Friday, February 08, 2013

Is Planting a Church With a Partner a Bad Idea?

Brian Howard thinks so.  He gives some good reasons why this is a bad idea.  You can read his posts here.
I tend to agree with his position.  That said, when we planted The Vine almost three years ago we did the exact opposite of what he recommends and I can say that planting as a team, for us, has been the biggest blessing of the whole experience.

Keep in mind, I would never recommend our experience with planting to other church planting candidates unless I had a chance to sit down with them and figure out how they are truly the exception to the rule.  There are always exceptions and sometimes the exceptions are beautiful.

When we planted the Vine Church almost three years ago, we started from day one with three pastors/elders. We embodied a true plurality of elders with no lead pastor.  Myself and one other guy are the co-lead pastors. We shared the preaching as a core preaching team of three and made all key decisions collectively.

So why did it work for us?

A mutual commitment to humility. This should be a given for men who love the gospel, but sadly it is not. The two other men I planted with are two of the most humble dudes I know. They don’t have a track record of flying off the handle or stubbornly digging their heels in when they don’t get their way. This has been proven over years in ministry. This makes all the difference.

Experience. All of us were in our mid to late 30’s when we planted. We had a combined ministry experience of over 40 years. This is not to say that we have it all figured out. It’s just to say that we are not 25 anymore and fresh out of seminary. Experience helps you to know who you are and what your gifts are. It helps you figure out what battles are worth it and which ones are not. It helps you calm down when the heat is on because you have seen these situations before.

Very clearly defined roles. We set these boundaries early on before we launched. It’s easy for guys to get territorial and nothing will expose your insecurities faster than church planting. When those insecurities set in you start groping for your territory. This can get messing in a hurry and is a reason why most people would say that it’s not wise to plant as a team. We experienced a bit of this early on but having clearly defined roles helped alleviate the weirdness that can creep in via pastoral insecurity.  See point #1 on humility as well.

Complementary personalities and gifts. Of the three dudes, I am probably the only one who has a more classic type A personality. The other guys are more laid back in varying degrees and we simply compliment each other really well. If all three of us were type A drivers, it simply wouldn’t work. But because we compliment each other so well, it does work.

A proven track record of past ministry collaboration. From 1999 to 2004 one of the other pastors/elders and I worked together as the music staff at a large church. We worked really well together back then and it was proven over five years. This gave us a high degree of confidence that it could work well together in church planting.

We deal with any tension quickly, honestly, and humbly. We take our elder team relationships extremely seriously. We believe that apart from our wives, our relationships on the elder board should be the most sacred in life. As a result, we don’t let things fester. We fight for peace. We deal with things. We practice repentance and humility. It has been beautiful. One of the biggest challenges of solo planters is feelings of isolation and loneliness in leadership. We have not experienced that. It has been nothing but a blessing.

We started as bi-vocational pastors.  I wrote quite a bit about this here and here.  It certainly was a factor as to why this model has worked well.

We raised a ton of money.  Paying three pastors is hard to do.  Especially when it's a church plant.   Our third guy is planting in 12 months and will be off our pay role in six months.  That being said, paying two pastors, who collectively have nine kids, when you have 150 people at your church, is a big challenge.  Having a very strong support base from outside the church has been instrumental to our vitality as a church.

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