March 25, 2015

Strengthening Your Core: Solidifying as a Church Plant Core Team-Part 2

by Eric Davis

art and scienceIf you live in a snowy place, you know that snowman-making is both an art and a science. On the art side, things like rocks, charcoal, and sticks creatively transform the burly snow boulders into a grinning, black-teethed happy man with the arms of Jack the Pumpkin king and the body of Santa Claus. But there is also a science to it all.

One of the most critical steps in snowman-making is the big, round base upon which the torso and head of that frosty hominid will rest. We might call that base, the “core” of the snowman-creation process. It starts with one small clump of snow. That snow is then rolled around the yard with the hope that additional snow will adhere and unite with the clump. Sometimes an armful of snow is brought from another portion of the yard and carefully combined to enlarge and strengthen that snowman core.

In the process of strengthening and growing that core-mass, things can get messy. Attempts to adhere other snow to it are not always successful. Not all of the snow sticks. Sometimes things break apart. Sometimes a little added substance like water is needed to create cohesion. Sometimes a firm, but carefully-calculated tamping is necessary at different angles in order to accomplish a measure of adhering and strengthening so that the additional snowman-chunks can be piled on.

strong coreGathering and strengthening a core team for planting and revitalizing churches is not that different. It typically starts small. Especially early on, the core team size and strength may fluctuate. Additional individuals might be added with the hope of genuine and lasting cohesion. It can get messy though. Not all individuals will quickly “stick.” Fractures might develop here and there. It’s all fairly normal. It’s also fairly taxing.

Consequently, building that core team, like the snowman, is going to require a measure of strategy. Bringing about a measure of both cohesion and strength is needed in order to solidify that core team so that it can stand underneath the weight of the church planting and revitalization process. Core teams need a degree of strength themselves so that a healthy church can grow from them.

Often the responsibility to do all of this is laid solely upon the lead planter or revitalizer. He certainly plays a major role. But core team members also have a major responsibility and play a critical part in the process.

Last week, we begin a series looking at the different ways in which core team members in church plants and revitalizations can be as faithful and fruitful as possible in their glorious undertaking. Today, we will conclude the series by looking at six additional ways for church plant and revitalization core teams to be strengthened for their work:

5. Do not expect the lead planter to do all of the outreach.

“And He gave…some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11, 12).

600-01196486erChurch leadership are not called to do all of the ministry. It would be impossible to do so. Rather, they are called to train and coach God’s people to do the ministry. Your lead planter is not the “ministry-putter-onner.” He is the trainer and equipper of the core team so that they do the ministry.

Since that is God’s plan for the church, the time for core teams to begin practicing that and getting it in their church DNA is immediately.

Furthermore, as the core team goes, so goes the church. As the core team sees outreaching as a normal part of their God-given lives, so will those individuals whom God adds to the church. And that’s what we want as a core team.

So, this means that the lead planter ought not do all of the evangelism, visitor follow up, and assimilation, for example. He can’t be in all the places that God has you, as core team members. You are strategically placed throughout the community for God’s glory. You are a critical member of the body of Christ who matters. And you are on a core team, after all. Even more than that, you are a Christian, who is called to be equipped by a pastor for the work of the ministry.

6. Embrace being a jack-of-all-trades.

“And He gave…some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11, 12).

church plantingPaul makes it clear in Ephesians 4:11-16 that every Christian is called to be a ministering member. The approach must be “all hands on deck.” The work of the ministry involves more than we might initially imagine. But it also might be less glamorous than we might imagine.

For that reason, especially during the first few years of the plant or revitalization, the core team will need to embrace a “generalist” mentality. We ought to embrace being competent in just about anything and everything, including (but not limited to!) chair stacking, bin carrying, singing, meal making, guitar playing, announcements, child care, flyer making, etc., etc.

Core teams will be needed in ways that might not perfectly line up with their particular spiritual giftedness. That’s okay. Greatness in God’s economy is about serving, even if what we’re doing didn’t appear on a spiritual gifts test we took. Christ washed feet. Even more, he gave his life as a ransom for us.

7. Regularly invite input from your lead planter/leadership.

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, He will not go to the wise” (Prov. 15:12).

“He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding” (Prov. 15:31-32).

growThere’s a chance that you are not an expert in core-team-ology. If that’s true, then consider taking the initiative to regularly invite input from the lead planter/leadership.

Ask him if he thinks you are a help or hindrance to the team. Ask him how he thinks you could improve and being more faithful part of the church plant. Ask him if he thinks you are more of a help or a hurdle to core team unity. Ask him how you are doing in being “all hands on deck.” Listen. Receive it. Grow. Rejoice.

And if the time comes where you have to be asked to part from the core team, receive that in humility. Do not be that unteachable scoffer (cf. Prov. 15:12). Your leadership is not likely happy about removing anyone from the core team. It probably pains them deeply. But this is a common thing in church planting and revitalization. Further, Christ’s church is about something bigger than us. Way bigger than us. And if we are not a good, strategic fit in a particular place and time in the church, then, for Christ’s glory and the good of souls, we ought to deny ourselves and do whatever is necessary.

