The Send Network Church Planting Blog

3 Keys to catalytic movement in the first 3 years of church planting: Part 3 institutional urgency

November 8, 2017 by Jacob Dahl

In Ephesians 4, Paul lays out the five ministry roles (modeled in fullness by Jesus) that are designed to synergistically lead and equip the church—Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers (or APEST).

Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists naturally pioneer new ground, start new communities of faith and take the gospel to new lands to engage unbelievers. They act like spiritual entrepreneurs. Shepherds and Teachers naturally develop the ground taken by the “APEs”, cultivate relationships in existing churches, and root the gospel deeply in the lives of believers. Hebrews 12:2 gives context for this ecclesiological rhythm when it points to Jesus as both the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.

It’s self-evident that the current posture of the church in the West is dominated by developing. You can trace back the absence of pioneering and what Alan Hirsch calls the “exiling of the APEs” to the beginning of Christendom around the time of Constantine, when the church was brought from the margins of society to the very center. What we saw was a dynamic and thrilling enterprise that flipped the Roman empire upside down be reduced to a safe, institutionalized, missionless church. There have since been occasional surges of pioneering missionary movements in the past, but by and large the original apostolic nature of the church has been buried for thousands of years.

The recent church planting surge in the last 15-20 years has helped awaken many people to the need of pioneering new communities of Christ. There is hope on the horizon that the Western church will regain its missional impulse.

But here’s the kicker: every church in history was started out of pioneering, but eventually ceased to exist most likely because somewhere along the way, someone who was leading that church stopped pioneering. And when you stop pioneering, you start turning inward, focusing solely on the needs within and forgetting about the mission around you. And when you stop reaching the world around you, your church will shrink continually with every passing generation into inevitable nonexistence.

The reason why pastors and church planters stop pioneering is usually pretty simple: it’s just plain harder work than developing. The natural human tendency is to gravitate away from chaos and toward comfort. This is primal. So once a new church finally reaches a point of stabilization, it’s easy to begin moving away from the mission and into maintenance.

Even in our third year as a church plant, we could already feel the magnetic pull back to development. Starting a new church is emotionally exhausting, costly to your personal finances, deeply straining on your family and relationships. So once you’ve endured and survived the initial beating of the first few years, everything within you cries out for relief. You begin to think to yourself, “Finally I can take a deep breath, relax and just ride the wave of momentum…”

And this is precisely why starting another church within three to four years, and subsequently more churches after this, is so crucial in perpetuating the missional impulse the church had when it first began. If you aren’t careful, you will eventually join the graveyard where thousands of churches throughout history “overdeveloped unto death”.

Craig Groeschel calls for “institutionalizing urgency,” and says there are three factors that contribute to sustained urgency: outside opposition, divine calling, and limited time. Because our church set a goal of planting again within three years, it never allowed us to settle into missional complacency. We kept our edge by leaning heavily on people with APE giftings who kept pressing the gas pedal on reaching new people and multiplying everything.

It’s easy to have urgency in year one because you’re in survival mode—maintaining urgency over multiple years and decades takes a top-down institutionalization from the stage to discipleship and everything in between.

Diagnostic questions:

  1. Where are the places in the early years of church planting that you are already slipping into missional complacency?
  2. What are some of the specific magnetic pulls in your context that cause you to gravitate away from pioneering?
  3. What would it look like to “elevate the APEs” in your context, the people in your church who have pioneering giftings?
  4. How are you going to maintain the urgency you had when you first started planting?

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