I had a watershed moment this past week.
I attended a conference with a number of church planters from around the world. I’m not talking about our average “safe” conference where everybody flashes a lanyard to get in and sits around citing demographical research and discusses the latest Zondervan book. I have been to those and find them helpful. But this was different. These people were planting churches where no statistical data is available, if you get my drift. These people were hardcore. They were extremely kind and accommodating to me. But it became pretty clear that I was sitting with a class of minister far above my own.
One story struck me in particular. A guy had been making advances into a country for several years. Now, when I say that, I’m not saying that he’s got a 500 member congregation and health benefits. We’re talking about four converts in three years. That kind of thing. Hardcore. He was giving praise that someone in that group had invited him to visit again and was going to pay for his travel costs.
Here’s where it gets radical. I said, “Isn’t that a standard arrangement? How else would you get there?” He said, “No. Normally I have to pay them to have the opportunity to witness to them. That’s why it’s a miracle.” Read that again. He has to pay them.
We send speakers and ministers around the world at our own expense. After all, motivational speakers and ministers are worth the money right? In the U.S? Yes. Elsewhere? Nope. In the U.S., the people who are paying are already Christians and deeply entrenched in that consumer paradigm. Outside of that paradigm, no one else gives a rip. A flying rip.
Don’t call me a doomsday prophet just yet, but I believe this is on the horizon in all Westernized nations as well. Many would say it’s already here. Presently, I would venture to say that roughly anywhere between 10-20% of any U.S. city has contact with Christianity and that number is decreasing every day. As it decreases, any prestige associated with the “profession” of ministry will eventually collapse. It’s status as a reputable and viable occupation will cease and (as in other nations) it may bring scorn upon those who embrace it.
Then something else will happen. People will have a choice: they will either wait for someone to fund them or they will spend their own money to share Christianity with others. Right now, ministers and church planters still think someone else needs to pay for their services. But ministers of the future will no longer ask for funding for themselves and their families. They will ask for funding so they can “pay” someone else to listen to the Gospel.
Do you think that’s a radical idea? Let me know what you think.
Here’s the final thing I’ve been thinking about over the past six months: being invincible vs. being wounded. This one requires a bit of explaining.
When Beth and I decided to take the risk of planting a church from the ground up, I did some serious research. Besides investigating church planting associations, I plowed through 12 books and manuals on the “methods” of church planting that exist today. I have been a part of two other start-ups (one independent and one SBC), but I still felt I needed some more background info on the whole process.
In one of these books, the author wrote a chapter on why someone shouldn’t start a church. He spent the entire chapter talking about the dangers of starting a church when you have deep wounds from churches – whether it be betrayal or conflict or misunderstanding. Then the author said that the church planter must have a sense of “invincibility” in order to succeed. People find hope in a leader that shows no signs of weakness or past failure. This upset me. In order to appear invincible, I’d have to pretend. I have been a failure. I have been misunderstood. I am awkward. I am full of weaknesses. If anything, much of what I know about the church I hope to build is what I don’t want it to be like. I began to doubt my ability to start something new.
After those books, I started a round of books that deal with grace in some fashion. I picked up Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer. I thought Nouwen would be talking about God as the wounded healer. But by page two, I had figured out he wasn’t. He was talking about the pastor as a “wounded healer.” Nouwen says that ministers are only effective when they have been significantly wounded. Otherwise, their words of sympathy and prayers for wisdom sound like trite TV ads rather than deep, meaningful connection. He says the best ministers are those who minister out of their past and present wounds.
Jesus did that. John 16:32-33 says that he was abandoned by those who would follow people who seemed more “promising.”
But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
I suppose I could project an image that I have things together. And that would attract some people to a new church. I’m planting in a city that certainly values appearances. That’s what the church planting manuals have told me. But after thinking about it for that past six months, I’m gonna go a different route. I’m gonna take Nouwen’s advice. I believe people are looking for something real. “Real” is not clothes or hairstyles or profanity or Wilco. It’s being comfortable enough with who you are so that it puts those around you at ease.
I’m gonna try that first.
Well, hi there. I’ve been away for a while but am now back on the blogging bandwagon. I’ve got some news to tell you that I’ve been keeping to myself for a while. We learned this past summer that the church I serve at planned to release us at the end of this year. We’ve made lots of new friends, learned some tough life lessons, and enjoyed ministering to a great congregation. But we now have the chance to do something new – something different.
When we heard the news about First Methodist, we had to quickly focus on what we felt like God was leading us to do. We’ve interviewed with some churches far away from South Georgia. But nothing we encountered really “fit” with the vision God was giving us as a couple. So we began to investigate “planting” a new church…and that’s what we are doing. It’s called GraceWorks and it’s a really simple model. The tag line is kinda fun: “No Agendas. No Judgment. No Politics. Just Grace.” As we began to pray about where to go, we felt like God wanted us to start GraceWorks in Tallahassee, Florida – about an hour down the road. While finishing up at First Methodist we have also been making overtures to Tallahassee with bible studies and “meet-and-greet” events. We’ve met in homes and even in an Irish pub. There’s still much ground to plow and we are slowing transitioning our family down that way.
So, will this whole church plant thing work? I have no idea. But we feel like that is what we are supposed to do…so we are gonna give it a shot. Feel free to look at the website to get a better idea of what GraceWorks will be about. I’d write more…but I’m off to a GraceWorks gathering right now…