The Worst Thing You Can Do to a Church Planter

by Paul on September 1, 2009

The worst thing you can do to a young church planter – and yet the very thing most people and seminaries do – is give them books about church planting.  Although G.K. Chesterton was talking about slavery in this illustration, I think he would agree the same idea applies to church planting:

We may say broadly that free thought is the best of all the safeguards against freedom. Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave’s mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free, and he will not free himself. Again, it may be said that this instance is remote or extreme. But, again, it is exactly true of the men in the streets around us. It is true that the negro slave, being a debased barbarian, will probably have either a human affection of loyalty, or a human affection for liberty. But the man we see every day — the worker in Mr. Gradgrind’s factory, the little clerk in Mr. Gradgrind’s office — he is too mentally worried to believe in freedom. He is kept quiet with revolutionary literature. He is calmed and kept in his place by a constant succession of wild philosophies. He is a Marxian one day, a Nietzscheite the next day, a Superman (probably) the next day; and a slave every day. The only thing that remains after all the philosophies is the factory. The only man who gains by all the philosophies is Gradgrind. It would be worth his while to keep his commercial helotry supplied with sceptical literature. And now I come to think of it, of course, Gradgrind is famous for giving libraries. He shows his sense. All modern books are on his side. As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind. ( Emphasis Mine)

Books on church planting encourage thought on the subject, and even passionate arguments between wannabe planters, but I’m not convinced they propel anyone toward actually planting a church.  There are several reasons why.

Constantly Changing Target

The indicators of success for a church plant differ from book to book.  The role of a church planter changes from book to book as well.  How can anyone expect a young church planter to plant anything when nature of what he is expected to plant varies from book to book?

Bits and Pieces of Tactics

Most books about church planting don’t cover the strategy behind church planting; they address the tactics associated with a particular model or specific circumstance.  Even if they identify commonalities between multiple church planting successes, that doesn’t mean that the specifics they left out weren’t vital to that church’s success within its context.  Consequently, new church planters have bits and pieces of tactics and little understanding of how to develop a strategy for their context. They cobble something together from what they like of each approach and pray that it works.

No Cohesive Strategy

If you gather bits and pieces from books outlining the tactical approaches of different church planters in different communities with different circumstances, creating a cohesive strategy that works in your circumstance is impossible.  You cannot create a strategy around pet tactics.  Your tactics serve your strategy, not the other way around.  Church planters should survey the community they have at hand, develop a strategy to reach that community, and then analyze and test the different tactics they can apply to achieve their goal.

Focus on the Tool and Forget about the Project

If I want to cut down a tree, a hammer is probably the worst tool I could choose for the job.  I could do it eventually, but it would take a long time, might break the hammer, and would probably wear me out in the process.  I am convinced that a lot of the burnout we see among church planters is the result of using the wrong tool (method of church planting and type of church planted) for the job (reaching the lost in a specific community and planting a church among the community of new believers).

Application to Using Social Media in Church

For the same reasons, the worst thing you can do to anyone trying to use social media within the church or to plant churches, is to expose them to a bunch of tools and books about those tools.  You have to help them develop strategy.  Once they understand strategy, then you can help them evaluate the tactics and the tools of social media.

I think one of the reasons social media experts have such a bad name is that they focus on the tools and the tactics and have no understanding of how they function within a strategy.  I don’t want online ministers and church planters to ever face the same distain.

My advice: Put the books down. Stop drooling over every new online application and social media tool.  Find someone to help you understand strategy. Then you can move forward with purpose and actually get something done.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel_Berman September 2, 2009 at 1:04 am

Extremely interesting advice. I went to school for a BA in Church Development.

I can quote and/or argue just about any church development question you probably have. That said where am I? Working IT in a local hardware store. Is this where I want to be, honestly no. I enjoy working IT, but I serious wonder how it will help the Church at large at times….Everyone wants life experience, but few want to actually develop the up and coming leaders….

stevej September 6, 2009 at 5:55 pm

I have read everything that you and your dad have written on the internet, have viewed and listened to many of the videos and audios and attended the workshop in Dallas. I really appreciate everything that you have said and taught and on board 100%. I do feel like a minnow in a pond of catfish when it comes to spreading this vision and forming a team. I know that I need to just do it and persevere until the team is formed and persons of peace are found. Thanks for the post. It has brought me back to Scripture and my knees as I ponder it anew.

Pete September 7, 2009 at 12:39 am

As a church planter I must agree with all of this. As I read books I felt I was always reading "This is how I did it, so this is how you must do it too". I was also surprised by the lack of consistency not just in methodology but also in doctrine of church. It was like people planted churches and then looked it at it and said, "Well, that's my doctrine!" to some extent or another.

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