Monday is for Missiology: 3 Questions Local District Leaders Should Ask About Church Planting
In denominational or network life, the leaders who are the closest to the field, who know the most about the churches in their area, are leaders of the local district. They oversee a "judicatory," which is the official word for an association, district, diocese or however your denomination refers to the smallest area organization in your denomination. I will use the word district here, recognizing that it won't fit everyone, but it is probably the closest term that is applicable to most denominations.
For those who are district leaders, I have six questions that I encourage them to ask about church planting in their assigned area. I will give you three in this post and three more in a post next Monday. And then, along the way, I'm going to give some suggested answers to these questions.
These six items are from my time with the district leaders of the Evangelical Free Church in Minneapolis about a year ago. I imagine with will not be applicable to all my readers, but I often work with denominational leaders, and wanted to pass this on to those network and denominational leaders who might find it helpful.
I am aware that there are MANY functions of a district leader (credentialing, theological partnership, revitalization, and more). However, my task in Minneapolis was to focus on questions that district leaders should ask about their role in church planting.
Here are the first three questions local district leaders should ask about church planting:
1. Who supports the church planter?
Often, the question is who is the primary person responsible for supporting the church planter.
The answer is usually not only you, but including you. There are times, certainly, when the district has to be the primary support of the planter and plant, but that's not the best case. You want to be a part of the team, not the whole team. Churches need to take a lead.
While the churches need to lead out in church planting, they are more likely than not going to come to a local denominational or network leader and say, "We want to plant a church. How can we do that?" You want to have an answer to this that includes some of what you do. And part of that is that you, and your district, need to have some skin in the game.
As a denominational leader, you should be clear that the support will come primarily from the church and the planter, then from you and the partners that you help bring in. Planters and churches need to know you are going to be one of those partners—both financially and through the support of church planting systems. You will do what it takes to help them be successful, but part of what it will take is for them to accept that the primarily sponsor church bears most of the responsibility.
Depending on your structure, the church planting systems probably come from a national office (assessment, coaching, boot camp, etc.). Yet, the success of those systems is mostly determined by their implementation at the local level, and that often falls to your activity or your oversight. (In my Ph.D. dissertation, the biggest regret that Charles Chaney expressed about church planting systems was that it was not implemented and adopted at the local—associational—level.) Simply put, systems probably won't work if you don't take a national system and help the local church navigate through and use it well.
Most importantly, churches and planters need to know that they are not going to be in this alone. You will provide support as a partner, but the onus is on them to work at making their church plant a success. But, you have to be a part of the team. Even if you can't always relate to the planter's ideas and strategy, you can (and must) be a key partner in the planting process. (And, I know that planters need to be on your team as well, but that is for another article...)
As such, the sponsor church is the primary supporter, but you will be a key partner.
(Side note: the most common place in my denomination that I hear negative things from planters is when the national offices are enthusiastic, the local church is enthusiastic, but the district—in my denomination we call them "associations"—is not). The early disconnect can have long term relational implications. Some are enthusiastic partners, but more are needed.
2. Who protects the planter?
One of the biggest problems you will have, particularly if you're in an area where there are already similar churches, is that churches will get upset when someone starts a church near their church. Now, near is a relative term—I once had a prominent pastor complain we were helping to start a church 18 miles (and 3 interstate exits) away. But there's an old expression in church planting: "Start a church in another state, it's all for God's grace and glory. Start a church in my backyard, now that's another story."
When pastors and churches are upset, they go to their denominational leadership. When you are the closest to the field, you get most of the calls (which is why, I think, that often local districts are often the point of resistance to church plants).
So, now comes the question: who protects the planter from these upset pastors and churches?
It's not just a matter of established churches feeling as if there was a competition. You're also going to have to protect your planters because they do things differently than established churches.
Protecting planters who always do things the right way is relatively easy—you just push back at the complainers and they get the message. What's hard is to protect planters who do dumb things, maverick things, things outside of your comfort level, but that's what you're going to have to do. If you want to be a planter-friendly district, you're going to have arrows in your back from established churches.
I tell denominational leaders to tell their churches, "We're going to be doing planting. Those planters are going to make mistakes. I'm going to stand up for them. I'm not saying they're always perfect, but they are on our team."
As the closest one to the ground, you need to have that mindset going into church planting—it's your job to protect planters, even when they make mistakes. And, sometimes you have to protect them from key churches that support your district.
3. Who owns the church plant vision?
It sounds like a strange question, but you have to establish who owns the church plant vision and how to you communicate with them. If you're going to effectively mobilize your district for church planting, you have to make the decision that pastors don't own their churches. Pastors lead churches, but people make up the church. As a district leader, you have to get all the people in your district (or as many as you can) enthusiastic about church planting. It won't work if you, as a district leader, just work through pastors.
Those people within the church have to be the owners of the church planting vision.
Those churches are made up of people, who have chosen to partner together in districts and denominations. You have to get to the rank and file leadership of the church on board, if you're going to promote church planting or anything else along the way. So, I ask district leaders, how are you getting the vision of church planting into the hearts of pastors, staff, elders, deacons, leaders, and ordinary people.
Pastors do not make up denominations. People make up denominations. And as such, how are you communicating with the people in your district? And if the answer is you are now, you can ask the question, how can I? Why should you be connected to local church members? Do I have an electronic newsletter, am I in the churches casting vision, are there meetings people attend, etc.
If you can empower and educate the people in the churches about their ownership, you can mobilize them for mission in a much more effective way. Then, whole churches will be passionate about multiplication.