Rearview Mirror: On Planting a Church #6

It’s the question I get asked most often by young, aspiring church planters: “If you had to do it over again, what would you do—or not do—differently?” It is in answer to that question that I’ve been using my “rearview mirror” perspective. So today, here’s installment #6, with the previous five being prioritize preachingplace a premium on prayerkeep preaching, praying, and pastoring connectedembed shared authority into your DNA, and avoid the tendency to copy.

6. Think systems, not situations. You’ll always be changing how you do things if you base your decisions on situations. This isn’t to say we don’t address things specifically, but rather that we should strive for consistency in the specific decisions/situations. And systems — principles, patterns, and procedures that guide us — are one way you can pursue this well. Whether it’s training leaders, counseling people, or hiring staff, your best avenue for consistency is to think systematically, not situationally. Granted — this doesn’t solve every dilemma, but it will ward off most of the ones that could bring about real harm.

For instance, how will you handle reports of abuse? Who receives financial help? What initiates church discipline? How are prayer requests disseminated? How are elders/deacons selected? These are the kinds of issues that require systems. And remember — whether you like it or not, each decision sets a precedence. So if you want to set up good precedence, think systems, not situations.

I recall how we got a base hit on several fronts (such as leadership selection, guest assimilation, membership) and how we fouled off a few pitches at other times (such as member shepherding, leadership accountability, training young preachers). The key is to keep going to the plate for the at-bat! Staying in the batter’s box and thinking (and working) in systems is more difficult in the short term, but in the long-term it is more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone involved. Church planters need to be willing to constantly evaluate — keep their eye on the ball — not just what needs they are addressing, but how they are addressing those needs. This is the kind of “super-vision” (i.e., seeing beyond the immediate) that pays great dividends over the long haul.

Here’s the good news — you won’t know all the systems that are needed in advance, so don’t spend countless hours trying to “catch” every possibility or scenario in a policy manual or guidebook before you act. Instead, brainstorm with your team the areas where, in your unique culture, holes are most likely, then move forward with a system based on what you do know, not tabled because of what you don’t know. Act! And when you spot the gaps, address them. I have always been humbly amazed how patiently people work with me when I’m honest about the “holes” in a specific process. It’s when I try to protect the status quo — acting like a broken system has no leaks — that frustrations build within sheep and shepherds.

Rearview Mirror #7

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