Acknowledge The Emotion
The early days of planting a church can be a difficult time. Don’t be super-spiritual and try and suppress emotion. Sending friends out to start new initiatives and sending the backbone of your church away is a painful thing. When it is emotionally difficult don’t think it calls into question the mission. Don’t ignore emotions but do not be led [or misled!] by them either. We begin with “acknowledge the emotion” because it is often the thing that is overlooked when thinking about planting a church. Church planting takes men of character and calibre who are ready for taxing, coal-faced ministry. But church planting also requires that we be honest with one another about our struggles and pains for the good of our souls and the glory of God.
Break Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Church planting is an opportunity for newness. If you’re the sending church don’t just mimic what you have been doing. Use it as a kick-start. Consider 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 (esp. ch. 9).
Be bold in the freedom you have. Just because you are uncomfortable doesn’t mean you should resist it. Did Jesus feel comfortable at Gethsemane or the cross? Church planters need to know and live in the reality that our whole salvation is predicated upon God stepping out of his “comfort zone”. Don’t be scared or anxious.
Breaking out of your comfort zone is about living as a disciple of Jesus every day, taking on His mission as your mission, and investing in others.
The sad reality of church planting is that the more established a local gospel community becomes the more it loses a sense of the imperative need to be on mission. More established churches often become complacent about reaching their neighbors with the gospel. In a church plant, the need to reach the lost is constantly (or should be constantly) held up before the people of God. So sending churches and church plants should both see this gospel initiative as a means to break out of the comfort zone and re-orientate themselves for mission.
Community Is The New Black
It is en vogue today be “all about community”. This is quite a good thing because it invites a time to reassess and re-evaluate the way you do things. We should be taking advantage of this reality and actively building community into the DNA of our church plants. Communities of grace and authenticity give the gospel a context where the truth of Jesus can be seen and heard, and where relationships can be grounded and guided by love.
In the New Testament we are given a beautiful and messy picture of authentic community. The first church plants in the New Testament were committed to breaking bread together, prayer and fellowship, and the daily intake of Scripture. Their love for one another was obviously displayed in their generosity and willingness to contribute to the well-being of their community, as well as the world around them. They cared for the hungry, the sick, and the needy.
As you send out more and more people you [the sending church] will initially decrease in size, so use the momentum to make community a priority. The gospel reorientates the individual’s heart so that they are no longer living for self but for the Saviour. And it can do the same for your church.
Savour the Saviour in community during this season.
Disregard The Critics, But Don’t Ignore What They Say
Don’t let critics and their criticism stop you doing what you’re doing; don’t let them condemn what you’re doing but do listen to them and weigh carefully what they are saying. Use their criticism to critique yourself. Ask: How do I typically react to criticism? Do I pout? Do I tend to attack? Am I teachable?
Seek the Lord during times of criticism. Ask him to give you a desire to be wise, because the alternative is only foolishness. And always remember your faults, your critic and their criticism, and you response in light of your crucifixion with Christ. As you do so you will be driven back to contemplating God’s judgment and justification of you in Christ on the cross. As you meditate on what God has done in Christ for sinners, you will find a resolve to agree with and affirm all that God says about you in Christ.
In all you do, seek to trust, obey, imitate and glorify God. This was Jesus’ primary concern (John 5:30; 8:29).
Examine Your Motives
- Why do you do what you do?
- What is your motivation for church planting?
There is only one good reason to plant churches and that is so that the fame of Jesus may spread. Church planting is all about the gospel. God in Christ has called us into a relationship with himself and he is keen for us to pass that on to others. When motives are wrong don’t just give up on church planting but reorientate yourself, repent, and do it with the right motives. Remember that it was God who brought the church into being and will continue to build it.
We church planters are often quite good at developing ways to bring the gospel to others, but in our busyness we can sometimes fail to remember to preach the gospel to ourselves.
Examine your reasons for planting. Pay attention to your heart. As you preach the gospel to others, don’t forget to preach it to yourself. All the while, urge yourself toward the love of God and loving of your neighbour as yourself.
