OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.
Sorry to be the odd one out, but I disagree with a number of points in your article.
First I agree that church leaders and mission agencies can be unneccesarily ruthless in estimating the abilities and gifts of a potential church planter. “Arm chair generals”, one of my theological professors called them.
“It’s not rocket science.” No, it’s not. But it is a definite discipline, and one that requires less theological knowledge (though important) than insight into humans and culture. The people we wish to reach in the name of Jesus deserve that we not take church planting too lightly. It is their lives we are dealing with, and we do need to bear that in mind. I for one have seen a number of church plants fail (including my one try at it), these mostly because folks jumped in full of enthusiasm and a genuine desire to help, but horribly unequipped to organize and lead a group into any kind of real development in following Jesus. This can and does leave scarred individuals behind, some of whom jettison the idea of christian community after a bad experience. I’d like to encourage folk who want to plant a church to go for it, but do it by doing your homework first. And most of that homework is not to be found in the texts we read in seminary or thereafter, but in the experience we gain by serving along side of others.
It’s in the context of that serving that I think we gain insight into whether we have the “stuff” to be a church planter (certainly if we hope to be the point man/woman). By doing in relationship with others we can estimate whether we have the kind of faith and gifting that is needed to stick it out. We need to judge ourselves wisely, as Paul reminded us. Learning to do this well is an act of grace towards ourselves. It is also, I think, a necessity if we wish to be effective followers of Jesus.
Finally, if your goal is to plant a church and it fails, you have failed. Period. You may have blessed and loved many people, perhaps some have found their way farther along the road with Jesus, but you have failed at planting a church. You may have grown and developed your skills, but the church plant failed. Please, let’s not rationalize these things into the realm of the willy-nilly emotional/spiritual experience. If you fail at church planting, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever succeed, but you certainly need to take a hard and detailed look at why this particular church plant failed. Again, the people we are hoping to serve deserve no less from us. Failure grants also the chance to ask yourself again whether you do have the stuff to do the work, and if so, under which circumstances. Not all of us have the stuff, but I have found that in the name of well meaning encouragement and vision, good men and women have been spurred on to tasks that were not their calling nor place in the kingdom of Christ.