It’s hard to imagine a local, regional, or national church multiplication effort thriving without the engagement of local clergy, but sometimes our well-intentioned efforts lead to surprising resistance and backlash. This is particularly true in a denominational context, where the unifying factors are often theological and historical—not missional. (In a “network” context, the unifying factor is usually mission itself, so backlash is minimized.) Let me share with you what I’ve learned along the way; perhaps this will help you work hand-in-hand with the pastors in your area to fulfill the Great Commission. In my experience there are at least four stages encountered on the way to a true, symbiotic partnership.
- Novelty. In the earliest days of our modern church planting emphasis, planting a new church was a novelty in our region. A few church planters were recruited here and there, and they were deployed to areas geographically removed from other district churches. These were readily championed by district pastors and their churches, especially in the case where the new works were of a unique ethnicity. It was a good thing for established churches to pool resources to see these churches underway in “Judea and Samaria”.
- Momentum. Church planting catches on, and as the flywheel turns, the stories of redemption, baptisms, and changed lives begin to emerge. These are the stories the constituency has longed for. It gives purpose to being together, hearkening back to the earliest days of the association and why it is that a group of churches worked together to further God’s mission. A real sense of momentum can be achieved, in my opinion, within two years.
- Pushback. I wish that pushback didn’t occur, but it nearly always does. Once momentum picks up, some stakeholders will become wary of “all this emphasis on starting new churches,” and caution that some (themselves?) are being left behind. I understand some of this, because it mirrors the assumption that churches and denominations are to be “one stop shops” for religious shoppers, offering target ministries for constituents. When any good-intentioned but inwardly focused institution makes strides toward being more missional, there will be pushback. But this can be a defining thing, too, and not all pushback needs to result in a shrinking back or a blowing up.
- Engagement. If movement leaders are patient, prayerful, biblical in their communication, good listeners, and persistent during the unsettling times of pushback, an engagement of constituents can be realized. At one time I worked for an executive minister who had acquired solid street credibility among district constituents. He was patient, kind, and grandfatherly. And when our church planting movement picked up steam and encountered pushback, he stood in the gap between the young bucks and the old guard. He was also hard of hearing in one ear; so often, when he would field pushback questions, he’d just “listen.” At his retirement I teased that “Larry gave us the freedom we needed to duct-tape this movement together—or else he acted like he didn’t understand the question!”
This is good news, but I actually have some better news. It’s possible to do this without a lot of pain. There is a way to effectively engage constituents while eliminating or nearly eliminating pushback. The secret is to form regional leaders into missional networks that team together to start new works. In next week’s blog, we’ll cover some of the most effective ways to do this.