Pastor, is church planting for you?
Our personalities, aptitudes, dispositions, and so forth will shape the how but not the what of our ministries. We are to “fulfill our ministry” regardless of the inner characteristics God knit into the fabric of who we are.
I cut my teeth in ministry during the waning days of the church growth movement’s broad popularity. One of the dominant aspects of training in that season was learning how to incorporate best practices and principles from the business world in the church.
To this end, one of my mentors shared a seemingly endless supply of leadership material through his vast library of cassette tapes, magazine articles, and books. I raise this memory not as a critique of my friend and tutor who passed along valuable wisdom for living and leading that still guides me today. I’m grateful for the training I received and the majority of it was edifying, but at times the speakers and authors would drag principles from the secular world into the church to the detriment of God’s people.
While careful not to discard the baby of wisdom with the bathwater of secular solutions, the heap of content needed to be culled as some of the material that sounded right would subtly undercut important aspects of faithful life and ministry. One such example is the idea that leaders, workers, and even organizations should evaluate themselves to discern strengths and weaknesses and then give their energy to what they do best.
The kernel of truth regarding self-awareness might provide success in the business world, but it is misdirected when believers allow it to keep us from our shared responsibility in the cause of Christ. This problem can emerge in the local congregation when members and leaders selectively engage in the church’s ministry based on preferences attending to their supposed “strengths.” But it’s not limited to that context as some use this information as justification for ignoring their part in the sphere of global evangelization. This principle is oversold and it underdelivers, especially when applied to pastoral ministry.
What if it’s not my personality?
The idea that a pastor’s strengths and weaknesses, which are real, ought to drive what we do is a classic example of the tail wagging the dog. The mandates of Scripture given to us as under-shepherds provide our marching orders. Passages like 2 Timothy 4, 1 Peter 5, and Ezekiel 34 outline the role we are commanded to play among God’s people.
Our personalities, aptitudes, dispositions, and so forth will shape the how but not the what of our ministries. We are to “fulfill our ministry” regardless of the inner characteristics God knit into the fabric of who we are. Even more, many of our weaknesses can be best described as sinful inclinations. As such, we need to fight in the power of the Spirit to overcome them and not allow them to steer us.
We could address this problem and the corresponding ramifications in a number of areas in the pastoral ministry, but my topic in this article is church planting. Plainly stated, some pastors ignore their opportunity and responsibility related to starting new churches under the guise of not being suited for the work. That excuse fails on two levels.
First, there is no “ideal” profile for a church planter. A church planter is a pastor who invests his time and energy to till new soil, plant fresh seed, cultivate growth, and celebrate a harvest. While the field is “new,” the work of this man is exactly the same as any other faithful pastor as he seeks to evangelize the lost and shepherd God’s people. Despite what some contend, you don’t have to be especially entrepreneurial or have a special “gift-set” that differs from the biblical mandates. Not every pastor will have the privilege of planting a church, but it’s not because some lack the ability or capacity to do it. All of us are equally insufficient for this labor and God’s grace is sufficient to empower us for it, regardless of whether the field is old or new. Don’t dismiss the notion that God could use your ministry to establish a new outpost for his kingdom on the basis of your strengths and weaknesses. God is able to do it.
First, there is no “ideal” profile for a church planter. A church planter is a pastor who invests his time and energy to till new soil, plant fresh seed, cultivate growth, and celebrate a harvest.
Second, even if God places you in an established field and by his sustaining grace keeps you there, you’re not absolved of the responsibilities of church planting. Jesus was certainly correct that each day has enough trouble of its own and we could apply that idea to testify that each church has enough trouble of its own as well. Even the smallest of congregations requires more than a pastor has to give. His time and energy will be stretched beyond capacity and the church’s resources will often seem insufficient for their immediate and pressing needs. In light of this, some will contend that they cannot afford to join the work beyond their field. But these are excuses and not obstacles as every pastor can and should join the work of church planting in a number of ways.
The simplest and most obvious is to pray regularly and specifically for church planters. Build a relationship with these pastors and their families, inquire often about particular requests, and commit to lifting them before the Lord.
Flowing from the commitment to pray, make regular contact with the church planter to encourage him in the work and offer yourself as listening ear and a resource. These men will be all too familiar with the loneliness of pastoral ministry as they begin a new work and your friendship will be powerful instrument of grace to them.
Partner with church plants
Lead your church to partner with church plants. These types partnerships do not follow a single pattern, but they give your members the joy of walking with a new congregation as it’s established. This relationship is especially important when the new work is nearby. We must fight the common temptation to view new churches as competition and lead our members to walk sacrificially beside them.
Send some of your best members out as church planters. As you disciple and invest in the members of your church, encourage them to see the need for expanding God’s kingdom beyond your local sphere and then send them joyfully to join these works. This process can be painful but will bear fruit in the present and the future.
Once again, some pastors will invest ministry labor faithfully in their field but fail to participate in partnerships that establish work in other fields. One reason for this omission is a faulty conclusion that they’re gifted or suited for work in an established church and not in church planting. Another reason is allowing the strain of the urgent to crowd out the privilege of looking beyond the borders of their own fields to see the neighboring harvest as part of our shared responsibility. Brothers, for the sake of God’s glory in the world, let us embrace church planting as our work.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Practical Shepherding.