• Is Church Planting Really the Answer?

    My good friend Josh Dinale has written a blog entitled Is Church Planting Really the Answer which either excited or infuriated people based on what they think of church planting, Mark Driscoll and hipster pastors. If you don’t like the current crop of church plants around the shop, you like Phillip Jensen or John MacArthur more than Mark Driscoll and you think that all pastors have hips and therefore you think all hipster pastors need a good wash and shave you probably applauded the fact that a former skater punk like Josh has settled down, grown up, showers regularly and become a suburban Anglican minister[1]  who now rants against the evils of the current crop of faddish church planting with the zeal of a young church planter ranting against established churches. But if you are passionate about church planting, you want to start or have started a church a “theologically conservative culturally liberal” church and you have grown a beard, wear skinny jeans and only use Apple computer products you probably hated Josh’s rant and you might have thought “Typical old man Anglican!”

    The first thing to say is that Josh is a provocateur like Phillip Jensen, Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell, John Macarthur, Michael Jensen, John Dickson and myself. This is his personality. Josh has always had a habit of putting provocative words out there just to rattle cages and so it came with no surprise when  I read his blog and it was deliberately provocative and hyperbolic. This is what Josh and others (including myself) do and that is why I love Josh!

    Josh mentions that there are a lot of “pastors wanting to be the next Mark Driscoll”. While I think this was more true 5 years ago there is still some truth to it now. There always has been and there always will be heroes that people look up to. If you are a guitarist who likes good music your heroes will be Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn or Robben Ford and you will try to be like them in the way you play and you will probably cop some of their mannerisms.. If you are a young girl and you have no taste in music your heroes will be Katy Perry or Mis Direction (I think that is what they are called) and your habits, mannerisms and likes will be, to a certain extent, dictated by your heroes. This is human nature. So I am not surprised when young men who are young pastors or who desire to be pastors want to be like Mark Driscoll (or for that matter Piper, Chandler, Chan, Jensen, Chong, Macarthur, Washer, etc.). If you are a young reformed guy you may want to be like Driscoll, if you are someone who went to UNSW in the 80s and 90s you will probably gush about Phillip Jensen and if you want to destroy your church you will probably idolize Rob Bell or Karl Barth. God has created the world in such a way that people would have heroes. That being said, I agree with Josh that if you are trying to be like Driscoll, Piper, Jensen or whoever you should be yourself. Be inspired by the great men and women of the faith but part of real maturity is building your identity on Jesus and who he has made you to be.

    The second point in Josh’s critique is aimed at “pastors moving into areas where there are already good evangelical ministries and rather than working together  targeting the same group” Josh outlines two concerns; firstly, that logically it is better to get critical mass in one place than have two churches struggling to get to critical mass. Secondly, there is the issue of resources. Josh, quite rightly, points out that a church takes a lot of resources to run and you would think it would be better to pool resources and have one church rather than two. On the surface these critiques seem valid but when you dig deeper they are found to be left wanting. Firstly, it would be stupid if two Evangelical churches from the same denomination existed in the same suburb. Yes in that instance it would make more sense two have one church rather than two. But what if you have two churches that are Evangelical churches who disagree on major issues i.e. baptism, church government or ministry philosophy. Imagine I move to Brisbane in the nice suburb of Cooparoo. I am quickly convinced that Cooparoo is a godless suburb that makes Newtown look like the Christian version of Disneyland and that Cooparoo needs the gospel of Jesus more than any other place in the world. If I were to take Josh’s advice the best plan would be to throw my lot in with him and work alongside him at his church. But here is the problem, in my opinion, because he is an Anglican, Josh doesn’t believe the Bible[2] on a bunch of issues like baptism, church government, church membership etc. So really our partnership in the gospel will only work if we don’t baptise anyone, never have a church meeting or we never practice church discipline. The only way two pastors can work together in the same church is if they either agree on the gospel and secondary issues like gender, church government, baptism etc or they don’t care about these issues. On the surface this critique from Josh looks plausible but when you dig deeper it is really a naive utopian fantasy.

    Next Josh says “often whilst on the surface evangelism is said to be at the core, rather what I have found is that being cool and hipster is more important.” but then he goes on to defend denominational churches and say they are culturally relevant and they are reaching people. I am not sure how Josh knows that churches and pastors of said churches want to be more hipster than evangelistically minded. If Josh came to my church Resolved he would see a small band of Christians many of whom have brought their friends to an evangelistic course we are currently running or they are inviting their friends to church and talking with them about Jesus. I am convinced that this the case at other church plants in Sydney and also denominational churches. On the hipster thing, being hipster is not a sin I am tempted by[3] I do think there is a pressure to be hip or cool with culture. But that can happen whether you are a church planter in Newtown or a Sydney Anglican minister. All I can say is that I know guys from the Geneva Push and Acts 29 churches and it seems like their greatest desire is for people to come to know Jesus. I can’t judge a pastors heart based on their church meeting or their evangelistic track record and I don’t know how Josh can know either.

