In early January I attended the National Church Planting Summit of 3streams.ca. At this summit I had the privilege of being on a panel of church planters who were asked to tell three things they had learned from church planting. As one of the three panellists I will summarize the thoughts I shared at the summit. I invite the other panellists to do the same.
It is humbling to realize that after five years of planting in Calgary, and now having moved to Vancouver to start again, I was able to summarize my “learnings” on one side of a 3 inch by 3 inch sticky note. There are several things I did not say in the context of that day because it had already been made clear that planting a church starts with prayer, a call from God, spiritual discipline, proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God, and relationships with people. Instead I spoke of specific lessons learned by one who has been on the ground involved in the day-to-day efforts of seeing the birth of new communities of faith. This article is aimed at others who are planting or are considering planting.
Number 1: Start with a vision. This needs to be a vision that God has given you that is uniquely suited to who you are. Develop that vision to the point that it is something you must do and you can do nothing else until you do it. Then pursue it; pursue it until you achieve it. To keep you on track, hire a coach. You will need someone who can help you talk through the steps of getting from where you are to where you want to be.
Number 2: Adapt to the context in which you find yourself. Now this may sound like it contradicts number 1. How can I develop a vision and then stick with it until I achieve it while adapting to the context? The point is that we must be smart analysts of the place where we are planting. We must understand what makes that place what it is and become a missionary to that culture. As God declared to His people in the Babylonian captivity, we must "Build homes, and plan to stay” (See Jeremiah 29:4-7). As much as possible, become one with the people of that place; interact with them and work with them for the peace and prosperity of that place.
Number 3: We all need community. We cannot function in isolation. Sometimes a planter may have a ready-made team that is willing to go with him or her as they plant. Other times the team will not be as readily available. We all need to find ways to live in faithful Christian community. There is no such thing as a “lone-ranger planter.” We must learn from others around us, read what others have written, seek out the advice of leaders in the area, and find those with whom we can pray and be supported.
Lastly: If I can ask you to read just a little more, I would add one more thing I have learned. This one is truly counter-cultural. Take a risk! I am a church planter not because I think I am the best person to be planting churches. I am a church planter because I looked around one day and saw that not enough people were taking risks for the Kingdom of God. Our culture has convinced us that one of our highest values should be security. And so we buy insurance, save for the future (the latest market melt-down should convince us that this is fruitless – but it won’t) and work very hard to live a safe life. If Jesus had wanted to model a safe life He would not have left the safety of His Father’s side. If the early church had lived a secure Christian faith there would not have been so many martyrs. As Hugh Halter says in The Tangible Kingdom, “The Celts would have regarded our safe and isolating expressions of the church as aberrant reflections of the risen Christ. Who knows, they may have attacked us with clubs so we wouldn’t water down their expression of faith.” Now I am not going to attack you with a club until you choose to plant a church. But I must ask myself, ‘What risks am I willing to take to plant churches and see new expressions of the Body of Christ bringing the Kingdom of God to the cities, towns, and farms of our country?’ God did not call us into His Kingdom so that we could be safe. He called us so that we could be dangerous. Hey, want to be a church planter?