Having spent the better part of two decades pastoring five traditional churches before launching a new plant was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that I had time to discover who I was, including but not limited to my strengths and weaknesses. I also had time to refine my theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, along with communication and leadership skills. All of these are critical issues for a church planter. It was a curse in that I spent many of those years laboring and suffering under antiquated systems and methods, spiritual inbreeding, myopic mindsets and a lack of authority to implement needed change, to name only a few. That all changed eighteen years ago.
I have recently heard church planting described as “sexy”. As easy is it might be to tie the high rate of moral failure among planters to this expression, that is not what was meant. Twenty five years ago I heard a missionary describing the difference between a stateside and an international missionary (in our denomination). While they both serve the same purpose in different cultures, an international missionary gets a halo and a furlough. It was always more “sexy” to be a missionary in China than Chicago. Whether that sexiness is associated with the adventurous and entrepreneurial nature of planting or the perception of how attractive or appealing it is as opposed to traditional ministry, I’ll leave for others to debate.
When my travel bridges a weekend, I like to visit relatively new churches. I do so not just in the hope of learning something new, but because there tends to be an excitement, freshness, enthusiasm among the people. Without exception, they are meeting in temporary facilities in which setup and take-down are a weekly challenge. They will always be dreaming about a more permanent home in which to spread the excitement and expand the kingdom without the weekly headache. When they do, a funny thing happens.
Last week a planter of six year shared with me that he had transitioned from planter, to pastor, to shepherd. It is in those kinds of shifts that the sexiness wear off. Unless someone is going to simply be a church planting Johnny Appleseed, the test of influence will not be in the starting power, but the staying power. Much like a marriage, the most exciting years are the naive ones (the honeymoon), the most challenging years are the birthing, raising ones, but the most satisfying years are the mature ones where you get to see the spiritual offspring of multiple generations.