Monday, May 12, 2014

Missions Monday: Church Planter Perceptions of Financial Support

I've been involved in church planting for 15 years, and during that time I've both received funding for my own calling to plant, and allocated funding for others.  Financial support for new churches is essential, if for no other reason than the amount of money we invest in something is often a reflection of how much we truly value the thing we say we value.  By the end of this year, my organization will have allocated more than $175,000 of its budget to the planting of churches in our region, and in different areas around the world.  We believe in planting new churches.  And, we believe strongly in church planters.

At the same time, financial support is also a very tricky business.  Unhealthy dependencies are easily established.  Exponential growth is sometimes unintentionally inhibited.  Indigeneity can be threatened by a "big giver" whose organizational culture clashes with that of the receptor culture targeted by the new church.  So when decisions are made regarding financial support, all of these factors have to be weighed.  I've written more thoroughly on these issues here, but this morning, I want to focus on the perception of funding, and funding decisions, by church planters that I have encountered over the years.

I've had the honor of being involved to varying degrees in the planting of more than 100 new churches, and the overwhelming majority of those who have planted these churches have been a joy to work with and a privilege to serve.  But sometimes, misunderstandings--particularly when it comes to the rationale and intent of financial support--can cause hard feelings toward denominations, sending churches, and other supporting entities.  So if you are a church planter, let me offer the following suggestions as to how you should view the financial support you receive.

1. View it as a Gift.  If you are a planter--especially if you are a planter in the middle of raising your support--this may be the hardest paragraph to read, but you need to hear this clearly.  No one--not the denomination, not the church, nor any individual--owes you anything.

Go ahead, take some time to get over the shock.  Breathe deeply and in a few minutes, you should be totally over the gut-shot you just took from reading that statement.  I'll wait.......

You ok now?  Good.  Because I want you to know this for your own good.  A few times over the last 10 years or so, I've had a few established church pastors tell me stories of young men walking into their office with an entitlement mentality.  When you give off that kind of attitude, you are confirming a stereotype that will hurt you, hurt your fellow church planters, hurt our efforts to convince pastors and potential supporting churches that "most planters aren't like that," and ultimately, you hurt the mission.  Don't be the proverbial bull in the china chop.  Be direct.  Tell potential supporters what God has called you to do.  Cast an irresistible vision and allow that Gospel-driven passion to sell itself.  And in the midst of telling your story, don't be too timid to tell people what it is going to cost, and the various ways they can be involved in helping pay for it.  But above all, be grateful for every opportunity to share, and be thankful when others decide to invest in your vision, no matter the amount.

2. View it as an Investment.  Sometimes I get questions from potential planters as to why our system is so complicated, and has so many requirements.  These questions are particularly acute when aimed at our assessment process, and I freely admit that in Maryland/Delaware, our assessment system is a bear! Navigating it is not easy, and much of this is by design, because if you can't navigate the coordination of personal and professional references while submitting to online analysis of your personality and leadership traits, piecing together an overall strategy plan, writing a sermon, and preparing yourself to sit in front of three people to explain why they should give you money, you probably aren't going to be successful in starting a church.  All of those skills must be exercised simultaneously in order to plant a church, and we really aren't about giving away free money simply because someone wants it, or even because they need it.

Each year, the churches of my Association give generously to support our work, and through their votes at our annual meeting, they authorize me to steward resources for various purposes, including church planting. Our churches don't view church planting as a charity effort.  They view it as a Kingdom investment, and they expect their Director to see it that way too, and act accordingly.  When someone agrees to support you, be thankful that they believe your ministry is worth the investment.

3.  View it as Affirmation. Have I mentioned yet that we value church planting, and love church planters in this network?  From the moment we begin assessment, to deployment, launch, the first baptism, the celebration of self-sufficiency, and the planting of the first daughter church, we make an incredible investment, not only of money, but lots of time and effort as well.  Our supporting churches likewise invest lots of time and money, and they do it because they believe in you, and value your ministry.  I have shared before that churches, Associations, state conventions, and other partners should give generously, intelligently, and strategically.  So if you are receiving support from us, or any of our partners, it is because we affirm your call to this work, and want to see you succeed.

We love church planters and church planting, and we have more than a decade of behavior that proves this to be the case.  So when you encounter something you don't quite understand, or even something you disagree with, keep in mind that our entire support system--while far from perfect--is designed by those who have gone before you, who love you, and who want to see you succeed!

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