I’ve been listening to the Christianity Today podcast on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It has been a painful listen because I can see so many of the same tendencies in the UK, and if I’m brutally honest some of them in me. Our love of celebrity and charisma at the expense of character, our desire for bigger and better, our love of the shock jock for entertainment at the expense of faithfulness in teaching, our promotion and elevation of the next young thing without giving them time to grow and develop. Our desire for success and to be seen as successful.
But there were a couple of things that particular struck me as I’ve thought on it. I wonder if our approach to church planting almost makes it inevitable that we will see these types of spectacular rises and falls. I know of friends who’ve planted with 3 years funding and the pressure of 3 years in which to make the church self sustaining. 3 years! Just think about the pressure that places on the planter and any core team they take with them. We expect results and we expect them quickly and yet Jesus constantly uses the image of seeds sown, trees slowly growing to fruitfulness – which takes years of preparation and tending. Are we guilty of creating something unsustainable, of putting planters and teams under an unreasonable pressure that may lead to warped methods because we need results? How can we do this better? How do we provide funding that allows for slow but sustainable growth? That doesn’t put the pressure on for results quickly, but long term growth that leads to flourishing communities of grace not driven individuals and leadership teams that burn out or disperse amidst conflict too quickly?
Secondly we tend to plant young. I means in terms of the person who goes and does the planting and any team they take with them. When you read Acts it’s telling that it’s Paul and Barnabas who are sent out from Antioch. It’s Paul who then collects young men like Timothy and gives them considerable training and when he does leave them to do ministry alone he is constantly mentoring and coaching and exhorting them to humility and to remember Jesus for themselves not just for their ministry! And yet we almost always send the younger, less experienced minister out to plant. Is that because we ape our culture in thinking of the entrepreneur and pioneer as young and brash? Is that because those of us who are older are too risk averse, too comfortable to think about taking that risk – after all the kids are in school, we’re settled and so on…? And what about mentoring, how much do we mentor those we send out? What about partnership between churches – not a quick gift every so often – but real gospel partnership like that found in the New Testament that isn’t just a sop to our consciences or a tick box exercise but that cares and invests and shares and partners? And what would it look like to do this differently?
Maybe the biggest lesson for all of us from everything we have seen over the last few years in the church that has so grieved us is that God is calling us to stop and think. To examine the tree and it’s fruit, the model of church planting we use and it’s outcomes and ask should we keep doing this or is there a better way?