We're a Movement, Not an Institution
I was recently catching up with two friends who are part of a church plant far away from Minnesota. Their church was planted for the same reason we planted Gospel Life Church: To make disciples of Jesus Christ in their specific context. They’re struggling to do that though. Let’s look at this story and see two things we can learn from it:
This church planted out of a big church in another town. Shortly after the church had its first service, the pastor’s wife began having problems with a mental illness that previously seemed under control. Because of that, the pastor (rightly) began to focus less on the church and more on his wife and children. The church had a leadership team, but no elders, so the leadership team has been leading the church by committee.
A year into their church, they have about ten programs, almost all of which are focused on the people that are already in the church.
I share this story because as a young church we must learn from both positive and negative examples. The story above makes me sad, and Gospel Life Church could struggle in a similar way if we do not learn their from struggles. There are two warnings I see for our church from this story:
1. Plurality of Pastors
The planting pastor in this story made the right decision to give extra attention to his family in this season of struggle. A man who is willing to neglect his family for the sake of the church is not a man worthy of the pastorate. How sad is it though, that a pastor would have to choose between the health of the church he serves and the health of his family? The church in this story was lead by a single pastor, and that left them vulnerable to attack.
The New Testament norm for church leadership is a plurality of pastors. (Call them elders, bishops, overseers, shepherds; those words all point to the same role.) These pastors have the joyful-obligation of shepherding the church through preaching and prayerful leadership. Some of these pastors will be freed up financially to lovingly serve the church at a full time capacity (i.e. Jeremy), and some of these pastors will lovingly serve the church in a non-vocational capacity. The important thing is that these pastors are spiritually qualified (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7). They must not exercise leadership to serve themselves, but to serve the Lord and the local church.
If the church from the story above had a plurality of spiritually qualified pastors, the church wouldn’t have struggled so much in the absence of one of them. But since there was only one pastor, his absence created a crisis for the church.
Jeremy is currently our only pastor, but he is working to train up more pastors at Gospel Life Church. While we currently do not have formal eldership in place, Chris Haskett, Pete Johnson, and Ben Reis are serving on our Ministry Council, which is serving the church in a very similar way as pastors would serve. This ensures that even while we only have one person who is serving in the role of pastor, we have more than one person leading the church at the early stages of our existence. Let’s pray for those who will join him as pastors, that they would lead us well on the mission of making and shepherding disciples of Jesus Christ
2. Institutional Focus Instead of Movement Focus
New churches tend to make more disciples (per 100 people) than older churches. One big reason for this is a new church is not an institution and therefore does not need to think like an institution. At Gospel Life Church we don’t have a big building with problems to fix, hundreds of Christians to nurture, and several committees to go through before making a decision about the direction of our church.
We are light on our feet with no previous traditions or attachments to the way “we’ve always done things.” We’re not an institution. Heck, we can barely be described as an organization. We’re a group of friends who are on an adventure together to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s very easy though, for church people like me to forget church planting is about a movement and not an institution. I’ve got to constantly remember the purpose of church planting, or else I’ll start thinking in institutional terms. If I do not regularly remind myself that we exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ in our local context, I’ll start thinking in institutional terms.
That is what happened in the church plant from the story. They didn’t have a pastor who was leading them on mission, and so, they forgot they were on a mission to make disciples and began to think like they were on a mission to keep an institution afloat. When they thought of things to do as a church, they thought like church people: “We need a women’s ministry, men’s ministry, a youth group for those two kids who come with their parents, etc.”
What they needed to do was think in terms of, “How can we honor God by making disciples of Jesus Christ in our local context?” They had the ability to be a movement, but they began thinking like an institution. They were like a group of ten-year-old -boys who sat around talking about their taxes. They needed someone to come up to them and say, “Hey kids, you don’t have to do your taxes. Now take your slippers off, put down the dominoes, and go outside and ask the other kids in the neighborhood to play some football!”
Brothers and sisters, our Heavenly Father has allowed us to be on this church planting adventure with Him and for Him. This is unlike anything any of us have ever done. Let’s continue to work together with childlike joy as we make disciples of Jesus Christ in our specific context. And let’s pray for more pastors to lead us while we are on this mission.