Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Developing People, Planting Churches

I just talked to José Antonio on the phone for a while. Toño Muñoz fell while trying to climb over the wall of his house late Saturday evening (long story), broke his arm and dislocated his wrist. He clarified that the rumor that he was in a drunken stupor IS NOT TRUE! Funny guy. Ha Ha Ha Ha. He's involved in a course in Bible Interpretation Saturday, Sept. 26 here in Ixtapaluca, and I wanted to make sure he was still up to it. Charge on, he said.

Our conversation solidified certain basic precepts that I hold regarding church planting and leadership in general. I'll try to summarize.

Much of the success or failure in church planting can be traced to missionary and national leadership. If we assume that the ultimate goal is to leave national leadership in a place, then how do we train future leaders and pastors? And how should that transition from missionary to national leadership take place?

One option is formal training. This is a great option in many respects, and if possible should be pursued. You want someone in leadership who knows the Bible. What often comes with this option, however, is the obligation of paying a full-time pastor to lead the church. New church plants seldom have the resources necessary for keeping a roof over someone's head and food on the table. It's tough. There's also the issue of where to meet. Almost always, a new church has to decide between renting a facility or paying a pastor. As the church grows, and years pass, a full or part-time paid pastor is necessary to adequately care for the flock. But what do you do in the meantime? And how do you keep a church growing and healthy until such a time that the congregation can be self-sustained? Tough questions.

There are no perfect answers. Every situation is different. Here's some thoughts.

1. Potential future leaders/elders/pastors should be considered from the get-go. Who, Lord willing, is going to continue with this ministry after the missionary moves on (as he should) to start another work? You will probably not find a perfect man or couple, but you probably will find someone with the desire and call of God on their heart. As I write these words, I'm thinking about myself. My way of learning was to make every possible mistake, and then figure it out. I suspect others are like me. This man/couple may or may not have theological education. If such learning is lacking, supplemental learning has to take place. This can come from a variety of sources.

2. Communicate. Inspire. Share the vision. Be as inclusive as possible, capturing and involving human and financial resources, both national and international. Find ways to connect people's passions to the ultimate goal of the church planting project. Integrate teachers and toddlers, students and stockbrokers, doctors and dump trucks.

3. Let relationships flourish. As soon as possible, try to facilitate a connection between nationals and nationals, and international visitors and nationals. Intentionally seek to create a spiritually-focus social network of Christ-centered friendship, that has God's work in establishing churches as its touchstone.

4. Be a community organizer. The more I think about it, the more this description fits (or should fit) a church planter. A missionary needs to have good relationships with the police, the local press and the mall administrators. He should have contacts in the local municipality. The ministry of the local church should be known and respected among the community. The church building should be a beehive of community-oriented activities (music classes, English classes, sports). If the church only has Sunday morning to offer to the community, it will likely become ingrown and stay small.

5. Buy a building or a plot of land as soon as possible. Use outside (foreign) money if you need to, and you will probably need to. Let the new church take over the mortgage as soon as possible. Start small. Put a sign up. Establish a public, community witness. THIS is where all the excitement is. This is where you want to be. God is good, and this community of people is like none other you've ever encountered.

6. Just do it. Planning and strategy all have their place. A church planting team needs to know why and how and where and when different goals are to be met. But ultimately God directs in the ebb and flow of ministry itself. We prepare for the future by doing ministry today. If we wait till we are ready, vast amounts of spiritual energy are lost, and people who could be plugged in and functioning get complacent and bored. The model for ministry is not excellence, but impact. The missionary's main job becomes assuring doctrinal accuracy, providing sufficient detail and planning to those who need it, and managing divergent ministries. Ultimately, a missionary leads by example. He or she is up to his neck in it all, not directing from the sidelines, but showing the way in the huddle.

No comments: