I spent four hours with ten Methodist church planters on Thursday morning. I started the time by asking them to articulate their most pressing challenge. Half of them were in their first eight weeks[...]
Church planters stand in a unique intersection that brings five overlapping points of tension when it comes to vision and ministry DNA. I see these five tug-of-war ropes with every planter I meet. Each of these tensions starts with a defining question.
#1 Am I running from or photocopying the ministry DNA of where I am leaving?
The first tension is between the ministry the church planter is leaving and the church they’re starting. There is a love-hate spectrum on the “leaving” side. Planters can err defining themselves by what they’re not (hate) or by simply photocopying the launching church model (love). I see both all of the time. In our ongoing Houston co::Lab, one planter left Sojourn Church in Louisville, KY excited to plant a church just like it in Pearland, TX. He is using the co::Lab to make sure he doesn't short-circuit his own discovery and discernment process.
#2 Will I build the church that's in my head only, or the one that God will begin to grow?
The second tension is between the ministry DNA that’s in the church planters mind and the one that God actually begins to grow. Defining values from the start should be a powerful magnet and filter for the core team, but this shouldn’t preclude God’s sovereign hand of provision and direction as the church takes-off. The balance here is important as I always encourage aggressive discernment and bold articulation from the start. The key is to pay attention and always ask the most fundamental question: "What is God up to?"
#3 Will my definition of success be limited by the metrics of yesterday?
The third tension is between the metrics of yesteryear and the new metrics that missional thinking and innovative ministry may birth. Planters need freedom and confidence to break from the past and the lingering expectations from peers and mentors. I am surprised by how many times a guy starts out thinking creatively only to fall into common patterns and butts-in-seats goals.
#4 Will I leverage the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay a vision foundation?
Fourth, is the tension of the “get-r-done” factor and a sweat-saturated task list with the importance of taking time to think clearly about the church’s cultural foundation. You only pour the foundational concrete once. I encourage planters to fiercely protect the "important and non-urgent" task of articulating vision well. The Auxano Vision co::Lab is a great place for coaching and accountability for this work. Remember, you only have the lifetime of the opportunity to seize the opportunity of a lifetime.
#5 Will I choose to translate the DNA well to the core team or rely on my own talent?
Finally, planters wrestle with knowing intuitively what they’re about and creating contagious carriers of the church’s vision. Helping people tell the new story is not as automatic as we would like to think, even with the core team. Years into his ministry, Jesus was still clarifying the basics of his mission with his twelve. In Luke 9:55, he rebukes them once again for wanting to destroy and not save. If our perfect God-man-leader, Jesus, worked hard for vision clarity what makes you think it won't take a lot of time and attention for you?
If you have recently planted or are in the process of planting, I highly recommend the Exponential Conference this April in Orlando. They will have a track for vision, values & culture, a part of which will be a pre-conference. Let me know if you plan to be there.
At a recent Exponential Conference, I spoke on "Organizational Alignment." Watch this training video as I discuss 5 tensions every church planter faces, how to develop clarity in your vision, and maintain it through increased organizational complexity.