If you’re anything like me your natural temptation is to want to forget the mistakes you’ve made in ministry. Some are embarrassing because they highlight our immaturity or weaknesses, others are difficult to recall because we remember the impact they had on others. Bad news is for burying, isn’t that right? But maybe God wants to teach us through our mistakes (and our failures for that matter).
Ten most common mistakes made by new church starts is a book that aims to take our errors and put them to use. In their introduction Griffith and Easum write ‘Those of you who are already church planting will recognise yourself as we go along. If the pain gets too bad, take an aspirin or two.’
I think I probably made at least 6 of the mistakes they list. One of the mistakes I recognise was called ‘Failure of the Church to Act Its Age and Its Size.’ The key principle being that in a planting context decisions need to me made about what ministries should be started when. In other words there is the world of difference between knowing something is the right thing to do and knowing when is the right time to do it. When we started talking about buying a building as a one year old plant we certainly didn’t help ourselves or our congregation to ‘Act our age!’ Great idea, wrong timing. The same can be said of wanting to start a full-blown kids work from age 0-14 to draw in families to the plant at a time when our eldest child in the congregation was just 1.
Stepping out in faith is not the same as running ahead, unaware of the risks and at a pace that cannot be sustained by even the most servant-hearted, faith-filled congregation. Nor do plants begin ministries only to please guests. ‘It’s better to just let them walk away than to overextend and burn out. It’s also better than making promises you can’t keep.’
At our next 2020birmingham Planters meeting we will be sharing our mistakes and in turn I’ll try and share some on the blog.
God not only lets us make mistakes, he wants us to learn from them. He also wants us to teach others through our mistakes. The Bible is full of stories of those who failed from Abraham to Moses to David to Paul. Their examples are for our instruction. God has included their mistakes to teach us humility, patience, God-dependence and above all else that He is the one building His church sometimes because of us and sometimes despite us.
We live in a world where no-one will ever say they were wrong. As Christians we are free from the need to prove ourselves, our ministry successes and failures do not define us. But they do shape us and others. Let us put them to good use.
Jon Tyson is lead pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York City. I found a sermon he preached in December from Matthew 1:21-23 really enlightening, not to say a little disturbing. Tyson (about 19 minutes into the sermon) highlights a hidden danger inherent in the hearts of men and women driven by a noble desire – living for God.
What could be wrong with such a fine ambition? Essentially, Tyson points out, the danger comes from failing to recognise that our lives were never intended to be lived for God but with God. When our passion is not Christ but doing stuff for Christ we become vulnerable to that most subtle danger of ‘importing worldly ambition into Christian ministry’.
Tyson draws on a blog post written by Skye Jethani entitled Has mission become our idol to expand his point. Jethani writes
Sometimes the people who fear insignificance the most are driven to accomplish the greatest things. As a result they are highly praised for their good works which temporarily soothes their fear until the next goal can be achieved.
How easy it is for Christian ministers to believe that the worth of our life is determined by the achievements of our ministries. Jethani quotes Gordon McDonald who says of this condition (which he defines as missionalism);
Missionalism starts slowly and gains a foothold in the leader’s attitude before long the mission controls almost everything; time, relationships, health, spiritual depth, ethics and convictions.
How many Christian ministers are actually pursuing a worldly ambition –driven by a desire to prove themselves through their ministry – rather than joyfully living out their lives and fulfilling their ministries with Christ?
What might be tell-tales signs that your ministry has morphed into a self-serving idol?
Here are 5 symptoms I recognise in myself;
1) An aggressive self-promotion of our own ministries. Every conversation, blog-post or tweet is an opportunity to talk about ourselves through the vehicle of pushing of a ministry rather than an opportunity to bless others with the gospel.
2) A lack of interest (let alone joy) in the ministry of others. If my sense of self-worth is located in my ministry then the success of others disturbs and threatens me. They become a threat to my security and rob me of my joy.
3) When our ministry is an idol, and its success becomes our consuming goal, relationships suffer. When our focus is our ministry our relationships begin to be defined by the extent to which they can be useful to us in fulfilling our objectives. Family life suffers because they don’t advance our cause and instead slow us down by demanding time and energy we want to invest elsewhere. In essence the idol is seen to be at work when I am only interested in others to the extent to which they can assist in the completion of my projects and plans.
4) When we are defined by our ministry we find it next to impossible to rest from our work. The idol of worldly ambition enslaves us and we fear falling behind.
