Five surprises of denominational church planting leaders

Five surprises of denominational church planting leaders

By Steve Pike, Founder of Urban Islands Project

You’ve been a pastor for years, but now your denomination is asking you to leave your pastoral post and step into a full-time role of overseeing church planting for a region, the nation, or perhaps even the world. Here are some surprises you may experience as you make that transition:

  1. You won’t be referred to as “Pastor” anymore. As a leader in a local church, you’ve likely been called “Pastor” (or whatever the appropriate tribal ecclesiastical title is) for years. In your new role, you suddenly find yourself being referred to as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” “Madam” or “Sir.,” etc. When you speak at a church, most of the time you will be speaking to a room full of strangers. Friends who were formerly your peers now tend to view you in a different vocational category and the longer you are not serving in a local church leadership role, the less “street cred” you tend to have. It’s all surprisingly shocking and a little disorienting.
  2. Pastoring people is no longer your primary focus. The habits of being a pastor of people tend to become deeply ingrained into your personal identity. It’s tempting to now see yourself as a pastor of a dispersed church of the leaders you serve. While you certainly do have the responsibility of facilitating a culture of relational connectivity and support, your main tasks are now much more related to organizational systems and strategic thinking. You’ll need to shift the focus of your passion from hospital visitation and sermon prep to more impersonal things like increasing the new church plant to existing church ratio or effectively managing a regional coaching team.
  3. Leading change is more complex and time-consuming. As the leader of a local church, the pace of introducing new programs and initiatives can be measured in weeks and months. Regional leaders find that change processes are typically measured in years. National leaders must be content with major directional shifts and program impact being measured in decades. This reality requires regional and national leaders to adjust their strategic planning processes and expectations accordingly or they find themselves frustrated and discouraged.
  4. It’s harder to measure progress and effectiveness. As the pastor of a church, your standards of progress and effectiveness have been clear and generally universally accepted. “How many baptisms?,” “how many people show up on Sundays?,” “how much money is landing in the offering plate?”… all these are tangible solid numbers that are either going up, down or sideways. In your new identity as a church planting leader, the metrics are far less clear and certainly not universal. You may even need to invent some organizational-appropriate progress metrics that will be meaningful only to the members of your “tribe.”
  5. You must lead more through strategic influence than direct communication. Even in the most top-down ecclesiastical environments, regional, national or global leaders are steps removed from the front line realities of everyday local church leadership. Typically, local leaders have the privilege of addressing their followers weekly. For regional leaders, the frequency of direct communication drops dramatically and just gets rarer from there. Leading effectively in a judicatory role requires creative strategies of keeping the organizational vision and mission fresh in the hearts of the leaders you serve.

I’m not aware of any studies chronicling the pace of turnover of denominational church planting leaders but my anecdotal observation is that the turnover rate is high. In an environment where change is measured in years or decades, this turnover rate can play havoc with organizational stability and missional progress. These five surprises may account for some of the turnover rate. If you’d prefer to avoid participating in a game of ecclesiastical musical chairs, calibrating your expectations with these five surprises in mind will help you lead for the long haul.

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