(Ed. note: This started out as a post on "Who SHOULDN'T Plant a Church... sigh... there's something in me that refuses to let me write like that. I think I'm constitutionally incapable of doing anything but encouraging people to plant churches and trust that God will let my words take root where they need and nowhere else... )
While I want to do everything in my power to encourage church planting, I have to admit, Kevin Cawley is right. Not everyone should plant a church.
But it's not as though church planting is only for the spiritual elite, the Navy Seals of pastoring, right?
If you are qualified to be a pastor, that is, gifted and called and not disqualified by anything... then you could be a church planter. The only thing you need to ask is- do I have the brass to take the risk, to leave the known for the unknown, embark on something that very well may never take root... something that in spite of all my efforts, prayers, sweat and tears, may still fall apart after a short time?
After 2 1/2 years of doing this thing I've come to a couple of conclusions about who should and shouldn't try church planting.
Yes- it's harder than I thought.
Yes, not as many people can "succeed" (oh how I hate that word in this context) at it as I thought. And yeah- there are a bunch of people who talk about church planting from some really whacked out places- from places of ambition, of "coolness", of desperation and of pride.
And I can (clearly) see- not everyone "has what it takes" at first blush. But here's the thing... We serve a God who delights in using the most unlikely of people to accomplish His goals, to help advance His kingdom.
See, it's not as though I don't understand the whole assessment thing. Are you entrepreneurial enough? A risk taker? A leader??? Can you preach to thousands? Can you manage the business of church???
I understand it... I just think it's so much bull shitake...
We're dealing with the Spirit of God here, people. The One who sets the hearts of men and women on fire, moves them out into mission, pushes them into situations so far beyond their gifts and talents and scores on entrepreneurial tests that it's readily apparent to anyone with eyes to see that what happens to and through them is by the grace of God, by the Spirit of God, by the power of God. The one who used prostitutes (like Rahab), unwed teenage mothers (like Mary), the despised (like Matthew), the unfaithful (like Peter), and even the broken (like me) can and does use whomever He wants and wills to build His church, to shepherd His people.
I've seen the most likely of church planters "fail" and the most unlikely "succeed." Even people who get turned down by Acts 29 sometimes do great! The Spirit of God is not only a consuming fire, but He's like a strong, rushing wind... who knows where it will blow? Who knows whom God will take and use?
I know not everyone should plant a church. I know some people might have all desire and no gifts. I tend to think these people will have a hard time getting anyone to follow and will end up bailing out somewhere along the way. Some people may have gifts and desire, but no endurance. Some may be qualified on the outside, and very, very disqualified on the inside- but there's plenty of them in every area of the pastorate. Only God can screen them out...
There are people that my associate pastor and I have talked to whom we've walked away from shaking our heads wondering, "What in the world...??? That guy needs to think about doing something else!"
I think that, and then I think... I hope they set the world on fire for Jesus and make me absolutely eat those words. I hope they are foolish enough to try. I hope God uses them in spite of my cynicism, in spite of my skepticism.
Because I'd rather see people try and fold after a time than stick with the conventional, the status quo. I'd rather see people risk everything for the kingdom of God than hold tight with whatever is most comfortable and offers the best 401(k). I'd rather see 20% of thousands and thousands of small communities succeed than resign ourselves to the continuing decline, the slow painful death, and the Wal-Martization of the church in the West, where the big get bigger and many others whither away. And I'd rather see the organized church and those in good, healthy established churches get behind new churches and do everything in their power to help too...
If we take the work of church planting out of the binary realm of success/failure and instead choose to see it in the realm of Kingdom-inspired adventure, some of which last longer than others, then any church that loves people and worships God is a success... regardless of how long they get to do that together.
Many of you are in those good, healthy churches and you are serving right where God wants you to be. These words probably aren't for you. Maybe, but probably not... But many of you are stuck by circumstance or by fear in dead-end churches, serving in small or soon to be small communities that have lost the plot, that are on the back end of their life cycle, and you are chaffing at the bit- so desiring to see something happen, so wanting to reach people, so wanting to step out in faith, but unable despite all your prayers and all your pleading to pull the rest of that community with you. These words are for you. You need to think about doing something radical, something crazy, something that will have people shaking their heads... about planting a church.
Should you plant a church? I don't know... That's between you and God. But I think more of you should try. I think some of you that answered "because I'm scared" on the poll yesterday should pray, should ask God, should take a risk that if you open yourself up to the possiblity, the Spirit of God might come along, grab your heart and blow you into completely uncharted territory. Scary, but (trust me in this) the most exciting thing you'll ever do...
Oh God, please light us on fire again. May the missionary Spirit of the first church ignite us again. May we love those around us enough to try, to risk, to not sit quietly and be content with the churched and the kinds of communities life-long Christians find most comfortable but rather launch out into those uncharted areas where your Spirit waits- close to the needy and lost, waiting only for the willing...