Today I am deleting an email I have kept for nine months.
This particular email is an artifact from a period in my life where I contemplated planting a church through the Tennessee Baptist Convention. I still periodically ponder planting a church. I’ve just given up on the TBC as being of any help to me.
If you browse the archives of this blog you will find out that I am not a fan of church planting, at least not in areas already served by multiple established churches. We immediately need church planters in the Northeastern seaboard, Pacific Northwest, and Europe. In the Southwest and Southeast, not so much. I would much rather see money invested in the established churches of an area to revitalize their outreach and ministries. It is horribly wasteful to abandon the resources of these established churches. Furthermore, planting new churches in the shadow of old churches brings further separation of the Body of Christ in a given area while creating another dichotomy between the established church, viewed as outdated/outmoded, and the new church, viewed as relevant.
Church planting also carries the problem of the church planters themselves. When I meet someone passionate about church planting I almost invariably* find unhealthy motivation. These issues include, first, a desire to be innovative for nothing more than innovation’s sake, hardly a worthy ministerial calling. Another is the belief that they have the key to reaching their area in a way no one else can, strange when one considers that all believers have access to the same gospel. Finally, there tends to be a problem with church background maybe having never been involved with anything other than a parachurch organization or – maybe a home church which stubbornly refuses to follow the brilliance of the planter’s leadership/priorities/methodology. It isn’t uncommon to come away from such a meeting with the impression that the home church body is/was holding back the Kingdom of God by refusing to get on board with whatever latest-and-greatest the church planter has embraced. Ironically, a lot of these guys are still pedaling Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. These aren’t the types of fires we need to be feeding with Cooperative Program dollars.
So there I was, not interested in church plants in my area and not wanting to be lumped in with all the unhealthy church planters I’ve met. Furthermore, I love the church I’m at. Our people are wonderful to me and my family, they respond to my leadership better than I could have ever hoped, and they consistently demonstrate an uncommon spiritual stability. Heck, we’re even growing. Why would anyone leave that?
The only answer I can give is that I see a need and am willing to meet it. On the other hand, I don’t know if simply seeing a need and being willing to meet it is sufficient ground to justify launching another church. I am also unclear if someone like me who has never been trained to plant a church is the best candidate for a new work. What I really need most immediately is counsel from people who know about church planting to double check my rationale and see if they also see a clear need. After that I would need someone to help me evaluate my capability and develop a game plan.
So what did I do? I remembered that my beloved TBC is investing in new churches. I figured they’ve got an oversight perspective that would be helpful in double checking my thinking and, if I’m on to something, provide some insight as to how I might get started. I called the TBC office in Nashville and was given the email address of a gentleman who should be able to help me. I then sent off an email and present where I’m at: reasonably confident I see a need that isn’t being addressed by any congregation nor is any church in the area that I’m aware of mindful of addressing the need. However, I’d could use some independent confirmation. Furthermore, it might be that I’m not the right person to launch out on this venture. Im sure there are others who are looking for opportunities that have been trained in church planting and I’m happy where I’m at. Maybe there is someone better suited to plant this church (if the need is truly great enough to warrant a new church).
You know what I received by way of reply? I was told there was no question that new churches were needed (Really? The last association I served in had enough Baptist churches in it to seat everyone in the county) and that I should contact this person back when I definitively knew that I was God’s man to do this.
Now, bear in mind, I know of church plants receiving Cooperative Program monies that have decided to only meet as a body once per week. Some of these once-per-week bodies don’t even take the time to have preaching when they do get together. I also know of church plants that take their corporate worship times and use it to honor the local high school football team rather than, you know, actually attempt to honor God in worship. Based on what I see around me you can plant a coffee shop church, a cowboy church, a Harley church or any other niche-targeting church you want. You can do all those really bad (in regards to those which don’t worship or preach) or pointless (in regards to those who think the church should cater to niches in society) things in the name of God with Cooperative Program dollars but you know what you can’t do? You can’t get some advice and direction unless you are baptized into church planting as the end-all-be-all key to the Kingdom and know-that-you-know-that-you-know you are called by God – Hallelujah! – to plant that church.
As I said above, the email response I received told me to contact the TBC offices back when I knew I was God’s man to do this. Nine months have passed. I still haven’t received an angelic messenger and still haven’t had some entirely subjective humor arrest me about my singular value to the Kingdom as a church planter. I would still really like to talk with someone who knows how to evaluate what I’m seeing but, since I don’t have the requisite church planting obsession and personal conviction that I’m the only one who can pull it off, I guess it’s just best to delete that email.
Now: anyone out there know someone I can talk this over with?
*You don’t have to post or email telling me that your pastor/husband/son/loved one who plants churches is nothing like what I’m writing. I realize there are exceptions to what I say; Robert Chapman in rural PA is a good example. In fact, I’m sure there are a host of God-honoring church planters out doing Kingdom work. I just haven’t met a great number of them.