August 10, 2012

Doh! Disappointment with Church Planting #1

So when I was asked to run a workshop at the 121 Degrees Church Planting Conference in October 2012  (check it out here and sign up if you would like to come – Ed), I was only too happy to oblige.

How about a workshop called “Disappointment In Church Planting?” the powers-that-be asked me.

“Oh, right.” I said, slightly…what’s the word…slightly disappointed.  “What about ‘Six Steps to Successful Church Planting’ or ‘Church Planting Made Easy’,” I suggested, hoping my voice was sounding sunny.

“Already taken,” was the curt reply, “Besides we feel you could fill the 45 minute slot easily.”

I assured them it would be easy. “I think I could write a book about it,” I added, “I’ve got five chapters on…”

“The workshop will be fine, for now. We know you won’t disappoint us. Bye.”

“Bye, oh another thing…Hello? Hello?”

So where does disappointment spring from in church planting?  When things are not going as you had anticipated them when you got your first core group together? Perhaps core members have left. Perhaps the funding is dwindling. Perhaps “that mob that does not know the law” just won’t sign up to what you want them to do. What’s the root cause of your angst?

There are three options available to us:

1.Disappointment with Self

2.Disappointment with Others

3.Disappointment with God.

My experience tells me that the first two, while often the visible (and vocal) problem are actually symptoms of, and the only acceptable way to voice, the last one: Disappointment with God.

Whatever failure we feel when things don’t go our way, the root cause is so often elder-brother syndrome (and can’t you hear Tim Keller’s North-East Coast baritone when you say “elder brother”? – Ed).  However church planters, being theologically trained (hopefully) know better than to rail against God and say “All these years I have slaved for you and you did not give me a young church that I might celebrate with my friends.”

Instead, when things are a struggle, or when the unthinkable happens and the plant withers at the roots, we beat ourselves up (I’m no good), or we beat others up (they just didn’t get my vision/take my lead/have a heart for the lost/want to be missional).  What we can’t say of course is “God, why did you let me down?” To do so would be to betray the real problem: We were operating under a works-based righteousness, which has outworked itself in the way we have dealt with people, operated ministry, and come out – usually right at the end – in the conversations, sermons and Bible studies we have run.  Our people cannot articulate it as theologically as that, but they can smell  it, and it smells like sulphur.

In my experience the solution is to get radical, and I don’t mean find an even more ninja-style bunch of uber-missional Christians who will do what that lot failed to do. No, I mean go back to the root or origin of the issue – the source of our problem – namely  our misunderstanding and misappropriation of the gospel in our own life. The freedom and forgiveness found in the gospel will liberate us from beating ourselves up or from blaming others. And it will allow us to name the real problem – that we thought the Father was withholding something good from us, when all along – even in the midst of the angst – everything he had was ours.

More on this issue in the next week or so..

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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