[tab] [tab_item title=”Introduction”]
On September 1st 2013, I began a year-long church-planting apprenticeship at my church, Redeemer Fellowship. This program will equip and train me to lead a new church plant and then serve as its senior pastor. While the notion of leading and pastoring a church plant is daunting, my wife Rachel and I sense God calling us to this, and we are really excited about it. We pray that God will use this new congregation to reach unbelievers, equip and spiritually feed Christians, and, above all, bring glory to His Name.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, to plant a church is to start a new church (local congregation) in a new location. Since the church was birthed at Pentecost (Acts 2), the process of church planting has been an integral and continual part of its life. The motivation for this activity is found in obedience to the Great Commission—Jesus’ command to “make disciples of every nation” (Matt 28:18-20)—for the glory of God.
New churches are born through the preaching of the gospel. The gospel is proclaimed and individuals are converted; these new believers need a community to be a part of along with qualified leaders to shepherd, feed, teach, equip, and protect them—a task which happens in the context of the local church. While there are many churches across America and around the globe, there are still millions of people in need of a faithful gospel witness and ministry in their city or town.
I never planned on going into church planting. For years, I either wrote off the idea or was sure that God was not calling me into it. In this post, I will share my journey into church planting. This will include my initial objections to church planting, how I overcame these objections, the rationale for planting new churches, and how the process has looked on the ground. I hope this will help those of you considering church-planting and for those of you who might be interested in joining or partnering with our church plant. [/tab_item]
[tab_item title=”My 5 Objections to Church Planting”]
My 5 Objections to Church Planting
Here are five reasons why I wrote off church-planting:
1. I did not grow up in a church-planting culture. As a child, there was zero talk about starting new congregations. Thus, before I really committed my life to Christ at the age of 18, I had no clue what church-planting even was. This left me believing that church planting was not something done in America anymore, and created an unspoken hesitancy in my heart to pursuing it.
2. I saw unhealthy church plants. After I became a believer in college, I saw and heard about several forms of unhealthy church plants. I knew one friend who planted a church without the support, oversight, or approval of another church or organization. In his own words, he thought he was the “Mark Driscoll of Las Vegas”. Unfortunately, this plant did not last. Another example I saw was a gimmicky church plant launched in a trendy location (cool bar on the strip). This plant had good intentions: reach a segment of our city not being reached (young adults). But its preaching lacked the gospel or much of any discussion about sin and repentance. This plant also died. A third example I saw was what appeared to be a very healthy plant, but after a short period of time the lead pastor committed adultery and the church died. These situations left a bad taste in mouth for church planting.
3. ‘Lone-ranger’ ministry men—those who attempt to start a ministry based on an inward impulse without the oversight or assessment of others—caused me to be overly skeptical of any of my own impulses/desires to plant a church. While God uses some of these individuals to do great ministries, He also delights in Christians working in unity together to accomplish ministry tasks (Ps 133). Thus, it comes down to heart motives. I saw one individual who was convinced that God was calling him into a ministry geared toward reaching those of my generation skeptical of the ‘overly institutionalized church.’ His mantra was, “Don’t go to church, be the church!” (why not do both?). While his zealous passion, hopeful vision, and charismatic personality won many to his cause, the ministry paradigm was short-sighted and harmful. The results were fleeting and resulted in many Christians leaving local congregations to join a movement without qualified leaders, pastors, or long-term vision for making disciples or exercising church discipline.
4. Church-planting is trendy. If you are around the type of Christians I hang out with—evangelical, Reformed, younger—you know that church-planting is trendy at the moment. I have always been skeptical of trends, and thus overlooked church-planting because of its present popularity.
5. I bought into the argument “Why plant new churches, when there are lots of churches already (many of which need a pastor now)?” I did not understand the mentality of starting a new church. I assumed we have enough churches in America already, and that a new church would merely shift people from established churches into new church plants.
