December 13, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 10

Here is the final part of the series: Conversations with a Future Church Planter. This started as a discussion about a multi-site/Starbucks critique article, and turned into something deeper; I think. It has received some unforeseen controversy. To be honest, I never expected it. I guess I never saw this series as a "multi-site" discussion. I know my friend's heart, and I know he was REALLY wrestling with where God is going to put him in the future. He is wrestling with what vision God is giving him for the church he will pastor (or plant).

I guess I also posted it because it demonstrates the need to discuss things openly and to genuinely wrestle with issues. It takes time to develop maturity of thought on something of value. Good people, Christian people, can take completely opposite points of view on a given topic.

For the rest of the discussion go here.

My Friend wrote:

Seminarrogance… good word.

I suppose you’re right, the best opportunity for success is to try to plant the church I would want to attend. But it’s like a kid ordering whatever he wants for dinner. He might want mashed potatoes and gravy, a peanut butter cookie, and Sugar Pops in chocolate milk…eclectic and a potentially weird mix that people might or might not respond to. But deep down, I guess I believe we could make it work… given a little money, a lot of time, and patience.

The problem, as I see it, is that we don’t fit into any one category of church… so we’d borrow from each of the styles and come up with something… unusual. I also realize that involving and empowering a core team to brainstorm and add their input to the equation might change the look and feel (at least somewhat) as well.

One area in which I have great self-awareness is in understanding my weaknesses. I am NOT a worship leader… I am NOT an accountant… I am NOT an administrator… But I am an encourager, and realize that I will have to be a pastor like Ronald Reagan was a president; surrounded by people who knew their role and were empowered to accomplish it.

I am afraid of failure – there is no doubt about that. But part of me is also afraid of success. As I read Velvet Elvis, I thought to myself, what would I do if I started a church and in a short time it grew to the point that the dynamics changed drastically? I know that’s a “good” problem to have, but not really; not when you don’t know how you’re going to keep the whole thing together.

I guess my fear is one extreme or another. No growth and no influence in the community would be depressing… but rapid growth would bring headaches and added stress – and potentially slip into McChurch. I don’t yet know what the ideal size church is for me, but I KNOW it’s not 35 (my current church), nor is it 2500 (your church).

I believe I’m called to start a church that’s big enough to feel like a thriving body of Christ with sufficient resources to truly minister to the community, and yet small enough to maintain a sense of family and oneness. Where that magic number is, I don’t know…I’ve only attended/served at churches on the extremes.

I’ll start a list of what my dream church looks and feels like… What we do, how we do it, where we go, how we function in the community, etc. I think that will help me immensely as the reality of starting a church looms closer and closer. Even if we never plant a church, I think it’s a great exercise before taking an (existing) church too. That way, we have a much better inventory of questions to ask, and things to look for.

I responded:

You sound a lot like me. You are worrying about all the "ifs" that may or may not happen. I do that all the time. I absolutely fear failing again. This time I have no denomination, per se, as I did before. I have two religion degrees, which do not qualify me to flip burgers at the real McD's. All the “what ifs” of failures and success are not here yet. Deal with those problems when they get here (I am speaking as much to myself as to you at this point).

God's vision through you requires an eraser. You start with a goal in mind, but you also remain open to His leading. There are times where you press your leaders into following your vision because you know that it the way you are supposed to go and there are times when you recognize that changes God is giving through others.

In a church plant, you are the primary leader, and, this is a personal opinion, it is hard to bring others in to deciding the vision until you are sure they have bought in to the original vision. You will find that no one else is as committed to the vision as you are. I think the Reagonomics approach to church leadership is a good one---WHEN they buy into the main idea of the vision. You do have to be able to trust your leaders, but you, as the main pastor, will still be the primary vision carrier.

As a church planter your primary responsibility will be to share the vision, invite people along, and look for ground-level leaders to develop. Rarely do you get the well-developed people until much later in the process; if at all. Church planters are entrepreneurs. They start with a vision in mind and move toward that vision utilizing what they can to reach that vision. You will have plenty of people who try to hijack the vision and move it toward their own.

I thought I had a mixed up version of the Church. I wanted contemporary with a respect for the liturgical. I wanted outreach to the poor, but also evangelism and good discipleship. I don't like the artsy-fartsy-emergent-sit-in-a-circle-and-fingerpaint worship service, I don't like the liturgical service, nor do I like over-the-top contemporary. I like technology, but don't want it to dominate the service. You just have to follow the vision God gives you.

I think that no matter how mixed up, if you believe it is the path to take, it will work. Think of people like Steve Jobs, Bill Hybels, Starbucks, etc (sorry for all the business models) that started with an off-the-wall idea and turned it into something great. If you can dream it, and God is behind it, you can do it because God will prepare you for it.

Don't worry about the “what ifs” just do the next right thing; take the next right step. Church planting/pastoring/leading is a long-term growth process. You never arrive. You have plenty of GRACE to make mistakes (not the sinful kind; do whatever it takes to avoid these). Whatever God gives you, you will do well at, but don't worry about it until it gets here. You are destined to become a church planter because you feel absolutely unqualified. "In our weakness He is strong!" You can do whatever God calls you to do. Why? Because He has called you. And all those “what ifs” will work themselves out, and you will grow in the process. I believe that God is almost more concerned with growing you than with growing your church.

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