Church Planters NOT as Pastors – ReThinking Leadership

Session: Elders & the Local Church

stevetimmis.jpgOne of the sessions Steve Timmis led at the Total Church conference centered around the challenge to plant missional churches and develop leaders fast enough to plant additional churches.  The Crowded House, Timmis' said, like many churches is leader hungry.  One of the Achilles heels of house church movement is the need for a higher leader ratio.  In fact, this same inability to find good leaders is a common rationale behind video venues or large churches.  In this, Timmis quoted Darrin Patrick (who is defending video venue strategy) who struggled finding people to plant churches (in the 250 people range) in his city:

One reason it didn’t work was that we couldn’t find enough planters with a heart for our area who could plant a self-governing, self-supporting self-reproducing church….I believe that there are few guys with the calling and requisite skill set to plant a reproducing incarnational/attractional church. This is evidenced by the 70% failure rate in church plants. I saw this in our own context as we simply couldn’t find the guys with the calling and skill- set to give people to. Now, this has not stopped us from planting locally as we just sent out an elder and people to plant about 45 minutes out in the burbs. We have another intern who hopefully will plant in the next two years. My point is that if your church is experiencing growth like ours, you cannot plant fast enough, chiefly because of the lack of called, qualified, church planters.  

Read full post: Darrin Responds at Bob Hyatt

paul.jpgTimmis, upon reflection asked is the problem we face the leaders or the types of churches we are planting? When he examined Paul's missionary journey, Paul traveled through cities where people converted.  Paul returned in under two years and more likely after a couple months to appoint elders.  Timmis surmised that the problem then cannot be our leaders but the types of churches we are planting and the leader requirement necessary to run them. 

paul-map.jpgIs is because of our Western idea of church that we seek leaders who can create reproducible, incarnational/attractional churches that grow to 250+ in order to split and start over again?  Where do we read these requirement of elders in Timothy & Titus, asked Timmis.  These are two conclusions Timmis came to:

1. We need to re-think leadership in the local church.  Much of our leadership shortage stems from wrong assumptions.  Churches can appoint elders, who fulfill all that is required in Timothy & Titus.  This means we select elders by the grace evidenced in their life, not by the attractional qualities they hold.  How many of these guys are in your church right now?

2. Church Planters have a unique set of gifting that are best served planting churches.  (Timmis called church planters 'apostles') Since there are fewer of these 'initiators/gatherers'  they ought to do more missional church planting (often done in a team setting where people travel with them) to plant churches.  The skills these 'apostolic leaders' possess include: Visionary, Creative, Adaptable, Productive, Impatient – always wanting to move things forward, self-starters and a bit of a maverick.  These skills serve the planter well to create new works, but often these skills make them poor leaders of established churches.

Throughout the conversation, Timmis stressed that he was 'thinking out loud' and hadn't firmed up on these conclusions.  But I post this because these ideas are something we all will need to think through as we seek to change cities by the power of the gospel.

  • Tim Etherington

    November 5, 2007, 6:55 pm

    Very thought provoking post Drew. This is something I’ve been pondering since I first got interested in church planting. Like you guys I’ve been wondering where the ‘problem’ is.

    There is a disconnect between Paul and us. The Church at Paul’s time was very small, there were few resources to pull from. In our day the Church is enormous. Paul didn’t have any training centers to draw from. We have a ton of seminaries and bible institutes, etc. We should have the resources to sustain church planting movements!

    Perhaps part of the problem is that we’re trying to plant church planting churches and Paul didn’t seem to worry about that. He planted the churches and if they reproduced that was great.

    Perhaps, like Timmis said, we’re looking for the wrong qualifications in leaders. If we’re going to lower the bar then we need to become more like the early church as far as unity and administration goes. To do this safely, we’d have to adopt a presbyterian or episcopal form of government in order to provide oversight of these “weaker” churches. That’s going to be hard to make fly in the independent West.

    Or, perhaps God is throttling back our church planting efforts for his purposes. His vision on this is not necessarily our vision. I don’t know. I don’t think that sounds right but it could be. If he’s multiplying churches he should be multiplying leaders for them.

    Things to think on

  • Jeremy Pryor

    November 5, 2007, 7:38 pm

    YES! It is the type of churches. The problem is going to get far worse. I can count on one hand the teachers (worldwide) I would travel to listen to preach once per week and as long as you center a church around a worship service with one guy preaching you’ll never find enough gifted teacher/leader/pastors to plant these kind of churches.

    And, may I say, I’m glad to see this old model fail. It’s been a disaster for the American church. It produces celebrity pastors and baby Christians. It neither creates real churches (a body of interdependent believers) nor devoted disciples (people that have given up everything to follow Christ.) Its just a matter of time and I won’t mourn its passing.

    But we do need to move on and focus on the mission not a dead ineffective model. If you consider the resources we have available for discipleship and the N.T. model of church it’s not difficult to create new models that accomplish the mission with the biblical tools. But it seems everyone refuses to abandon the sacred cow of the worship service centered church.

