Advice to a church planter

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I found the “Advice to a church planter” given by Brian McLaren on his dialogue page quite useful to reflect on my own journey thus far. (His words in bold, mine in italics) Often interactions like this opens up one to see “new horizons” that will lead to “fresh directions” 🙂

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–OK. Here’s what I’d want to say to any church planter.

1. Ask yourself what the gospel is, and then ask if you’re sure that’s what the gospel is. If you’re not, there are no shortcuts you have to rethink things, go back to Jesus, etc. I hope my new book, A Generous Orthodoxy, would be of help to you in that rethinking process.

It’s scary, the re-thinking and questioning began in a more focused way more than four years ago and I found I was often left in a very “vulnerable” state during those times. I suppose there were times I wouldn’t have survived if not because of good support from those who journeyed together in this way and thanks to the internet the chance to eavesdrop and peek into other people’s stories. Connecting with new found friends also helped my confidence to grow and be affirmed that this process is worthwhile and rewarding.

2. Build a team that’s not working from a model-mentality, but that’s on a journey mentality. They want to journey with you, explore with you, think and learn and grow with you. That’s an important difference.

I must admit I wasn’t too sure how our team really functioned when we began. I suppose we had our illusions and expectations, loaded with other baggages we brought along with us form our previous experiences. Coupled with all that most of us were and still are in a life-stage where we just got married and are having our first and second child. Others are happily single! We did start with some kind of “model-mentality” I think (more experimental at least for me) but indeed the “journey mentality” is crucial because then we are more willing to learn from failure rather than beat ourselves up with guilt. I guess, right now we need to allow these values to surface up clearer and with more focus so we won’t fall back into a rigid reigning model-mentality which has infected practically everyone who seeks to have a “successful” church.

3. Think about what kind of people you want to form. What do you want them to look like? Not look like?

I think these are very important questions because so often we’re talking the language of the abstract when we need the concrete pictures before us. And yet, the sensitivity not to turn these into a new legalism must be there. I like the phrase “New Obedience” I glanced in the Augsburg Confession a few nights ago. As far as fashion sense is concern (in terms of clothes), I think we’re not dogmatic at all 🙂 Seriously though, it’s been a great challenge to work out how Kingdom values (as we discover it slowly) looks like in our fast changing world. I have some “image” and “idea” like a sermon forming in my mind (e.g. a kind of order and balance in our life, work and ministry, the way we relate to people especially those who don’t profess to be Christians, the little we can do to make a difference in our world like blogging, etc) but the challenge of usually language that’s full of clarity and charity in word and deed is a long term “work in progress”

4. Think about how people like that could be formed. What kinds of experiences, services, activities, practices, traditions, rituals, learnings, involvements, and forms of community would form people in the desired way?

I must admit we have tried quite a lot of different ways and yet old thinking habits die hard even if we change the outward ways we do things. At times, I’m clear with why we use certian activities and projects, but suddenly I’d realize that many might do it without that kind of awareness which I was hoping for. The other aspect is how these forms can be long term and also integrated first in our local congregation, and then somehow reaching beyond us into our neighbourhood and networks, the wider church etc.

5. Think about how people who will subvert your mission can be politely redirected. Decide whether you will take adequate action in this regard, and realize it will be costly.

I guess this is one area that I struggle with the most. I seen more than a few leaving us for all sorts of reasons. Most of the time it’s not so much of an upfront desire to “subvert our mission” but more of the inability to “connect” with what we want to do. It’s never pleasant to face these realities and dealing with it face to face is somehow not easy. Learning to “let go” was one painful lesson through the past 4 years, and yet maintaining a posture that “invites” others to this mission is still a strong value for me.

6. Take whatever timelines you are thinking about and multiply them by 10, or maybe 20 or 100. In other words, prepare to be patient. Fast results are usually about ego needs, not effectiveness for the kingdom of God.

This is one of the best advice given here so far. Almost everything I wanted to do is delayed at least 4 years!!!! And that’s a little faster than the 10, 20 and 100 McLaren suggests. I attribute that to pure “surprises by God” then. And there’s still so much more to do … I often wake up wondering which on first, and how long, what’s next?, what now?, that kind of questions

7. Stay close to God. Smoke what you’re selling (as my friend Rob Bell says): in other words, make you number one priority to actually live the kind of life you want people to live through your church.

In all honesty, I really believe in the values, vision, and mission I believe God has entrusted our young congregation. There are times when we stumble and I personally struggle a lot to live them all out. It’s a constant battle behind the scenes in heart, mind, spirit and soul even body. At times a kind of “Elijah”-I’m alone syndrome sets in and then quickly God reminds me of the bigger picture and others along the journey. After my mini-one-month-sabbathical, I feel affirmed and energized to persist on this journey with more confidence and clarity. Who I am and who I’m becoming with Christ as my center is of utmost priority … then I can serve out of honesty and integrity. I’m so thankful that there are family and friends who also believe in this … we don’t walk alone … we walk on together!

I hope that’s helpful.

Brian has been one of the most helpful English writers I’ve read so far and also he’s been very consistent in providing quality reflective insights in all his writings. For that I’m grateful …

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