5) When ministerial success is essential to our identity what keeps us awake at night is not the fate of the lost, or the glory of God but a fear of personal failure.
Movements are marked by a compelling vision says Tim Keller in Center Church and that is what we are discovering in Birmingham. 2020birmingham is a church-planting movement for the UK’s second largest city. We’ve been building the work for the past 3 years.
So what’s our compelling vision? 20 church-planting churches by 2020. It’s as simple as that and maybe that’s why there is momentum for 2020birmingham. In three years we’ve seen 6 new churches started – 3 new churches, 2 new congregations and 1 replant.
We are not a denomination, we have no staff (apart from a terrific part-time administrator who’s been with us 3 months) and so far we’ve had no money to invest in planters or plants.
What we do have is a team of 8 planters who are committed to the gospel, to the city, to their congregations, to the lost and to each other.
This last Saturday we held our third conference and we were amazed to find we were going to be 100 people from 29 different churches and organisations. I counted just six who came from outside the city to look at what we were doing and three of those used to live in the city and are planning to come back to plant.Tim Keller again A movement says ‘If this is where you want to go, come along with us’ and so at our conference this year we made our theme partnership. Our message was come join us – because we can do far more together than we ever could on our own.
We reminded ourselves why our city needed a church-planting movement. Birmingham is Europe’s youngest city with 37% of the population under 25. That’s a lot of people who are highly secularised, highly diverse, and pretty suspicious about the church.
We celebrated what God had done in planting the six churches and seeing them established and growing.
We were inspired through stories of church planting movements in cities of the world from Al Barth & Martin de Jong.
We were challenged by the need to reach new communities in our cities and the complexity of third culture communities growing up around us. How do we plant highly contextualised churches to reach every community?But most of all we wanted to be generous. We wanted to invite others to join us. We said you don’t need to be a church-planting church to join a church-planting movement – although be careful because that’s just maybe what you’ll become. We said why not become a 2020 Partner Church? Partner churches are established churches in our city willing and available to partner with a new church plant in their area; ready to pray, share wisdom, coach, mentor and train core-team members. The synergy created between plant and partner church ensures that the partner in turn is blessed not least in being motivated to keep an outward focus for themselves too. Who knows how many partner churches may in turn plant for themselves inspired by the example of the new churches they have partnered to create.
We also let the gospel of our God motivate this movement.
A church-planting Bishop from the Church of England shared his experience of planting in London (Rev. Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Aston). He described the powerful synergy only experienced when we choose to work together in planting and he reminded us that the God who is trinity is a God of partnership in his very being. It was something special to be reminded by the Bishop that we are at our most god-like when we are in partnership too.
The apostle Paul told us from Romans 13:12 that we have an on-going obligation to love each other. There is never a time when I can say ‘I have loved you enough.’ The church may have a mission, a mandate, and a motivation that forms a movement but more than anything else it needs the love of Christ pulsing through its veins.
On Saturday 100 people from across the city of Birmingham are gathering together to think, pray and plan to reach our city for Christ. It’s the third time we have done this in the past 3 years. Our conference is called How to win a million.
We represent a variety of evangelicals (Anglican, FIEC, Independent, New Frontiers, etc.) and the reason we keep meeting is that we recognise that it will take many more new churches to reach our city for Christ and that collaboration in planting is the way to best achieve this.
Let me offer you five reasons why our city, and almost certainly yours, needs not just for your church to plant but churches to work together to plant so that we can reach a city more quickly and more effectively for Christ.
1. We need new churches to reach a growing population
The population of England and Wales has grown by 3.7 million people in just the past 10 years. Such a population increase, at 7.1%, represents the greatest increase in a single 10 year period in over one hundred years.
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 37% of the population under the age of 25.
2. We need new churches to replace the many churches that are closing
The total number of churches in the UK fell from 50,231 in 1980 to 47,635 in 2005 a drop of 5.16%, when in the same period the UK population grew from 56.3 Million to 60.2 Million a rise of 6.7%.
3. We need new churches to reach out to our ever more secular cities
A recent study of 64,303 adults in the UK found that of the younger generation: only 38% of the 18-34′s defined themselves as being Christian whilst 53% preferred to describe themselves as having no religion. Whilst the gospel doesn’t change and the message of Christ crucified is our only message we need to find innovative, creative and flexible models of church that best reach a secular culture. New churches have always led the way.
