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Church Plant Update: An Ending

Posted by thethousandmarch on October 7, 2011 at 7:20 PM

We’ve decided to put our Sunday night service on an indefinite hiatus. This doesn’t really mean our church has ended, because the church community we built will certainly still exist and we will still be involved in each others’ lives doing the work of the Church in informal ways. Also, we plan on starting up a Bible study soon. Still, our first chapter has come to a close.

This summer we made a substantial effort to organize some outreach events involving the two other churches we share the building with. A couple of the things we did turned out well, but there were a couple things we tried to do that we couldn’t get enough people (or in some cases anyone from the other churches) interested in. Those things we did accomplish did not result in any numbers growth for our Sunday night service – which we needed in order for our service to get to a point where it could really be sustainable.

We’ve had a number of people come to our service once – sometimes even twice – say they liked it and that they planned to come again, yet they never did return. I don’t think they were being disingenuous when they said they liked the service. I think that our core group was too small (it didn’t help that we even lost a couple of them as well), I think most people felt uncomfortable. It was too intimate; we actually had a guy come once who upon seeing our group immediately turned and walked out even though both Jessi and I had said hello to him. So, lesson one: it’s helpful to start with a group which is large enough to allow shy people a more easy entry. I don’t know how many people that is, but it’s probably more than five. Of course if you’re trying to just plant a small house church this isn’t really important, partly because no one is going to come into the group without already having a relationship with someone in the group.

It would have probably also helped if we had had someone to help us with instrumental accompaniment for our worship songs. We mostly just sang a cappella, which worked fine for us, but probably isn’t the most comfortable way for people to worship in a small group. (I really need to practice my guitar playing.) Yet, if you are going to do things a cappella, hymns work much better than worship choruses – though again not the most popular thing to do. The biggest problem with hymns is not that they aren’t popular, it’s that they are more difficult to sing and most people just don’t know them so it’s not very accessible for newcomers.

Here are some other lessons I learned from our church plant:

I still believe it is a good thing for churches to organize outreach events, however these events cannot be the foundation of a community’s outreach, they must be an outgrowth of who the community members’ are – their gifts, talents, experience, interests, passion,10 calling. I suppose a good leader is someone who is able to discover what these are. The good leader is then able to strengthen, direct and feed these passions so that people grow rather than burn out. If the people in a community aren’t interested in seeing something happen, it’s not going to happen.

The two other churches we are associated with do a lot to help people. They do more than many churches. It’s incredible to me how many people who have become Christians through these churches are people who most would have thought were beyond hope. These are certainly ‘missional’ churches. However, when Jessi and I tried to do some new things, we didn’t get much support. At first I interpreted this as lack of interest in evangelism and outreach; now I realize we just tried to do things that weren’t in line with who the people in these churches were. It’s not as if these people aren’t sharing the good news of Jesus and his love with others, they just aren’t doing it the way I would do it. But, I’m not doing it the way they are either. We each in our own way accomplish different things. This is an important lesson for me to remember: just because people aren’t interested in doing what I want to do doesn’t mean they aren’t doing something important. If I wanted to be more involved in helping in the outreach of these churches it would be better for me to join them in what they are already doing, rather than trying to get them to do something new that I want.

Something else I had learned before, but lost sight of recently, is that most evangelism is uneventful. It should take place during the simple day to day interactions of the Christian’s normal life. I think many pastors, and Christians in general, have lost sight of this. Why? For me it was because I was leading an organized church service and wanted to feel like we were doing something. By organizing events I could measure and control something (sort of).

Traditional churches and even emerging churches who are trying to be ‘missional’ usually focus upon institutional organized events. It doesn’t really matter what the event is. It could be a VBS, some form of justice ministry, or a poetry reading. It could be something traditional, or new and innovative, but if it’s an event, or program it is attractional in nature. This is something I realized a couple months ago (see my post What Does it Mean to be Missional; or Is Being Attractional Bad), but I didn’t understand all the implications of this idea at the time. Everything that an institution does is attractional in some way – which doesn’t mean they’re bad, it’s just their nature.

Church leaders and followers tend to think evangelism is mainly about organized church outreach events and programs, but this is only one and a very small aspect of evangelism. This doesn’t mean a church community can’t ever organize an event, but people need to remember this is only one aspect of outreach. Instead of focusing on organized events we should focus on discipleship; preparing each member of the church to go out into the world and share Jesus’ love and good news with the people they encounter. We need to teach people how to intentionally live their lives in such a way that they live as ambassadors for God’s Kingdom. This is simple (though not easy), it’s not impressive, it doesn’t often look like much is happening, but it’s where most evangelism really needs to happen. This is how the church acts in a missional way. This is impossible to measure and isn’t really going to draw a lot of attention to itself. It’s hard for a pastor to promote his church or himself if he isn’t leading some grand scheme.

