Parachuting into Babylon

The recent massacre in Charleston and the ruling by the SCOTUS has sent many scurrying to the keyboard in an effort to articulate varying perspectives on the significance and implications of the recent tragedy in Charleston and on the court’s decision. I am grateful for the host of wise men and women who have reminded the church of the truthfulness of God’s word, the gravity of the mission, and the hope of the resurrection. My goal here is modest in comparison. I simply want to urge those seeking to lead the church to avoid the temptation to go at it alone. All pastors, particularly young church planters, need help to lead God’s church during these days. Here’s what I mean.

I’m struck by the fascinating complexity that has naturally developed from the vast changes to our cultural landscape – particularly when the changes affect those who carry the weighty responsibility of leading God’s church. I’m convicted of how much I have to learn and how easily I could say or do things that would bring harm to the bride of Christ. I’m burdened by the weight of modeling a marriage that can serve as a counterexample to the new cultural norm while rightly portraying God’s love for His church. I’m motived to love and serve those relentlessly running after culturally defined deities, knowing that those lesser gods can never keep their promises.

These are complex days.

More than ever, future church planters need to exercise great caution as they begin to navigate the modern mission field. Many young men, enlivened by a passion for God and his church, have been prone to run headlong into pastoral ministry. They feel called to plant a church, so they merely communicate this desire to their pastor, raise a little money, relocate their family, and show up in a new city ready to plant a church. They go with support from family, friends, and a sending church, but, in reality, they go alone. Some have a few eager friends who join them in the journey and commit to making this church plant a reality. Some go alone. Some are in their 40’s with a history of pastoral experience. Some are 25 with nothing but a Master’s Degree. They parachute into town with an abundance of faith, a big dream, and a few connections. God has, in his kindness, seen fit to bear fruit from many of these ventures. Some succeed. Many do not.

Now is not the time to parachute into Babylon. The culture is too complex, the mission is too critical, and the potential issues are too multifaceted for pastors to consider planting a church without tethering themselves to a number of critical relationships. From my vantage point, the following are four critical and often neglected relationships:

A Healthy Sending Church – Future pastors should be sent as an expression of another local church, with the full backing, support, and wisdom that church can offer (See Acts 13:1–3). Church planters would be well-served to enter into the pipeline of a healthy sending church and wait until they can be sent well.

A Faithful Denomination – Denominations seem to have garnered a bad reputation through the years due to antiquated models, a perceived lack of stewardship, or a host of other factors that appear to inhibit a planter’s work. Though these assumptions may at times be true, they need not obscure the incredible blessing of a relationship with faithful, God-honoring denominational leaders. I could not be more thankful for the men who publically speak on my behalf on these matters. From the aforementioned Dr. Moore, to seminary professors like Dr. Albert Mohler and Dr. Danny Akin, to prominent pastors such as J.D. Greear and Matt Carter. These men represent me well. I count it an honor to proudly refer to myself as a Southern Baptist, not simply because they are the denomination that helped fund my work, but because they are a fellowship of godly men and women who help chart a course for me to follow.

A Missionally-Minded Sister Church – Before entering a new city, church planters should develop a significant relationship with a church that is already missional and effective in the local culture. These relationships can inform the planter of missional landmines, unlock additional relationships with people of peace, and provide a roadmap for the needs the church must address.

A Wise, Seasoned Pastor – We need someone who has been there before, made the mistakes we are poised to make, and has weathered the storms that we are sure to face. These men fought significant battles while we were still in middle-school. This is not the first cultural transition they have faced. They have accumulated bountiful wisdom to provide to young men walking this road for the first time.

A decade ago, a parachute drop church plant might cost you failed church plant; today, it might cost you your life and ministry. My prayer is that the challenges facing modern missionaries would forge better and more meaningful partnerships that would allow us to journey through Babylon together.