Vision Care and Planting

Last night we had a congregational business meeting. It was the meeting I’ve been hoping to attend since I started attending. :) We talked about our plans to plant a church. About half of the elder board spoke and so did representatives from our denomination. I’m an advocate of church planting and for a while thought it might be my calling so hear this from the lips of an advocate, not a critic.

One of the things that was stressed was the importance of picking the right man to be the planter. If you get the wrong person, the plant will most likely not succeed. Our denomination turned our church plant survival rate from about 3 of 8 to 4 of 5, or something like that. Part of the turn around was a robust screening process. I’ve been through the screening process and I can testify that it is pretty thorough! The approach our church is going to take is to find the right guy and then let him pick the location and build the team.

I support all of that. That is the model I would adopt if I were the senior pastor. But something kept nagging at the back of my mind during this. Two of the leading church planters who were mentioned were Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll. Two guys I really admire, guys who I really believe are doing things well and are focused on the right issues. But that nagging thought kept coming up. It can be summed up in a word I think: star. Keller and Driscoll are very successful at what they do because God has blessed their ministries. But is it possible for us to attempt to reproduce their success by doing exactly what their advocating the wrong way? Could we over-emphasize the church planter, expecting him to be a rock star and draw people to himself or his preaching style? I mean, if you get the right guy in there he could draw a lot of people just by his personality and style. A friend used to be on staff at Bethleham Baptist Church and joked about the Piperites. Guys who wanted to be the next John Piper. So though John and Tim and Mark are very humble men, there are fanboys who flock to those kinds of leaders. Nothing wrong with them or what they’re doing, but we like winners.

So when it comes to church planting, might we accidently reproduce this error if we’re not careful? Might we not look for the rock star who can succeed without succeeding? By that I mean someone who can get a church plant to viability but not really reach the community with any real solid results. Not by intentionally sheep stealing, but American are fickle things, even the Christian variety. There is a percentage who church hop and shop who look for the latest and greatest. I felt that urge at my previous church after I’d been there a few years. Time to check out other pastures and pastors. Thank God he prevented me from doing that. But the urge is there for many of us.

To be fair here, I don’t know of a single successful church planter who has done this. It just get a little nervous when I hear the promise that we’ll succeed "when we get the right man" instead of "if God is in it." Lakeland has always and only said "if God is in it" so this isn’t a finger pointed at my church, just a critical question of the approach.

What prompted me to post this was when I read Rick Phillips’ thoughts about church vision this morning. That was something that came up in the meeting last night also; vision, five year plan, etc. I don’t know that I agree with everything Phillips says, but his words are a good warning about relying too much on plans and programs and not enough on God. There can be slippage.  A church can start out focused on God and then begin to slide into reliance on programs and leadership and reproducibility, etc.

They’re really both the same danger aren’t they? Finding the right guy and developing the right plan? And what is curious about both is that the can be powerfully good or miserably bad depending on how we rely on them.

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  • I personally subscribe to the Bono’s church planting model, because he’s awesome and I want to be a rock star like him some day!!

  • I certainly consider this struggle something I’m deep in the middle of considering at this stage of the church planting…

    There is a plan…and we are following it…and it seems to be working…or is the plan working or is God working?

    I hope God is working in the plan…and that the planning is based on the Spirit’s leading and provision in “executing.”

    But in all…it’s a very strange place to try to be processing what it means to be faithful. Make a plan and then trust god? Or trust God and then make a plan? Follow the plan trusting God? Trust God and then follow the plan? Trust God and then change the plan?

    The logical choices continue…and then I just pray…and read Scripture…after all the fretting is done… :-)

  • I hear ya Matt. I mean, it isn’t more spiritual to NOT plan. And screening the man should (and does) include filtering for a guy who would draw disciples to himself.

    I guess I’m with you, there is a danger that we can rely on systems to the exclusion of God.

    Sounds like life, huh?

    And yea Sean, we’ll just do whatever Bono does. :)

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