Church planting today is not what it used to be.
Before, church planters were the ones who couldn’t get a “real ministry position” at a church, so they started their own. Albeit, there were those entrepreneurial few who defied all odds and started churches on their own, by and large, being a church planter wasn’t what it was today.
Now, being a church planter is the thing to do.
Church planting is getting the attention of the masses. In fact, many church planting conferences are now larger than typical pastoral conferences. This is surprising when, decades ago, there was no such thing as a church planting conference. For example, the recent SEND North America church planting conference in 2015, hosted by the North American Mission Board (an SBC entity), had two to three times the attendance than the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in 2015. That would not have happened 15 years ago. In addition, most seminaries now have certificates, tracks, and/or entire degree programs focusing on church planting. This too would not have been the case in yesteryear.
The evidence is clear. Church planting is exciting, it has momentum, and it is here to stay. But this article is not on today’s church planting, it’s on tomorrow’s church planting.
As I’ve been consulting with denominations, networks, and churches regarding their strategy to assess, train, coach, and fund church planters, there are a few trends that I’m beginning to notice. In fact, a few of these trends were the focus of Ed Stetzer’s and my writing in the newly updated edition of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply. Not only did we overhaul every single chapter, but we also wrote several new ones. If you read the previous edition, it would be worth your time to take a look, since it’s practically a new book (over 50% new content). For this article though, I want to focus on three of the major trends that I’m beginning to notice for tomorrow’s church planting: Kingdom collaboration, bivocational ministry, and residencies and theological education.
Trend #1: Kingdom Collaboration
Together we can accomplish more than we can ever do alone.
This is the buzz phrase of the new generation of church planters. Tomorrow’s church planter will be less focused on building their kingdom and more focused on seeing Jesus build God’s kingdom. They will be less focused on denominational lines and rules, and more focused on reaching their city. They will be less focused on the superman model of leadership, and more focused on team leadership.
A Focus on God’s Kingdom.
Tomorrow’s church planter will have a strong foundation in missiology. They will understand that their mission in life is not to plant a church and grow it by sheep stealing, but rather, their mission is to join God on his mission, and do whatever God wants them to do to reach and disciple the nations. As a result, instead of turning to church growth books, they will read missiological books like, The Mission of God by Christopher Wright, Transforming Mission by David Bosch, and The New Global Mission by Samuel Escobar. For tomorrow’s church planter, when someone mentions the name Ralph Winter, they will think of the missiologist, rather than the X-Men movie producer. In other words, tomorrow’s church planter will approach church planting as a missionary, with Romans 15:20 as their theme verse, “My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation, but, as it is written: Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” (HCSB).
A Focus on Reaching Their City.
Tomorrow’s church planter will be so focused on reaching their city, that they will not allow denominational lines to keep them from discerningly working together. In other words, instead of partnering together solely with sister churches in their denomination or network, they will collaborate with likeminded churches in their city. I’ve seen this happen where I used to pastor, where Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance came together in an evangelistic campaign with Alpha to reach Edmonton, Alberta, with the gospel. Tomorrow’s church planter will approach ministry the way Meldenius did, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
A Focus on Team Leadership.
Tomorrow’s church planter will understand that their greatest contribution to the kingdom will be when they focus on their strengths, and manage their weaknesses. As a result, they will lead with their strengths, and staff to their weaknesses. They will build a team around them, and treat them as co-equals, rather than as hirelings. They will serve them, rather than command them. They will seek to develop them for God’s mission, rather than use them for their mission. By doing this, they will see a higher level of engagement and ownership amongst their leadership team, while also moving their church towards a culture of multiplication. Tomorrow’s church planter will lay down their cape, and take up the cross.
Trend #2: Bivocational Ministry
In the past, if a church planter was bivocational, oftentimes that secretly meant that they they lacked financial support. A standard section in any church planting proposal would include the church’s plan to financial self-sustainability, which included paying the church planter and maybe another staff member a salary with benefits. Many denominations would even support the church planter’s salary for at least three years, while also providing seed money for their ministry. As a result, in the past, bivocational ministry was more of a last resort, than a first resort. Interestingly though, we are seeing this change for tomorrow’s church planter.
A Missiological Strategy.
