On Monday and Tuesday of this week I was in Auburn, Alabama with a group of interns with Lakeview Baptist Church. Over the course of this semester, they took a church planting class with me. It was a blessing to be with these outstanding guys.
I am a lover of Bar-B-Q and sweet tea. Of course, when these guys came to realize this outstanding element of my character, they suggested that we have lunch at Mike at Ed’s. I had no hesitation with going to this fine eatery.
Now, while I have not reached the level of social media sophistication whereby I am constantly taking photos with my phone to share with others, I had to capture this one.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, that is a garbage can filled with sweet tea (and yes, that is the container of unsweetened tea to the right.). Only in the South.
Yes. We did drink sweet tea from the garbage can. I did not understand it. It was unusual. But, it was good!
What a crazy act. What a crazy concept. No one drinks from a garbage can on purpose and likes it so much that he or she is willing to pay to do it.
Yet, Mike and Ed’s is making a killing off of it.
An Axiom All Pastors Should Know
In today’s post, I am writing specifically to pastors who are considering partnering with church planters. I am also writing to those of you who are already in such relationships, be it a supervisory, mentoring, coaching, or partnering church role. Church planting is messy ministry, and you need to be mentally prepared for what is to come once you start down this path. So, with this in mind, here is a church planting axiom:
Missionaries do strange things.
These Kingdom servants do not know the phrase, “we’ve never done it that way before.” To them, everything is new. They are entering into the fields. They are starting with nothing and moving toward something. They do not begin with structures and organizations; they begin by entering into the kingdom of darkness to bring out the captives into the Kingdom of light.
Typical, normative, routine, predictability. . . . These words are hard to find in their vocabularies.
Instead, we generally find them most familiar with terms such as uncertainty, pioneering, chaos, and instability.
The Experts are in the Fields
Church planting does not happen in front of a computer. Church planters are in the trenches. They are missionaries living and functioning in the highways and hedges of lostness.
As a result of them being in the heat of the battle, they are the experts when it comes to their contexts.
Now, for me and you, traditional approaches to evangelism and ministry worked very well. The Lord used that 1975 Baptist Hymnal and “Victory in Jesus” to bring us to faith and sanctify us. For years, you remember how He worked through your church’s bus and van ministry to reach all of those kids from the nearby community. And, wow! What about those great block parties we used to have. It was so wonderful to see what the Spirit did to advance the gospel.
Maybe such methods will still be effective among the unbelievers with whom your missionaries are laboring. But, maybe not. I don’t know their contexts. And my guess is that you do not truly know their contexts either.
Be Learners, but Hold Them Accountable
So, let’s ask them to educate us. Let’s ask them to tell us about the people groups and population segments among whom they are serving. Let’s ask them to tell us what is working and not working to reach the people with the gospel, gather them, teach them, and raise up leaders from among them.
But whenever we ask them such questions, we may need to fasten our seat-belts and be ready for a surprise. They may tell us about methods they are using that we have never considered. They may share approaches that we would never dare to implement into our established church ministries. They may tell us tales that make us uncomfortable.
But. . . if our missionaries are remaining true to the Scriptures, being good stewards with their resources, not participating in unethical or illegal practices, let’s give them the freedom they need to serve on the frontlines of Kingdom advancement.
We must absolutely hold them accountable, but not be absolute with our methodological convictions. They know the context better than us. They are living and breathing it everyday. Let’s trust them. We should ask the tough and challenging questions. We should “push back” where we think it is necessary. We should provide correction where necessary.
It is not about giving them free reign, but the freedom to fulfill their ministry.
Pastors, don’t be surprised when your church planters one day share with you that they are planning on drinking sweet tea from a garbage can. Push back on them. Be discerning. Ask challenging questions. Hold them accountable. Speak wisdom into their lives. And, if at the end of the conversation, you believe their approaches are appropriate, then pray for them and encourage them in their labors.
If we do, we may find that very soon we are filling our cups with them and discovering some great Bar-B-Q in the process.