Why is church planting important
The Doctrine of the Church is important, especially for elders
The seed of the gospel is planted in new soil. A new church is planted. And then, after a few years, there is a crisis.
A serious conflict hits young churches with surprising persistence, even if the reasons are very different.
But not for me, I thought. I have thought a lot about our church. I am a better leader.
I was wrong.
The journey of planting a church forces us to face reality when the vague ecclesiology that many church planters carry into their new churches, with the complications of real people, real sin, and real challenges that come with growth , be confronted.
Ecclesiology is important
In the eagerness to plant a new church, many leaders run the risk of appointing elders too quickly. It can be tempting to compromise certain doctrines in order to have elders and therefore be a healthy church. One of these teachings is ecclesiology. I have seen many leaders appoint elders without seeking unity on the subject.
We may think that unity on ecclesiology is secondary to "more important" doctrinal subjects. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
Change is inevitable
Church planting goes through phases of change at various degrees and the elders must be ready for their roles to change when that happens. Sometimes elders must make serious decisions in the light of these changes. Difficult decisions are part of everyday life in church planting. And you can't just write a detailed guide on how to deal with these changes in your own church planting. But a robust ecclesiology can help.
About four years after our inception, divisions began to emerge in the relationships between key leaders. These divisions were rooted in philosophical differences that grew over time and turned into personal injuries. The divisions built up and at some point there was a real crisis. By God's grace, the church was saved and is now healthier and more united than ever. But it was still a painful and disturbing time.
But teaching about the nature of the church is not just about avoiding conflict. It's also about being faithful to the Bible.
Church plantings that have Reformed beliefs are often very theological in nature and have an obligation to a plurality of elders who are to lead and care for the church. This can lead to the use of men who have little leadership experience or who only know part of the life and ministry in a local church. This is exactly what Paul warns the young Timothy in Ephesus about. One of my mentors even claimed that some of Paul's list pointed to some mistakes he himself had made in planting his churches.
“So don't lay your hands on anyone too quickly (1 Timothy 5:22). I know few church planters who, in retrospect, regret having gone too slowly in this area. "
So don't lay your hands on anyone too quickly (1 Timothy 5:22). I know few church planters who, in hindsight, regret having been too slow in this area.
Develop and train
In the past, I have been very focused on teaching in our training at the expense of other aspects of elders' service. It is true that "able to teach" is one of the qualifications for an elder, but it is not the only one (1 Timothy 3: 2). What underpins all qualifications is character. Character will prevail where there is a lack of gifts.
So we reformulated our training to mainly focus on developing and evaluating a man's heart and character. Our development process determines and strengthens emotional intelligence. We observe a man's life at home, at work, and in the community. Where I once looked for the most astute theologian in the room, I am now looking for the man whose presence most encourages and builds those around him and points them to Jesus.
Build philosophical unity
While character is the key trait in Elder Qualifications (1Tim 3; Tit 1), there is a wide range of perspectives on how teams of elders function together. A man may have the character qualifications listed in scripture - and have been an elder in another ward himself - but still have a different vision or philosophy of service from the church you are planting. And when these differences are present on a team of elders, it can be crippling. If they turn into deep divisions, the church will also experience division.
Differing views on whether a ward has a “lead pastor” or what role the pastor has within the ward and elders team can lead the pastor to believe that he is doing a good job while others feel that he is is too dominant. When we planted our church, there were times when people on our team could describe the same moment differently. A lack of unity about the various roles of the elders contributed to this division.
Differing views on the roles of elders and permanent staff and how they relate to one another can lead to frustrating meetings and confusion. As our church grew, so did our staff. This also meant that the role of the elders had to change. This change was welcomed by some, but vehemently rejected by others.
Different views on the essential structures of care and mission in the church will lead to different visions for the church and can contribute to division. Our team developed strong disagreements about the connections between elders and small group leaders and who was responsible for looking after the ward members.
In reflecting on these difficulties, it is important to emphasize that often we have not been able to blame a single person. The challenges we faced were the result of necessary changes in the leadership of a growing church.
And that is why deep humility and wisdom are so important. I am not pleading for uniformity, but for unity. It is possible to have slightly different perspectives on ecclesiology and still have a healthy body of elders. But be aware that division can arise quickly. Humble, praying addiction will no doubt be necessary to deal with these issues.
Repent, learn, grow
Church planters will make mistakes. Other leaders will make mistakes. It is difficult for many church planters to make the transition from entrepreneurship of planting to pastoral care of a church. When conflict inevitably arises, repent quickly and regularly, learn from mistakes, and grow in the application of the gospel in the church.
I have made my share of mistakes and have had to repent both privately and publicly. I had ecclesiological ideals that looked good on paper but didn't work in real service and conflict. I am grateful for the wise mentors who helped me move on, reminding me that the church does not depend on perfect leaders, but on a perfect Savior.
Planting a church is always more complicated than creating the plan for it. Having a clear, written, biblically reasoned ecclesiology - which all elders professed from the beginning - can help the church better carry out its mission and better manage conflict.
Bill Riedel is the founder and senior pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Washington, D.C. (UNITED STATES).
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