Tomorrow’s church planter sees bivocational ministry more as a missiological strategy, rather than as an alternative way to fund themselves. When John Nevius (1829-1893) arrived in China as a missionary, he observed the impact that paying pastors and evangelists had on the growth of the Chinese church. Not only did it lead to Chinese dependency on Western money, but it also slowed the expansion of the church, since it created a two class system of believers. The holier and the less-holy. The paid and the non-paid. The pastor/evangelist and the regular lay person. As a result, Nevius developed a dramatically different method for missions that he implemented when moving to Korea. A few of his principles were related around the importance of bivocational ministry, where unpaid believers would be able to pastor and lead their own church. Many scholars believe that the Nevius method was one of the critical factors to Christianity exploding in Korea. In addition, we don’t see any outbreaks around the world of church planting movements that are led by full-time paid vocational clergy. Is this merely a coincidence or something that the church needs to take note of? For tomorrow’s church planter, bivocationalism isn’t a penalty, it’s an opportunity. Bivocationalism is a missiological strategy.
First Resort, Not Last Resort.
There will be both full-time paid vocational church planters, as well as fully bivocational planters in tomorrow’s church. However, the difference is that tomorrow’s bivocational church planters will have chosen that path as their first resort, rather than their last resort. We will see youth pastors, associate pastors, and lay leaders choose the path towards bivocational church planting as a missiological method to reach their neighborhood for Christ. For many of tomorrow’s church planters, choosing bivocational ministry will not be a matter of being out of money, but it will be a matter of being on a specific mission.
Reversed Tier Funding.
There will be church planters who will initially plant their church fully bivocationally, but then slowly transition to taking a salary as the church grows. I talk about this in Planting Missional Churches as an alternative way to approach church plant funding. The point of this model is to start the church as a missionary, with a regular job in the marketplace. As the church begins to gain momentum and grow, that is when the church planter will begin taking a salary, since more time is required to develop leaders. It’s a proof-of-concept way of approaching funding. Or, in start-up business speak, it’s a minimum-viable-product (MVP) way of approaching church planting.
Trend #3: Residencies and Theological Education
When it comes to theological education, the pendulum has swung back-and-forth a few times over the last couple of centuries. From theological education being birthed out of the church, to it then being handed over to educational institutions, then back to the church and so-forth, we are at a time in history where the two sides are beginning to move towards an equilibrium. Seminaries are realizing that ministerial training happens best in the context of a local church, while churches are discovering that training someone theologically is completely different than training someone for practical ministry. Both seminaries and churches are looking to one another for help and for partnerships because both sides realize they cannot take on the task of theologically educating and pastorally forming an individual by themselves. The bridge that is being formed between churches and seminaries is called, “residencies.” While there are many different ways that churches and seminaries are approaching residencies, they all seem to share a common goal – to do a better job at integrating theology with praxis. Where they all differ in their model is their starting point. Let me share three out of five of them. You can learn more in the new edition of Planting Missional Churches.
Starting Point: Multiplication
In this residency model, tomorrow’s church planter will develop the knowledge, skills, and ability to infuse multiplication at every level of their church. They will be developed with the gradual release of responsibility model, so that their development is personal and hands on. By the end of this residency program, they will have developed a plan, not just to multiply the leaders and groups within their church, but also their church as whole.
Starting Point: Sustainable Ministry
In this residency model, tomorrow’s church planter will develop the five characteristics of a healthy sustainable pastor, as was revealed in the resilient pastoral ministry study that Covenant Seminary conducted in partnership with Reformed Theological Seminary and Westminster Seminary. They will grow in spiritual formation, self-care, emotional and cultural intelligence, marriage and family, and leadership and management.
Starting Point: Leadership
In this residency model, tomorrow’s church planter will develop the leadership skills required to successfully plant and lead a church. These leadership skills include vision casting, hiring practices, team ministry, strategic development, and conflict management. In order to develop these skills, the church planter will first focus on growing in self-awareness, since this is where the heart of the leader is formed.
As churches continue to be planted and reach the lost in their neighborhoods, my prayer is that the next generation of church planters would be raised up, trained, and sent out from the harvest to the harvest. May our churches be the training grounds for the future army of church planters. May we stop penalizing pastors for being bivocational, but instead see the unique opportunities that are latent within that model. And lastly, may we stop seeing church plants as competition, but instead create opportunities for kingdom collaboration.
*This was originally published in March-April 2016 issue of The Net Results magazine