The “Validity” of a New Ministry

Needing to prove worth causes tension between planters and institutions

neon light handshake sign photo

Those reading this that have ever worked in church planting can most likely relate to this scenario:

The air is full of promise. You spent the past few weeks spreading the word for an upcoming event with an excitement and enthusiasm that seems contagious with everyone you speak to. Hours spent preparing, praying, and dreaming of how this event will be successful. 

The day finally comes and after all that effort put forth, there is minimal response. Everything now feels like a failure. 

This is unfortunately the “all too real” part of being a church planter. In fact, this is the lonely part that happens far more often than any of us want to admit. However, the reality is that after some time to pause and self-reflect, you have already begun to envision the next event. By taking what may have gone wrong from the previous event, you try to prevent those circumstances from effecting the next one.

Now let’s add onto this narrative by saying there are existing churches involved with your ministry. This might be a parent church, a sending organization, or denomination. Their involvement may be spiritual or financial support, maybe even both, but this support often comes with the need to meet certain goals. 

My wife talks about how she hates when people start using the “V” word, which stands for “validity”. Validity in needing to prove that our mission is worth the investment, or even worthwhile. This leaves the church planter and the institutional church with great tension. 

Both sides of the coin

Over the last twenty plus years, I have been on both sides of the coin. One chapter of my life was being that innovative leader, pushing the envelope and putting myself at risk: emotionally, physically, spiritually. That chapter evolved into another in which I served on denominational staff for church planting, which sought to cultivate the ethos in which new churches may thrive. My current role is as an executive director for a regional church institution, dealing and discerning where to put our limited resources. 

Each of these roles and levels of support for church planters brings the desire to see the development of a new church that will reach a new community and bring the gospel to change people’s lives. While we all have the same goal, the responsibilities we are charged with are different. Being different, how can we move in the same direction and not get into each other’s way? Before coming up with solutions, we must understand the people that we are dealing with.

What does it take to be a church planter? 

The start of a church is usually the dream of a visionary pastor and their support team. It may simply be your family, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have others that are committed alongside you.

Know that not everyone is built to be church planters. There is often no safety net or reserve budget to make your way through mistakes. It is often a catalytic leader that can faithfully develop a church from nothing.  These are people that are resilient, entrepreneurial, flexible, quick decision-makers, and overall have grit. Angela Duckworth in her TED talk describes a key element in doing new things, that is grit:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 

Those that answer the call to be church planters must be able to overcome countless obstacles and be full of grit. 

The reality is that our existing institutions don’t mesh well with the mindset of a church planter. While church planters are nimble and flexible; institutions are focused on process. For everything, there’s a process that has been developed and revised by situations that have arisen in the past. In each situation, a new learning was discerned and incorporated into it. 

The denomination that I serve uses the motto “decently and in order” to guide its path. With these foundations, speed and flexibility is not often done. While many church planters would push against what is needed, they are there to protect the church that it is nurturing.

In raising each point of view, it’s easy to see both sides of the tension. We need to be reminded that there are reasons that existing institutions and church planters need to work together. Through cohesion with one another, we are perseverant. We are each other’s checks and balances, so that we do not get off course. 

The biggest questions that we need to ask each other are these:

  1. How are we organized for resilience? 

Resilience is often looked at as a reaction to circumstances that we are faced with. What if we proactively addressed issues to not merely get by but to succeed?

  1. What are our metrics and measurements? 

Are the church planter and the institutional church using the same metrics? Are these numerical or have to do with the inner transformation in people?

  1. How do we create effective forms of communication from the church planting team and the existing institution?

How do we speak the same language and realize that we want the same goal? How do we reduce anxiety on both sides of the coin?

Upfront clarity of vision and communication are critical. All church starts will have those times of joys and sorrows. In those times of competing perspectives, a clear understanding is critical. They could literally mean the life of the ministry.

Interested in hearing more from Sean? Check out last August’s Book Hub discussion on Innovation.

  • Sean Chow

    Rev. Dr. Sean Chow is the Executive Director of the San Diego Presbytery. He is leading the presbytery through a strategic vision to plant churches, revitalize churches, and be more missionally focused. Sean was the Associate for 1001 New Worshiping Communities for Training and Leadership Cohorts for the Presbyterian Church. He resources and consults with regional denomination bodies, churches, and church plants as they launch new creative expressions of church.

    He is a graduate of Azusa Pacific University (2005), Master of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary (2009) and a Doctor of Ministry at New York Theological Seminary (2022). Through it all, there is an inner desire to be a part of a God driven movement that impacts the world for God’s glory. His aim is to prepare, equip, and sustain leaders to do the work in which God calls them. Sean is the author of “Rediscovering Vitality: A Handbook for Church Visioning and Missioning”. He is a frequent speaker to churches, committees, gatherings, and conferences.

    Sean and his family live in Southern California where he can be found on a local tennis court having reconnected to an old passion.

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