    Josh then shares his concern “about the shuffeling the deck and really not reaching new people and burning people out” and in this I’m in full agreement. There is usually a hip church plant which blows up with people leaving their church. This is not the pastors fault at all as long as they don’t encourage this church shopping mentality. I also agree that some church plants don’t reach anyone and they just burn people out. But is this last critique only found in church plants? Can’t denominational churches be evangelistically dead and burn people out? Of course they can. For various reasons Resolved hasn’t always been as evangelistically hot as we should have been and we have burnt our fair share of people out. But I know friends that are going to denominational churches that are evangelistically dead and these churches are burning them out. The common denominator in both an ineffective church plant which burns out people and an ineffective denominational church that burns people out is the leadership. Either the leadership if the church needs to grow or change.

    The final critique josh has is that “many leaders seem to be developing a level of arrogance and snobbery towards those who work within denominations.” He continues:”  I personally am sick of church planters or church plat (sic) organisations telling me that I and other young denominational guys should leave denominational churches and plant something.” Now I planted Resolved almost five years ago and in that time I have been to a bunch of planting conferences. Also, before that I listened to every church plant talk I could listen to. In all this time I have never heard of one planting leader tell someone not to plant a denominational church or leave their denomination. Not once. I’m not sure who Josh is hanging out with but I would suggest that Josh get new friends if they are telling him to leave his denomination. In fact Josh why don’t you come to the Multiply a conference put on by the Geneva Push. I promise you no one will ask you to leave the Anglican Church and that you will be encouraged to be more effective in your ministry.

    Josh’s title of his blog was “Is church planting really the answer?” And the obvious answer is no. The answer is churches that are radically shaped by the gospel whose evangelistic fire is at boiling point. We need denominational churches to be like this and if we are to reach Australia and the world with the gospel we need church plants planted all the time with this evangelistic edge. No church planting is not the answer but it will be an outcome if churches  are gospel centered and on fire.


    [1] By the way I love suburban Anglican ministers

    [2] I know Josh is a brother in Christ who is a reformed evangelical and who does uphold the authority of the Bible. I am being hyperbolic to make a point…… And have some fun. See my above comments about Josh and I being provocateurs.

    [3] This is because, I like to shower and shave, I hate coffee, I like to work out and play sport and I like my music electric and loud

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  • Five reasons why you should go to the In The Chute Conference

    I love being a Geneva Church planter. In fact if anyone tells me they are even thinking about planting a church the first thing I say is “You gotta get in touch with the Geneva guys!” Every year The Geneva Push puts on it’s yearly conference called In The Chute. It is always an amazing time. So in light of the upcoming conference I want to give you my five reasons why you should go to In The Chute.

    1. It is a refreshing time. As church leaders we need to get away and be taught ourselves so we are refreshed by God and his word. The teaching at Geneva events is always top notch and is always encouraging and refreshing.
    2. Don Carson will be speaking. If you have never heard of Don Carson he (along with Tim Keller) runs The Gospel Coalition and is one of the most influential men in Evangelicalism. Don is an amazing speaker who will stretch, rebuke
      and encourage you as he preaches and teaches.
    3. The topic for this years conference is The Church. I have written on the mission of the church here. I think what the church is and does is one of the most important topics for contemporary Christianity. It is going to be amazing hearing from Don Carson on this topic.
    4. You learn from other church leaders about what is working for them. It is great to get together with other planters and church leaders and compare notes on what is and isn’t working for them.
    5. You get to listen and learn from older more experienced guys. I love hearing from a guy 1, 5 , 10 or 20 years down the track because I hear that what I am going through is pretty standard. I also get to reap the wisdom that God has given them through the years. At In The Chute I always get time with older more experienced pastors and try to learn everything I can from them.

    There you have it. There are my five reasons why you should go to the In The Chute this year. If you want to sign up for it go here.

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  • What I Wish I Did When I Planted Resolved Part 5: Worked on my Preaching and Prayer Life More

    “That was a lazy way to make that point!”

    This was one thing an older brother in Christ told me over and over as he critiqued my sermon. But his next comment hit harder.