Find Your Identity In Christ
Placing our faith in Christ is not merely a business transaction, wherein we deposit “faith” and get salvation in return. Rather, placing our faith in Christ is a relational transaction, wherein we give him our old selves and he makes us new selves. By faith in Jesus, God gives us a new identity (individually and corporately). An identity is “the fact of who a person is.” So do not fall prey to the trap of finding your identity in being a church planter. Church plants fail so it is only as we find identity in Christ that we will be able to keep going.
Grab The Bull By The Horns
This is true both for the sender and the planter. Be flexible. Avoid building inertia into the process at all costs. Existing form and function are helpful to a degree, but can easily become restrictive and unhelpful when left unchecked. If the form is efficient, inertia is costless and arguably beneficial. But, if the firm’s form or practices are inefficient, inertia is a problem that needs to be addressed. Don’t oppose the old simply because it is old. And don’t encourage the new simply because it is shiny. Not all that glisters is gold and not all is swell that is old. However, the old got you where you are today. Let us not forget that at one time the “old” was once “new”.
In the process of church planting navigating change may involve strategic redirection, structural change and a dramatic alteration in the behaviour of individuals. But it will always involve unity in humility. Work together for the gospel.
Hit The Ground Running
Always be thinking about non-Christians from the start. Most people in the West have no intention of ever attending church. Indeed, many only use Christ’s name as a swear word. And while some prominent churches are growing, much of this is transfer rather than true growth. Yet many of our approaches to evangelism still assume a Christian mentality. We expect people to come to us when we put on a good church service. We need to meet the unchurched where they are, in the context of everyday life, shifting the focus from putting on attractive events to creating attractive communities. These communities of light are a chance to gather all sorts of people together, those who are sick, healthy, rich or poor, student or families to be included into a church community and to be looked after or look after others, to serve and to gather non-Christians together to meet Christ.
Imperatives Flow Out Of Indicatives
The reason we forgive is not because we have been commanded to but because we’ve been forgiven. Preach the gospel of grace – that is what will captivate people’s hearts. Don’t burden people with obligations. If you do, people will quickly burn out.
Most of your people will truly love Jesus and be about mission. But most of them will be quite tired as well. They know they should be, but life is tough and tiresome. They want to obey and be characterised by zeal and fervour and servant-heartedness, but these commands seem impossible at times. This is exactly why the imperatives of the gospel should always be given “in view of God’s mercy.” This is shorthand for everything he has done for us in Christ and by the power of the Spirit. “In view of God’s mercy…” is there to remind us that because Jesus came to secure for us what we could never secure for ourselves, life doesn’t have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, validate ourselves, or work up some sort of fervour and zeal that simply isn’t there. The gospel of grace announces that it’s not on me to ensure that the ultimate verdict on my life is pass and not fail. And this is where the motivation comes in. When we live “in view of God’s mercy…” we are empowered in our risk-taking effort and neighbour-embracing love, enemy-embracing love!
Just Do It!
We need to be clear what we mean when we talk about “church planting.” We are not referring to the propagation of Western-style churches complete with parking lots, buildings and programs (none of which are bad or wrong). What we are talking about is communities of believers living in light of the gospel on mission in their villages, towns, and cities, all the while seeking to spread the Good News of Jesus by multiplication.
In The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, sociologist Rodney Stark, analyses factors, apart from the supernatural, which contributed to the rapid growth of the Christian movement in a hostile environment. He estimates that Christianity grew by an average rate of 3.42% per year or 40% per decade going from an estimated 1000 Christians (.0017 % of the population) in the year 40AD, to 217,800 in the year 200AD (or .36% of the population), to 6.3 million by 300AD (10.5 % of the population), to possibly 33.9 million (56%) of the population by 350AD, at which time the growth-rate decreased significantly.
Stark attributes the ability of the Christian movement to grow so quickly for such a long period of time, despite such serious opposition, to several key factors: community, secular education, supernaturalism, open networks, cultural continuity, courage, empowering women, urbanisation, and a compelling moral vision.
From a sociological perspective these are very important findings to consider and evaluate. We would be fools to ignore them, but we know that the gospel is the only fuel fit for the engine of the Holy Spirit. Our methods matter, and our hope is in Christ.
