Over the past few weeks, two blog posts – both from the Send Institute – have been written about church planting and entrepreneurialism. Their basic point is this: church planting has been inappropriately tied to entrepreneurialism, leaving non-entrepreneurs out of the conversation while also creating leaders destined for “pragmatic, ends-justify-the-means rationalization that produces the dumpster fire that is evangelicalism’s reputation today.”
Both of these articles have their merits, and the broad advice is certainly worth considering. However, like so many things, the arguments levied are reliant on false dichotomies, narrow definitions, and idealism. Before I jump into that conversation, though, let me qualify my point a bit.
From the start, as someone who has church planting experience, please do not consider church planting unless you are specifically called to it, gifted for it, and unable to do anything else because you are so driven toward it by the Spirit. I’m certain both authors would agree with my assertion as well. It is sinfully irresponsible to send people out to church plant who aren’t ready or equipped for the task.
One major concern both articles present is that missional people who aren’t “entrepreneurial” are too often excluded from church planting. They argue, however, that the only thing people really need is “simple sentness.” Thus, anyone from any background is able to plant a church.
Yes, it is true that God is able to do anything with anyone. The Bible is replete with people, animals, and natural wonders that worked towards God’s mission. So on the surface, as in the very tip top, this claim is true.
With that said, the glaring problem with the articles is that these authors construct their argument through false dichotomies. Entrepreneurially-minded church planters are alluded to as prideful, limelight-seekers, and chauvinistic. Missional, non-entrepreneurs are then described as faithful, compassionate, resilient, courageous, and unpretentious.
But where are these characteristic being mined from? I have the privilege of knowing many church planters, and what I’ve found is a group of people who are completely committed to loving God and loving people.
Here’s the thing: when a person or family commits to church planting, it comes with certain costs. Let me use my own story as an example.
When my wife and I felt like God was calling us to start a church, we lived in a beautiful home close to family, and both of us had good, stable employment. Furthermore, we had a one-year-old daughter who benefited from housing, family, and money.
Yet, we were certain about God’s call, so we spent a year fundraising (this needs its own post because fundraising is absolutely crazy), and then we sold our home and most of our possessions to move 1,000 miles away. What was awaiting us in the Boston area was complete uncertainty: would the church ever materialize? Would we have enough money to survive? Would we even be able to make friends?
After being in Boston for a number of months, another major hurdle awaited – I needed to have a psychological evaluation to determine if I had the mental aptitude for the chaos that is church planting. So, I flew from Boston to Houston and rented a car to drive to Texas A&M campus to meet with a psychiatrist for two days. During that time, I was asked every question you can think of, from personal history to my past experiences.
You might be thinking, why bother with that step? Well, because the reality of church planting is not rosebuds and sprinkles. It is a constant grind on the church planter and her or his family, where everything rides on God’s provision.
Once the church did materialize, through the work of countless amazing people, the big payoff was that I would wake-up at 4:30am every Sunday to look over my notes and then arrive at the theater we rented to start setting up at 6am. For a while, when we were in a small theater, I would then speak twice, leading immediately into teardown. All the while, my wife served, too, even right after having our second child.
Are there church planters that fit their narrow description? I’m sure! However, that minority should not define the majority. Moreover, I’ve met many pastors serving existing churches that do abuse their power, exude chauvinism, and seek the limelight.
I’d also be interested to find out if these authors would extend their argument to the general church. Would they, in other words, denounce business entrepreneurs in their churches along the same lines?
The term “church” extends beyond tradition models. Anyone can plant a church if we are willing to let go of the notion that “church” is restricted to paid staff, buildings, programs for every need anyone ever had, denominational politics, etc. These articles, nevertheless, appear to support the traditional church model when discussing church planting. I don’t think that definition is sufficient.
The problem, then, shifts from the role of the pastor to the role of the church member. It is easy to point at pastors and church planters, outlining their shortcomings, when a major issue is that members are less active and less financially invested in the church. Protestantism claims the priesthood of ALL believers, yet the “priesthood” has been outsourced almost entirely to church staff.
The problem is multifarious and requires more than a caring pastor that is void of entrepreneurial skills.
At the first church I served, the constant refrain from the elderly members was that we needed to get back to the that “Old Time Religion.” The prevailing message was that the Spirit used to move in mighty ways but no longer does. If we can just “get back,” then – THEN! – the church will be great again.
That same idea permeates the two articles. The argument is that we need to restore the title “apostle” because it somehow avoids the pitfalls of “entrepreneur.” On the one hand, I completely agree: the Biblical apostles were rewarded for their apostolic efforts by being killed. Church planting is not entirely different.
On the other hand, though, what gifts did Paul possess? He raised money, traveled, preached, encouraged, and started things from scratch – in other words, he was entrepreneurial.
Of course, one of the articles elevates Abram (soon to be Abraham) as a model, which is juxtaposed with the Tower of Babel narrative. While Abraham should be taught and learned from, let’s not miss that this exemplar also offered his wife (sister?) to two kings to save his own hide, and also impregnated his concubine, threw her out, took her back, allowed her to be abused, and then casted her aside for good.
Fast-forward a bit for all the Protestants in the room: read Martin Luther. Really, go for it. It’s hard to miss the overt anti-Semitism from our great, wise, tender founder. Then head over to John Calvin. Read up on his political efforts and authoritative church leadership. Jump ahead to American Christianity. Check out the forefathers of Evangelicalism and Southern Christianity, though you could look anywhere, really. Watch how slaveholders rested on their faith, convinced that God ordained their abuse. How about the other champions: Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Bill Hybels, etc.? Google contemporary leaders with the added key word “money fraud” while you’re at it.
Another clear statement is needed here: We do not need religion gone by – we need the fresh wind of the Spirit.
I’m passionate about this topic because I know the reality of church planting. I’ve experienced the Spirit at work. I’ve watched as new things emerge. But I’ve also experienced depression and doubt and fatigue and pain, the much-more-common church planter acquaintances.
We do not need to simply change the term we use for church planting gifting to fix the much larger problem. In fact, we don’t even need more church planters, at least not if by “church” we mean the traditional model. Times are changing – big productions aren’t as attractive as they once were. Small, intimate spaces where people know each other are.
But is that enough for church planting organizations and denominations? Does the almost zero dollars in offering a dinner church would bring in excite? Does the desire for depth rather than numerical breadth inspire? Does the inability to control theology and practice thrill?
Until those questions are answered, please don’t consider church planting unless you are entrepreneurially-gifted, and even then, still consider any other option. The rewards of church planting are plentiful, but it is sinfully irresponsible to send people out, telling them that they can do it, who don’t have the gifts necessary.
From our Assemblies of God friends:
Every year, over 1 million people in this country start a business. Forty percent of them will close by the end of the first year. Within 5 years, more than 80 percent of them will fail. Of the 20 percent that make it past the first 5 years, 80 percent won’t make it past the second 5.
The statistics are about the same for new churches, and church-planting studies with denominations bear this out.
And the #1 listed reason church plants fail: “Lack of Ministry Gifts.”
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