4. We need new churches to reach our religiously diverse cities
In the 2001 census 16.8% of the Birmingham population identified themselves as Muslim. The average for England and Wales is 3.0%. The challenge is obvious and the statistics demonstrate the direction of travel: ever-more diversity! Birmingham had a 30% ethnic minorities population in 2001 and that figure is set to grow.
New communities have entered our cities and reaching them for Christ presents fantastic opportunities!
5. We need new churches that will love and serve our cities rather than retreat from them
In that same study of over 60,000 UK adults
- 79% agreed that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today
- 72% agreed that religion is used as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance
- 78% agreed that religion should be a private matter
When 4 in 5 people are deeply suspicious of the presence of religion in their society there is much that the church must do to demonstrate a commitment to serve and bless our cities.
The challenges are so great and the need so urgent that it compels us to work together under Christ to make his name known.
Sheri Thomas spoke at the City to City Network Leaders Conference yesterday on church planters and their spouses. Here are a number of key points that really struck me from what was said.
1) Planters need to understand the pressure on their spouses.
That means planters need to spend time communicating deeply with their spouses on how planting or planning to plant is impacting their marriage – both positively and negatively.
It also means planters need to be aware, up-front, of the most common causes of pressure that face spouses and to factor into both church and marriage ways of recognising them and overcoming them.
2) Ministry will always win out over family unless deliberate steps are taken to prevent it.
Ministry will always be here. Family will grow up and leave. Make family a priority for their sake and for the sake of the church. Prioritise eating together, taking good holiday, celebrating together eg birthdays, etc.
3) Plan a retreat for church planters in your network so that planters and spouses can be refreshed and encouraged together or if that is not possible try and get together as a church planting couple with another church planting couple.
4) Boundary Ambiguity is a cause of stress and tension. What is the spouses role and responsibility in a plant? Is it clear and has it been communicated to the plant? What protection of boundaries are in place with regard to space especially when it comes to using the home a lot.
5. Role ambiguity. Just how involved does she have to be and how might that role change over time and if children are involved.
6. Isolation is an issue. Groups of church-planting spouses need the opportunity of meeting together and talking about their roles and situations
7. The greatest fear for a church planting spouse is often the fear that she cannot do it all and yet all is expected of her.
8. The marriage is the biggest thing as to whether the plant will make it or not. Therefore assessing a church planter must involve assessing the church planter spouse. The person most likely to want to pull the plug on planting is probably an overburdened spouse.
So in order to protect the marriage in a church planting situation we need to ask:
How is the marriage functioning ?
When it comes to boundary ambiguity does she fight (ie take issue with the plant and how its impacting her in negative ways eg. gossip or even undermining her husband publically) or flight (by becoming withdrawn and isolated)? Does she recognise and want to respond to these temptations in a godly way?
What does she do with problems as they arise in church? Does she have the level of maturity to cope with this?
Is she supportive – does she believe in her church-planting husband? If she doesn’t it’s going to be very hard for them both and the plant.
Who are the people she is going to open up with? Different subjects, different depths.
6 marks of an ageing church
Here’s his definition of a healthy vibrant and probably young church plant: ’It has vision and energy and a heart to reach the community around them.’
In a really helpful section of his closing talk Al highlighted some of the signs that a church or church-plant is growing old. Essentially he said ‘churches age as people age’.
8 marks of an ageing church
1) Loss of vision. As you get older you find it harder to see clearly – you lose your vision. So to an ageing church in which vision for reaching out is lost and contentment to be a church that cares for it’s members is suffiicient.
2) Loss of flexibility. Just as when we age physically we find it harder to touch toes, etc. so in ageing churches leadership demonstrate a lack of ability to flex and change.
Every church says it wants to grow but Stewart reminded us that very few want to change.
3) Comfort. As the body begins to creak comfort becomes a necessity and a priority. In ageing churches we are more and more concerned about the comfort of our members than anything else. A church can be slowly declining for decades and be comfortable
4) A loss of urgency. As you get older you get slower. Older churches take decades to make decisions!
5) Harder to make new friends. Ageing churches are not good at welcoming new people. When you’re young you love making new friends and you are excited about meeting new people. Older in life and you have all the friends you’re looking for. Churches reaching retirement are churches in which everyone has all the friends they want or need and new people are not going to find their way in.
6) Loss of hunger. Just as older people lose their appetite for food so an ageing church loses its appetite for challenge and growth. Decline is inevitable once the hunger has gone.
Al had two further points that I didn’t fully get down at the time but I’m working on that and will add those in due course. If you were there and you know what they were feel free to let me know!