[divider scroll_text=”To the Top”]
Here’s why I realized that those 5 objections should not prevent me from church planting:
1. My upbringing need not determine my future. It doesn’t matter if I grew up in a culture that failed to introduce me to church planting. A person is not bound to the ways of his family or upbringing: bad habits can be broken; good things can become better. Ventures should not be written off due to lack of experience or cultural exposure.
2. I don’t have to repeat the mistakes of those who came before me. Sure I have seen some unhealthy ways of approaching church planting, that doesn’t mean that I have make the same errors or fall in the same way. I don’t have to try and plant a church without the support or oversight of others. I don’t have to compromise the pure preaching of the gospel to try and attract outsiders. I don’t have to fall to into serious moral failure and end up disqualified for ministry. We ought to learn from the triumphs and failures of those who came before us and not let cowardice prevent us from taking up the hard work of church planting (Prov 22:13).
3. Having a desire to start a new pioneering work doesn’t mean you are misled or will end up hurting others. God does lead His people into new ministry endeavors and to reject this is to spurn the Holy Spirit’s work. These impulses ought to be shared with elders and godly leaders who can help discern God’s leading.
4. It doesn’t matter if a pursuit is trendy or not. To refuse to pursue a task because it is popular is to make the same mistake as pursuing a task because it is going along with the crowd. Both are rooted in pride and the fear of man.
5. The argument “Why plant more churches, don’t we have enough anyways?” is false and short-sighted. Sure, we have many church buildings in our country, but many of these assemblies have ministers who are not preaching the gospel. Just because there is a church building present does not mean that the Word of God is rightly being preached or that the sacraments are rightly being administered (Calvin’s formula for determining if a true church is present). Also, thousands of churches are closing their doors every year, and the number of non-Christians or those who hold to “no-religion” is increasing dramatically in America (Naperville, for instance, a town of 140,000 plus, reported 30% of its popular to be religiously unaffiliated–that is over 40,000 people!). In addition to this, there will always be a need for new church plants, as God continues to grow his church. Some may undertake the noble task of ‘re-planting’ spiritually dead churches; but others will need to plant new churches. [/tab_item]
[tab_item title=”Reasons to Plant a Church”]
Biblical, Theological, and Cultural Reasons to Plant a Church
Here are some of the biblical, theological, and cultural reasons for church planting:
1. Church planting is a biblical and apostolic practice—a practice meant to be imitated. Reading through the New Testament, one notices a pattern of the gospel being proclaimed, individuals getting converted, and new converts being taught the faith under qualified leaders in local contexts—churches. The seeds are sown (gospel proclamation), new trees burst forth (conversion), and these trees need to be tended and taught to sow seeds themselves (discipleship). Within local churches, Christians come under the watch and care of qualified elders who preach the gospel, and help protect them from false teaching (both in practice and in doctrine). This process of making disciples is obedience to the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) and imitation of the apostolic practice (Phil 4:9). Ultimately, the church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27) and Jesus is the head of it (Col 1:18). He promised that even the gates of hell would not overcome the church (Matt 16:18), and this gives us confidence as the Kingdom of God is advanced through it.
2. Many existing churches do not preach the gospel. As I mentioned in my posted about overcoming objections, the sad reality is that many churches today are not preaching the gospel of repentance of sins and belief in Christ. There are many who would distort the gospel: some preach a false gospel of prosperity (believe in Jesus and you’ll be rich); some preach a false of gospel of personal happiness (Jesus died to make you happy, rather than holy and reconciled with the Living God [something which will bring actual joy rather than superficial happiness]); some preach dead traditionalism; some preach “moralistic therapeutic deism”; some preach a gospel that exalts secondary theological interests over preaching Christ; some preach a self-help gospel. Thus, there is a need for gospel-centered, Bible-believing, gospel-proclaiming churches.
3. There are millions of non-Christians in America. Who will preach the gospel to them and equip Christians to be bold and loving evangelists?
