Open Letter to Church Planters (Especially Sacramento)December 26, 2007
Among other things, I have been a church planter. The current church I am a member of is an 8-year old church plant and started around the same time as dozens of other church plants in our area of Sacramento. But what I want to say is to all church planters and especially to those brothers and sisters of mine in Northern California.
It is time to stop the foolishness.
To illustrate what I mean, let me tell you a story. I am the oldest of the church planters in our area and I have found this truth to be genuine: God will never bless His church with all his promised blessings unless there is a sense of unity in a given area. Unity of God’s people attracts the Presence of God and his blessings. Because I believe this, I have spent time getting to know the other church planters of our area. One of the best ways of doing this is to take them out to lunch…no one turns down a free lunch – especially pastors.
One gentleman went to lunch with me and we had a very nice time sharing together. I listened keenly to the vision he had for reaching out to people and was impressed with his honesty and genuine love of teaching the Bible. At the end, I extended my heart to him and asked if we could continue to grow as colleagues and friends. His answer not only startled me, it brought great grief.
“I don’t need any more friends. Especially not other pastors. Thanks, and God bless you.” Those were his exact words. I am not exaggerating in the least. He said all of this with a straight face and I am sure there is a very good rationale for his answer that I can’t fathom at this point. Perhaps he is trying to manage his time better. Perhaps he has been hurt by other pastors and has chosen to be friends with those that he chooses. Perhaps God told him not to be friends with too many. Or perhaps he is dealing with years of thinking he needs to be everyone’s friend and now has to obey God as to whom he befriends.
All of those are valid reasons and I can accept them. But subsequent experiences with church planters has lead me to see the possibility of another darker reason. Just by way of background for those reading this not familiar with this blog, I am not just a church planter. Being a counselor, I have also counseled a good number of church planters. In addition, I have been an instructor at several church planter seminars and have spoken to hundreds of planters and received their opinions on a number of subjects, including how they feel about other pastors.
Here is what I think may be happening with this group. Planters are the Entrepreneurs of the Church Society. As we all know, entrepreneurs are creative, hard-working, innovative, “outside the box” thinkers, aggressive, type-A, personalities. They take risks and have much higher failure rates than established companies. Yet, where would American culture and business be without them. They are the growing edge of finance and ideas in our world.
Every field of endeavor has their entrepreneurs. Medicine has the Patch Adams type. Computers have Steve Jobs. Anthropologists have Dian Fossey, poets have e e cummings, songwriters claim endless inventors. Even churches need the innovative and type-A thinkers. But with the positive side comes the flip side as well.
Entrepreneurs are lone wolves. They buck the trends. Because of this, they tend to be self-absorbed, overanalytical, neurotic, fear failure, and take too many financial risks. They value success in terms of size and numbers and see others in the same field as the “competition”. As you can see, this does not lend itself to the Presence of God and the His blessings.
The community we started in has had 41 church plants in 8 years. For the most part, these pastors do not privately get along very well. Only the old guys do very much together outside of a few official gatherings. Some pastors have been known to rejoice when other church plants fail. Part of the reason they do this is because of a shift in American church culture. The fastest growing churches in America are almost all recent church plants. They are setting the trend for all who will follow. If you look at the histories of the most successful church plants in the past decade, they all have the same biography: We did it ourselves, we only work with ourselves, we are making a name for Jesus by ourselves and you will want to come and find out how we did it. What I observe in my community is a group of entrepreneureal church leaders who want to succeed and see other church plants as the competition. Granted, it makes our area a very innovate and creative place to attend church. However, when each one wants to be the next Saddleback or the next Bayside or even the next great new California “wunderkirk”, it eliminates the possibility of really working together for a common goal. I doubt that is what God wants. The people who could be the greatest asset and encouragement to one another are perceived as the enemy. This has to stop now.
There are a couple of churches in America who are notable exceptions to this church planting debacle. In a follow up article, I will focus on those who have done it differently.
So here is my battle cry. Church planters: please, listen to the Holy Spirit and seek to do and pray things that don’t benefit you in any way. The way we are acting right now is closer to the philosophy of Ayn Rand than it is the Bible. Ayn Rand taught that the highest virtue was dedicated self-interest. She taught that helping others doesn’t help you or them. Is this what the Bible teaches?
I am curious especially what other pastors want to say about this subject. I welcome your input on this entry.
UPDATE ON THIS ARTICLE: I would be wrong not to publicly mention four men who have done much to try and help unity in Sacramento. One of them had to close his church, but he had a heart for Natomas. I thank Mike Stipech of Fountainhead Church for always showing that there is one church in Sacramento…with 31 flavors. I thank Pat McDaniel of the now retired City of Grace Church…you cared enough to love even when others ignored. I thank John Stone of Crosspoint Church…John, every time you call to pray and to encourage it is a Godsend. And to Ron Vanderwell of The Gathering Church. You keep plugging away at unity when everyone else is too busy (me included). You are loved by the Father and may your tribe increase.