“So when are you launching your church?”
Few questions incited more anxiety during the early days of planting than this subtle reminder that we were failing to keep pace with industry standards and benchmarks. As a guy who was new to the Indianapolis metropolitan area with no relational networks or social capital, I usually smirked as I responded, “Launch what or whom?”
While this may seem like a snarky or silly point, language matters in church planting. Language shapes culture, identity, mission, methodology and, ultimately, our expectations in terms of how we evaluate success and failure.
My contention is that denominations, networks, sending churches and church planters need a seismic shift in recovering a more theologically-driven, biblically-rich and contextually-flexible taxonomy for our church planting efforts.
From Launching to Loving
In his letter to his young church planting protégé Timothy, the Apostle Paul summed up the controlling ambition of his life and ministry with these simple words: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Pastoral ministry, then, and church planting by extension, is first and foremost an expression of love for real people, in real places and in real time.
Theologically, this implies that we plant churches because God loved us supremely in giving us his son Jesus, and because he wants us to extend that love to our neighbors who don’t know him. We don’t plant churches to market a product, satisfy our compulsive inner entrepreneur, boost our self-esteem, capture market share through innovating new styles of church or create elitist church planting tribes (reformed, missional, gospel-centered, etc.).
How Love Changes Everything
The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s easy for us to conceive of church planting as a marketing enterprise, apart from any real love for real people. To paraphrase and apply the Apostle Paul in a letter to one of his fledgling church plants, “If I launch new churches but have not love, then I am nothing.”