|Photo by Michelle Jimenez on Unsplash|
Exactly nine years ago, my boss, friend, and mentor, Justin Buzzard, began planting Garden City Church and posted Top 10 Reasons NOT to Join a Church Plant. I thought it might be fun to share my own top 10 list. Like the church plant itself, which will be a Garden City daughter church, my top 10 list replicates much of the thinking in Justin’s list and extends it to the church plant’s unique context.
Do not join a church plant if . . .
1. Your personal dream for the church plant supersedes your love for other believers. “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together. This applies to every church, in its infancy or otherwise, and yet church plants are tempted by the idealism of its members, and the greatest temptation is placed before the planter himself. A church planter starts a church because of his personal dream and I am no exception. Through my decades as a Christian, I’ve witnessed and heard of countless disagreements over ministry philosophy that devolved into division, factionalism, bitterness, resentment, and hatred.
2. Discontent with your current church fuels a reaction to overcompensate. When it comes to church plants, holy discontent is a righteous indignation for an unaddressed need. That need is often an unreached people group and includes a new missional strategy or doctrinal expression. However, discontent can mask a reactiveness against one’s current context and fuels overcompensation to the other extreme. For example, house churches often start out of discontent with the institutional church. Recently, a former house church planter confessed how he overreacted against the institutional church by refusing to codify any of his church practices. When he left his church network, the leaders initially floundered because they had relied upon him to make decisions rather than rely on a set of documented principles that could inform their decision-making.
3. You have unrealistic expectations of the church planter. This is related to reason #1. People who join a church plant often have a strong belief in the church planter. That’s great and I appreciate that. However, this belief can cut both ways because the church planter (and any pastor) eventually disappoints the expectations of his congregants. That’s why church hurt is so painful - the expectations are high and no pastor lives up to them. We are human. I’ve had a couple members of my church confide how they’ve lost respect for me because of how I caused them hurt. I regret the pain my harshness, anger, and critical spirit caused. And at the same time, I pray our respect for each other would not depend on the ability to meet expectations but rather confidence in God’s value and unique calling and role for each person, including and especially, pastors.
4. Your gifts are better used where you are now. I have many friends who are living out their distinct calling and using their unique gifts to bless the local body of Christ they belong to today. If that’s you, stay where you are. This is even more true for Garden City Church. This body will be losing some leaders and there will be ample opportunity to step up and fill the vacuum.
5. You’re unrepentant about your lack of submission to authority. Authority is a four-letter word in our individualistic culture. And yet God is the highest authority (power) and delegated authority is God’s design for government, church, and family. People who join church plants may seek power and autonomy. However, a church plant is a church community that operates based on the authority of its leaders. It is not a free-for-all.
6. You prefer the idea of diversity more than actually living out diversity. I hope this church will be multi-ethnic but I have a greater hope that it will be a multi-class one. That’s a harder barrier to overcome. I am affluent and educated and like the idea of diversity. But the practice of diversity is way harder and more challenging than the idea of diversity. It’s not easy for me to interact with people who don’t share my experience of college, book reading and reviewing, extended vacations, and dining out. I’ve noticed many of my peers (especially Asian Americans) love to be in ethnically and socioeconomically diverse churches. And yet I’ve often noticed the after-service mingling ends up with cliques of affluent, educated, professionals of similar age and ethnicity. We can bask in checking the box of diversity without actually living it out.
7. Your fear of hard things prevents you from doing hard things. Church planting is not a spectator sport. It is difficult (I’ll find out how much) and people involved are prone to burn out, stress, uncertainty, and disappointment. The expectation of any church plant is to do hard things. Evangelism is hard. That’s why most churches don’t do it. I’m afraid of doing hard things and I pray this fear would not outweigh my willingness to do hard things. Ultimately, this is the empowerment of the Spirit working in the believer and at the same time, our conscious choice to go forth in obedience.
8. You place high value on a local church remaining a small, intimate community. One of the greatest obstacles to evangelism is church insularity. We love and enjoy the intimacy and shared experience of being with “our people”. But the mission of God is to expand God’s people. This means intimacy is important but is not the highest value. Rather, our desire for intimacy will come into conflict with the desire to go out and seek others. We want this church to grow in numbers as we expand God’s kingdom.
9. You can’t accept failure. Most church plants are not successful. I am afraid of this church plant failing. But one sign of God’s calling to plant was my recognition of the value of obedience in spite of failure. My greater fear is this church plant will be financially self-sustaining but will fail its mission of reaching people who don’t know Jesus. When churches fail and die, it doesn’t usually happen quickly. Dying churches fade into irrelevance over decades. My prayer is, if and when this failure occurs, to have the discernment and courage to allow the church to die so other churches can be birthed and the mission of God revitalized.
10. You assume the primary goal of a church plant is to become a mega-church. The goal of this church plant is to be a church that plants other churches. Put in terms of the Great Commission, the goal of this disciple-making community is to send out disciple-makers to start new disciple-making communities. It’s great if a church grows and few churches limit that expansion. However, the purpose of the church universal is to go out and reach the world through making disciples of Jesus. Planting churches is the model given by the New Testament. I recognize our church is limited in who it will reach and that’s why new churches are needed. Planting other churches doesn’t exclude other ways of expanding the kingdom but is the primary goal of this church plant.