My Journey To Church Planting
Since leaving my position on staff at the Bible Institute in the spring of 2014, much has happened in my life related to church planting.
I moved across the country to participate in a church-planting residency program, started working full-time for a church-planting network, and have talked to many church-planters young and old. Prior to that, I had a growing desire for church planting, birthed from a culmination of burdens for missions, the church and gospel progress. I talked much about it with friends and family, and even made life decisions based on my pursuit of it.
None of this means I know how to plant a church. The truth is. I don’t know much about church planting. The lessons I’m learning most are about what I don’t know. Here are a few of them.
Church Planting Lesson #1: The Worker Affects The Work
In the preparation phase, the work of the church planting is rightfully in focus. But this can’t be the only area of attention. There are other things that need work besides the work – namely, ourselves.
For example, the worker knows he needs to abide in The True Vine if he is to bear fruit. But does he know what the weather is like where he is going to plant? Does he know how vulnerable he is to the beating winds and scorching heat? Does he understand that while he is not a slave to circumstances, he is not immune to them either?
A tricky part of the preparation for planting seems to be misplaced truths. The hopeful church-planter will have no ears to hear about being wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove if he thinks that the great commission text has no friends. Do we need a better word than those from God about His work in the world? No, never. But He who speaks about the ministry of reconciliation also mentions other things: The importance of the heart and our potential for self-deception (Proverbs 4:23, 1 Cor. 10:1-12), and the need for self-awareness (1 Tim. 4:16, 1 Cor. 7:17-24).
Church Planting Lesson #2: Subtle Idealism Has Significant Effects
Seeking to establish a new community of faith in Christ, for the glory of the God and the good of people, is a holy and honorable ambition. God calls us to it (Acts 1:8; 2:37-41; Matthew 28:18-20). This mission is impossible apart from God, and yet He graciously chooses to use instruments (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
These things are true. We know them to be true. They are what drives us. God is what drives us.
The thing is, a journey well begun does not guarantee an easy road. The idealism of young church planters like myself only sees the truths that herald the mission, not the ones that warn of misery. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit speaks to this very issue: “Even the good plans of wise wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures over the edge of the wild; and Gandalf was a wise enough wizard to know it.” (p.53)
The up and coming generation can quickly label warnings from seasoned ministers as cynicism borne of age. In reality, these veterans are just painting reality, and not with an unbiblical brush.
Church Planting Lesson #3: Preparation is More Than Presence
Perhaps the most important potential lesson church planters can learn is that we don’t know what lessons we need to learn. It is easy to confuse preparation with presence. Proximity to the church-planting world by way of books, blogs, sermons, even vocation, is often confused with on-the-ground experience. Resources are a blessing to take advantage of, but they are not all that is necessary for true education
I have heard someone say “slow is fast” when it comes to planting. Like any worthwhile enterprise, ministry preparation shouldn’t be rushed. While humility will not shrink back from the challenge, presumption will embrace it too soon. In this information age it is easy to dupe ourselves into supposed omniscience, but the truth is we will always have a lot to learn. God assigned varied gifts of grace to different parts of His body for a reason. May we take full advantage of the resources given to us.