Unfortunately, because church leaders feel a need to organize events and programs, what happens is that we try to pile a whole lot of stuff on top of people’s already busy lives. It’s overwhelming. That’s why it’s so hard to get people involved. So instead of constantly nagging people to get involved in our stuff, we should simply prepare them to do the work God calls them to in their normal lives (which for some people may mean getting involved in something organized by their church, e.g. a preschool). This is part of what we call discipleship. And discipleship – training, teaching, equipping, encouraging, disciplining, reminding disciples of their forgiveness and freedom from sin – is the primary role of the pastor. However, many pastors have neglected this role. Instead of preparing their congregation to do the work of the church, they organize outreach events, programs and gatherings. Instead of preparing their congregation to share the good news of Jesus, they try to use their congregants just to get people into their church building so they can do all the proclamation work.

As well, unlike the Apostles who said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. . .” (Acts 6:2), they try to perform the duties of a deacon as well as the duties of a pastor. Now the job of a deacon is important. The Apostle’s didn’t say: we don’t have time to take care of widows – screw ‘em. They said we can’t do everything – appoint others who are filled with the spirit to take care of the widows, because it’s really important and needs to be done. We need deacons in the church. These people first of all make sure that the needs of everyone in the church are taken care of. Then they do what they can to help others outside of the church. They run the programs that take care of peoples’ physical needs – what we might call the social and/or justice ministries. These are the organized programs that many people may think are part of, or are the main thrust of a churches outreach and evangelistic ministries. They may be a way to reach out to others, they may result in evangelism, but they are first and foremost a part of our responsibilities as a church to love our members and our neighbors. But, because these are often the more visible and tangible works an institutional church does the pastor wants to be part of running them; it looks good and we just confuse the work of the deacons with the work of the pastors.

So this is another one of the things I’ve learned. As a pastor my job is the ministry of the word – and as Acts 6 teaches me, prayer. (I really need to pray more.) My job is not organizing outreach events. My job is not community development (unless we mean helping to develop the church community, which might be part of my job). My job is not changing society, or cultural warfare. My primary job as a pastor is not taking care of the physical needs of others. As a human I still have a responsibility to love others, which includes caring for the physical needs of others. Yet, as a pastor I need to give responsibility to, and with that trust, the deacons in the community I’m a part of to take care of administering the physical services the church may provide. I think that in our rush to become “missional” we’ve taken a lot of what should actually be the ministry of the deacons, given it to the pastor and then called it evangelism – or “living the gospel”.

Now I do believe that as we live our lives in ways consistent with the values of God’s kingdom we demonstrate the good news Jesus proclaimed, the kingdom of God is upon us. But, this is not primarily the work of the institutional church to perform through the organization and sponsorship of programs, events, or political involvement. This is the work of the people who make up the Church. Furthermore, it’s not the pastor’s responsibility to ensure that the physical needs of others are met. The job of the pastor is to prepare each member of the congregation to . . . “use whatever gift [they] have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). The members of each church spread throughout the broader society perform the seemingly mundane, uneventful, immeasurable, usually unnoticed work of sharing Jesus’ love especially the good news that he loved us by taking away our sins and making it possible for us to be reconciled with God.

The deacons are responsible for doing what they can to take care of peoples’ physical needs. Their primary responsibility is the members of their own congregation. The pastors and the deacons shouldn’t expect everyone to take part in their programs and events. They shouldn’t accuse people of not being missional if they don’t sign up for helping to feed the homeless. They shouldn’t accuse people of not doing evangelism, just because they don’t want to take part in the street mime ministry. We’ve all got our own stuff going on – so instead of taking people out of what they’re doing, we need to equip them to be stewards of the grace they’ve received in its various forms right where they are at. The lesson I learned was this: I need to do my job and let others do theirs; as long as I do my job I know I’ve been faithful to what God has called me to do and I don’t have to worry about anything else. I think two of the best things I did as a pastor in regards to being missional were clearly teaching and reminded my fellow believers of the good news of Jesus Christ every Sunday, and conducting a discipleship class on evangelism – which included some field work.

So, even though our church plant may look like a failure in some sense, I learned a lot, I believe we accomplished some good things and I believe we were faithful (in the best way we knew) to what God called us to do.

Categories: Church Planting, Evangelism, Being Missional