I came to know the love of Jesus for the first time at a church plant (a new church).
I then had the privilege of being a part of one of the most impactful church planting churches in the mid-west for 10+ years, having a hand in the start up of various campuses and plants. I learned early on that the gospel of Jesus (that is His whole life, death, resurrection, ascension, and kingdom) always meets us on its way to someone else.
This is why we start new churches.
I would then later move my family to New York City, which I now call home, to plant the first evangelical Church in the history of our neighborhood with an amazing team of people. The church is now home to people from 35 different countries of origin, and has become the most brilliant of messes.
Church planting is in me.
I read the book of Acts and Paul’s missionary letters, and the scripture comes alive. It speaks to something deep in my soul. In fact, as I write this I’m currently forming a core team to start a new church in west Queens NYC.
I love church planting!
Yet one of the prevalent problems that me and many other church planters face, is how to truly love Jesus more than His mission. Too often in my life, the spiritual act of church planting can feel like nothing more than an entrepreneurial start up game with a weird religious twist thrown on top of it. Because of this, I’ve had to focus on a few key paradigm shifts each and every day.
Here are three key shifts that help keep church planting a sacred work, and three key shifts that keep the soul of the planter spiritually thriving.
1) Wake up (not start up) Church planting is the practice of “seeing”. Too often assessment centers look for the most effective entrepreneurial leader, and if that leader can throw the name of Jesus and some sound doctrine upon that entrepreneurial gift they are good to go and often funded with thousands. Yet church planting is not a Silicon start up. As you read the Old and New Testament, we find that God is always present and at work. Therefore, our role as church planters and pastors is not to build something from the ground up, but to see where the Holy Spirit is already at work, and to bend our emotional energy and gifting, as well as our financial and people resources around it. We believe that apart from God we can do nothing (John 15:5), and as my friends at gravity leadership say, our problem as church planters isn’t that we don’t do anything; it’s that we’ve figured out how to do a “whole lotta nothing” apart from Jesus! Instead church planters are those who wake up to God’s presence and see where The Spirit is already at work. They are those who see people and places of peace, and they are those who see spiritual strongholds that must be torn down for the Kingdom of Jesus to come to bear. These are the type of people and teams that plant churches marked by a joy that only the Holy Spirit can birth. Once “seeing” becomes central, fasting, intercessory prayer, and cultural analysis become our primary planting practices as we attempt to wake up to His activity instead of simply starting and sustaining our own.
2) Apostolic grit (not workaholism) Missiologists have begun using the phrase “apostolic grit”. I’m not sure who coined the term, but it can quickly be translated into the capacity and ability to keep working, to keep moving, to keep re-inventing until “it” comes to fruition. Yet I would suggest that this is a poor translation for the term. As we read about the apostle Paul we see him struggle again and again, and through his struggles we see his tenacious spirit turn inward, fleshing out how his beliefs are forming who he is within his missional context. It wasn’t Paul’s hustle that set his ministry apart from others. It was his ability to reflect on his failures, diving amazingly deep into what Jesus was doing within him while he moved outward toward others. Where many feel the need to exhaust their efforts externally, may I suggest that apostolic grit speaks more about the discipline to keep going deep (internally in self) and less about going wide (externally toward others). Apostolic grit is the ability to make the main thing the main thing, becoming more mature both spiritually and emotionally in the love of Jesus as the activity of ministry moves from good to bad, from slow to fast, and even from fun to devastating in many seasons. I have found that the most healthy, effective, and impactful planters are also the most reflective, contemplative, and self aware.
3) Catalytic (not charismatic) One of the things most emphasized when considering whether or not to support a church planter is their charisma. Do they project a larger than life charisma that can gather the masses? However, I’ve found there are a few big flaws in this type of thinking. The first is obvious, the call of the church is to make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). This is a work of reproduction, but too often people file into a church building where all ministry activity centers around a charismatic leader and the immediate feeling is, “I can’t do what that person is doing up on that stage”… and they are right. Only a few people will have the charisma of the super star pastor that packs out arenas. When we expect church planters to be the most charismatic, we are often diminishing the reproductive nature of the church. Second, when our focus is on charismatic leaders, we often eliminate many women from important leadership roles. The amount of times I’ve heard the phrase…"she comes off too strong or too overbearing” is telling. There is something still alive in our culture that allows a male pastor to thrive off of their larger than life charisma, while at the same time it stifles their female counterpart. Instead may I suggest that church planting is a work that is often most healthy when led by catalytic leaders; Those who can see where God is already working and then mobilize the right people and the right resources around God's activity at the right time. This was the difference between Saul and David. Saul stood high above the rest, he was strong, eloquent, and charismatic (1 Samuel 9) and yet it was David who rallied together a bunch of rejected and marginalized men in a cave (1 Samuel 22). Where Saul was potentially the Joel Olsteen of his Day, David had the ability to plant churches in caves, and my gut says that the way of Jesus will take hold much more powerfully in caves than in cathedrals in this next generation.
There you have it; three shifts that keep a sacred work sacred, and that protect the soul of the planter. We need you. We need your sacred work, and we need your soul to stay rooted in the life of Christ. So may the peace and power of Christ be at work in you, so that the peace and power of Christ may work through you for years to come.