    “Hans, you have potential but if you just rely on your gifts and don’t work hard that potential will be wasted!”

    Cutting words but true words. They were spoken to me a few years before I planted Resolved. But what I found when I started Resolved is that I didn’t work on my preaching and prayer like I should have. I was happy to arrogantly rely and rest on my gifts instead of putting the hard work in. This meant that my sermons weren’t as good as they should have been and that I haven’t improved as a preacher as much as I should have. It also meant that my prayer life sucked and I now am working hard to get it back on track.

    As a pastor my primary job is to be a man of the word and prayer and so I need to give adequate time to these pursuits.  A great sermon doesn’t just happen, it comes about through work and sweat and prayer and reading and thinking and practicing and….well you get my drift.

    It is easy when you plant a church to neglect the things that don’t seem urgent like preaching and prayer. But these things are vital if we want churches to grow and flourish.

    How are you organising your days and weeks so that you can adequately prepare your sermons and you can spend good time in prayer for yourself, your family, your church and your city?

    Let’s not be lazy in these things. Let’s be disciplined!

     

  • Things I wish I did when I planted Resolved: Worried about church government later

    I believe that Elder government is the biblical model of church government. But the question is do you need to kick off a church plant with it in place? Does a church plant need some kind of specific church governance structure?

    When I was at bible college I read a bunch of stuff on church governance and I was convinced that the bible dictated church government and so when I dreamt about my church I dreamed of a church with a strong elder board and a strong system of church leadership.  So this is what I started. The only problem with church government is that you need a clear plan of directing people and leading this structure because structure can turn toxic very quickly and they can stagnate the church. Looking back this is what happened. I didn’t know exactly how to lead these groups so I didn’t lead them well and so people got frustrated, things didn’t get done and the church stagnated.

    We are now at a place where we asking some big questions of what an elder board should do in a church our size. One of the most helpful books I have read on this is Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne.

    All this being said I do think that the elder and elder governed model is the biblical model of church government. But I wish I worried about church government later.

    If you are planting a church you do need to think hard about church government. Because church government is biblical but also because getting it wrong can stunt growth and can hurt people. But you also need to think about when to implement the structure. If you get this worng it can also stunt growth and hurt people.

    Don’t implement your church government until you know exactly how it will function and what that looks like for your church.

     

  • What I wish I did when I started Resolved Part 3: Been fine with not keeping people happy

    We want our churches to be filled with happy people. Because happy people are nice, they give money, are involved in ministry and bring their friends to church etc. If we, as church leaders, live by this we will be running around making sure everyone is happy.

    This is not the game we are in and this is not the game we are to be playing.

    But it is exactly the game I was playing up until recently at Resolved.

    If someone was unhappy I worked hard at making sure they were happy. I would spend hours with them listening, talking, debating, praying etc. In order to make sure they were happy with me and Resolved. I didn’t want them to leave and I wanted no needed them to like me.

    Some people who were unhappy with me or Resolved were very open to working things out. They wanted reconciliation and wanted Resolved to flourish more than anything else. These people quickly became the members Resolved needed.

    But a lot of the time it didn’t go like this. It seemed like no matter what we did some people were unhappy with Resolved and my leadership. No matter how much we oiled the squeaky wheel it squeaked. Trying to get some people to be happy caused us to waste time, it threw us off our game, it caused emotional strain and stress to us and to them. It wasn’t loving for us to play this game with them because it helped them focus on all the bad things and I am sure made them more unhappy with Resolved instead of bringing resolution. Now I am not saying we don’t talk about the things that need improvement or that we don’t try to mend relationships we must do this. What we cant do is work hard at keeping some people happy when they probably will never be happy.

    But what I was really doing in trying to keep people happy was really selfish and arrogant.

    I wanted people to be happy with me.

    I wanted people to stay at Resolved so I looked good because I was the pastor of a growing church.

    I wasn’t thinking about them and their wellbeing and to top it all off my self-centredness was throwing the whole church off its game.

    I am convinced that we need to let some squeaky wheels keep squeaking. I am also convinced that sometimes relationships have become so toxic that sometimes the best thing we can do to pastor some people is ask them to go to another church. A church where they can get fully behind the leadership of the church, a church they will enjoy, a church that they can bring their friends to. When they find a church like that everyone wins.

    As a church leader our job is not to make people happy but make disciples.

    We are playing for an audience of one.

     

  • What I wished I did when I planted Resolved part 2: Worked on our culture

    “Culture trumps strategy every time!”

    We were two and a bit years into our church, we had very talented people, we had big visions, catchy graphics and videos and yet people at Resolved were depressed, tired and burnt out and I was one of them.

