Monday, April 12, 2010

How To Send Out A Church Planter

Yesterday Christ Church sent one of its founding elders out as a church planter for a new work in Magnolia, Texas (about an hour away). For me (and many of our people) yesterday's service was exiting, hopeful, and tender. Casey, his wife Stephanie, and their daughter Braelyn have been with us since the beginning. They have been an integral part of our community since the beginning. It was difficult to watch them go. Yet as we sent them off I was excited and hopeful. Here are a few ways I got there and hope to stay there:
  1. Prepare your people from day one. We were a church plant ourselves, and we proactively built church-planting into our DNA from the beginning. We talked about church-planting. We gave money to church-planters and church-plants. We started a regional church planters network. We publicly prayed for God to send us more future leaders to serve as missionaries, pastors, and church planters. Etc. The culture we created is as eager to rejoice over sending people out as it is to rejoice in drawing new people in.
  2. Prepare yourself to let go. Pastor, you have to let go. As church planters, we are programmed to draw people to a new work, to create conditions for community life to flourish, to build core groups, etc. Getting rid of people, sending people away from your church, is counter-intuitive. Yet it is exactly this type of sending that is required of a gospel-centered, missional church. We must be known as much for the people we send out as for the ones we draw in. This really cannot happen if the lead pastor is committed to building his kingdom and cannot get beyond what God is doing with his handful of people.
  3. Remind yourself what God is doing in your church and around the world. Church planters are often entrepreneurs. We love starting something from scratch, finding those who are far from Christ and his church and bringing them in, raising money, building core groups, securing facilities, etc. This is part (albeit a small part) of the reason we start churches; church planting simply fits better with our personalities than sending out resumes and managing office hours. As a church matures, there is less need to raise funds, find a facility, etc. because those things will likely already be in place. So the founding pastor may find himself coveting the new and exciting rhythms of a church plant. He may become jealous or bitter. The pastor needs to remind himself first of all of God's greater mission. He also needs to open his eyes to the mercy and grace that he God has provided him in his own ministry. It's easy for the grass to look greener in another pasture (and for the sheep to look better too). But this is almost never the case. Pastor, remember what God has called you to and keep your hand to the plow. Keep sending out those men!
  4. Be involved (but not too involved). This is a delicate process, but the best way forward is simply to default to the new church planter. You as the sending pastor should help and serve as needed, while at the same time allowing the new church planter to find his own identity, make his own mistakes, and create a culture separate from your own. Make yourself available and open. But don't be intrusive or overbearing. Keep many of your comments to yourself regarding what the new church should look like or how the new church planter should pastor. Train men well and trust God to be faithful.
  5. Be supportive and generate support from others. Not only do you as the sending pastor need to be vocally and financially supportive of the church planters you send out, you also need to trumpet the vision for others to hear and see as well. This will happen naturally as you blog about the new church, pray publicly for the new church, encourage your members to join the new church when feasible, email friends and associates about the new church and encourage them to do the same, etc. Church planters need lots of encouragement and as many cheerleaders as possible. To quote Anton Ego from Ratatouille, "The new needs friends."
  6. Send in such a way that others are drawn in. In addition to being faithful to #1-5 (above), your commissioning service should be an opportunity to celebrate and honor the church planter and the work he has done in your ministry. As you make much of God, you must make much of church planting. God is a God on mission. God is a God who speaks, creates, redeems, sanctifies, and sends his children out with a story to tell. Your commissioning service should (1) make non-Christians want to believe in a God who actually includes his children in his work, like a good father; (2) encourage seasoned Christians to continue to proclaim the good news, to serve their neighbors, and to live in community with other Christ-followers; (3) challenge those in your church to submit to God's call in their own lives, be that church planting, parenting, accounting, teaching, foreign missions, farming, etc.
  7. Commit for the long haul. Church planting (and sending out church planters) should not be a flash-in-the-pan event. When God is at work, churches are planted and grow. When God is at work, his enemy prowls around seeking to steal, kill, and destroy. The sending church and sending pastor must commit to pray for, serve, call, visit, give to, encourage, and love the church planter and his family indefinitely. The enemy wants to steal joy and clarity and direction. He wants to kill faithfulness and love and fruit. He wants to utterly destroy marriages and relationships and the planter's sense of calling. Pastor and churches, you must pray diligently and love persistently. Reject the easy luxury of forgetfulness and commit yourself to that church planter for the long haul.
The above is just a reflection of what I've learned so far and what I hope to do as we continue to draw in, train, and send out church planters and leaders. Please keep us in your prayers.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to God for sending me the Cease family so early in the process of starting Christ Church. They have been an invaluable gift to me personally and to our church as a whole. I love them like family and look forward to many, many, many more years of ministry together. Thank you, God. Thank you Casey and Stephanie. I love you.

Here is a link to the new church plant. Please pass on the info to anyone you may know in the area looking for a church.

Here is a link to the audio of me interviewing Casey at his commissioning.

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