By Steve Hubbard, Founding Pastor of Awaken Church in Grand Ledge, MI
I’ll be honest – I never wanted to be a church planter. I was comfortable in established churches rich with history, heritage and seasons of impact. Sure, there were challenges that came with the territory, but I saw so much potential in the established local church. Good things were happening in the churches around me and the leaders I served with.
It was hard for me to “get on board” with the multiplication train in those early days of ministry. I held certain assumptions about church planting that kept me at an arms length. It wasn’t until the Spirit started pressing up against those assumptions that I was able to make the heart shift.
Assumption 1: Church planting isn’t necessary if we could make the established church relevant again.
Relevancy is simply speaking the language of culture. So much of my leadership was invested in fine tuning environments, language, branding and leadership styles. If we can get the formula right, more people will come and more lives will be changed. In an age where church environments are playing catch-up with culture, we are still seeing attendance patterns change – even in the most relevant environments. “Committed” doesn’t mean what it once did. “Faithful” looks like once or twice a month Sunday attendance. It’s not enough to be relevant. We need to be necessary. I needed to shift my values of relevance to gospel-centeredness.
Assumption 2: Church planting is for rebels.
Church planters are a unique breed of people. Many call them rebels. They don’t know how to bend with the system. They are outliers. Their arrogance keeps them from getting along with others and playing nice. They have large egos and lack humility. I didn’t want to be associated with that! As I began spending more and more time with planters, however, my heart began to change. These weren’t rebels – they were mavericks. Yes, they carry a cause with incredible passion, but they are incredibly humble. Most of them will be quick to tell you about their failures, hard lessons learned and ways they are reliant on the grace and wisdom of others. Many of them feel alone and isolated. I needed to shift my proximity and be closer to these humble and courageous leaders.
Assumption 3: Church planting is just another program or growth strategy.
Leaders who promote multiplication seem obsessive. They spend their efforts recruiting others to their vision. At first glance, it feels a lot like another program being pushed and promoted. It can feel like the next “newest and greatest” thing. I assumed it was brand expansion or a survival tactic of the denomination. Reading and rereading Acts and the accounts of the early church have me convinced otherwise now. Multiplication is the overflow of the heart of Christ and his Gospel. It’s the spirit within the church and every believer. The spirit of the church is the spirit of mission. Mission cannot be contained. It cannot grow. It can only go. I had to shift from a survival mindset to a legacy mindset.
Assumption 4: Healthy churches grow and so does my leadership.
This one is latent inside so many of us. I truly felt that if I could be a good enough leader, my church would grow. If my church would grow, then that would validate my identity and leadership. Even if many of us wouldn’t say this out loud, we often live and lead from this dark place. I know I did. I once heard it said, however, that we must resist the temptation to attach our identity to the size of our church and scope of our influence. In times of incredible growth and accolades, we will think too highly of ourselves. In times of decrease, we will think too low of ourselves. Neither is healthy. God is less concerned about what he will do under my leadership and more interested in what he will do through my leadership. Would I be available for that kind of ministry – a ministry where I wasn’t the hero of my organization? Would I be more interested in Kingdom objectives than validating my own identity? I needed to shift from a hero mindset to a hero-maker mindset.
Assumption 5: Multiplication overemphasizes evangelism and underestimates discipleship.
Evangelism is important. There is no debating that. But are we forgetting about discipleship? We’ve often divorced these two objectives in the church. The longer I serve people, however, the more I realize when people encounter a salvific relationship with Christ – they are saved into a mission. When they begin following Jesus, he deploys them to seek and save the lost. Evangelism happens for discipleship. On the flip side, to follow Jesus, to be his disciple is to evangelize. Two sides: o
There are a myriad of resources that help us understand that church planting and multiplication works. Understanding “that it works” wasn’t enough for me. My heart had to be changed. My assumptions had to be smashed.
I was wrong about multiplication. Today I want to get it right. I want to be a champion for multiplication and for the brave leaders and churches forging a path in the wilderness. When we champion multiplication, we champion the heart of Christ. We are freed to truly make disciples and see the birth of a new movement.