If you’ve ever been involved in planting a church, or worked with those who have planted churches, you know that there are any number of things that can slow down or completely undercut that effort. I’m in the trenches of a current church relaunch, so I re-read “Church Planting Landmines”, by Tom Nebel and Gary Rohrmayer. In this book they identify many of the most common landmines—those things that can blow up church plants and church planters—and talk about how they can be avoided.
Having planted, and relaunched churches over the last 24 years, I tell you, “This is some good stuff!” It’s appropriate for any leader at any stage of church life, but if you are involved in planting/relaunching churches, it’s a must-read. Just sayin! Here’s a brief synopsis.
“Many start well, but few finish well.” That’s what Dr. Bobby Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary says. He bases his belief on research of thousands of Christian leaders, but you don’t need to be an engineer and statistician to know that Clinton has this right. We’ve all seen leaders who have started the ministry race well, appearing to be on a life trajectory that would land them among the ministry elite. They would be the true difference-makers of their generation, but something happened. They burned out, they gave up, or they were disqualified.
I want to explain how finishing well plays out in new church situations. Let me begin with a hypothesis: church planters are vulnerable in a unique way because they have more freedom than established church pastors do when it comes to the creation of policy and protocol. Why? It’s because church planters “get there first.” They are the lone and most qualified experts, so their influence is superior to all others.
However, with freedom comes the responsibility to guard against common race-enders. These include the abuse of finances, the abuse of power, pride, illicit sexual relationships, the neglect of our physical bodies and plateaus in personal development. We can overcome these through intercessory prayer, having times of renewal and being a life-long learner.
A leader must continually address his own character formation and transformation, and not try to operate solely from a competency base. Competency will ultimately fail to produce the kind of results God intended through the life of that leader. Remember, lasting transformational change begins with the heart.
One of the landmines that church planters never dodge is the landmine of leadership development. I will never forget the day when I realized that there are no such things as “ready-made leaders.” Most church planters pray for God to bring them leaders, but God wants them to develop leaders on their own. We need to identify emerging leaders who should be developed. Three words help us navigate this process: pray, work, and look.
Every leader in your church must see that they are not just leading a small group but are leading a group of potential small group leaders. Those who lead your ushers or greeter teams must move beyond getting the task done to seeing themselves doing on-the-job training for future leaders. Your pastoral staff must move beyond filling leadership slots to raising up pastoral leaders and missionaries for the harvest field.
What is leadership backlash? I define it as “a surprising and antagonistic reaction from other church leaders to a trend, development, or event that you hold closely.” So how do you raise up leaders without running into huge agenda and values conflicts? The solution is based on at least four principles. (1) Multiple leadership phases must occur before formal leaders are chosen. (2) Church-sounding nomenclature must be avoided as these leadership teams are formed. (3) Titles which imply permanence (such as “board”) must be avoided during these developmental phases. (4) A clear purpose and time-frame for each phase must exist. (5) A changing of the guard must occur at each phase.
Evangelism is always on the front burner when a leader is considering or planning to start a new church. But even the most well-intentioned church planters can lose focus and find themselves right in the middle of another landmine, one that we call evangelism entropy. Evangelism entropy is a reality in the Christian life, even among church planters. Like bodily exercise, it isn’t as natural to us as it maybe should be. So, we need to push back against the entropy, to train ourselves to do what is right. We need to find ways to be reinvigorated for the cause. Otherwise, we’re found standing alone in a minefield.
Let’s consider one helpful definition of evangelism that can lay the foundation for an effective outreach and enfolding strategy: “Evangelism is communicating the gospel in an understandable manner and motivating a person to respond to Christ and become a responsible member of his church.” This is a good start, but it needs to be expanded. I suggest the following: disciple making is communicating the gospel with clarity and conviction, so that people can embrace Christ as Lord and Savior and become reproducing followers serving within a healthy community of faith.
Every new church reaches people through the front door (public worship services or soul-awakening events), side door (affinity events or small groups), and back door (one-on-one invitations or relational evangelism). The church that experiences exponential growth works all three doors very thoughtfully.
It disheartens me when I see some new churches act as though they can get by with their excellent programming and sociological acumen. I’m all for excellent programming and sociological acumen, but not to the neglect of spiritual empowerment. Some of these new churches were extremely God-dependent in their prenatal (before launch) phase. Leaders begged and pleaded with the Lord to make this thing work and He answered! Then, when regular services started happening and the church looked as if it would survive, spiritual dependence on God began to slip.
As those involved in starting new churches, we will do well to pray and pray and pray. We will do well to teach our church to pray and pray and pray. We will not make the mistake of seeing the church as a mere sociological entity; we will see it as a living organism, entirely dependent on the one who claims to build his church. We are under attack, but the gates of hell will not prevail.
Diverging from an initial resolve to be a reproducing, Kingdom-oriented church can happen no matter how weak or strong the church may be. When a new church isn’t as strong as quickly as the visionary leaders had envisioned, factual realities cloud their perspective. Finances are tighter than imagined and the workload is heavy. It’s hard to think about being a generous church, giving away people and money and prayer for causes beyond their immediate concern. These churches perceive themselves to be too weak to get into the game.
My recommendation is to not delay developing an international focus. Leaders of new churches need to do whatever they can to imprint their church with a missional mindset. The DNA is formed in the earliest days, and the opportunity to design your church into a Kingdom-impact force will never be greater.
Interested in reading the book in its entirety? You can purchase it here: http://amzn.to/2FHk48b