What Perth needs is some more patronising churches

Ok, ok, it sounds more inflammatory than it is supposed to.  Greg Lee from Hunter Bible Church made the comment during the recent Catalyst Church Planting Conference here in Perth.  Of course he means churches that are patrons – benefactors – rather than big successful churches that pat little churches – struggling or otherwise – on the head and say “There, there, the last thing I want to do is patronise you.” Many young, brilliant painters, artistes and musicians had wealthy patrons who saw it as their role to ensure the art/music of the bright young thing made it to the gallery or stage.  Why not young church planters?

So what did Greg mean when using the term in church planting?  He meant that in order to break through some of the inertia in Perth, insofar as church planting is concerned, Perth probably needs a few “wealthy” churches to get things going. And don’t misunderstand “wealthy” either.  It’s not about money – at least not simply about money – but more about churches that have “church planting capital” – the ability and desire to seed and support the church planting initiatives that a growing city like Perth needs.  After all there are likely some pretty wealthy churches in Perth that have no vision or desire to see churches planted per se.  But wealth in terms of experience, vision, capacity to help planters, Jesus-focused, Bible teaching, evangelistically-oriented and desirous to see churches planted? Yes please!

So why are patron churches so important in Perth?

The GreenHouse Effect

Firstly we need these “patronising churches” to birth the next generation of church planters by giving them a safe greenhouse to grow in.  We are asking here in Perth, “Where is the up and coming generation of church planters?”  The question may be the wrong way around.  Perhaps it should be “Where are the up and coming church planting churches?”  Now there are one or two, but in my opinion we need about five or six of these larger beasts to break the inertia. It’s all well and good to call young guys to plant, but we need some hubs from which they can go out from. It is typical for new church plants to prioritise planting by giving a percentage of the budget to it, but for a larger established church to prioritise its mission in Perth by doing so would make a real difference.  After all 8% of a 100 thousand dollar budget is one thing, but 8% of a million?  Now that would make a dent!

Safety Net

Secondly there is the safety net that such a hub can provide. Whilst we have to take advantage of networks such as 121 Degrees here in Perth, and The Geneva Push nationally, it’s on-the-ground financially and relationally linked interest that is going to be the most effective monitor of how things are going for the plant and planter. Networks do not tend to know planters historically in the same way that people who have trained and mentored the planter as a staff member and potential planter know them.  At the moment it often seems to be that planters decide, either in college, or at some stage in a relatively disinterested mother church, that they want to plant.  There are enough hoops to jump as it is without the hoops of no experience or no previous model.

Building Solid Teams

How many plants fall apart when team leaders/members realise they don’t know each other as well as they thought they did? Patrons could identify gifted people who, while not having all of the gifts necessary to plant, could with someone else plant a healthy church. I firmly believe we need to expose the primary model of solo hard core planter for what it often has become by caricature: a theologised version of rugged American Individualism.  I am involved in a church plant, but I am no lone planter – I simply don’t have the requisite gifts.  But with the right guy alongside who complements my gifts and we are a formidable team.  That, however, takes time, and too many plants act in haste and repent at leisure in smoke and ashes.  Ideally I would like to see this process begin with guys coming through theological colleges, but the evidence is that most colleges are neither attracting potential planters or producing them at the end of their degrees.

 Research and Development

A big traditionally-styled church planting church will plant churches that aim to grow to be big traditionally-styled churches, right? Wrong.  Patron churches need to remember the hermeneutical adage “Always let your context be your guide” (with thanks to the great Dr Allan Chapple for that one – Ed). In other words if the context says Missional Community focus (inner city/new migrants/overseas students) then allow the plant to start up that way.  To echo the increasingly popular book title: as the vine grows build the trellis that will support it. Big churches often overlook the liberty they have to “take a hit for the team” and allow something riskier than they might do to develop.  If our trust is in the Lord Jesus and not our model of church then something good might just happen. Not that every setting will require MC style plants.  A regional hub may have no effective pulpit in the town.  Find the preacher who is a gatherer of people, plant him with a team and let it grow as he preaches the whole counsel of God over the course of a year or two.

Appreciate your thoughts on all this.  Any additions to my, admittedly minimal list, would be welcome.