  • Eug

    November 7, 2007, 12:19 pm

    To be honest this was a confusing post, though it was helpful and thought provoking it was comparing apples to oranges. It’s also missing an important part of the equation, the seminaries (schools that the assessed leaders come from).

    The quote from Darrin Patrick is one arguing for video venue. I have issues with that type of model in the first place, its a short cut that encourages a celebrity pastor mentality, (Look ma! I’m on TV!) it also distances the Pastor from the congregation. If your pastor isn’t vitally connected to the life of the congregation he’s more likely to be influenced by other pastors pastoring churches of similar size than the needs of his own community.

    I think the issue is definitely the LEADERS not Paul’s missional church planting MODEL but it goes further than that, its a problem with the seminaries & equipping institutions we pool leaders from.

    We’re in a culture shift similar to the one going on with America and gas powered cars. America is starting to understand the environmental crisis, we’ve had the technology for hydrogen cars for decades, yet the factories are still pumping out old technology (including hybrids) because it works. Until the factories and infrastructure changes why are we surprised things are getting worse?

    I’m a product of the Presbyterian & seminary system. Reformed seminaries produce scholars who can pass the 3 day exams & interviews; the system itself isn’t based on the biblical requirement which overwhelmingly emphasize character. The system of training and assessing leaders in Paul’s day was much more organic (as opposed to the completely academic model we currently use) and integral to the life of the church. Our seminary model (which I suspect Timmis & Darrin come from as well) is broken.

    Here is an article from Prof. John Frame which highlights this problem.

    Kaleo church is actually working at employing this partially through their RE:novo Institute, which is an attempt (opposed to the short cut of video venues) at a real solution to the problem we face here in America.

  • 218Matt

    November 7, 2007, 5:31 pm

    The quest for the “right” format for a church is high on many planters and pastors lists. The error is in looking for the one correct form. As the church has to exist within the societal context, we have to understand that context. Too many churches want to find a “one size fits all”. The answer is to look at the culture that you are called to reach and find the appropriate form to reach that culture. A trip to Walmart reminds us that this is a hyper-segmented society that values and responds to niche products and services. I am not saying we are a product – but rather that is the lens that the people we are trying to reach use to view us.
    In Terachurch, I wrote about the viable forms (including house churches) and why the will be viable. It may be worth a quick read ( if this is an area of interest for you.

  • brad brisco

    November 8, 2007, 8:54 am

    I think it is increasingly difficult to argue against Timmis’ assumptions about the type of churches we are planting. This reminds me again that I need to read his book.

  • Dan B.

    November 19, 2007, 3:10 pm

    Just throwing in some thoughts. I definitely don’t have this figured out.

    But it seems the emphasis on leaders, as described here, is again a top down approach. As is the comment about seminaries.

    It seems Paul planted churches according to Jesus’ instructions laid out in Luke 10, looking for the worthy person. Neil Cole and others have a handle on this in their house church planting movements. For instance, jesus shared with the woman at the well and — bam! — she tells the village and a “church” is planted.

    While I understand the need for training leaders, it seems it should be a local churchwide process in which leaders emerge. It happens in the local church and with the local community and brethren and continues to expand from there in an Acts 1:8 fashion.

    The seminary model is not biblical, that is there is no in the Bible where people are sent from the local church to some artificial incubator that hatches so-called church planters. There is mentoring, of course, but that’s different than the seminary model we see today and which I believe only arose because the local church wasn’t doing its job.

  • Ken Burns

    January 4, 2008, 11:20 am

    I definitely don‚Äôt have this figured out as well. Their is not a formula but a listening of the Spirit and a willingness to learn from wisdom and consequences. I have been carving out a church plant since 2003 from the ground up. Our mission is to bring hope to people who have been incarcerated, addicts and underprivileged families. After getting little or no support from area ministries and even our own movement that we are under we have stood with faith in God because we believe this is end time work. We have been believing for God to send us mature individuals to help us with the unbelievable hard work we are doing. God chose not to send us any. He has asked us to raise up those babies we have been given. When everyone else told us to quit we have stood. Raise leaders is a choice of bring out the qualities of those that surround you with love and encouragement. Finding the right church model is first defining who you are called to reach and what is the biblical model that will facilitate seeing them raised up to meet the spiritual needs of their peers. No 2 models are going to be alike just as Paul’s work led him to minister in the manner that each could receive.

  • Larry Jenkins

    July 26, 2008, 6:49 pm

    We really need to go back to the Book. Do you see the term “church planter” in the Bible? No, because there was no such thing. Now Apostle, that’s different. Since much of the church has done away with this gifting, is it any wonder it’s so difficult to produce biblical results with human means? I don’t think so. Elders are not a gift, they must be biblically qualified. It’s clear that in the NT, elders were elders in a city over the church there. Because there is only one church. When we mess with God’s pattern IT EFFECTS EVERYHTING. Frankly, we don’t need to reproduce more unbiblically structured churches! I wish we could see the utter importance of church structure and doining it God’s way and not ours