I continually marvel at where God has led me in life. I never planned on going to seminary, much less becoming a pastor. In fact, when God finally did take me to seminary, I kept thinking about how good I would have it after I received my M.Div, got my Ph.D. and got to teach people all of the cool stuff about God without having to deal with anyone’s real problems like pastors do. Then God broke my heart for the Church and for discipleship and changed the course of my life forever.
Not only did I never set out to be a pastor, I never expected to be a church planter. I don’t fit many of the models I’ve always (rightfully and wrongfully) attached to church planters. Now, nearly four years in to planting Church of the Cross, I’ve had lots of time to reflect, react and consider what I wish I had known while planting. So I decided to write a series on things I wish people had told me while church planting. First, we considered the need to start with discipleship, then we looked at the need to define yourself quickly and stick to it and yesterday we were challenged by the fact that most of us will never be mega-church pastors and not only is that OK, most of our churches will grow slowly.
Today, I want to share one that’s haunted me personally over the years. I have come to realize that I can tend to be a bit cynical, oftentimes framing things in a negative light rather than a positive one. I’m not making light of my tendencies, just sharing them with the world wide webs for all to know and judge. But honestly, I have come to realize that I am more prone to introduce a point by criticizing others than finding points of agreement.
This, of course, is a primary danger facing many church planters and will probably have to color the way you read this post (along with all of the others in this series). This may not be true of other church planters, but I know that one of the reasons I felt compelled to plant a church was because I could see where others had gone wrong. This, of course wasn’t (at least I thought) out of pride but biblical conviction. I saw what I felt to be the errors of those on both sides and I was sure I would plant a church “in the middle.” In our area of the country, there are churches that pride themselves on “going deep” into the Word who don’t even know the names of their neighbors, or there are churches that are thousands of people large who will openly admit that they don’t publicly teach anything above a seventh-grade level. So, we were going to model our church plant after the song we teach our children: “Deep and Wide.” We were going to openly and honestly people challenge people to go “deeper” into the Word and “wider” out into culture.
While I still believe in that vision, I have come to realize that I was planting out of opposition to the mainstream mega-church mentality as much as planting for the right vision that I believe God gave us. In other words, it was natural for me, especially in the early days, to frame our church plant by what it would not be; by what we would be against, as much as what we would be “for.”
I wish someone had told me in those early days to search the Scriptures, to understand the Gospel’s impact and implications for the Phoenix suburbs positively more than just pointing out what was wrong with other churches. This isn’t to say that church planters may not be able to accurately point out where the “mainstream” church has gone wrong. Instead, it is to say that we should not plant churches based on what we’re against. If that’s the motivation, then all we ever have to do is not be the other guy. If you plant out of opposition to mega-churches, you will probably be a small church. If you plant out of opposition to shallow churches, you will be quite intellectual. If you plant out of opposition to program-driven churches, your church will probably not have enough structure.
If you spend a lot of time and energy defining yourself by “what you’re not,” then you are creating an “us vs. them” mentality and the church already has more than enough of that. Plus, love believes the best about others. You may have significant differences with other churches, but chances are, they’re still family. You may want to consider them distant cousins rather than brother or sister, but they’re still family. Church planting should further the Kingdom, not drive deeper wedges.
I wish someone had told me to plant out of an overflow of the Gospel, to clearly be shaped by Scriptural convictions and to learn how to communicate those convictions regularly, clearly and humbly. This way, people will see the differences themselves. They don’t need you to always point out why you’re right (more on proving yourself in an upcoming post).
If you plant out of opposition, then all you have to do is not be the other guy and that is never enough. The Gospel reveals where things need to change but it also provides us with the positive motivation for change rather than just the negative. I wish someone had told me to plant out of an overflow of God’s work in my own life and community rather than just understanding (rightly and wrongly) where others were wrong.
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (1): Start With Discipleship
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (2): Define Yourself Quickly And Stick To It
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (3): You’ll Probably Never Be A Mega-Church And It’s OK To Grow Slowly
- Read Church Planting Things I Wish They’d Told Me (5): Don’t Plant To Prove Yourself