What would you like to ask the man whos church baptised 1392 people in 2011 in one of the most secular, least churched, cities of the United States of America?
I had the privilege of gathering a small number of people, including a Bishop, to have dinner with Pastor Mark in Birmingham last May. He gave us two hours of his time to listen to the challenges that face our city in how we get the gospel out to a lost generation. Not one of us had any connect with Acts29. He neither asked for, nor took, any of our money. We did a lot of listening and learning.
A number of people including some good friends of mine argue Driscoll goes too far. I don’t doubt it for a moment but he’s right to say that he does it in a church culture where hardly anybody goes far enough.
I live on a council estate in Birmingham and the one thing I know for sure is that men where I live are not going to church and there is no church I could think of many of them would want to go to including my own. Millions of people are going to hell and the church is not ready or able to do something. I’ll take all the help I can get from a guy who is helping me see how to get working class, blue-collar workers to hear about Jesus. Driscoll preaches expository sermons, over an hour in length, promises no-one wealth or health, talks honestly and openly about the reality of heaven and hell, calls upon people to live radically holy, self-denying lives and above all else talks about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus AND people are converted. It’s time to listen.
Whatever we think Driscoll has got wrong it pales into comparison with what he’s got right and for that I praise God. If I had to choose, I would rather he continued to go too far than not far enough provided that his basic conclusions are sound. The trouble for British evangelicalism, as it seems to me, is that we don’t like it.
The decision of Christianity Magazine to pre-lease a web article with highly edited and potentially misleading quotations from a Driscoll interview on his views on the British church can hardly be considered responsible publishing, and Mark Driscoll has a point when he questions the motives of the magazine in choosing to do so. I for one would not appreciate such a pre-release.
Whatever Mark Driscoll may have got wrong he’s got a whole lot more right. So come on British evangelicals – let’s take the medicine – and learn.
If you want to know Pastor Mark’s views on the British church at greater length in his own words then this might be a place to start A Word for all seasons.
Looking for a great holiday in 2012. According to the New York Times Birmingham is ranked 19 in their list of 45 places to go in 2012. In a list that didn’t mention Paris, Rome or Madrid Birmingham even came ahead of Space! The reason? ‘Could England’s second city be first in food?’
David Thomas writing in the Independent said ‘six months ago I did something that few others can claim, or would even want to claim to have done. I took my wife, Clare, to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary with a night of romantic bliss… in Birmingham.’
‘It could be LA. It could by Sydney. It’s actually Birmingham. And The New York Times is quite right. It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012.’
But if you’re a Christian I have better reason than food for you to not just make a visit but to come and live in our great city. 2020birmingham is looking to work with people, churches and organisations seeking to plant churches in our city. Maybe God would say to you ‘It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012, 13,14….’
The latest IX marks e-jounal focuses on the why and how of church revitalization. At a time when church-planting is all the rage here is a reason to stop and think about the place and opportunity of renewing a church.
Including an interesting article by Mike McKinley on the relative merits of church-planting vs. church-revitalization. The article could have been even more interesting if he had discussed the third option of church-replant. What is replanting and how is it different from church-revitalization?
The City to City Europe conference is getting off to a great start here in Berlin.
500 delegates from 26 countries representing over 100 nations all concerned to see churches planted across Europe has to be reason to rejoice and a reason for hope.
We’ve heard of God richly blessing planting initiatives and we’ve heard of God richly blessing faithful church-planters who’s work is hard because there is little fruit.
One planter of a church in Paris described ‘the privilege of ploughing where the ground is hard’, another in Frankfurt described the challenge of being a bi-vocational Pastor with a weekly congregation of 15 of so. Both stories are reminders of why we need to pray for our countries in Europe.
Tim Keller gave the first keynote address on the gospel-centred church and here’s one gem of an answer to a thoughtful question that came out of his talk.
How can we know whether our church is either too accommodating to the culture of our city or not accommodating enough?
Keller’s answer: A church that is not accommodating, culturally, will be seeing no conversions because no-one will ever come through the door. A church that is too accommodating, culturally, will be seeing lots of new people attending but no changed lives because the church is only mirroring the culture rather than critiquing the culture.
So a gospel church in a city should be willing and able to flex on the negotiables making it’s meetings accessible to non-believers but not flexing on gospel-living as the church challenges the culture by being an attractive and distinctive gospel-community.
Deciding when and how to celebrate the culture of a city and when and how to critique the culture of a city is the art of being a church-planter.
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