May 13, 2010 by Dave Harvey
Categories: Church planting
In my last post I talked about how Sovereign Grace is committed to being as aggressive in church planting as gospel values allow. But certain values act as governors to cap the speed of our growth (see the previous post for the retro go-kart analogy). Therefore planting churches requires patience to do it well, and the pace to sustain it over the long term.
As a Leadership Team we’ve identified several governors—things that help us pursue opportunities at the speed limit our values will allow. They determine our pace and insist upon our patience. (Warning: For dudes who are missiologically minded—read: rapid expansion—don’t check out. We in Sovereign Grace may be nuts but it’s an informed lunacy.)
I’m going to take several posts to discuss four specific governors. Here’s the first:
Governors in Church Planting
1: The qualified guy
Yeah, yeah, I know. We all believe this. You can’t plant a church without a good candidate. But I’m not talking about a good guy. I’m talking about the right guy. Why? Because for us, the key factor in strategizing when and where to church plant is the man—the church planter. A viable church plant begins with both a need or opportunity to plant and the emergence of a qualified man to lead the plant.
You see, need is relevant, but it can’t determine our pace. There’s just too much of it and too little of us. Is there really any place where you could honestly say, “There’s no church needed there”? Opportunity is also important, and we pay careful attention to it. At any given time there are groups of folks in various locations who are requesting that a Sovereign Grace church be started in their area. And conversations with existing churches looking to affiliate with us are always taking place.
But need and opportunity alone don’t create the call to plant a church. We need the right guy. A qualified one.
What do we mean by a qualified man? A qualified man is one who has sensed a clear and enduring call to plant a church. But there’s more. That sense of call has been confirmed by mature leaders who know the man, warts and all. A qualified man is revealed by the grace on his life. How do we know if there’s grace? Because there are character and abilities that match the eldership qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and other passages. And not just to attain them, but to maintain them as well.
In Sovereign Grace Ministries, we organize these qualities around five essential criteria, which we call the “e5.” First and primarily there is preaching. That’s the BIG E. A qualified guy must be an expositor who knows how to handle God’s Word in clear and compelling manner. In our experience, the training and evaluation involved in this component just takes time. It slows the process. We realize that dialing this one back, maybe just downgrading from expository skill to sensible Bible teaching, would speed things up considerably. But we’re called not just to win converts but to make disciples. Disciple making requires exposition.
It doesn’t end there; here are numbers two through five. The qualified man displays (2) a leadership gift, (3) faith towards God, (4) a shepherd’s heart that cares for people, and (5) a determination to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). If reading this list incites a desire to know more, check out our website. Also stay connected to this blog. We definitely want to talk more about the e5.
So how do equip men and evaluate whether they are qualified? Sovereign Grace has, by some measurements, a ponderous training process for church planters. It starts with relationship. You know, being known and coming to know us well enough that we can evaluate each other. Then there’s a ten-month Pastors College commitment, followed by a residence with a local sending church.
Could we speed it up? Sure. But we’re not measuring success in the next five years or in the number of churches affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. We believe growth is fruit of building right, not a goal that should determine our strategy. After all, church planting is a heavy responsibility, and high failure rates are an unacceptable statistic. We’re not doing experiments; we’re reaching people.
When all is said and done, we’ve found that the single most important variable in the viability of a church plant is the man sent to do the plant.
Not long ago a woman came up to me and shared her sincere burden to see a church planted in a certain area. She humbly shared all of the needs and opportunities and evidences of God’s activity in that area. As I listened to her I thought, “Wow, she has enough faith for this thing all by herself!” And then she asked me what she could do to speed things along. I answered with the first step.
“Pray for the man.”
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