    Here was the church I dreamed of planting and I was ready to close it down.

    What was the issue?

    Our culture sucked. Not the outside culture of the world but the culture we had created and let grow in our church sucked.

    Did we preach the bible? Yes

    Did we have talented people? Yes

    But we weren’t growing in anything but despondency and our culture was to blame.

    If you are starting a church please work on the culture of your church because no matter how good your people are or your strategy if your culture sucks your church will suck and it won’t grow.

    Here are the things that I want in our culture and a few things we are trying to do to get each one back on track.

    Evangelistically minded

    As a church we are called to make disciples and so this must be part of our DNA. Next year we are stepping up to the plate with a bunch of different events that people can bring their friends who don’t know Jesus to. We are also letting our people know what sermons in each series will be specifically evangelistic so that they can pray and bring their friends to those Sundays. In doing this we will be emphasizing that ever week is a great week to bring a mate to Resolved but on these specific weeks we will be inviting people to come to know Jesus through prayer or a short course.

    Growth in every area

    We want growth all over the map. We want people to come to know Jesus and we want people to grow in their love of Jesus and grow in their leadership abilities. We are starting small with some one to one discipling and we are doing a thing we call Dig which helps people wrestle with theology in a deep and intelligent way. We are also starting Catalyst which is a training program where we will be training future leaders of Resolved and the church at large.

    Loving

    We want to foster loving relationships. I am not sure that there is a strategy that we can employ with this one. But to say that right now as I think about Resolved I know that we have people who deeply love each other and this brings me countless joy.

    Honesty and openness

    I think we have always been honest and open. We have tried to do this by talking about what we struggle with when we preach or lead. If I am not honest when I preach or lead why will anyone be honest with me?

    Encouragement

    Our generation is more likely to tear down then encourage. We have seen this at Resolved also. We are seeking to point out whenever anyone does something (no matter how big or small) that is good and we will be telling them how encouraged we are to see them doing this thing. I have started this already and I am seeing this catch on which is exciting!

    Do what we say we will do

    We want a culture of execution at Resolved. This means I need to be more disciplined in following up deadlines and making sure things get done. This means I and other leaders to have to play a bit of bad cop from time to time. But this is worth it if we want a culture of execution.

    What culture are you seeking to build?

     

  • What I wish I did when I planted Resolved part 1: Led more directly

    This week I will laying out some of the mistakes I made when we planted Resolved. Some of these mistakes I kept making until recently. I will also talk through some of the things that I am doing now to counteract these mistakes,

    The first mistake I made was with my leadership. I have always been an upfront, lead with strength kind of guy. But when I started Resolved something changed. I turned into a guy who wasn’t that upfront and this upfrontness diminished more and more. I let standards slip, I left people in the jobs they shouldn’t have had to begin with, I let people let us all down and I didn’t do anything.

    Why did this happen?

    I think I let these things slip because I was scared. You see when you start a church you want all the people you can get at your church. You want the people who are there to stay and so you think I won’t offend them by pulling them up on this or stepping them down out of leading this ministry because if you offend them they may not stay. So I did something I thought I would never do.

    I compromised and backed away.

    This has hurt our church to no end. Having the wrong people on the bus confused our vision and some ministries didn’t happen or didn’t happen like they should’ve. Compromising on standards meant that some people lost confidence in me and others as the leaders of Resolved and some even lost confidence in Resolved as a church and Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

    What I am doing now:

    Praying: I am praying that God would grant me wisdom, humility, love and courage. Wisdom to know what we need to do make Resolved the church we are called to be. Humility to listen and take on criticism and know what criticism to take on board. Humility also to remember that my job is not in the people pleasing business. Love for my people and the city of Sydney:  I want to love Sydney and my people so much that I do not compromise on the vision that God has given us for Resolved. Courage to make hard decisions, to lovingly confront issues and people, courage to lead and not coast.

    We are making sure we have the right people in the right seats on the bus: Having the right people is extremely important having them in the right positions is almost as crucial. I am excited about next year primarily because I think we are getting there in this area.

    Leading more strongly: That means having a strongly articulated vision and plans and not compromising on the vision and plans unless I am convinced we need to. That means setting standards and systems and making sure we execute.

    Preaching to myself: I need to keep preaching to myself that God is big and people are small rather than the other way around. When I get put off my game I have realised it is because I overvalue people’s opinions (negative or positive) of me and forgetting that I am playing for an audience of one.

    When I remember that I am playing for an audience of one I am the leader that I need to be. Please pray that I would play for an audience of one!