The planter as generalist: Intro

The label “intern” used to be code word for the person who does anything and everything their boss doesn’t want to do. Interns are the best when you are in charge. Don’t want to scrape the gum out of the carpet at the church? Don’t worry. The interns got that! Tired of pestering people to sign up and pay for the next church event? Forget about it; the intern’s got that, too. There’s no shortage of responsibilities you can pawn off on a good intern, right?

When you are the intern, however, this is the worst! You didn’t sign up to clean carpets or make the fifteenth call for Mr. Ralph to get his money in on time. You wanted to teach, lead and do all of the other tasks that, at least in your mind, were a central part of God’s mission in the world.

Fast forward a few years and you’re now a church planter. You’ve groomed under pastors in a large church with a highly developed staff. You’ve watched mentors from afar wax eloquently on a big stage. And then, you plant a church. Soon you realize that the life you are living fills far more like that of an intern than the life of a “real” pastor.

The romanticized notion many have of pastoral ministry implodes quite quickly when the mundane, tedious reality of church planting begins. Sure, there are still meetings to lead, vision to cast and sermons to preach, but there are also millions of other details that someone has to do. In most cases, that someone is either the church planter or his wife. A fortunate few are blessed with a team of co-laborers who can carry some of the weight as well, but there’s simply more to do that people to do it.

What do you do?

The first option is to bow your back in pride. Many planters have been interns in the past, but now they’re married with seminary degrees and a pedigree that says they shouldn’t have to do these menial tasks anymore. Yet, it’s hard to square a posture that says, “I’m too important for that” with the biblical imagery of the Son of God stooping to this Earth in the form of a servant.

The next option is to let things go undone. There are certainly times when this may be necessary. The perfectionism that drives many planters will need to die a painful death. There are tasks that simply won’t get done, and that’s ok. But, then there are other responsibilities that have to get done. There are reports to fill out, emails to send, budgets to balance, graphics to create, conversations to have, conflict to navigate and on and on the list could go. Neglecting certain tasks may bring harm to Christ’s body or hinder the effectiveness of the mission moving forward. Not to mention the fact that dropping balls time and again doesn’t communicate that all the details of life are meant to be done whole-heartedly, as an act of worship to God.

The final, and preferable, option is to assume the role of a generalist and find ways to maximize your gifts and abilities, while building a team around you that can make up your deficiencies. There may be a time when you have administrative assistants who can handle various details of your schedule, a time when you have 30 hours each week to invest in research, writing and teaching and a time when you have a robust staff made up of specialists in the various dimensions of church life. For most church planters, that time is not now. And, more than likely, it’s not coming anytime soon.

That’s why we’re going to take the next couple of weeks and look at the generalist nature of church planting. We’ve invited skilled practitoners to weigh in on their journey and speak to the shape of certain facets of the planter’s role in the early years of planting. Our hope is that this series will encourage more planters to persevere during these seasons and find contentment in doing the mundane well.

Published August 7, 2017