Sunday, February 21, 2010

More "Ups" in Church Planting

Here are three more "ups: or joys in planting a new church:

Sixth, there is the joy of planting a small church. Does this sound contradictory? This joy is taken away from many church planters who, if not careful, look at large churches and think that their church is nothing in comparison. Christian Schwarz, In his new book Color Your World with Natural Church Development: Experiencing all that God has Designed you to be (St. Charles, IL: ChurchSmart, 2005), gives a wonderful example of this. In speaking with a pastor of a church in Denmark, he discovers this pastor to be discouraged because he only has a church of 40 people. When Schwarz asked him how many he had 5 years ago, the pastor replied, “about 20.” Schwarz continues, “Did you catch what he said? Their church went from 20 to 40 people in five years? If a mega-church of 20,000 grew at that rate, it would have 40,000 attenders in just five years.” (p. 35). Schwarz has also discovered, in researching churches all over the world, that the larger a church grows the less it experiences quantitative and qualitative growth. So rejoice in what God is doing and don’t look down on the smallness of your church.

Seventh, there is the joy of leaving the work (this is a strange joy for it is mixed with the sorrow of tears in our eyes or heart) and not being needed anymore. Then it is a joy to look back and see that God started the work and he continues it. It is exhilarating to know that a new church has been planted in a region where it will continue to be a living body of believers and will shine for Christ and there is no need for your presence or help. Thus you can go on and see a new church planted in another region. I will never forget the day I turned over the keys for the facilities where our church had been meeting in France. I had to hold back the tears. But after there was the joy of seeing this church move ahead under godly national leadership.

Eighth, there is the joy of seeing the planted church multiply. When we left the Orly Church in France in 1974, Daniel Bordreuil (the French pastor who took responsibility for the church) declared, “O I see, this is a church that plants churches so I guess we should continue.” The result was the planting of two further congregations. And then there was the joy of seeing one of the daughter churches plant its own daughter church so that there was now a first granddaughter church. It has been a joy to challenge the pastor of that granddaughter church to plant a daughter church. This would mean four generations of churches—a goal only God can accomplish.

But an even greater joy is to work in such a way that new churches start with a vision that you share with national believers. This means that you don’t plant the first church at all. Others do it so that from the beginning the work is truly indigenous. This is the joy we are having as we see the great potential in Thailand. We will talk more about this in the section on the newer paradigm of church multiplication. This is the joyful direction we must take more and more so that we see the “sustained multiplication of churches having a missionary sending capacity.”

If you are a discouraged church planter, listen to what God says, “I will build my Church” and not “you will build his church.” He is the Great Planter for what he plants always grows. Paul describes him as “God, who makes things grow.” (1 Cor 3:7b NIV) Just look to him and do ministry by his working and grace and keep that wastebasket handy to throw your letter of resignation in when you get the down times. Weeping may come in the night but there is joy in the morning. Church planters can experience this joy in their lives and ministry.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ups in Church Planting

First of all, the joy of seeing a new church created by God’s grace in a region where there is little or no witness. My wife and I can remember the thrill of starting a new church in the growing city of St. Quentin-en-Yvelines—a city of over 100,000 with no evangelical church at all (note: here I am not playing a semantic game saying there was no evangelical church like ours). There was simply no evangelical church of any kind. And this city was growing at the rate of almost 1,000 people moving in each month. After some beginning struggles, the church was planted, grew, saw two new daughter churches planted and was turned over to a godly pastor who ably continued the ministry. Now there is a goal of seeing a third daughter church planted by collaboration between the mother church and one of the daughter churches previously planted. What a joy it is to see God at work multiplying churches.

Second, there is the joy of seeing God do unusual things to open doors. Although there are discouragements in church planting, there is the “up” of seeing God do special things when a new church is planted. It is thrilling to stand back and see the Lord “plant” his church. 1 Cor 3:6 states in the original Greek “I planted (at a certain moment), Apollos watered (at a certain moment), but all the time (force of the verb here) God was making it grow.” What a joy to see God at work bringing people to himself in his wonderful sovereignty. In every church plant we have been involved in we have seen God give us divine rendezvous opportunities that we could have never finagled ourselves.

