Recently I did a talk on what I thought were the 10 things that church planting teams, especially launch or leadership teams, should know but the church planter may or may not tell them. Here is a summary of the talk:
1. It’s not a blank slate
When you start a church plant it is all very exciting because it feels like there is a blank slate to fill. But the reality is that there is lots of filled slates in people’s heads already with ideas of what a church plant should look like. These ideas can come from churches they have been at that, they liked and this is what the church should look like. Others will be a complete rejection of their previous experience, while others still will be based on church plants that they have seen.
The thing is that no-one really knows what a church plant will look like until it is up and running. Many people in teams that start a church plant, will be disappointed in what they see and so will leave. Most church planting teams turn over in the first couple of years and that is normal. The point is, if you are a part of a launch team, you may not be there in the next couple of years (or you need to be flexible about your expectations) and at least many people you are currently serving with won’t be.
2. He is not Keller or Driscoll and this is not the U.S.
What has happened in churches like Mars Hill in Seattle and Redeemer in New York is very exciting, but it is not the norm of church plants. Keller and Driscoll are exceptional people, they both had exceptional support and what has happened in their churches is great, but exceptional. There are also some cultural differences between the US and Australia, especially when it comes to religious expectations, which makes church planting in Australia hard work.
The point is that your church plant is unlikely to take off like Mars Hill and Redeemer. It is more likely, to be like the rest of us, very hard work before you see traction. You need to be realistic about what you expect the church to do and how you expect it to grow. In fact, there is no guarantee that the church will succeed as some church plants fail. You need to have realistic expectations about what is going to happen.
3. He can’t do everything
No-one is perfect at everything and there will be things that the planter can do better than others. This will be frustrating. This means he needs you! There will be things that you can do better than he can, so do them. Don’t think “if he needs help he will ask”. He needs help, so give it. If he is not good on details and you are, do it. If he is not good at design stuff and you are, offer to help. You get the idea.
4. Let the Leader Lead
All of this being said, the one thing that the church planter can do is lead. That is what God has put him there to do. If God wanted you to lead, then he would have done things so you would be the leader of the church, but he didn’t. Hebrews instructs us:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17).
Few Australian leaders like preaching on this passage, because it cuts against our culture or egalitarianism. But it is what the Bible tells us.
What does it mean to submit to your leaders? Let me start by saying what it is not.
It is not merely agreeing. If you think the church should head in a particular direction (A) and then the leader says “We should do (A)” then you are not submitting, you are agreeing. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just not what the passage is talking about.
It is not rebelling. If you think the church should head in a particular direction (A) and then the leader says “We should do (B)”, you can be openly rebellious and just say “no” and get others to do the same. If you have a problem publicly, be supportive and privately ask the question.
It is not passive rebellion, and I think this is often the most common response. If you think the church should head in a particular direction (A) and then the leader says “We should do (B)”. You can simply respond by “Well good luck with that, let me know how it goes”. You are not openly rebelling but you are not supporting (read submitting) at this point either.
Submission to leaders means supporting them especially at those points where you don’t agree or where the leader might need more support.
What if he has it wrong? Let me be very clear here: all Christian leaders are terrified of this. I mean really terrified. Sure we are scared of failure and not meeting budgets, etc. But what really keeps us up at nights is “what if we make a decision that is wrong, what if it affects people’s salvation”. We know that all things are in the hands of God, and yet it still scares us.
And we will get things wrong sometimes. We know that, and you know that. But most things can be retrievable. Supporting your leader through that is one of the most important things you can do. Which leads to the next point….
5. The most important person in a movement is you.
Derek Sivers did a short talk found in the TED website called “how to start a movement”. He watches a guy dancing a music festival and then notes how people join in. One of the important things to take away from this talk is that it is not the leader, the first person who starts; it is the second person, the first generation of people who shape the movement. “The first follower transforms the lone nut into a leader”. He is the one who defines what it means to follow.
The point here is that when people join a church, they will look at the culture to see how to fit in. In a new church plant there is no culture, so they will look to you, as the first generation of followers, to see how to act in the church. Did you get that? They look not to the leader, but to you to see how to follow. You will be the one who sets the tone of when is it OK not to turn up, how to treat the leader, what does it mean to follow, what does it mean to submit to the leader, etc. The leader actually can’t do that, only you can.
6. Yes, it is hard work (and turning up is a ministry)
Most people in a church planting team will go through the “I always feel like I am rostered on something every week” experience. And that is what it takes, resources are limited, especially people resources. It’s not just you, everyone in every church plant feels like that.
The best team members turn this around from instead of being a complaint to an expectation. They turn up to church expecting to be on something: “so, what am I on today?”. We have on guy in our church who is working on learning as many skills as possible because he knows sometimes people drop the ball. His ministry is slotting into the gaps as quickly as possible.
Church plants are small and even just turning up is important. If you have 20 people and 2 couples are away for one week then you have just lost 25% of your people. It can be discouraging for the people who are there. Sure, there might be an event that you don’t have anything to do at, you won’t get anything out of it, but turning up is a ministry in itself.
7. Protect the wife
The wife of the planter or minister is often overlooked as the most vulnerable person in a church. She is the only one who, if she doesn’t like the church, is not able to leave. Volunteers can always leave a church they are not happy with. The planter, if he is not happy about the church can find another church to work in. The planter’s or minister’s wife, cannot. If there is someone you want to attack, to take down the church the planter would be good, but taking down his wife is far more effective. And she is often an easy target for people within and without the church. You may not like her, or agree with her, but for the sake of the church you need to protect her.
She is the only one in the church, who has a unique ministry to the pastor, as his wife. She needs to support her husband and her husband needs that unique support. She usually ends up doing the admin of the church, running the kids ministry, heading up the women’s ministry and doing a heap of hospitality.
Her primary job is to look after her husband, your church planter, and the rest of the stuff is stuff someone else (that’s you!) can do. So look after her: take stuff off her plate, send a her a text, write her a letter (if it is appropriate), ask how she is going and don’t assume that because she is the planter’s wife its all good. She’s human too.
8. Care for the family
Planting a church takes more than just the planter, it will mean pressure on the whole family. One of the things that happens in a church plant is that the planter’s family ends up doing a lot of hospitality. Why not ask them over to your place to be hospitable to them? Why not invite the new family to church to your place instead of expecting the church planter’s family to do? Why not offer to babysit? Why not have their kids come to your place and hang out for a while?
9. Growth will cause problems
As a church you will be aiming to grow, but you need to remember growth will cause problems. As new people join the church they won’t ‘get it’ like you, who have been there from the start, do. That will be frustrating. It will mean that there will be more people but just as many resources meaning that resources will be stretched. One of those resources will be the leader. As you grow you won’t have as much access to him. At this point you need to remember that the aim of growth is not for you to feel comfortable.
10. It’s a privilege to serve with you
So, they might say this, but it is still true. The experience will make us all stretch and grow. There will be days that, as planters, we will want to give up. One of the reasons we don’t is because you are with us.