Four Biggest Lessons

Tomorrow marks a year since I finished at Richview and began the process of planting a church. It’s been both the most exciting and the most difficult year of my ministry so far.

A year in, here are the four most profound lessons I’ve been learning.

  1. Spiritual attack is real. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of attack in the past year. Our family has been through some intense periods of suffering. I’ve been learning the truth of what Spurgeon once said: “When you sleep, think that you are resting on the battlefield; when you walk, suspect an ambush in every hedge.” Church planting is a battle.

  2. Idolatry is rampant. I can’t wait to read Jared Wilson’s forthcoming book The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry. The reason: it’s so tempting to find my justification in ministry, either past ministry at Richview or my current performance as a planter. Of course, my justification can only be found in the finished work of Christ, but I’m often tempted to look elsewhere.

  3. Busyness is a struggle. I honestly thought I would have more time than when I pastored an established church. Was I ever wrong. I am currently recalibrating my schedule because the work is so intense, and things can get out of control very quickly.

  4. Planting is an overflow of one’s relationship with Christ. Adam Sinnett told me this, and he’s right. “Fight to remain Jesus-centred, not planting-centred,” he told me. “It is easy to make planting the focus, and miss God.” It’s probably the best advice I heard all year.

Planting is for Every Church

My latest column at ChristianWeek:

I used to think that church planters are deviants—nice people with a rebel streak. I liked them, and I admired them, but I couldn't relate to them, and I certainly didn't want to join their number.

Tim Keller, a pastor and church planter in New York City, changed all that. I read an article of his called "Why Plant Churches?" (PDF) and I still haven't recovered. Church planting, he argues, is the biblical strategy for reaching people with the gospel. Church plants reach people that established churches won't.

Church plants are also the best way to renew established churches. Keller answered every objection I had to church planting, and he convinced me to see church planting as essential. It's not for deviants; it's essential for every church.

I remember sitting in my office a decade ago while pastoring an established church. A friend of mine had just planted a new church. We had a huge building, money in the bank, and a couple hundred people. They had a dozen people meeting in a basement.

A decade later, that church plant has outgrown the established church I pastored, and they have also planted a number of new churches that are also growing. While I'm still convinced that we still need to work on renewing existing churches, I began to appreciate church plants like never before.

I also remember sitting in a meeting with two pastors of established churches and three church planters. As we talked about our churches, the two of us from established churches struggled to articulate our vision. We lacked clarity. The three church planters spoke with great clarity about the vision of their churches. I walked away from the meeting wondering how their vision and clarity could rub off on us.

I've come to believe that every church needs to be involved in church planting. It's not just because I'm now a church planter—it's because I've spent 20 years pastoring established churches, and I now realize what I was missing.

First, church planting is strategic. In every city and town, we need new churches to reach the people that existing churches can't. According to Keller, the average new church brings in six to eight times more new people than an older congregation of the same size. I agree with Peter Wagner: "Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven."

Secondly—and this is new to me—church planting benefits established churches. My mother is often asked why she seems young for her age. She has a one-word answer: "Grandchildren." Because she's investing in the lives of those who are young, she's stayed young. Every church was once a church plant; the way to maintain some of that energy is to continue to live close to the youth of other church plants.

Church planting isn't for deviants. It's the way to reach new people, and it's the way for the established Church to maintain its vibrancy. Church planting is for every church.

Travel Lightly: An Interview with Jenny Andison on Church Planting

It’s my privilege today to interview Jenny Andison on church planting. Jenny is the Archbishop's Officer for Mission for the Diocese of Toronto and is responsible for promoting missional ministry and fresh expressions of church in Canada's largest diocese. She is also in charge of Church Development at St. Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto, and is one of the organizers of the Vital Church Planting Conference in Toronto. 

Transient

I’ve learned lots from Jenny, and I’m grateful that she was willing to answer my questions.

You're on staff in an established church, and you work with church planters. I love that. How can established churches and church plants help each other?

Established churches can help church planters in lots of ways.

  1. They can pray for them...so important and necessary....we pray regularly for Ryan Sim here at St.Paul's as he plants his congregation in Ajax.
  2. They can be a safe place to land in the start up phase...welcoming the planter and his/her family to worship and community.
  3. They can potentially give office space to the planter in the early days and sharing human resources as well. A retired member of an established Anglican congregation is giving two hours a week to help do the books for an Anglican church plant in another part of the city.
  4. The established church at the denominational level can also support the applaud the church planter even when things don't go according to plan. People like Bishops etc. can reframe any sense of "failure" that the planter (and their family) may face and can secure their future in ministry.

