Rearview Mirror: On Planting a Church #7

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 #7, with the previous six being prioritize preachingplace a premium on prayerkeep preaching, praying, and pastoring connectedembed shared authority into your DNA, avoid the tendency to copy, and think systems, not situations.

7. Structure for growth and impact beyond where you are. Probably one of the more evident things we did early on was expect growth and plan on it. And not because we thought we were good, but rather because God’s call was so strong. I personally believe people can sense when you’re leading from a deep call (as opposed to leading with a finger in the wind), and that type of leadership, which is actually radical followership, is attractive and compelling. Knowing that God had called us to this church plant and that we had no choice but to follow, we simply believed he would do what he promised — build the church. So we led with that humble confidence.

Don’t think I’m saying that Jesus ‘building his church’ means your church will grow in its membership numerically till the Millennium. I’m not. But I am saying all churches Jesus builds will impact their surroundings significantly. Making disciples — seeing God save people, seeing those people baptized and taught, then seeing those people obediently reproduce — is’t simply something that needs to happen (like we’re trying to convince people to “buy in” to God’s sales technique for global evangelization); in Jesus-built churches, it will happen. The power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, the supernatural effects of the Word of God, the visible evidence of God’s people worshiping authentically and passionately — these are some of the avenues in which God sovereignly and inevitably “shows up” and invades our lives with his saving, sanctifying grace (Titus 2). As we’ve said for years, God’s people gifted for God’s purposes will result in God’s power.  Simply put, this is what we expected, so we structured for it from the outset.

This ‘impact mentality’ showed up in a number of ways: Here are 5 simple examples:

  • How extensive we formed our first staff. We began with myself, a part-time staffer in each ministry division, plus an office manager. All total, that was a staff of seven on day one. All of those positions became full-time eventually, and many of those same people were the ones who enjoyed the journey of growth and impact we took together.
  • When we planned our service times. We started with an early service so we could intentionally add a later service. And 3 months after launch day, we did exactly that. Not because we necessarily had to then, but because we knew would have to later. Sure enough, both filled up.
  • How we formed our budget. Investing in missions and prioritizing global issues helped all of us realize there’s more going on than just what we see here. Sure, we knew we had to be good stewards of our “Jerusalem” responsibilities, but we also knew God could send us wherever else he wanted as well. Would we be ready when he did exactly that?
  • What we expected in our small group leaders. What I mean here is that duplication was — and is – the norm. Why? Because “your group will impact people and grow, so be ready.” At FFC, having a co-leader or up-and-coming trainee is vital to a continuing impact.
  • How we asked people to serve. There’s no doubt that the ‘word on the street’ regarding FFC is that we’re somewhat intense. There are probably multiple reasons for this, but one is that we intentionally and consistently ask people to invest time in serving others. Why? Because it’s the normal expectation of a Christ follower (Phil. 2:1-4).

Practically speaking, here’s why we structured for what we knew would happen (future) as opposed to what was happening (present): Transitions are where churches lose ground. This is true when it comes to staff, small groups, systems — you name it, you’ll discover it’s true — It’s the transitions that trip us. But because you can’t avoid transitions, you have to work to minimize their effect. And one of the ways you can do this is by structuring, as best you can, for what is to come, not just what is there.

In a word, this is simply vision. Seeing and believing what God could do, then living and leading in such a way that those around you get glimpses of what’s to come, not just what is. After all, as one church planter told us with a chuckle, “If you don’t see it before they see it, they’ll never see it. So once you see it, start saying it and take steps towards it.” (I could parse that phrase technically/theologically, but I think you get the drift. Relax!)

Your turn. Do you think “visionary expectations” border too closely to “prideful presumption”?  How have you taken steps towards making vision a reality even before it’s fully seen? Thoughts? Comments?

Rearview Mirror #8

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