Hear this: Don’t think you have to come up with a clever strategy. Don’t spend all your time strategising. You will have mistakes but don’t let that put you off – just do it! Get on with it. Keep in mind that the early Christians loved Jesus, trusted the gospel, and got involved in serving their neighbours. And they grew exponentially!
Just do it.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
Church planting is not a golden ticket to a life of ease or fame. This probably isn’t news to you. If you’ve been a church planter or part of a church plant for any period of time, you’ve surely realised that church planting can be rough going.
Church planting is hard work. So before we set out to start new gospel-centred churches we must first commit to a work we know may cost us everything.
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35, ESV).
Don’t give up. Dig in there – you’re in for the long hard slog. When it gets tough don’t go running back to the sending church. Pray to God for perseverance.
Wake up every day and remind yourself that the work of church planting is not about you. It is always and ever about the Lord Jesus.
Remember these three truths:
- You do not know what is best for your church plant. Jesus does.
- You can’t enliven hearts dead in sin. Jesus can.
- You aren’t the perfect Saviour for your people. Jesus is.
Jesus calls us to hard work. He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Some church planters want to receive a great church but are unwilling to give of themselves and work hard. Don’t be that man.
Learning humility is not an exercise in thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is “blessed self-forgetfulness.”
This is a key reason why we believe church planting is one of the best ways of learning humility! Don’t go into an area thinking you have all the answers. Prefer and honour others. Be Christ-like.
In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter writes, “In your relations with one another, clothe yourself with humility.” We are to humbly serve others—whether they profit from it or not—like slaves. We are to follow Christ, who was not above washing his disciples’ feet (John 13).
Humility is essential in the life of a church planter, because we can only receive Christ through meekness and humility (Matthew 5:3, 5; 18:3–4). Jesus humbled himself and was exalted by God (Philippians 2:8–9); therefore, joy and power through humility is the very dynamic of a community centred on the gospel (Luke 14:11; 18:14; 1 Peter 5:5).
The gospel provides for us the reason to stop concentrating on ourselves–Jesus.
It won’t take you long as a church planter before you come to a realisation that there are expectations and then there are “expectations.” Every relationship fails because of mismatched expectations. Don’t expect silky vanilla cream when you may actually be given fried livers. Mismanaged expectations can sabotage a church plant before it ever gets off the ground.
Never Say Never
If the idea of church planting wasn’t difficult enough, the thought of church planting again may be too daunting to dare. But never say we’re never going to plant a church again. Maybe you feel a bit embarrassed, a bit of a failure, but don’t let it replace action with reaction. It has been said that to get something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done, which in many cases simply means getting up and getting on with it. Never rule out certain possibilities without thinking about them first. Be open to other opportunities that might present themselves.
Get it out of your head and into the open. Then get in with people. Bring your failures to the Lord because he cares enough to have something to say about it. Start by telling him what is going on. Pray.
Maybe you need to confess your over-interest in personal reputation.
Be specific with the Father.
Then turn to the Word.
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10)
Consider how you, as a brother in humble circumstances, have been singled out from the beginning of time to belong to God and, as you throw your lot in with Jesus, you have all of Christ’s inheritance. Your stature, indeed, is quite high.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor.1:26-29)
The freedom we have in Christ means we are not judged by the world’s standards of success and failure. Instead, we have the freedom to be human, which means that when we fail, and we will every day, we know that Jesus is the head of this new world order, not us, and we hope to one day realise that there are more important matters, such as boasting in what Jesus has done.
OBSERVE WHAT PEOPLE AROUND YOU ARE DOING
Pay attention to the culture because it teaches you whether you notice it or not. In Luke 6:40 Jesus says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” In your life, where have you given way to the lies that the world teaches? Lies are usually subversive. Before you know it, lies can become so much a part of your worldview that they disciple you to an imbalanced view of the gospel.
Pay close attention. Whatever you do, don’t focus so much on contextualising to the point that you lose sight of how the gospel contextualises to you.
Paul familiarised himself with the sayings, the teachers, the poets, the authors, the gods, and the idols of the day. That was and still is a necessary thing to do because culture will never disappear; there will come a day when culture finds its rightful place within God’s kingdom.