The Road Ahead: 10 Characteristics of a Future Church Planter, Part 2 | The Exchange
Last week we reflected on the first five of ten shifts that are mission critical for those engaging in the missionary work of church planting in North America in locales that are essentially bereft of Christian memory. They were:
- A Different Filter: From Entrepreneurial Übermensch  to Apostolic Catalyst
- A Different Frame: From Sunday-centric to Christ’s Body
- A Different Fascination: From Ecclesiastical Supremacy to Kingdom Submission
- A Different Focus: From Drafting Free-Agents to Developing Disciple-Makers
- A Different Family-Tree: From Replication to Multiplication
This week we will continue this conversation by focusing on five other key changes we must make if we want to see movement.
6 – A Different Force: From SoloClerics to Co-Vocational Teams
The mission force that is deployed in the vast majority of planting situations is a solo lead planter with a big heart for Jesus’ mission. As this planter arrives on the mission field, the financial realities soon overwhelm the romantic missionary notions that once preoccupied his imagination.
The pressure is on. Because of this, the unstated goal often degenerates into building a worship service following that can pay a salary before the start-up supporters move on. Quite understandably, all romantic missionary notions will be flushed in order to compete for the paying customers. After all, there is a family to feed and bills to pay.
As secularity continues to erase Christian memory from much of the landscape within North America, the possibilities of gathering and assembling displaced evangelicals into a financially sustainable professional startups will become a less-likely reality for most. Future church planters will retain their missionary imagination by forming co-vocational  teams around the functions and mission of the Body of Christ instead of the tasks and expectations of a weekend worship service.
7 – A Different Fluency: From Christendom to Secularity
When church planters model their ministries after respected and influential evangelical leaders, they often create unnecessary distance between the gospel message and those who live lives with no connections to the subculture of Christendom.
Messaging that has been tuned for the ears and cultural sensibilities of evangelicals finds little intellectual or emotional reception from the religiously uninitiated. With the lack of gospel penetration into the larger culture, the cultural divide in North America will only deepen as the church continues to behave like it existed in 15th-century Christendom rather than its closer contextual parallel of the first century which it now finds itself.
Future church planters who thrive will envision their upcoming church, not singularly among the previously evangelized, but predominantly among the community that they are trying to reach.
The current culture of secularity is requiring that every belief system, including secularism, must prove its authenticity to be valid. As competing faith systems are forced to demonstrate the veracity of their claims, genuine Christ-followers have all the advantages. Church planters who exchange clichéd evangelical-speak for a more compelling display of Christ in authentic community may find great appetite amongst Kingdom-seeking, yet religiously disconnected neighbors.
8 – A Different Fidelity: From Doctrinal Precision to Spiritual Authority
Theological fidelity in Christendom often has much more to do with rehearsing and articulating accepted doctrinal norms than it does in allowing those same stated positions to transform their keeper’s lives. This aberrant notion of faithfulness has birthed two problems within evangelicalism.
First, it has produced a class of leader whose theological hubris would rival Jesus’ greatest opponents. With a narrow orthodoxy (that often includes little orthopraxy) these new leaders expend enormous energy on differentiating themselves from their spiritual inferiors with little humility left for mystery.
Second, this academic approach to theology contorts biblical belief into a convenient noun (something that we own) rather than a verb (something we do). With this, Christian fidelity is often reduced to a codified statement that is neither lived, nor truly loved.
Future church planters that persuasively bring the gospel into secularity will move beyond the arrogance of theological posturing toward the humility of simple belief. In the new religious economy brought about through secularity, few are asking the question, “What is truth?” Increasingly, the deep question within people’s hearts is, “What will work?” And this is the spiritual intersection for a church planting team to reveal the Kingdom of God.
After all, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (I Cor. 4:20). And so, church planters go about the mission of Christ with the spiritual authority of their King that rightly combines proper doctrine and the life-transformation that doctrine is meant to produce (Matt. 28:19-20).
9 – A Different Finish: From Prominent Church to Transformed City
The ecclesio-centric question that Christian leaders routinely ask is, “How is my church doing?” Getting past the implicit misunderstanding of ownership in the word ‘my,’ we see the insular fascination that has so frequently hampered the mission of Christ – we measure church health against internal corporate dynamics.
We ask questions related to financial health, interpersonal harmony, the trajectory of attendance, and staff performance. What is often missing in the question of a church’s relative health is an awareness of its impact on its community. To be a prominent church within Christendom, this is an unnecessary consideration.
Church planters who are able to make inroads within highly secularized environments will ask a different, more Kingdom-centric question; “How is my city doing?” These planters do not look at the community and ask, “How can I get a church going here?”
Instead they look with different eyes and ask, “How can Jesus’ church make a difference here?” They establish meaningful relationships with pre-believing community partners while engaging knee-deep within their community’s social fault lines.
And in the process of community transformation, they make disciples of Jesus of both those helping and those receiving help. Future church planters will not see their church as the goal, but instead will seek first the Kingdom of God (see Matt. 6:33).
10 – A Different Future: From Underserved Communities to Overlapping Gospel Movements
The cumulative effect of the preceding nine shifts will prepare Jesus’ Church in North America for an entirely different future than the trajectory that it is currently on. Presently, the majority of metrics measuring the gospel effectiveness of our current understanding of “church” leaves very few without some measure of discomfort with the status quo.
Moreover, not only do we have deep issues of missional malaise within evangelicalism, we are also squandering opportunities in places asking for the church’s help. Combine these factors with a growing cultural perception within secular spaces that evangelicals are, in fact, their greatest foe—and we have a downward arc that requires a big spin to manufacture some good news.
Future church planters must reposition the church squarely back into the heart of Jesus’ redemptive mission. As they move into secular communities with a big and robust Christology and develop patterns of missional engagement that tap into a longing for truth that works, they can form reproducible patterns of biblical community that disciples men and women from spiritual curiosity to a co-vocational church planting team member.
In the midst of density and diversity, overlapping gospel movements can emerge in communities that have long been underserved by a stationary church.
And so, these ten shifts, although not easy, become mission critical for church planting teams to find receptive gospel soil within the broader culture that has largely discounted the value of evangelicalism. Embracing these shifts will produce a different kind of church planting team, and a different kind of church.
May it be so.