CHURCH PLANTING: NOT ABOUT FAME OR FORTUNE
Eric Stewart - ONELife Church
Eric Stewart, lead pastor of ONElife Church in Flint Township, MI.
FLINT — A little over a year ago God called us to plant a church in Flint, MI. Yes, that Flint… the one that shows up as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It is honestly not that bad, and it is a city that I love. We had our beginnings as a pioneer work with just a handful of us meeting in our living room and dreaming of what could be. By God’s grace that handful has multiplied as we have grown and witnessed God producing fruitfulness through our ministry. We are not “breaking any records” but we have certainly witnessed God’s faithful hand in everything and this Sunday we will baptize our 20th person since launching just over a year ago (we don’t just baptize anyone that has a pulse either… we take our time and do our best to assess that they are actually regenerated). All of that to say this; I am certainly no “expert” when it comes to church planting. In fact, I have probably done more things wrong than I have done right. One of my favorite quotes upon starting the church came from William Carey, “The man who never makes mistakes never makes anything.” With my heels dug in the ground, by the grace of God, I have committed to saying, “Here I am, send me.” On that note, as I have been going I have learned a few key things about church planting.
It Really Is Christ’s Church
I know this sounds so simple, especially for my fellow Calvinist friends. We love to talk about the sovereignty of God, in particular when it comes to salvation. By talking, I mean we love to impress each other with our vast knowledge and insight on the topic! Intellectually I have never had a hard time grasping the sovereignty of God. On the other hand by planting this church I have slowly learned how to actually apply God’s sovereignty and ultimately rest in the words of Jesus when He said, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).
In the early days of our church plant, Dan (Worship Pastor and Co-Planter) and I worked really hard and followed through on so many “right” things purely from a pragmatic and marketing perspective. We did get the word out through many different channels and we were even able to land a spot on our local news station. This led to us having a decent size crowd at launch to not knowing if we were going to make it another year a few months later as the crowd dwindled so quickly. It was at this moment that Dan and I, as leaders, had some pivotal decisions to make. Did we believe we were called to plant and were we going to rest in God’s sovereignty when it came to the fruitfulness of our church? We have chosen to continually rest in God. This does not mean that we don’t work like crazy though. The second thing I learned is that at the end of the day God works through “gospel-centered” leaders.
Dan Dameron, Worship & Creative Arts Pastor and co-planter of ONElife Church.
As the old adage goes, “Everything rises and falls on leadership” (John Maxwell). That is true in the ministry as well. God does not bless and use a sloppy and unprepared leader. Striving to grow as a gospel centered leader I have come to a few clear convictions of structures a gospel centered leader must build and continued actions he must take.
First, a gospel centered leader is one who actually rests in the Bible and subscribes to building the church the way that God prescribed it in the Bible. This was something I was not clear on when we began, but I am emphatically clear on now. A true church is not one that meets critical mass of numbers and budgets, but one who has a plurality of gospel-centered elders with members actually following them. Paul’s instructions to Titus were not “Go to Crete and hit critical mass” but to ”appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5c ESV). This was a valuable lesson for me as we walked our young church through the stages of being covenant members of a local body under the leadership of a plurality of elders.
Second, I have learned that gospel-centered leadership (especially in a pioneering work) is being willing to pave the way for others to follow, and rejoicing in God that they walked with you. This has continually revealed to me that I need to always be growing as a leader, and that whatever I am asking my team to do I must do first. Here are five levels of leadership that I have learned I need to continually walk:
Level 1: Follower - The person that is too big to follow is too small to lead. I meet weekly with a mentor to seek his wisdom and counsel to grow as a leader. On a side note, I am shocked at how few pastors/planters do this. Most are arrogant and think they know it all.
Level 2: Server - The true test of a gospel-centered leader is not how many people are following him or are under his authority, but how many people is he serving. If serving is below you then leadership is above you.
Level 3: Shepherd - In the CEO movement of pastoring and church planting this is lost. I have learned that God has called me to be a shepherd and to care for His flock.
Level 4: Equipper - Be a talent scout. I have learned to search for people that the Spirit has set aside for leadership and pour as much time into them as possible to equip them to walk through the levels of gospel-centered leadership.
Level 5: Equipper of Equippers - Find others that have the ability to equip others. By God’s grace and perseverance I strive to be this type of leader.
Third, I have learned that I need to give leadership away as often as I can. This always makes sense on paper but it is always more difficult in practice because we are prideful men who love to be in control and have the praise brought to us. I have learned that you have to work through this by preaching the gospel to yourself and then entrust responsibility to those around you who God has called and equipped. This is the only way that the body will grow fruitfully and exponentially.
I have learned that church planting is not about fame and fortune (although many of us go into planting for that reason). We want to write and publish books like J.D. Greear and preach like Matt Chandler. Now I praise God for these men, but the vast majority of us won’t be like that. We will be slugging away in the trenches, faithfully preaching God’s words, and making disciples. I have learned to be content with that. God is sailing this ship and I am just along for the ride.