Church planting, when done properly, is proof that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. This was brought home forcefully to me when I planted a multiplying church in the heart of urban Long Beach. We had just sent out our second church plant in two years and were gearing up for a third when I realized that we were sending out our best and running out of leaders. The problem was that I was trying to leave the hub in Long Beach and go plant another one. Like George Bailey, I just wanted to get the heck out of Bedford Falls. That’s no easy task when you repeatedly send out your best people in teams to plant churches.
After the third church plant, there was nobody left behind with leadership potential. Or so I thought. With the threat of being hopefully trapped at the expense of my calling to move on and plant again, I asked God what to do. The answer was so simple, that I’m embarrassed to share it.
Disclaimer: No brilliance exists in the next few sentences.
I felt that I was being led to simply disciple the people directly in front of me to the best of my ability. Here’s the kicker: Not a single one of them were what we’d consider ministry candidates. If we were picking “ministry hopefuls” like players for a soccer team, they’d have all been picked last. Nobody would have considered them as leadership material. But, they (and I) would be very wrong. Nevertheless, I obediently started discipling those in front of me, despite their apparent lack in potential.
And, incredible leadership emerged as a result.
To this day, that team leads Refuge Long Beach effectively and continues to make Spirit-led decisions.
I’ve since changed my view of leadership. I used to believe that people were “called” to leadership, but I’ve found that more often than not, the people we call leaders are really just people who were discipled well. I now believe that when you really disciple people, leadership emerges as a result. Besides, Paul never mentions people having “a call” when he lists out things to look for in an elder or deacon. Their character is the main focus, with a slight nod to their gifting. Leadership emerges as they are developed in their role.
The problem with looking for leaders is that we often focus on people whom we think should be leaders and bypass those God thinks should be leading. Case in point, no self respecting team of elders or mission board would have probably picked the 12 disciples for ministry, but after Christ spent three years discipling them, their leadership qualities emerged. Faced with all my best leaders gone or preparing to go, I stopped looking for leadership candidates and started producing them.
Planting in urban Long Beach wasn’t my first rodeo. I’d already been training church planters, but what nobody tells you about training church planters in your church plant is that they all want to go and plant churches. (I’m a little slow on the uptake.) I remember that it happened in a small group. We were getting ready to do some heavy outreach in a park where we’d seen a lot of conversions. The problem was, now that the “A” team was gone, I thought that the Hulk would smash these puny weaklings if they tried any frontline mission work. As I asked them to pray for God to raise people up in their gifts, Steve, a chain-link fence salesman said, “I can run a barbecue.” His wife nudged him with a reality check and said, “For two hundred people?” He just smiled a smile that I came to know as the “I’m going on an adventure” smile.
That Sunday, hundreds turned up to our barbecue in the inner city, and as I looked over at the grill, Steve was grinning like the Cheshire Cat—when his mouth wasn’t moving. Steve, ordinarily a reserved, quiet man, was animated, talking, smiling, patting people on the back as he handed them cheeseburgers, tacos and ribs. Steve had found his gift of serving and once that was unlocked, the Spirit coursed through him. We couldn’t shut the guy up. People came to faith. It was the reawakening of our church. And it started with the gifts of ordinary people.
Perhaps what C.S. Lewis said in Weight of Glory is more fitting: “There are no ordinary people. You’ve never talked to a mere mortal.”
Published August 9, 2017