4. New church plants typically do a better job of reaching non-Christians. I have heard this from many; most recently I learned this in Tim Keller’s book “Center Church” and from conversations with local-church planters Ryan Huguley and Joe Thorn. Established churches naturally strive to help their members grow, and thus spend much of their energy and time on programs building them up. Church plants, on the other hand, are forced to focus their efforts on reaching non-Christians.
5. Some would argue we need different churches to reach different types of cultures (Rick Warren). Not to stifle diversity, but there is a need for different churches to speak the language of different cultures. These churches don’t have to compromise the gospel to fit in, they are simply seeking to be all things to all men as so reach as many possible with the gospel (1 Cor 9:19-23). There is a radical continuity and diversity present in church planting, as evidenced even in the letters of the New Testament. On the one hand, there is a radical unity: in the many expressions of the church around the world, there is devotion to the apostolic witness (the words and teachings of Jesus and his authoritative sent messengers, the Apostles [found for us today in the Bible]), gospel proclamation, and qualified overseers to lead local congregations (pastors, elders). On the other hand, there is a radical diversity: all over the world, the Bible is taught hundreds of languages, thousands of different songs are used, and preaching is delivered in vast array of different styles. These churches together comprise the global church.
6. Church planting will be necessary in every generation. A new generation means new individuals who need to hear the gospel, which means there will need to be new churches, especially as many close their doors every year—statistics show that between 3,500 and 4,000 close down every year.
[divider scroll_text=”To the Top”]
Personal Reasons to Plant a Church
Here are some of the personal reasons why I am entering into church planting:
1. I sensed God calling me into church planting. As I looked deep into my heart, I saw an authentic desire to undertake this task and a conviction that if I did not step out in faith, then I would have been disobedient to the Spirit’s leading. This occurred as I read Scripture, prayed, and sought counsel from godly Christian mentors. The more I did these things, the more I became burdened and convinced that church-planting was where God was leading Rach and me.
2. My wife is on board with church planting. A further confirmation came as Rach, who was not initially interested in church-planting either, came to the point where she also believed this was where God was leading us. This was a process for both of us that required a lot of prayer, long discussions, patience, and outside counsel from others. At the end of this, Rach and I were united in our desires and were on the same page.
3. God has given me spiritual gifts beneficial for church planting. In His grace, God has given me the gifts of preaching, teaching, shepherding, and has made me an evangelist. These traits are greatly beneficial for church planting.
4. God has given me experience, skills, and passions useful for church planting:
A. Pioneering experience and desire. I love starting new projects and find it very enjoyable: a. I created a guitar program at Cadwallader Middle School (2007-9) b. Started a music ministry in Las Vegas, which played in secular venues around the city c. Oversaw the creation of two successful residential communities in college as an RA
B. Experience in full-time ministry. In 2004-5 I was a missionary in Scotland with CRU.
C. People-skills. I enjoy working with people (even though I am an introvert).
D. Ability to handle large amounts of work.
E. Enjoy communicating and vision-casting
F. Our church, Redeemer Fellowship, is eager to plant more churches and I am an excellent fit theologically and ministry-wise. In God’s providence, I am at church which is passionate about church planting, filled with mature believers, evangelistic, Calvinistic, Baptist, and elder-led. Thus the opportunity is right in front of me.
[tab_item title=”Assessment & Apprenticeship”]
Church Planting Assessment
So after seeing our hearts change, Rach and I decided to pursue church planting through our home church Redeemer Fellowship. By God’s providence, we are at a church which is passionate about church planting. The first step to officially plant a church with Redeemer is to complete an assessment which includes both a written application and an interview with the elders. If accepted, the applicant then begins a one-year church planting apprenticeship/residency.
The written portion of the assessment process was very straightforward. First, there was an essay portion of the exam which covers doctrine, calling, and experience. Some of the questions addressed were, ‘What is the gospel?’ ‘Describe your devotional life.’ ‘How has your experience and education prepared you for ministry in the church’ ‘Are you in agreement with Redeemer Fellowship’s Statement of Faith and ministry approach?’ ‘Describe your desire and qualifications for pursuing a church planting residency.’ The essay portion was accompanied with references and basic biographical information.
