Church planters: process over substance, means over ends...
"Forget all the books. Forget all the men whose success you so desperately want for yourself. Forget Rick Warren. Forget Mark Driscoll. Forget Tim Keller. Forget Andy Stanley. None of them have anything to do with you."
(Tim) When I entered the pastorate, Dad's advice was sparse but memorable. Four offhand comments at different times, with no explanation.
- "Preach them down, then preach them back up again." (I had a yoked parish of two congregations.)
- "Don't use Pardeeville as a stepping stone." (Think William Still. Or better, Doug Wilson still out there in Moscow, Idaho.)
- "Go for the men and the women will follow." (Duh. We live in a day when wise men don't assume even the most basic truths.)
- "A visiting pastor makes a church-going people."
It's this fourth word of advice I want us to think about...
Two graduates of our ClearNote Pastors College are now up in Indianapolis planting ClearNote Church. Loving both of them as sons, I've been keeping up with their work. This past week, one of those sons of our church told me he's pleased that a number of men are looking to him for pastoral care, meeting with him to discuss their hearts and lives. He was encouraged by this, he told me, because our resident church-planter coach, Dave Curell, had told him if he pastored people, a church would grow.
I thought about it a second and realized it was absolutely true. After all the hustle and bustle of assessments, core groups, organizational meetings, names, venues, mass mailings, web sites, mission statements, and the key matter of selecting appropriate eyeglass frames are over and done, we realize process is vastly overrated and substance remains. Am I a pastor? Do I love books and doctrine or Christ and His lambs? Will I confront sin and say the tough truth to my prospects, or just flatter them?
The heart of a flock is its shepherd...
And by that I don't mean Jesus Christ, but His undershepherd who serves in His Name and Place. The good shepherd follows his Good Shepherd in knowing his sheep and having a flock that knows him--his strong arm and commitments and love and his voice. He's their shepherd and they come to him for care.
My brothers and I have planted a number of churches and we have never given a moment's thought or time to all the giggling excitement over fashion that is the main course in church planting networks today. We read Scripture, pray, keep a copy of the Reformed Pastor nearby, and preach and visit. Preach and visit. Preach and visit. Preach and visit. Have people over in our homes constantly and preach. Show hospitality and feed people and preach. The foundational matters. First things.
Church planters need to forget all the stars and give themselves to preaching and praying and visiting. Day and night, from house to house, with tears.
There's so much to say on this subject, but at the risk of losing some of you, here's an excerpt from an essay on the eighteenth century Scottish man of letters, Thomas Carlyle, that has much wisdom for church planters. You'll need to read between the lines to understand what application it has to your work, but follow it through and you'll leave with wisdom desperately needed today in many spheres--but particularly for church planting, where it is all too easy to get wrapped up in managerial and theological and aesthetic and narrative and hopeless fads that will never do nothing nohow to feed the lambs of God.
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As early as 1829, in an essay grandly titled ”Signs of the Times” (Carlyle) defined an error he called "Mechanism." “Our first question with regard to any object is not, What is it? But, How is it? We are no longer instinctively driven to apprehend, and lay to heart, what is Good and Lovely, but rather to inquire, as onlookers, how it is produced, whence it comes, whither it goes." In politics, this meant interminable national debates about electoral reform; in religion, an interest in building churches but not in God... Mechanism values process over substance, means over ends, technical know-how over wisdom. In Past and Present, Mechanism becomes “the Morrison’s Pill”: a purely political remedy to a problem rooted in the human will. James Morison (Carlyle misspelled it) was a quack doctor whose pills claimed to cure every known disease. One of Morison’s advertisements quoted Mr. Henry Howe, who claimed to have been cured of scrofula after taking “from four to twenty-two pills each day." For Carlyle, to put faith in the grand promises of political solutions takes a similar kind of desperate gullibility....
In western democracies, we rely entirely on our ability to meet challenges with educated analysis, neat logical solutions, and the purse. Michael Oakeshott called it “rationalism”: the tendency to value technical knowledge (book learning) at the expense of practical knowledge (experience). What Oakeshott called “technique;’ Carlyle, echoing Burke, called “theory.” In one of the most rhetorically vivid chapters of Past and Present, he portrays the “Man of Practice” outlasting the clever logical onslaughts of the ”Man of Theory”:
How one loves to see the burly figure of him, this thick-skinned, seemingly opaque, perhaps sulky, almost stupid Man of Practice, pitted against some light adroit Man of Theory, all equipt with clear logic, and able anywhere to give you Why for Wherefore! The adroit Man of Theory, so light of movement, clear of utterance, with his bow full-bent and quiver full of arrow-arguments,--surely he will strike down the game, transfix everywhere the heart of the matter; triumph everywhere, as he proves that he shall and must do? To your astonishment, it turns out oftenest No. The cloudy-browed, thick-soled, opaque Practicality, with no logic-utterance, in silence mainly, with here and there a low grunt or growl, has in him what transcends all logic-utterance: a Congruity with the Unuttered!
“Thy very stupidity," he concludes, addressing the Man of Practice, “is wiser than their wisdom." ...Carlyle cared little about party politics. What he wanted to convey, rather, was that the best and most cogent arguments still consist of only tiny fractions of the requisite knowledge; that the most intelligent governmental measures always bring unintended consequences; and that statesmen are usually best advised to act on instinct or conviction rather than the advice of the chattering classes.
As Carlyle knew, however, the “light adroit Man of Theory” had already triumphed. Ideas and arguments--together with a generally suspicious attitude to tradition, habit, and religious conviction--had already become an integral part of western political culture. What was the alternative, after all? (pp. 18,19 in Barton Swain's "Carlyle the Wise," The New Criterion, February 2010.)
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As with statesman, so church-planters "are usually best advised to act on instinct or conviction rather than the advice of the chattering classes." Forget all the books. Forget all the men whose success you so desperately want for yourself. Forget Rick Warren. Forget Mark Driscoll. Forget Tim Keller. Forget Andy Stanley. None of them have anything to do with you. Pick somebody else to imitate. Somebody you know. Somebody like Paul, who teaches day and night, from house to house, with tears.
You are a shepherd of God's flock and it's your calling to be a thick-skinned, seemingly opaque, almost stupid shepherd who loves the Lord, the Word, and your flock. Preach your heart out and go visit, night and day, with tears. Turn your back on all those adroit men selling process and utter a low grunt or growl about the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Our heart-interest must not be in building a church, but rather Christ and His lambs.