Allelon has just posted Bob Hyatt's article "Why YOU Should Plant a Church" (login required), and I remembered that I had read this article before. So, I dug around a bit and saw that this had already been published here at Open Source Theology (Hyatt may have published the piece many places, OST is the first place that I read it).
Bob Hyatt is the pastor of The Evergreen Community in Portland, and is the force behind nextChurch Network, which is worth checking out. I love Hyatt's passion-- "to encourage church planting by encouraging church planters"-- I wish I could say that I know him personally. And, while I always enjoy reading, being challenged, agreeing with, disagreeing with the pieces Hyatt has posted (list) at OST, I found several issues with this paper.
First, Hyatt represents a view point that I have heard a great deal over the past several years:
It makes sense to weed out the weak when you start with the basic assumption that no one should step out and plant a church unless specifically instructed to by God and unless they have “what it takes.” I like to approach it from a different viewpoint.
Why shouldn’t you plant a church?
I love what is underlying the argument here-- people often hide behind fear and generate a myriad of excuses for why they should not be faithful to the mission of God. I have heard the same argument advanced on several occasions on the topic of cross-cultural mission. That is, don't spend your time watching HDTV (oh, how I would love to watch 24 on some super TV...if I were rich and had no morals...)-- saying that you don't feel "called" to do whatever. Kevin, I just don't feel "called" to minister among the poor. It seems that this is the attitude Hyatt is addressing.
So, the argument proceeds: give your life away, go live among the poor, move to Uzbekistan, etc., and trust God to reveal to you that he doesn't want you there if, indeed, He doesn't. I like the heart underneath the argument, but I'm beginning to like the argument less and less. But I don't want to get too far off-track...
It seems that the real issue Hyatt is addressing with this line is not that of "calling", but, in his words, having "what it takes". So, Hyatt essentially applies the same argument to the second objection: Stop asking if God has given you "what it takes" to plant a church and just plant one. So, Hyatt follows his question of "Why Not?" with,
You can do this. It's not rocket science
However, in doing this, I believe Hyatt jettisons one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed when evaluating potential church planters-- namely, gifting.
When evaluating whether or not someone should plant a church, the question of gifting is essential (I'm assuming that questions regarding a person's character and calling are a given). Of course, Hyatt anticipates this objection:
No- not everyone should plant a church. Not everyone is called, gifted or able… but just the fact that you’re thinking about it says something. Just the fact that you want to tells me a lot. And if you actually step out and do it? Well… that says volumes about you, about your courage and about your faith in the God who is advancing His kingdom all around this world.
I think this attitude misses the point. Many people have grand ideas and a lot of passion behind them. However, the fact is, many of them do not possess the tools necessary to see their ideas through. An oft repeated mantra I have heard at church planting conferences has boiled down to something like this: "Look! Church planting is easy. I did it. So can you." I think this is misguided. And, I think that it will have negative ramifications that reach far into the future as it is embedded in people's minds.
We need to deal with issues of gifting particularly as they pertain to: leadership, teaching, life-on-life discipleship, etc. Have people proven themselves as leaders? Are people following them already? Are they able to teach? Shepherd? Counsel? Rebuke? Encourage? Be proactive? Be firm when necessary? Be flexible when necessary? And, if we believe that an individual is clearly gifted but needs to be equipped so as to better function within their gifting, then we should affirm their desire to plant a church and assist them by directing them toward someone they can learn from-- not by just telling them to get out there and do it half cocked. It is at this point that I love the comments offered by Russ on this article at OST:
"It's not rocket science." No, it's not. But it is a definite discipline, and one that requires less theological knowledge (though important) than insight into humans and culture. The people we wish to reach in the name of Jesus deserve that we not take church planting too lightly. It is their lives we are dealing with, and we do need to bear that in mind. I for one have seen a number of church plants fail (including my one try at it), these mostly because folks jumped in full of enthusiasm and a genuine desire to help, but horribly unequipped to organize and lead a group into any kind of real development in following Jesus. This can and does leave scarred individuals behind, some of whom jettison the idea of christian community after a bad experience. I'd like to encourage folk who want to plant a church to go for it, but do it by doing your homework first. And most of that homework is not to be found in the texts we read in seminary or thereafter, but in the experience we gain by serving along side of others.
It's in the context of that serving that I think we gain insight into whether we have the "stuff" to be a church planter (certainly if we hope to be the point man/woman). By doing in relationship with others we can estimate whether we have the kind of faith and gifting that is needed to stick it out. We need to judge ourselves wisely, as Paul reminded us. Learning to do this well is an act of grace towards ourselves. It is also, I think, a necessity if we wish to be effective followers of Jesus
This is the place where I think evaluation and assessment on the front end of church planting is an absolute necessity. I don't doubt that most if not all of the organizational methods and procedures for assessment are inadequate and antiquated at best. However, I do believe that there are organizations that are doing this well. From all I can gather, Sovereign Grace Ministries is phenomenal at assessing, training, equipping, and empowering church planters. Someone like Drew could provide a much better commentary on the A29 assessment process, but from what I remember when Dan and I were at their boot-camp several years ago, they take the issue of gifting quite seriously-- and implement measures of assessment extremely well.
Finally, my second major objection with Hyatt's article is how he defines "success":
The question isn’t “Why should I plant a church”… it’s why shouldn’t you! Here’s what I know: God loves it when His people take a step of faith. He will go ahead of you, with you and behind you in this adventure. If you love those He brings you, you will be a success whether it lasts for a year, two years or the rest of your life.
If your intention is to plant a church, and the church fails, you have failed. You are not a success. Now, I'm neither advocating specific principles of the "church growth" movement nor suggesting that we should implement the metrics of entrepreneurial capitalism. But, if you're church fails, you have failed. Again, I love Russ' comments here:
You may have blessed and loved many people, perhaps some have found their way farther along the road with Jesus, but you have failed at planting a church. You may have grown and developed your skills, but the church plant failed. Please, let's not rationalize these things into the realm of the willy-nilly emotional/spiritual experience. If you fail at church planting, it doesn't mean that you can't ever succeed, but you certainly need to take a hard and detailed look at why this particular church plant failed. Again, the people we are hoping to serve deserve no less from us. Failure grants also the chance to ask yourself again whether you do have the stuff to do the work, and if so, under which circumstances. Not all of us have the stuff, but I have found that in the name of well meaning encouragement and vision, good men and women have been spurred on to tasks that were not their calling nor place in the kingdom of Christ.
May God have mercy on us for the times we have been too slow to act. And, may He have mercy on us for the times we have acted in naivete and haste-- and baptized it in passion and "bold faith". May the majestic, all-powerful, Triune God help us as we seek to be faithful citizens of His Kingdom! I pray that we will continue to see new communities of faith cultivated throughout the earth-- by individuals who understand the preeminent reality that church planting is not a human endeavor; and who inadequate though they be, are gifted and equipped for the task granted to them by God and are nurtured and empowered by humans to steward their gifts well.