Doh! Doh! Disappointment With Church Planting #2

The divorce statistics are skewed by the fact that second marriages have a far higher propensity for failure than first marriages. This is to say nothing about third, fourth and fifth (sixth and seventh in Hollywood – Ed)

This tells us at least two things. First, that marriages subsequent to the first are often a triumph of hope over experience (not always a bad thing!).  But secondly, the issues that plague a person in their first marriage are invariably dragged into their second – unless they are dealt with openly, honestly and, if not decisively, at least in a manner that goes towards resolving them.

The same can be said of church planting.  A church planting friend in the US remarked that he personally knew a number of church planters who, tragically, had ended their lives over severe pressures for which they could see no remedy.

One of his concerns was that people get into church planting as a way of escaping another way of doing/running church that felt like it wasn’t working for them.  They assume that a new model would resolve these issues, and when it doesn’t, where do you turn to next? Yet another model? The real issues are masked by the “new wife”.

I make this observation because, for a while at least, church planting was “the new wife” for many younger, burnt out pastors. I have been involved in church planting groups for about seven or eight years now – long enough to see the gloss come off.  I have attended meetings of burnt out blokes, for whom the daily grind of ministry in a traditional church model was seen as the problem, to which a low-key missional/emerging plant was seen as the solution. A Mac, a local cafe and a group of keen post-conservative Christians seemed to offer salvation. Which of course, it doesn’t.  Only Jesus offers salvation, but, given our natures, we will seek it in any number of places – even good places – rather than in the great place.  We need to run to the right place for our justification.

My experience bears this out. A burn-out in a traditional model a number of years ago precipitated my involvement in church planting. While this was initially with a more emergent group, it settled where I was more theologically aligned – theologically conservative/ecclesiologically radical.  Leaving that group burned rather than burnt out raised the question again: Where do I run for my justification?  We know the answer to that question by where we find ourselves:  New church model/new wife/new whatever. If we don’t find ourselves running to Jesus at that point, then disappointment is sure to be the end result.


  1. Great metaphor – we rarely escape to healing, rather we find it in surrender. I do see value in the conversations and experiments with structural forms of church but have witnessed a similar unhealthy hope in the “new model.” I question how dependent our spiritual growth and formation is dependent on a structure, context, or model as much as it is our willingness to surrender to our pain and conflict and trust that God is present in silence and suffering.

  2. Hi Steve, I got your blog address from Jill, and hope you don’t mind me swinging by occasionally. Well, after that intro: Metaphorically speaking, we know the institution of marriage is more synonymous to an individuals relationship to Christ. I reckon that today’s churches are problematic mainly because we live in a legalistic society. Funny that!! I guess the further we are away from God, the more legality we need. I remember having a year on a a church council and it seemed to me that there was a heap of work to do on a weekly basis. And that was to just stand still, let alone progress. Progress was also problematic because different segments of the church had different vision ideas. I guess that’s a ‘democracy’ problem.

    Sorry that I don’t have any answers, I just see that having a church in our society is really very difficult because we have to operate in a broken world; and that means lot’s of rules are needed; quite right too, as, even though we may be Christians, we are still broken people, needing protection, and needing to be protected from…occasionally.

    Maybe we should just get together for a beer or tea, or a sandwich. Any excuse for a chat. BTW I like your blog and value what Ken said.

    1. Hi Rob
      Thanks for your thoughts – and welcome to the blog. Pertinent point about legality because of our distance from God. And I totally feel the frustration of “standing still” rather than making progress. Let’s have a chat some time (though I don’t think it will over a hair cut!)

  3. Thanks Steve. A helpful article that explains some people’s disappointment with Church Planting … my only comment is that this doesn’t negate the need for starting new effective missional communities that focus on growing disciples … there is a lot that the “church” and we as Christian “leaders” need to discard and relearn in order to do this well.

    1. Hi Mark
      Couldn’t agree more. I think the growing pains for people shifting to missional church settings is their fear of discarding (they feel they may be throwing out too much), and so what invariably happens is that they fail to make a paradigm shift and try to create a hybrid. Time will tell (i.e fifty or so years!)

      1. Yep 🙂 My hope is that somehow I can help create a space where my children and their generation can discover how to be worshippers and missionaries in their time and place without having to deal with the same heavy load of traditions that were laid on me and previous generations at a similar age. Of course they will have to deal with their own stuff, but the gift I hope we can give them is a great foundation in the Word and the freedom to experiment with how they can faithfully express their faith in practice.

      2. Steve,

        I’m curious what you mean by hybrid. For instance, there seems to be a struggle by those who desire a neo-monastic movement model as an expression of missional church to secure validity by the tradition form…and/or perhaps a struggle by the better known historical expression of church to grant validity to these new (renewed) christian communities. I wonder if the hybrid is the result of wanting to be blessed by the traditional model. For instance, I often hear something along the lines of…”We are all supposed to be a missional presence in our community, that doesn’t make it church.” I think the fundamental issue is authority. Monastic groups were recognized as a valid expression of christian community with the authority to lead, disciple, evangelize, serve the poor, etc. Perhaps the question of “Is that church?”, (Or the question behind the question, “Can all my tithes and offerings go here with approval?”) is not so helpful….and I would love to see what is commonly understood to as the church wildly and boldly bless new expressions!

      3. Hi Ken
        Yes – I do think it is a question of authority. The question becomes from whence we derive the authority; the institution or the Bible. If we are leading/discipling/proclaiming the word/administering sacraments/praying/evangelising serving as a community then that is church. It’s hard to see how it is not. The monastic desert traditions started off outsidethe established church because they viewed them as worldly and corrupt, but were soon brought in. So I look forward to the church wildly and boldly blessing new expressions, but institutions being what they are, they will probably wildly and boldly bless them when they are no longer new!

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