We’ve been so blessed at Second Mile to have such a great core group — we called them the “launch team” — who have done so much to help us start in strength. Tomorrow morning I’m going to be sharing with a group of men from the core group at Christchurch of East Mesa, a new sister church of ours (both of us were launched out of East Valley Bible Church in Gilbert). My contention is that it doesn’t matter how gifted or called the church planter is if his team is not on board in living out the vision of the new work.
So I made a top 10 list to help these guys start the church in a healthy way:
1. Your primary job is to create a culture that you and God will be happy about 10 years from now. This is a difficult thing to do, and part of the goal behind our current Core Values series. Who you are in the early days is who you will be later. Sure, some things change. But the DNA of who you are as a church and what drives you is formed quickly. Even though many core group members eventually move on, their role as culture-creators is essential.
2. Your new pastor and church will eventually disappoint you and let you down. People get into a new church thinking it will be utopia. It isn’t. Even if it is for a while, eventually the glitter rubs off. If you find the perfect church, leave because you will ruin it.
3. Work to create an evangelistic texture to every ministry environment. Evangelism is not just one program or an event. It happens all the time as people feel comfortable inviting friends and welcoming them into the community. Tim Keller’s resource on Evangelism & Church Planting in Postmodern Cities is very helpful here.
4. Always talk as though nobody knows who your heroes are. Christianity has its own little subculture, and different churches have their own set of “heroes” that they admire and talk about. But if you mention “Piper,” “Keller,” “Crowder,” “Luther,” etc. without explanation and assume everyone knows who those people are, it creates insiders and outsiders in a way that isn’t helpful. For us, and for Christchurch, it’s important not to assume people know who “East Valley” (our sending church) or “Tom” (our sending church’s pastor) are. One lady visited a group, kept hearing from an older woman about all the things “Tom” used to say and assumed that he was the lady’s deceased husband! Either way, to people who are far from God or not from your tradition, this is unhelpful and alienating.
5. Be known by what you’re for, not what you’re against. Is the church started from a positive vision for something or as a reaction against something? It makes all the cultural difference in the world.
6. Don’t moralize your personal preferences. Sometimes people are drawn to a new core group because they think it’s an opportunity to “create the church I’d like to attend.” But if those preferences (styles, times, songs, programs, plans) become sacred and moralized (i.e. “this is the right way to do it”), you’ll be disappointed (at best) or divisive (at worst), convinced that everyone else is sinful and bad.
7. Leave your current church on great terms (or go make it right if you didn’t). For a Christian who’s joining the core group of a church plant, this is really important. Don’t leave with baggage from your last church. If you’ve been in a position of leadership or responsibility, communicate with the people you’ve been working with. Don’t disappear out of nowhere, don’t drop the ball, and don’t smear mud on people or things that you didn’t like there. If you’ve already left and you’re guilty of division or gossip or dropping the ball, go apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make it right. Don’t bring your personal junk into this new work and think it won’t negatively influence the new work.
8. Relentlessly involve new people. I’ve realized that, in general, the “80-20 rule” where 20% of people do all the work is not the fault of the 80%. They would like to be involved. But once the 20% know each other and who they can count on to get things done, they stop asking people outside that circle. That’s why it’s huge to constantly be meeting and involving new people.
9. Be ready for change. I call this the “Brett Farve Retirement Principle” or the “for now” principle. One of my mentors says you should end every sentence with “for now” because the only constant thing in a new church is change. We’ve followed this advice and it is very good (for now).
10. Direction, not intention, determines your destination. This line was stolen from Andy Stanley’s “Principle of the Path” and simply means that where you’re headed is where you’re headed, even if you’d like to be headed somewhere else. The implication is that the things you want to be true of you in the future have to be part of the equation now or they will be very difficult to implement to the culture someday.
These are things that we’re still working on and trying to develop, and I’m thankful for the men and women who are striving to make them a reality in our church. It’s made the early days of this effort a sincere joy.