I love church planting. I’ve committed much of my life to it. My passion is to see new churches planted that transform lives, serve neighborhoods and impact cities. But over the years I’ve seen a kind of church planting that I worry has the potential of doing as much damage as it does good.
This kind of church planting often begins with the best of intentions. The planter loves Jesus, wants to be his ongoing transformative work in the world, and senses a call to plant a new church.
But somewhere along the way, either because of explicit training, implicit assumptions or a combination of both, the planter decides to employ a rather popular method of planting their church. They are told it is an “effective” way to plant a church. And besides, he/she can cite numerous examples of churches like it around the country.
It all seems to make sense on paper.
However, in my opinion, this is a method that has been tried and found wanting. While it may be effective in gathering a crowd, it seems to largely fail at effectively making disciples. In fact, when you strip the particular strategies down to their core and examine the values that drive them, I worry it is a way of planting churches that may actually run counter to Jesus and his kingdom way, inevitably threatening to undermine the work altogether.
Wednesday morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump will be our next commander in chief. It seems like just yesterday he announced his intentions to run for president and the country collectively burst into laughter. “This has to be just another publicity stunt, right? Surely this smug billionaire-turned-reality-tv-star doesn’t really think he’s remotely qualified for the country’s highest office, right?” No one gave Donald Trump a chance. Shoot, Trump didn’t seem to give Trump a chance. But after a dismal voter showing at the polls, a big white working class push, and overwhelming support from the evangelical community, Donald Trump edged Hillary Clinton as the next president elect. My mind has been spinning all week. How did we get here? How did this happen? And what does it mean for the church? Now that it’s been a few days, I want to offer a few pastoral thoughts on the other side of this crazy election:
A couple years ago I decided I wanted to do something special for our kids.
So on a whim I jumped into their room and announced we were going to get some fish. The girls screamed with excitement. We hopped in the car and headed to the pet store. Together we picked out some fish to adopt and a whole setup for them. We even splurged on a Sponge Bob motif equipped with miniature versions of Squidward’s house and the Krusty Krab for our fish to lounge in after a long day.
We got it all home and spent most of the evening getting the whole thing setup. Finally the moment came for the fish to enter their new habitat. The girls and I counted down from ten, “10, 9, 8, 7…” and then we plopped them in. The girls jumped up and down with anticipation as they watched the fish explore their new home. I gotta admit I was feeling pretty great as a dad in that moment.
To our horror, however, over the next twenty-four hours we watched as one-by-one the fish began to float a little funny. “What are they doing, dad?” “Uh, they’re back floating honey.” (Which technically was not a lie.)
Within two days all of them were dead. Every single one.
It was just about six years ago that Megan and I loaded everything we owned into our 2001 Honda Accord and a small trailer in a parking garage in Los Angeles.
We had spent the previous few years preparing and now it was time to make the long trek back to Lincoln, Nebraska. Our goal? To be a part of unleashing a movement of God’s grace in the city of Lincoln. We had no idea all that would entail (and we still don’t) but we did know one thing: it would start with the planting of a church.
This morning a photo popped up in my newsfeed of one of our early gatherings with the Mosaic launch team. Back then we were just thirty-five or so people meeting in a basement dreaming about starting a church together. My wife Megan and I smiled as we reminisced about those early days. We were young and crazy, full of excitement and anticipation for what God was going to do. Looking back it is truly humbling to think about all we have indeed seen God do over the past five years. But if I’m really honest, it also hurts. As I looked at that picture I saw faces of people I love, people we served with and bled with, many of whom are no longer a part of our church.
One of the things I’ve found hardest about being a pastor is seeing people leave. Some leave because life takes them elsewhere – graduation, a new job, an opportunity that can’t be passed up, etc. There are others, however, who leave simply because they choose to go somewhere else. It’s always hard when people leave, but it’s this latter category that can be especially hard. I’ve sat with enough pastors to know I am not alone in struggling at times with the shuffling of the saints. On the other hand, I’ve also sat with enough parishioners to know that it’s not always understood why this is. Why do some pastors have such a hard time when people choose to leave the church they pastor? Why is it such a big deal? Why do some seem to take it so personally?
So I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the reasons why it can be so hard on us pastors when people leave:
I am a pastor and I struggle with depression.
I know you’re not really supposed to say that as a Christian, and certainly not as a pastor, but the truth is I have struggled on and off with depression for as long as I can remember.
The problem is I grew up in a church where we didn’t talk about mental health issues like depression. The result was a lot of confusion about what depression is and what it is not.
Just over five years ago my wife Megan and I and our then two kids packed up everything we owned into our Honda Accord and made the drive from Los Angeles, CA to Lincoln, NE with the hopes of planting a new church. When we arrived we hit the ground running. We would spend most most of that year throwing parties at our home, investing in people, building a team, raising funds, making a plan and then in March 2011 we launched.
Five years into this journey I can say it has been a great ride and God has been exceedingly faithful. By many accounts, we’ve lived the church planting dream. We’ve seen people from many different faith backgrounds find Jesus. We’ve grown substantially and consistently each year. We have a small army of amazing volunteer staff. This fall we even plan to launch a second campus.
From the outside looking in, things look great. Conventional metrics might even suggest we’re knocking it out of the park. But if I’m really honest, I fear this pastor made some big mistakes in the way we went about planting our church that now five years in we are going to have to work really, really hard to undo.
I’ve had the privilege of working with pastors from all kinds of tribes and ministry contexts. Though no two pastors are the same, we do share a lot of the same hopes for our churches. We share a lot of the same frustrations too. And while I obviously can’t speak for all pastors, I’ve spoken with enough to know I’m not alone in hoping I never hear these phrases again.
- “Good Sermon”
Can I tell you something about pastors? We didn’t get into this business for the pats on the back. We got into it because we long to see God do in your life what we’ve seen him do in our lives and the lives of so many others.
That’s why we pastor. That’s why we preach.
When someone says “good sermon,” it immediately tells me the sermon was, in fact, not that good.
Like many in my generation, I’ve done some moving around and with each new move I’ve had to begin the difficult process of searching for a new church home. If you’re like most, a day is coming when you too will be on the search for a new church to call home. When that day comes, you may want to think twice before using these all-too-common reasons for making your choice:
1. “The Pastor is Really Good.”
Perhaps no other man apart from Jesus has had a bigger influence on the church than Paul. But here’s the thing: neither you nor I would have been a big fan of his preaching style. Paul had a reputation for being unimpressive in person and giving contemptible sermons (2 Corinthians 10:10). One sermon in particular was so bad it lulled a parishioner to sleep who then fell out the window to his death (Acts 20:9).
There is a special place in my heart for skeptics. You know who they are, right? Skeptics are the ones who are always questioning things. They are always asking questions like, Is this really true? Is that really what happened? Can that leader or organization really be trusted? Are their motives really what they say? Where is the fine print? When is the bait and switch coming, really?
While there may have been a time when skepticism was largely pushed to the cultural margins, that time has long passed. Churches and their leaders no longer get the benefit of the doubt. Instead, doubt is alive and well. Skepticism has become a staple in the increasingly post-Christian West. Sadly, however, many churches continue to go on with business as usual. And many of them continue to shrink and die as a result.
I have the privilege of leading a church that has consistently reached skeptics in the four short years of our existence. What we’ve done is not innovative, but it has been intentional. Here are five things you can do to more effectively reach skeptics: