October 13, 2011

Cautions for Church Planters

by Eric Davis

There can be no doubt that the fulfillment of the Great Commission is disciple-making, and that should result in the planting of local churches. Not long after the church was born on Pentecost, church-planting became the chief endeavor for the Apostle Paul and his team as they were chased around the Roman Empire. If evangelism is the flower of the church, it is seen blooming when new churches are planted.

Thankfully, there is a church-planting movement in evangelicalism today, for which we ought to praise God.

Church-planting is a unique opportunity for many reasons. Your planting team gets to set the doctrinal direction and philosophy of ministry from ground up. Simultaneously there is an unmatched excitement in seeing Christ build his church first-hand.

But the reality is that with this trend, church-planting is becoming a glamorous ministry fad. It’s fashionable to be identified as a “church-planter.” With all the excitement and rush to get new churches off the ground, the movement is becoming hasty and careless, both from pulpits and in pews.

Having personally made many mistakes in my short time of church-planting (with more to come, I’m sure), I want to give a few cautions for us fledgling-planters. It’s always hard to rightly identify where we are off course in the midst of the storm, and it is especially difficult to see an error in direction when there is not a history to see it against. If we are going to plant lasting churches that endure, some adjustments need to be made which will stabilize us for the long-haul.

This is by no means an exhaustive survey of contemporary church-planting errors, but a brief summary of cautions to help ensure we plant in the right direction. These cautions are not restricted to church-planting, of course. But the prominence and consequences in planting will be the focus.

First, there seems to be a temptation towards, and permission of, pragmatism in church-planting ministry that is unmatched elsewhere. And the reasons are, in part, understandable. Once a fledgling-planter lands in his town, the shock quickly sets in of having nothing, while other plants across the country seem to be going from 10 to 1000 in a year. The lure to grab whatever model seems to be working is powerful and blinding. It is easy to simply imitate any guy that seems to be a fashionable planter evidenced by his filled pews.

Second, there is a dangerous de-emphasis of sanctification happening in contemporary church-planting. Many healthy discussions are happening around the topic of evangelism and missional living. To be sure, this is a joyful non-negotiable. However, there seems to be tendency to over-emphasize mission to the detriment of sanctification. Mission-olatry is strangling sanctification. Spirituality is being labeled as outward, but not inward. Prominence is given to mission over maturity. And when that happens, the dangerous result is a mission that is no longer relevant.

Third, there seems to be a de-emphasis of the Sunday gathering and expository preaching. It’s easy to make dangerous dichotomies like, “We’re more about being missional, you’re more about a pulpit.” That sounds catchy, but has destructive consequences in church-planting.

Fourth, church-planting is easily hijacked as a means to prove oneself in ministry. J.C. Ryle said that the heart of a young man is the perfect field for pride to flourish. While it is certainly exciting, and even right, for qualified young men to be planting churches, the allure to affirm oneself in church-planting is dangerously great. Church-planting offers an enticing opportunity for entrepreneurialism; to get one’s name in evangelical-lights. No one is above this temptation, and certainly not a young man who seems to be filling seats exponentially.

Over the next few weeks I’ll look more closely at each of these temptations individually, while looking at the repercussions of these easily-committed errors. Those articles will be linked here when they go up.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
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  • D Drouhard

    These are good cautions for more “mature” churches to beware of as well. Looking forward to the subsequent articles.

  • jmarinara

    RE: Your last caution; “getting one’s name in evangelical lights.”

    I have to be honest, I don’t know one single church planter and I’m not real sure if someone were to introduce oneself to me, proudly beaming as planting a bunch of churches, if it would make one iota of difference to how I felt about them. Moreover, I’m not sure I’d feel better about myself if I were a church planter simply because I planted “x number of churches” with “x number of members”. It just doesn’t seem like something that proves you’ve “made your chops” so to speak.

    I remember a staff member of my church telling me that he was considering leaving to join a church planting ministry. My only real thought on the subject was that I thought it was a dumb move because he clearly had a lot of work in front of him in his current position and I could see no real indication that God desired someone else to do that work.

    I don’t know, maybe I’m a weirdo. Yes, that’s probably the case. 🙂

    Just discovered your blog over the past few weeks. I want to encourage you that it’s been an enjoyable and edifying read so far. I check in daily.

    • Daniel Leake

      If I may; I understand you thinking this is an uncommon issue. However I agree with Eric that it is a big issue nowadays. I think that church-planters as individuals aren’t famous in the way that, say, John Piper is; its more that the title or occupation of “church-planter” is trending right now. It will score major spiritual points in many circles if you say, “I think I want to go do church planting”. As with all trends, it tends to be regional as well I imagine.

    • Eric Davis

      Jmarinara-

      Glad you have been edified by the blog. Thank you for the encouragement.

      As any ministry, church-planting is a huge privilege in the service of Christ. Where we can go wrong, as in any area of life (ministry, career, etc), we can pridefully put more stock in a various earthly/temporary identity rather than being a child of God justified by faith in Christ. There’s nothing wrong with taking joy in the various roles in which we get to live life under Christ here and now, but we can easily invest more in our identity as those things than in just being saved. It’s a fine line.

      Eric

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  • Jerryw

    Absolutely dead-on, Eric! Piercing…Excellent –

    • Jerryw

      Sorry, meant the above comment for your article on “Missionolatry” 🙂

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