By Derek Hanna: Every church planter needs a vision. A vision of what God, through the gospel, can do in people’s lives, a vision of the communities that gospel could create, and a vision of the impact those communities could have on a world that needs the hope this gospel offers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a planter that doesn’t have vision. For most planters, you just need to push a button and out it comes, as it should. If they’re not convicted of it and they can’t paint a world-changing picture of what could be when God gets involved in this thing, then they’re probably pursuing the wrong calling.
But one of the things that doesn’t come naturally to many planters and what might seem counterintuitive to that big vision-casting, is to lay the groundwork with your launch team so that you don’t only get launch-velocity, but you’re preparing people for the challenges you’re going to face at the 50, 80, and 120 barriers.
When you’re casting vision, here are three implications you want to keep reminding your church of, pre- and post-launch.
- This is not about us. It’s about the lost. This might seem self-evident, and it’ll be the reason planters first began this journey. But what’s self-evident to one won’t always be self-evident to others. And just because it’s self-evident at the start doesn’t mean it’ll be self-evident two years from now. Whatever our vision, it has to have at its heart the desire to see the lost won. And if we keep putting that before people, that’s going to make the second implication easier for people to adjust.
- Our church is going to change. If God blesses what we’re setting out to do, that’s the natural outcome. That God will show mercy to those who don’t know Him, just like He has with us, and that they would join us in that mission. And if things aren’t changing, then we need to go back to the drawing board and change things until they do.
What the launch team experiences pre-launch—the camaraderie and intimacy of shared planning and risk-taking together—is going to evolve as new people, with new backgrounds and new perspectives, and without “our” shared history, join us. And just as we see it doing in the early church in Acts, it’s going to affect who makes decisions, who wield influence and authority, structures within the church, how people are cared for, and even how each member feels about their place within the community. And we and our church need to be ready for that, willing to adapt to those challenges – because we’re more interested in the lost than we are in ourselves. It’s not about us.
- Our relationship is going to change. This is perhaps the hardest one not only for those involved in the early stages of the church plant but also for the planter. Who the planter is to people at the start, is not who they’re going to be able to be to them when the plant hits the 120 barrier. And if you try to be, it’s going to end badly for you. And if they’re not prepared for that change, it’s going to end badly for them. You cannot be the primary reason they join the plant, and you cannot be the primary reason they stay at the church. It has to be a gospel-vision.
If, under God, this gospel-vision takes root and the lost are won and numbers swell, your role will change. And this, in turn, will change where and with whom you spend your time. And if your people are connected first and foremost to you instead of the gospel-vision, and it’s perceived you’re disconnecting from them to move on to “greener pastures,” you’ll either build your own glass-ceiling because you don’t want to upset them, or they’ll become embittered because what they initially bought into is being taken away. There’s only one Savior. And we need to make sure that we’re pointing people outside and inside the church to Him. This will save both us and our hearers.
There is no guarantee that even if there is clarity on the vision for the lost and even if the implications of that vision are spelled out, that things will go smoothly. In fact, there’s pretty much a guarantee in church planting, and church life, that things won’t go smoothly. That’s what happens when you bring sinful people—even sanctified ones—together in one place. But if we’re going to serve people faithfully, and keep in mind our role in the scheme of God’s mission, then we need to act as prophets, spelling out the implications of the mission before it happens and then, when those implications become reality, applying a gospel-salve to the wounds which open.