9/17/2010 02:30:00 pm

Why plant a Church? Isn't that arrogance?

Posted by Tom French |

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A few days ago Howie blogged about not seeing the need for church plants (i.e. starting new churches). I wrote a comment that was probably longer than anyone bothered to read, but I was glad I did, because it's something that I've been meaning to blog about. As I've written this though, I think it may need to be a two parter. So I guess this is part one of two.

Ever since I told the world that I'm planning on planting a church, people have constantly asked me "Why do we need another church?" The implication being we already have plenty of churches, and most of them aren't full, so why start a new church. While not everyone is down on the idea, I certainly don't have overwhelming support from all quarters, especially from many close friends and family. I'm not offended, and would prefer they told me their misgiving than say nothing at all, or support me to my face, but rip on the idea behind my back. I feel privileged to have friends and family who love me enough to let me know when they aren't all that keen on the idea.

What follows is not a rebuke of those people who disagree with my decision to plant, but rather my thoughts on why people tend to object to the idea of church planting. And they're just my thoughts so obviously I may not even be right.

Whatever the state of the Australian church I think the response to church planting from many people would be the same. Were the Australian church going great guns, I suspect people would say "There are plenty of churches doing a great job, why do we need someone else doing the same thing?" and if the church was doing poorly people would say "Why not build up existing churches rather than start something new?"

For whatever other misgivings people have about church planting I suspect that much of the discomfort with the idea of church planting comes not primarily from a concern for the established churches, but from a concern with the attitude of the plant and the planters. I think the idea of planting a church, especially an independent one, brings with it a certain air of arrogance. Planting a church has the perceived message of "The established church isn't good enough, I'm going to do it better." Add to this that planting a church necessitates a level of entrepreneurialism, which requires the planter/planters to possess a level of self-belief that says "I have what it takes to make this happen." Then add to this that to plant a church you will almost certainly be taking strong Christians out of the local church they are serving in, to start something new, and you're now saying "The church isn't good enough, I have what it takes to make something better, and I'm going to make other churches weaker to do it." That is arrogance, and if there is anything Australians don't like, it's arrogance.

In the US I think church plants are more easily accepted, because they value, as a nation, the idea that someone can make themselves into something. Anyone can be President, anyone can earn a million dollars. If you believe in yourself it's not pride or arrogance, it's confidence. They are a nation born from people wanting to build something out of nothing, and they've done it. A bunch of pilgrims on boats becomes, in around 400 years, the most powerful nation in the history of the world. And so church planters are more readily accepted (though it would be silly of me to think they're all accepted all the time) because they embody, to some extent, the outworking of the American entrepreneurial spirit.

In Australia however we come from different stock. We're convicts or soldiers, sent by the government to colonise a foreign land. We're not here because of someone's dreams to build something great. We're here because the powers that be decided it'd be that way and we were forced to build a nation. And build a nation we did. We were not a nation that was founded by great men, we were a nation that had greatness thrust upon it. And as a result we value hard work, mateship, and equality. We don't like people trying to be boss, we value the boss being like the common person. We don't say "Let the best man win", we say "Lend your mate a hand".

Our heroes are not great people who led our nation in times of turbulent change and trouble, the are common people who rose to a challenge. We don't have an Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jnr, or Winston Churchill. We love Simpson and his donkey, we love the members of the Rural Fire Service, and the Surf Life Savers. We don't love Anthony Mundine, we love Stephen Bradbury and we love Cathy Freeman.

And so when someone says "I'm going to do something great" we say "Get back in your place".

I may have missed the mark, and I'm sure I have simplified and generalised the American and Australian character*, but these are factors that I suspect feed into our distrust of confidence and our distaste for arrogance which is playing out in the current interest and discussion regarding church planting in Australia.

Now I'm not saying that people are thinking about all this when they have misgivings about church planting. I am saying I think a lot of the people who have issues with church planting, will at some level, be interacting with the perceived arrogance of church planting.

And the arrogance of church planters is not always a misapplied characterisation. I remember talking to one church planter who told me that to some extent or another you need to be ego driven to plant a church. And certainly the line between self-belief and arrogance is a fine one, which is probably often crossed by church planters, especially those of us who haven't planted yet and haven't been broken by the process yet.

For my part I am fully aware of the arrogance of saying "I'm going to start a church." I know what kind of message independent church planting seems to send to the established churches.

I am someone who gels more with the character of leading when leadership is necessitated rather than seeking out positions of leadership. I am never someone who has sort to take on great tasks of leadership. Probably partly to avoid responsibility, but also to maintain an image of humility. God forbid that I should step forward and ask to lead lest people think I am arrogant.

The great thing about youth ministry is that while I led, I was never in it to be a leader, I was in it to be with the youth. And I could very comfortably have been a youth minister for many more years. Youth ministers always have someone over them, they don't have to aspire to greatness, and the buck never stops with them.

But now I'm church planting and I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of me stepping forward and saying "I can lead a church. I can build a church from scratch. I have what it takes."

The truth is I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm pretty sure I don't have what it takes. I don't think I know how to do church better than other churches. I don't want to start something new. I'm scared my plans of having three senior pastors is just a way of avoiding being in charge. If I could do anything I'd be a youth minister again, and I'd do that forever.

But I have been called. I am sure that God has called me to church plant. And so my job is obedience. While I would prefer to take the path of least resistance and I know that church planting will cost me dearly, my greater pleasure is to serve my Lord. So my first, and most foundational answer to the question of "Why plant a church?" is "God has told me to." In greatness or failure, arrogance or humility, church planting is what I'm doing. And I could have got that wrong but right now that's the only obedience I know how to do.



That's part one. Tune in next time for "Why plant a Church? Don't we have enough churches?"


*I'm also aware that, particularly in the case of Australia, I have ignored the non-Anglo heritage of Australia, particularly the Aboriginal history of the country. I do this only because I am concerned with our response to entrepreneurialism, rather than out of any desire to ignore other important parts of our history.

Photo by: PhillipC

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