I was pretty burnt out after finishing a six year stint at a local Baptist church. Not that there was anything wrong with it, as Seinfeld once said, it was more a case of me being that little bit too driven. So I took a year out. A year out to refill the gas tank, so to speak. I had been thinking a lot about church planting in the year or two leading up to the burn out, or more to the point, thinking about why the current expressions of church were struggling to be missional and evangelistic, despite the resources on hand. A year to recharge was what I needed, 12 months to refuel the gas tank, before heading off in a totally new direction. How did that work out? More of that later.
But I bring this up because I was in conversation recently with someone who works in an older traditional church setting and he commented that he feels that church planting may be the way to go for him. However, at the moment, he’s feeling pretty empty. Not spiritually. Spiritually he feels like things are going ok, but empty as in “I don’t think I can do this gig at this pace and in this way for that much longer.” He then commented that he was thinking of planting “after he takes a year or so to refill the gas tank.”
Stop right there. Scroll back up to the top of the page. See that still-shot from the famous road movie Thelma and Louise? Remember that scene? Cornered, nowhere to go, enemies and friends pursuing them to bring them back home. And what do they do? They drive right on over the edge of the canyon. A stunning end to a stunning movie. Now let me ask the question: Do you think they had a full gas tank when they went over the edge of that cliff? Was it ULP? Was it high octane? Does it matter? We see the problem immediately: taking a vehicle over the edge of a cliff is only safe and wise and the solution to the problem, if the vehicle in question is a plane. A full gas tank in a car simply guarantees a bigger fireball on the rocks below.
Church planting in the past five years has come off the boil. It used to be the new black – the thing many people wanted to do. And it still has its adherents. But I suspect many people who decided to go into it were, like that friend of mine, a little low on fuel, struggling to want to keep going in a church setting that they felt was no longer missional and evangelistic: a setting that had lost its primary raison d’être. However, if that is you, before the words “church planting” slide off your tongue too easily, ask yourself this question: Am I an automobile or an aeroplane?” You see, if you don’t have the gift mix for church planting, if the lonely grind of it is not how you are wired, if the lack of resources doesn’t fire you with a passion, if the inertia of the first few years would worry you, then remember, no matter how long you take to refill the tank, that full tank of gas is not going to stop you crashing on the rocks below if you are a car and not a plane. I am not saying that God cannot equip us for the task he may have called us to, but as a wise friend once told me, you can’t conjure up a gift that God hasn’t given to you. Cobbling together an aeroplane from car parts won’t make it any more aerodynamic.
So what’s the solution? Spend that refuelling time getting an honest appraisal of whether you are a car or a plane. Pray. Ask God to reveal to you your gifts – and your motives. Ask others. Get a Geneva Push assessment if you are here in Australia. Explore different models of planting – and jettison the rugged individualist model that has been foist upon us from the States, if you have to. Check out a recent plant that might be lacking in the gifts you have. Perhaps you are, as I found myself to be, not the start-up bloke after all, and more the Two IC, who can copilot the aerodynamic jet fighter that someone else has gotten into the sky. Whatever it is you plan to do, be HONEST about yourself, because no amount of fuel is enough, if your engine is built for the road and not for the clouds.