After this was completed, we entered into the interview stage. The interview, like interviews with the Acts 29 network, included both me and my wife Rachel. The interview was before the elders of our church and included a series of questions about calling, ministry, health of our marriage, and desire to pursue church planting. We were both asked questions and much of what were pressed into had to do with what type of support and training we would need to plant a church. Overall the experience was very affirming us. The elders at our church really take the task of planting a church seriously and want to protect not only the individuals who wish to pursue church planting, but also the church being partnered with. After the interview was completed we headed home, and found out later that evening that the elders had prayed about it and gave us the official acceptance!
[divider scroll_text=”To the Top”]
Church Planting Apprenticeship
What will I be doing for my year-long church planting apprenticeship? Several things:
1. Weekly Mentoring: Each week I meet with Joe Thorn, who is mentoring me. Joe asks me questions about how I am doing spiritually, offers guidance on growth and next steps for church planting, and prays for me. Joe has been a true blessing, mentor and friend to me these past few years and I always look forward to our weekly meeting together. Another part of the mentor process is attending various ministry visits and the weekly elders’ meetings. I’ve learned a ton just by seeing how ministry takes place and how different situations are addressed.
2. Structured Leadership Responsibilities: I oversee two different ministries for our church. The first ministry I oversee is our Leadership Lab, a monthly leaders’ training gathering. This ministry trains men to lead and preach, and functions also as a preaching workshop (different guys preach and receive feedback each month). The second ministry I oversee is our Welcome and Offering ministry. At our church we have different individuals lead the Welcome and Offering/Announcements portion of the service, and I provide the administrative and training support. Along with these ministries, I oversee and lead a community group which meets weekly for fellowship and Bible study.
3. Structured Theological and Leadership Development: I am working through a stack of books to grow in knowledge of pastoral ministry and theology. These books include Center Church, by Tim Keller, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, The Pastor’s Justification, by Jared Wilson, Planting Growing Churches, by Aubrey Malphurs, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, by C. John Miller, Discovering Church Planting, by J.D. Payne, Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, various authors, Van Till’s Apologetic, by Greg Bahnsen, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, Pascal Denault.
4. Building a Core Team: This year, by God’s grace, we hope to build a core team of individuals who will help us plant a church. We hope to find those both from Redeemer and outside of Redeemer. It is vital that we have a strong and committed group who will labor with us as we seek to plant a church. So this year I’ll be meeting with people, casting the vision for our church plant, and helping the team become solidified and united.
5. Evangelism: Another vital aspect of my apprenticeship will be connecting with non-Christians and sharing the gospel with them. The plan is to engage in initiative evangelism, street preaching, and evangelism through relationships. I’ve already had some great opportunities to share the gospel with individuals that I’ve met and am eager to do this much more this year.
6. Getting Assessed by Acts 29. I really believe in the Acts 29 network and hope to join as a church planter. This will allow me greater access to resources, coaching, and support with other like-minded believers.
[tab_item title=”Prayer Requests”]
1. Pray that God refines me: Pray that I love God above all and keep my priorities in place: (1st God, 2nd wife, 3rd ministry). Pray that I grow in godliness and become more like Christ.
2. Pray for wisdom about location: We are praying about a location to church plant and are leaning towards Naperville. Pray for wisdom and guidance. (UPDATE: as of 10/1/2013 we have chosen Naperville).
3. Pray for a core team: We are asking that God raises up a team of believers who are willing to sacrificially commit themselves to the church plant. Planting a church is extremely hard work, and we desperately need a diverse team made of people with various gifts and passions. Pray that God raises up the right people.
4. Pray for finances: I am hoping to receive funding through NAMB for this year of church planting while I continue to work bi-vocationally (teaching music and substitute teaching). Pray that this funding is approved and for generous folks who want to give to the church plant when the year is finished. [/tab_item]