It Takes A Whole Village
...to Raise a Child.”No doubt many of us have heard or coined this well-known phrase within the context of family, but I dare say many of us have never considered its validity in the context of starting churches. In my years of both pastoral and denominational ministry, I am convinced more than ever that it takes churches (emphasis on the “s”) to initiate and ensure the long-term sustainability and viability of new starts. Too often I have witnessed the demise of a planter and his family who launch out alone without the affirmation and support of a “parenting” church and/or network of churches. This unfortunate and unnecessary outcome causes great hurt to both the planter, and more unfortunately, to Kingdom expansion. On the other hand, when there is a “village” invested in the development and long-term engagement of a church start, the stories of “success” are endless. That is not to say that this is true every time, but you get the point.
By way of a personal example, as a father of four, one of whom soon to graduate from high school, I realize that my role as parent has been reinforced, and at times even complemented, by so many others in my son’s life. First and foremost, the Holy Spirit has engaged his heart, and enabled him to become all that the Father created him to be. Additionally, a “village” of supporters consisting of extended family, teachers, church leaders, friends and employers, have also invested in and influenced him along the way. Just as my role as parent doesn’t end at graduation, the same is true of the various roles of those I just mentioned. While I know that the Holy Spirit will never leave my son, it is also imperative that there be others supporting him and cheering him on through life.
Churches Plant Churches The idea that churches plant churches seems foreign to so many, and for some can cause a theological quandary. Without delving into a theological debate, please hear me. I’m not suggesting that new churches are solely dependent on existing churches for their start and success. In fact, Jesus said it this way, “I will build my church.” I’m also not suggesting that existing churches simply treat the reproduction of churches like the reproduction of widgets in a factory. Jesus also said, “Go ye therefore and make disciples . . .” Good so far? What I am suggesting is that the church has always been God’s idea, and through it we see His plan to grow His Kingdom. It happens like this—the church makes disciples and these amass into new congregations—something that only the Father can do. Make sense?
What’s the point? Simply, if the church is waiting on a para-church organization or denomination to plant more churches, then she will be waiting for a very long time. While these offer great support and resources, they are limited in their scope and role in the process. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it takes churches to plant churches. Simply, if the church is truly making disciples, and not simply trading sheep from one pen to another, then new churches will and should follow. In my case, if it weren’t for the conviction and sensitivity of a pastor and church committed to building the Kingdom, coupled with their willingness to send out a church planter (me) to take the Gospel to a community several states away, I would not be able to share my conviction. Now more than ever, I am convinced as to why the local church is vital to starting new churches. To take it a step further, I would argue that the church is the VERY best vehicle to start new churches. Why? Let me share some of the unique benefits that I enjoyed . . . like so many others have. Here are just a few:
Benefits of Churches Planting Churches
1. Intentional OJT (On the Job Training). The nearly six years that led up to my being sent out to start a new church, I was under the leadership of my sending church pastor and his staff. As a student pastor, it was there that I learned the nuts and bolts of church ministry, both educationally and practically. Until then, I did not have the intentional training that I received from my “parent” church. It was there where the entire church body loved, and at times, tolerated me as I learned. For example . . . I developed and staffed multiple teams. I hosted and taught community/discipleship groups. I preached weekly sermons. I hired and managed office staff. I led our assimilation processes for new members. I initiated and managed church budgets and facilities. I coordinated community outreach and missions. Hmmm, sounds a lot like a church planter job description. Essentially, I was a church planter intern, but we didn’t call it that. Where else could a “wanna-be” church planter like me have the opportunity to learn and develop than in the local church?
2. Built in Coaching. The entire time that I served under my pastor (a 30 year veteran of pastoral ministry), he coached me . . . and continued to do so even as I planted. To him, every experience was an opportunity to learn something new or to hone my skills. For example, the very first time he allowed me to preach a Sunday sermon, he sat down with me both before and after to assess and evaluate. In both cases, it was not the time for him to tell me “how he would’ve done it”, but a time where he asked strategic and eye-opening questions. Over time, I caught on to his “tactics”, but because of my personality and leadership style, he understood that I responded best to these kinds of interactions. Coaching wasn’t just reserved for ministry. He found ways to coach me in “real life” too as a follower of Jesus, as husband and as a father.
3. Intercessory Prayer Support. At no time did I ever doubt that I had an army of intercessors praying for me. There were countless moments where both my wife and I knew that we had many going to the throne of God on our behalf. Having served in our parenting church for nearly six years, we had developed a strong relationship with literally hundreds of people. It was they, along with other like-minded friends and family, who provided our greatest and most necessary need. In fact, as a way to encourage and challenge them, I would craft a newsletter every month recounting the celebrations and challenges of our ministry. Time and time again we received affirming and encouraging notes in response to our monthly “Cotler Chronicles.” Even now, some six years removed from my time as a church planter, I continue to receive “praying for you” messages from so many.
4. Ministry Resources. Of course, this is a “biggy.” There is no church planter alive today who would discount the importance of receiving ministry resources. While these may come in all sorts of ways (financial or in-kind), they are important nonetheless. I quickly learned that people and churches do not like to invest in just “needs”, but in vision. What made this especially clear for me was that our parent church was investing in a vision they helped instill in me. Over time, it was apparent to all that the vision needed to extend beyond the four walls of the church . . . it needed to multiply into a new church. Our church, and so many others, sent me with finances to help underwrite a portion of my family income and insurance. They sent me with ministry resources like equipment and curriculum. They sent me with access to other church networks who provided coaching, training and ministry resources. Like the MasterCard commercials say, “Priceless.”
Do You Think? Let me pose a couple of questions. First, is it possible that a planter who is sent and surrounded by a parenting church and/or network of churches has a much higher probability of “making it” than someone who is flying solo? If my children were asked that question, their response would be, “Do You Think?” Just as a parent is engaged and invested in the life of their children long after they leave the house for college, the parenting church does the same. In fact, I believe that it is my (and the churches) God-given responsibility to do just that! Second, without the church, will we see a movement of church planting? It’s hard to say, but knowing what we know today, it’s highly unlikely. Just as every Christ-follower is called to be on mission to make disciples, so I believe every church to be the extension of that—and often that means amassing those disciples into new churches. There is much to be done in the harvest fields, and God is calling out laborers. I am so grateful for my parent church and others who have engaged that invitation. Oh, I pray that more would!