These reflections are offered for those called to serve the Kingdom through establishing new communities of faith, no matter the model. Like our progenitor, the apostle Paul, we will face hardships on the road. My prayer is that these thoughts help us with our holy task.
Get all the training you can
Everyone has a mental image of what church looks like based on our experience. If we never have these images challenged, then what we are doing is either falling back on our image of the church or reacting against that image. In your mind, a dynamic worship experience may be all about the building, the preaching, the band, or great A.V. equipment, but it may be more than this. Getting training in church planting is one way to ensure your vision isn’t too small or confining for those you are trying to reach.
Experience and training not only broaden your vision, they also clarify your vision. The point isn’t to make you surrender your image of church, but to hold it in tension with other images to refine it. In your ministry, you will meet, recruit, and disciple people with differing (or even conflicting) images of what church should be. Not only clear, but tested vision will guide you when conflicts arise.
Find an experienced coach
The great advantage that a coach has is objectivity. When you’re in the thick of a project, it’s hard to be objective. Most of the time, a coach tells you nothing new, but simply reminds you of what you know. The coach helps you keep your ministry focus. You might think, “If I can’t get this going, I’m going to starve!” Desperation like this produces great energy, but also myopia. You can lose the big picture. A good coach—who is hopefully more experienced and well-read than you are—will help you consider alternatives.
Find an accountability partner
An accountability partner is essential. Church planters tend to be task-oriented. With so many tasks to be done, the people in your life (who aren’t tasks) can be forgotten. If this happens, you run the risk of gaining the world while forfeiting your soul.
Preferably, your accountability partner is a different person than your coach. Your coach helps you reach your ministry goals; your accountability partner makes sure your heart stays right during the process. Find a friend, a respected pastor, or a spiritual director who is not involved with the church plant and is not helping to pay the bills. It must be someone with whom you can be honest, and who is willing to challenge you when necessary.
Establish and keep both a weekly Sabbath and a date night (if married) or a night with friends (if not married)
Along with being task-oriented, church planters tend to be entrepreneurial and overconfident in their own abilities (I’m speaking with a memory of past sins here). This perfect storm of personality traits can produce a situation of intense hurry, stress, self-reliance, and ultimately, relational dysfunction.
“What should I do to be spiritually healthy?” Willard replied, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Upon moving to California to accept a senior pastorate, John Ortberg called Dallas Willard to ask for spiritual direction. “What should I do to be spiritually healthy?” Willard replied, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” “OK, I’ve written that one down,” Ortberg said. “What else?” “There is nothing else,” Willard said.
The commandment we are proud to break is the commandment to keep the Sabbath. In our culture, busyness is a badge of honor. If you’re working all the time, that means you’re important. However, that’s a message from the culture, not from Scripture. Observing Sabbath means to trust God to run the universe in your absence. We will distract ourselves into practical atheism if we don’t remember this truth. Type-A, rushed, possibly bivocational church planters are in constant danger of this.
If you’re married, you need a date night. If you have children, you need a time when your children know you will be there. Do everything in your power to eat meals together with your family. The only time you’ll find out more about your children than when you’re eating is when you drive together in the car. If you’re not married, makes sure to plan time with friends and family each week. These practices help you lead the life you’re supposed to lead and maintain your dependence on God.
Don’t launch too soon. Move in, get jobs, learn about the community
When you move into a community, it is wise to be there one to three years before you launch your church plant. You might be tempted to say to me, “Kim, you’re getting old and feeble; I can’t wait that long.”
Launching too soon is the biggest reason that church plants fail. What happens—in a traditional church plant—is that upon launching, you are trapped in the tyranny of the Sunday schedule.
Launching too soon is the biggest reason that church plants fail. What happens—in a traditional church plant—is that upon launching, you are trapped in the tyranny of the Sunday schedule. What happens seven days after your first Sunday? The second Sunday, and so on, ad infinitum? You begin preparing for the sermon, planning the order of services, meeting with the staff, and so on. All too soon, the time to build relationships with community members and develop your core disappears.
No launch? This warning about premature launch assumes a traditional, come-and-see model of doing church. If you consider a more relational, organic approach, you don’t have to slow down efforts at building your core and developing relationships, because there is not a sharp difference in your approach to ministry before and after the launch. There is a lot to love in these alternative models, and they have special appeal in a society where fewer people give money for buildings.
The truth is, we’re no longer the best dog and pony show in town. There is no drama in any church that is as good as drama you can see in the theatres around Boston, for instance. And the musicians at the clubs are more talented than all but the best church musicians. This is one of the reasons Sunday night service doesn’t work anymore; there’s better entertainment elsewhere. Of course, we don’t want to be an embarrassment, but we have to understand that Rick Warren or Andy Stanley might be able to bring in tremendously talented people, but we can’t.
I strongly suggest spending the majority of your time on core relationship-building, because that’s where the payoff for the kingdom will be.
For all church plants, I strongly suggest spending the majority of your time on core relationship-building, because that’s where the payoff for the Kingdom will be. It’s not going to be the fantastic worship experience. We’re at a comparative disadvantage with the world when it comes to that.
Have a co-planter (two is better)
Ed Stetzer has done research that shows two is better than one, and two is better than three.* My statement is based on that and on personal experience. Find a person with contrasting gifts, and let iron sharpen iron. Use your strengths. Bill Wiesman, Evangelism Ministries Director for the USA/Canada Region, and I successfully restarted a church in Buffalo, New York, right out of seminary. We then went on to plant four churches. Much of our success was due to our talent mix. We went head-to-head on more than one occasion, but iron scraping together always produces sparks, doesn’t it?
Don’t be afraid to ask for money, but recognize that money is not your greatest resource
Tell people exactly what you will need for start-up money. To do this, you might want to get trained on how to ask for money. However, being fixated on money is the wrong approach. If you had to choose between learning how to ask for money and how to ask people to join you on the journey, it would be wise to choose the latter. Without the right people, you’re toast. We are in the people business, and people will always be your greatest asset.
Spend as little emotional energy as possible working to change the conflicting images of your core members. Invest in winning people. Church planting is about winning new people to Jesus, not settling conflicts of vision between Christians.
Create your own disciples
When Christians come to you to join your endeavor, they have their own images of church deeply imprinted on their minds. In contrast, when you win new people to Jesus, you are all they know. Spend as little emotional energy as possible working to change the conflicting images of your core members. Invest in winning people. Church planting is about winning new people to Jesus, not settling conflicts of vision between Christians. Do not make assumptions about people you bring on board. Make sure you talk through the model you are pursuing. Sometimes, winning your own core is the better alternative.
I have two closing comments to leave with you. First of all, the best preparation possible is to be the number two person at a church plant as it gets off the ground. Most church planters won’t have the patience for this, but if you can stomach not being in charge for several years, on-thejob training is the best way to learn. Second, none of us really knows what we are doing, and we all need to be humble enough to help each other. God breathes success into churches. It is God’s anointing that we need. If God would use some of these reflections to help you make a difference in the Kingdom, then I will be blessed. May God give you grace and lead you on your journey.
KIM RICHARDSON serves as senior pastor of Living Hope Church of the Nazarene in Beverly, Massachusetts. He has served as a church planter and a consultant to various church planting/church renewal ministries.