8. Don’t expect Pentecost-like results.

“For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).

realistic“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this.’ So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:32-34).

“You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me…” (2 Tim. 1:15).

Few really are being saved. Most prefer First Church of Ear Tickling. Flattery is a hotter pulpit commodity than faithful exposition. Things are going from bad to worse.

This means that core teams will need to have realistic expectations. Do not expect to make headlines as a church plant. Ditch hopes of the town being thrilled at the prospect of a new church. Do not be surprised if, as a core team, you receive scoffing and disdain when you enthusiastically tell people in your town about the church.

Pray big. Plow hard. Stay zealous about the mission. But keep in mind that the way really is narrow and few, not many, find it. Running into trouble as a church plant is about as likely as sparks flying upward.

9. Have fun together.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

Enjoy lifeHaving fun together is not all there is to loving one another. But it is one important component.

We’re human beings made in the image of God. He has made us for laughter, enjoyment, and various forms of recreation. And as God’s world is a gallery of his manifold glory, there are many ways that we can interweave those things to cultivate meaningful biblical relationships with one another.

Core teams might consider taking up a hobby together which others in their community share. Moms may look into different mommy walking, swimming, or hiking groups in their community. Be creative. Look at what your community already does. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Enjoy life together.

During the first several months of the plant, our core team, for example, scheduled different outings together on Sunday afternoons. We looked for ways to take advantage of recreation opportunities conducive to our area. Sometimes we’d go camping or hiking or up to the lake. Also, we did team dinners together every Wednesday, simply to build comradery and enjoy the blessing of good food together. For us, doing these things was instrumental in developing cohesion as a core team.

10. Enjoy being at the forefront of God’s redemptive plan.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).

“[W]ho has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:9-10).

blessedConsider how privileged we are. Every spiritual blessing has been showered down upon us through Christ. Nothing has been withheld. Not even God’s own Son.

God has loudly declared his love for sinners by coming, himself, to propitiate his wrath which we deserve. Christ has come, atoned for sin, risen, and ascended. As God applies that unfathomable work of grace to sinners through faith, Christ builds and blesses one institution: the church.

And now, as a core team, we get to be at the forefront of God’s self-glorifying plan of the universe. We get to be involved in planting a church. Let’s not forget this, but preach it to ourselves every day. We, of all people, are most privileged.

In our church plant, the small core team of ten labored fervently to do these things. Though not perfectly, the ten principles were embraced from day one. Doing so proved central to the strength of the church. The core was able to be added onto without much destabilization and with a measure of reproduction of these principles.

Again, as the core team goes, so goes the church. When the core commits to growing stronger for God’s glory, they will see future individuals following their example. By God’s grace, as they labor to do things wisely as a core team, they will observe those newer souls embracing things like serving, humility, unity, and the mission of Christ as the norm for the Christian life. In doing so, God will see to it that healthy churches are planted and revitalized.

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.
  • MR

    Thanks Eric, this was very encouraging. Although after the winter we’ve had I could have done without the snowman analogy. Maybe next time you can use sandcastles on sunny warm beaches. 😉

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks MR. I trust you are one of the many digging themselves out back east!

  • Adam James Howard

    Good to see the snow cat made it into a post. Good series brother.

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you, Adam. The WWII snow cat is an emblem of God’s grace in our lives, no doubt.

  • dave

    This is a solid post Eric. The methodology of equipping the saints, who equip other saints, while both do the work, is great! A couple comments…#7 Input from the leader can be as scary for the leadership as it is from the one asking for feedback. This would be a hard but necessary step people should be aware of up front. #6 The ones willing to be the Jack of All Trades people in the core team are priceless! We have some who I just give a task and they take it and make it better than I could have. Others are just waiting to have me give them things to do or think about. I need to do a better job of inviting people to consider what we are doing and what needs to be done without my prompting. Our newly articulated vision and mission should help.

    Btw – the Lord has paved the way for us to move into a more conducive space which I didn’t even think existed in our area. That gives us fervor for #9 & #10 as we serve the Lord with joy.

    Question: What would you have done differently in the first two years?

    • Eric Davis

      Dave – Agreed on your comment re: #7. And praise God for those more gifted than us, who take tasks and ministries to the next level. God knows what he is doing in designing the body of Christ.

      And helping each one see, own, and articulate the vision and mission, provided it is biblically based, will position God’s people to be equipped in more effective ways.

      So glad to hear about the new space you received.

      Let me get back to your question about what I’d do different in the first 2 years. That might be a post in the near future. In the meantime, you could read these 2 related posts on things learned in the first 5 years of planting:

      http://thecripplegate.com/lessons-from-5-years-in-church-planting-part-1/

      http://thecripplegate.com/lessons-learned-from-5-years-in-church-planting-part-2/

      • dave

        Thanks Eric. I had forgotten about those. Going to read them today Lord willing. Just had a mtg with a person about their family coming to our Church. Thankful all these nuggets of wisdom were fresh. It’s truly a joy to serve the Lord’s Church.