you, stand beside you and walk with you through this spiritual battle called church planting.