Third, there is that joyful word “sovereignty” I just used—seeing the wonderful hand of God at work. At Corinth, perhaps in a moment of church planter “down” time, God says to Paul, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you for I have many people in this city who are my people.” (ESV). Lean hard on that. God is at work before you ever got there and he will lead you to prepared hearts by opening new doors.

Fourth, there is the joy of starting a new church that can be free from the baggage that older churches tend to carry. It has been said that “it is easier to have a baby than to raise the dead.” Now we now that God can raise the dead but what a joy it is to be able to use creativity to see a new church with new ideas (always faithful to the Word of God) that fits better in a new context. So a church planted in 2005 can be a church that fits the 2005 context better (without compromise) than a church that is having a hard time coping with needed change.

Fifth, there is the joy of empowering leadership in a new church that is not always possible in an older church. I remember the joy of seeing God use people who would normally not be used in an older or larger church because others were doing the ministry and they were “pew-sitting.” What a joy to see them discover their gifting and learn to pray, evangelize, serve, preach, and teach others. Did you know that most Christian workers come from small churches? I believe that is because they are pioneering their gifts in a pioneer situation. In an Australian church plant, my wife and I watched in amazement as a man who said he could not pray in public led the Lord’s Supper and shared the meaning of Christ’s death. He had blossomed in an atmosphere of church planting.

Ups in Church Planting

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ups and Downs in Church Planting

I thought it would be good to discuss in a realistic way some of the ups and downs of church planting. In the in this week's blog and then next week move to the up times. Help in Planting and Multiplying Churches (HPMC) that we send out we have started a section on "Struggles in Church Planting" which is similar but here I want to discuss first of all what causes the "down times."

Why is it that church planters have their “ups and downs” in ministry? I got the idea for this from chapter 13 “Handling the Ups and Downs” in a book of church planting. The author talks about the fact that church planters get real “up” times from the joy of seeing a new church created but also have “down” times. And sometimes the “downs” can be as great as the “ups.”

First of all, “downs” come from too closely identifying the church you are planting with your ego. I read this quote recently, “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls your ego falls with it.” I would apply this to church planting by putting the words “church plant” in the place of the word “position.” When we live by the success of our church plant instead of by faith and looking to God, we easily fall into a “down” time.

Second, “down times” come from counting too much. I am sincerely convinced that we need to keep accurate records and to learn from present trends but we need to watch out for what one has called “bodies, bucks, and buildings.”

Third, “downs” often come from not getting enough rest or balance in our lives. That is why you never want to think about resigning on a Monday morning. Wait a while and things will get better. When I interviewed TEAM missionary Pete Peterson in France about what was needed to start a new church, he replied, “a wastebasket.” Then he added, “so that you will have a place to throw your letter of resignation into.”

Fourth, “downs” come from not watching our spiritual disciplines. I remember a particular down time in my life when I sensed emptiness because I was not being fed spiritually by time alone with God.

Fifth, “downs” come from a sense of inadequacy when the task of church planting with all its facets seems too much for us. Who can say that they are “adequate” for this very demanding ministry? This turns us to the powerful Word of God that states, “our sufficiency is from God.” (ESV) 2 Cor 3:6

Sixth, “downs” come from forgetting that this is tough work. It is a struggle to see a new body of believers formed and growing. If we expect difficulty it will help us to be like William Carey who, when asked the secret of his staying power, replied, “I can plod.” So plod on, church planter, and you will see the fruit of your labor.

So these are the “downs” of the church planter and the reasons for them. In my next blog I will shift to the “ups” of the church planter. What gives a church planter joy and fulfillment? This is not just something we’ve thought up but these principles have encouraged us to keep on in spite of the “downs” over a period of 39 years of church planting and multiplication. These principles encourage us now as we work as consultants to church planters.