What's unique about church planting in Canada?

I am not sure what is unique about church planting in Canada but I do know what makes it challenging. Unlike the UK we have no memory of the established church to potentially build on in healthy way (this of course can also be a blessing for us). In the UK church planters have much more access because of the established church to things like hospitals and schools in a way that is not possible in Canada.  In the USA, much church planting is often "church gathering".....creating new opportunities for the churched and lightly dechurched to gather and be potentially more effectively discipled.  Canada has a larger percentage of non-churched people than the USA. Much church planting in Canada now (especially in urban centers) needs to consist of primary evangelism, something that most Christians in Canada have almost no experience in.  In Canada we have the challenge of vast physical distance (it’s the second largest country in the world) and so church planters in some parts of the country (rural and the North) can feel incredibly isolated.

What kinds of things can we learn from Anglican history that will help us plant churches today?

The Anglican church is arguably the second most effective church planting movement in history, second only to the Roman Catholic church. We have churches in almost every country on the planet.  At our best, the Anglican church was able to effectively pass along historic Christianity (the dominical sacraments, Old Testament and New Testament, the Creeds, and the historic episcopate) and allow for these things to be inculturated well into the local context. And at our best, leadership was very quickly handed over to local new converts. The strength of the Anglican church in the developing world is testimony to this missional past.  At our best, Anglican history shows how you take the bare essentials (Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral) with you on mission and leave the rest behind. Church planters need to travel lightly and Anglicans in the past have shown us how to do this.  Church planters need to remember the absolute essentials of the faith that cannot be discarded and then be willing to re-examine everything else we know about “church”.

I remember you comparing church planters to thoroughbreds. What did you mean?

Church planters are women and men who not only have all the training and passions of leaders serving inherited congregations but they also need to be entrepreneurial and willing to take thoughtful risks.  They need to be like Jesuits....taking the "monastery within them" as they travel to distant lands (like the condos downtown!), often travelling alone like the early Jesuits did...to Japan for example.  Church planters also need more support in the field than clergy serving inherited congregations because they are serving on the edge, they are serving in the unknown, with often no road maps in front of them.

If you could instill one quality in church planters, what would that be?

One quality in church planters....Christian character.  Reflecting continually on the character of God in their lives.

Thanks, Jenny.

Jesus Never Said to Plant Churches

There are all kinds of church planting books. Some are textbooks; some are how-to manuals; some are inspirational. Some, like Jesus Never Said to Plant Churches, are a combination of memoir and instruction on what it takes to plant a church.

This is a book written because too many people enter church planting with unrealistic expectations. As the foreword to this books says:

Too many people with good intentions set out to plant a church only to discover that it wasn’t what they thought it would be. It takes longer than you might think. It costs more money than you first budget. And the stakes are much higher emotionally, relationally, and spiritually than you first anticipate. In spite of the cost, planting churches has proven to be a very effective way to reach the lost.

The first chapter is the most unusual. The author, Trinity Jordan, tells the story of a car accident that he experienced while he was on the way to speak at a church to raise support. Let's just say that it involves an angel who is black and has a lip piercing. Whatever you make of this story, it's a good reminder that there's a spiritual battle involved with every church plant. While some overemphasize the theme of spiritual warfare, many of us make the opposite mistake and almost ignore it.

Jordan reminds us that it's not really about planting churches. It's about making disciples. He warns us against the danger of cloning the ministry of others. He talks about the one overarching quality that it takes to plant a church. He talks about those who will come along and try to hijack the vision. He gives practical advice on things like naming a church, raising funds, and choosing a governance model. He warns that some of your greatest opponents will be pastors of other churches, and offers advice on how to deal with this. This is a book that was born out of the experience of a real church planter, and it shows.

Despite the struggles, church planting is worth it. "Planting a church is almost like a rebirth of your Christianity," Jordan writes.

You likely won't agree with everything in this book. I didn't. But if you're looking for an honest account of what church planting is like, along with some solid advice, you won't go wrong with this book. I found it encouraging, especially in helping me realize that some of the struggles of planting are to be expected. I also found it challenging, with good advice on some areas that could easily be blind spots. If you are a planter or are thinking of becoming one, this book is definitely worth a read.

Find out more at Trinity Jordan's website, or check out the trailer below.