Reflections on Church Planting

written by Andrew Kamm & John Elliott

Going into a church plant you realize that you’re going to be in constant learning mode. Every week confronts you with new challenges. Seminary and previous church participation prepared us for some of this, but UTS didn’t offer a course on ‘how to operate a sound system’ or ‘how to choose a facility for a meeting space.’ Church planters quickly learn to be jacks-of-all-trades. In the midst of consuming vast quantities of information during the first year of our church plant, three lessons emerged for us. Three lessons that we either underestimated in the beginning or simply took for granted, but God has used planting a church to press these deep into our souls.

God’s blessing is great, but his presence is better.  Since planting we’ve experienced a number of signs of God’s blessing. Our church has grown substantially, from a small core of about 30 to 120. We’ve baptized a couple dozen men and women in the past year. New leaders continue to emerge, and we’ve planted Missional Communities in several new neighborhoods in the past couple of months. I don’t think a meal goes by where people from our church aren’t meeting together to beat up sin and believe the gospel.

But the blessings of God are not the same as the presence of God. In Exodus 33:1-6 Israel is offered military and economic success, but not the presence of God in the Promised Land. Israel may have been stiff-necked, but she wasn’t spiritually blind. The news was devastating.  The fact that God’s blessing cannot be equated with God’s presence explains why I (Andrew) could see such great fruit in ministry without much joy during the last 6 months. We constantly need to be revived by the presence of God, where something of his character becomes tangible to us and it melts our hearts.

Research and Development is weighty stuff. As we proposed last week, we think the ability to test and try new strategies is one of the reasons church plants more effectively reach lost people. Research and Development sounds kind of sexy until your experiments start failing and your ‘guinea pigs’ are real live humans. There are probably activists picketing some Head and Shoulders’ R&D facility as I write. They’re angry because rats are being used in shampoo experiments. Wait until they hear what we’re doing with people!

Before you get too concerned, rest assured that we aren’t running strange, manipulative experiments on members of our church. But we are challenging our people to re-orient their lives around gospel and mission in a way that is unfamiliar to them and somewhat unproven in recent history. This includes some startling structural changes to the traditional church. Essentially, we’re a collection of house churches that meet together as a body for covenant renewal under the leadership of a plurality of elders. And while the data is yet inconclusive, we probably underestimated how much pain we would experience as we try to figure out life in this uniquely structured church.

Team is huge. The New Testament casts vision for life in theKingdom of God. Our union with Christ informs a new pattern of life. “Love one another.” “Pray for one another.” “Bear with one another.” Having a team of leaders who desire the kingdom to live and lead with has made all the difference for us. Many planters complain of exhausting hours, burnout, marital strife and more. Our experience has been just the opposite. Like Paul, surrounded by church planting companions, we have found that working in a team has been a great joy.

Our journey has just begun. The road ahead of us isn’t marked. The light of God’s word never brightens as much road as we’d like. But the gospel encourages us to continue to press onward.