I have been told that every great story involves great conflict. Ask any church planter and they will tell you that church planting involves its fair share of conflict. The conflict comes in many forms: discouragement, exhaustion, criticism (sadly, often from other Christians and even pastors who are threatened by what you are doing), missed opportunities, failed plans, unforeseen obstacles, wayward team members, and the one you can almost always count on: financial strain.
The greatest conflict that I am finding myself having to deal with, however, is the hesitancy (or downright unwillingness) of local churches to step up and get involved in church planting, or at least not in a way that costs them anything significant. A word of blessing? Sure. A one time gift? Perhaps. Championing or adopting a new plant as your own in a way that may cost them people and ongoing support? Err, we'll pray about it. (Which, in case you didn't know, is Christianese for "Not on your life!!")
It is dumbfounding how many pastors and churches will agree that church planting is both greatly important and deeply biblical, and yet how few are actively involved. Troubling is probably a better word for it. As we continue our search for a "sponsoring church," here is what I am finding:
- Everyone has a perfectly good reason for why they can't do it. "Our giving is down," "Our attendance is less than it was last year at this time," "We are preparing to build a new building," "Our leadership can't afford another big risk that could potentially make them look bad," "We haven't done these sorts of things in the past"…the list goes on and on. No matter the size, budget, vision, demographics, denomination, geographical location, everyone has a reason why their current circumstances won't allow them to be actively involved in church planting.
- Everyone has a perfectly good reason why someone else should do it. "They are bigger than we are," "They've been around longer," "Their budget is bigger," "Their pastors get paid more," "They have more money in reserves," "They already have a value for church planting," "They have less debt than we do," "They have less financial obligations," "They aren't an established church fighting an established culture"…Sure pastor, perhaps Google would be a great potential sponsor for a church plant, but it's not their job, it's yours. The task and burden of church planting falls on local churches, not on outside organizations and networks. (By the way, I am all for interdenominational church planting networks, but they do not relieve churches of their duty to multiply and send out. Instead, like ARC, these org's should help churches fulfill their God-given responsibility, not avoid it.) But even pastors who agree tend to think "the church down the road" makes more sense to carry the load.
To be honest, the implications of these two realities have us in a tight spot right now. It is a really tough place to be in. So when I write this, part of it is deeply personal. In seeking to understand it, my hope is to help other planters navigate some of these things, to encourage churches to reconsider their involvement or lack thereof in church planting, as well as to help myself lead Mosaic in such a way to never be so consumed with our own internal business that we fail to continually invest in the Kingdom work of church planting.
Here are a few things I am learning:
- Internally focused churches struggle. Practically speaking, if the focus of your church is the people who are already there, then you're destined to struggle the moment your members start dying or leaving. That'll probably be sooner than later. Biblically speaking, an internally focused church stands directly opposed to the mission to which they have been called. Perhaps worst of all, not only to internally focused churches struggle more than others, they struggle alone.
- You don't get credit for what you hope to do in the future. Your intentions for tomorrow may be honorable, but today that is all they are: intentions. You don't get a faith advance for your great plans. Instead, you are measured by what you do. Either you are generously investing in the Kingdom or you are not. Spoiler Alert: Perhaps you are not being entrusted with the more you keep praying for because you have yet to be faithful with what you currently have.
- Next year things are not going to be easier. Breaking through the next growth barrier, achieving the next big goal, hitting the next milestone, etc is not going to be the thing that frees you to finally be generous any more than it is going to make your life and ministry simpler. It is always going to be a challenge. Accept it and make the hard decisions necessary to begin being generous now. Reality: If you keep thinking that you'll start investing in church planting "when…", it'll never happen.
- God blesses churches that invest in the Kingdom. Jesus didn't call his disciples to go build a church, He told them to expand the Kingdom. When established churches and leaders invest in the Kingdom through church planting, it is an act of selflessness. It takes a secure leader, one who cares more about seeing lives changed by the gospel than they do the success of their little "c" church to send people and resources out to something that doesn't directly benefit them. The pastors I have known who do this generously are not only some of the brightest and godliest men I know, but they also pastor some of the most influential and impact-ful churches in the country. I am coming to believe that there is a direct correlation between our faithfulness in furthering the Kingdom and how much influence God is willing to entrust us with.