Well, this is the last in the series, a series that started off with some musings about my missional church exploration over the past decade, but which took on a life of its own somehow. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to everyone who commented on it either publicly, privately or face to face. Apart from one blog post last year I don’t think I’ve had this much feedback before from anything I have written. I’m grateful to God for his people and encouraged by the manner in which so many of you serve Him faithfully in your work places, homes, church places and all those little places in between that make up our lives.
So a final flourish. Ten tips from ten years in the missional church planting scene. Doubtless there could be a hundred, and I’ll think of a better ten tomorrow, but as it stands these have been important for me. So in no particular order….
1. Listen to Your Spouse. Church planting blokes, when your wife says “I’m for you, but I’m not sure about that”, don’t read the second part of her statement to mean “I am not for you” and don’t read the first part of her statement to mean “Go ahead and do it anyway.” Jill’s wise counsel has been a great guide, but in some critical stages I only took it after the event! God created her as a helper for me for the simple reason that I need help! I am learning to listen to her more readily.
2. Make God Big. Well He is, but make sure you know it. When God is big people will not be small, they’ll just be the right size. You won’t fear them and you won’t despise them. People will not be able to cajole you or force you to do what they want. God’s bigness will remind you that his approval is all the approval you ultimately need. That’s hard to believe at first, but it’s ultimately liberating. Oh, and since God is that big for them as well, they don’t need your approval either, so don’t withhold it for less than honourable purposes or use it as a weapon to get what you want.
3. Let Context Guide You. A wise man said that to me about biblical interpretation. It’s also true in church planting. Don’t rush into a one-size-fits-all model from the latest trending book, take time to understand your local context; it’s rhythms, patterns, behaviour and culture. That’s Missionary Studies 101, but you’d be surprised at how many supposedly culturally savvy hip young things rush in to church plant with cultural blinkers on.
4. Get Out If You Have To. Just last night someone told me that he left a harsh, overbearing Christian group after more than a decade. It took a while to do it. It never looks possible to do before you leave, and always looks like something you should have done years before when you actually do. The opprobrium, invective and shunning you receive upon leaving will simply confirm you made the right choice.
5. Don’t Just Serve Jesus, Love Him. I heard another wise man last year gently chide a fine group of evangelical church leaders here in Oz for constantly talking the language of serving Jesus, but rarely expressing in unabashed language their love for him! Many of us in the reformed movement read the Puritans, but those heroes wouldn’t recognise the formal, at times stilted language we use to talk about our great Lord and Saviour. They were positively florid in how they spoke of him! Maybe that’s just a conservative evangelical problem, I don’t know. As we are wont to say in terms of the gospel, “The things that go without saying need to be said.” If you haven’t told Jesus how much you love him recently, or told others how much you love him, get cracking!
6. Rest. The number of burnt out ministry leaders and their spouses that go through the doors of a therapist these days is astonishing. The number of ex-leaders and their spouses on medication is worrying. Leaders too often seem unable to detach from their roles, either in practice or identity. The smart phone is a really good way of staying connected to everyone all of the time – except for your family. Maybe the small group that really needs most of your time this next month is the one sitting around the breakfast bar every morning. If you’re out to dinner, or on holidays with your family then rest! Enjoy it! Don’t preach grace and practice works. You can hardly offer your people the rest that Jesus provides when you’re frantically “on” all the time. (Still learning this one the hard way!)
7. Surround Yourself With A Few “No” Men. Bad leaders, brittle leaders, insecure leaders surround themselves with “yes” men. They constantly fear someone rising above their own level of competence in any given area. You need a few “no” men in your life who can look you in the face and say, as several have said to me “Steve, sort it out!” If all your leaders are are a rubber stamp for your ideas, you’re well on the way to being a personality cult. Besides, it’s a pragmatic thing; your church plant or ministry will never rise above your own weakest area, and if you won’t supplement those areas, then things will slowly decline.
8. The Church Has a Saviour Already. And it’s not you.
9. Not All Networks Work. The classic mistake for church planters is to sign up quickly to a network. Networks can be good, but only if they work – for you. Networks are springing up to fill the hole left by denominations as church planting takes on an independent edge. Some are good, some are bad, and some are more work than any network has the right to be. If you think that it’s helping you by joining a network then join. If it’s primarily helping them, and you’re going to get caught up in yet another round of meetings/have to’s/committees, etc, then either opt out or make your intentions clear at the start.
10. See Point One
Thanks for spending the time on this series. It’s been a blast.
I have read your missional series with great interest as a pastor who has avidly pursued the missional approach to ministry. Your ten year odyssey was filled with important discoveries, and I was hoping that by the end you would have some concluding observations about the missional movement today. Instead, your ten tips were way too general and could apply to any ministry setting. I think you need to dig deeper and come up with another list of observations about missional ministry. After all, you paid the price to do church planting differently; now, what have you learned? Perhaps the closest you came to delivering an evaluation is your description of mashable ministry, along with the collapse of the emerging church. So, go ahead and make some summary statements. Where is the missional movement today? Is it actually a hybrid of traditional and experimental? How would you advise someone starting out today who wants to create a missional church?
Steve, thanks for allowing us into your experiences and musings in recent posts. It’s been a great read and your humility and openness has been compelling.
These ‘top 10’ are excellent. They equally apply to all ministry/mission contexts too…I’ll mull over these for some time.
I loved #8. Reminds me of Monty Python, with a little poetic licence thrown in:
“He’s not the messiah – he’s a very naughty boy [who needs one].”
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