Today we continue our chapter-by-chapter blog discussion of the book Church Planting is For Wimps. For those of you who may have just been browsing so far, it is not too late to join in! Simply pick up a copy of the book and start reading. If you have missed the previous posts, please read my thoughts on chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 3.
Mike is now pastor of Guilford Fellowship and faithfully preaching God’s Word. He has begun to steadily work toward revitalizing this church. But he begins to recognize a new and pressing challenge–membership. He finds more and more people in the local community who consider themselves members of Guilford, but who have not been involved in any way for years. And then there are those who have left the church since he became pastor. None of them had resigned their membership, and most never even bothered to tell him that they were leaving. And if this was not enough, he couldn’t even find a membership list to know who were actually members of the church.
What could he do? He led the church to require that all who wanted to remain members must sign the church covenant. After giving this opportunity to any who considered themselves members, Only those in regular attendance were willing to make this commitment. They took the covenants that they had received and created a church membership list.
Then Mike did something that is against everything you will ever read about in church planting and church growth materials. He ditched their mission and vision statements! Can you believe it? But I appreciate his reasoning:
“Look, if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing as a church planter, if you need to write out a statement in order to remember that your church is supposed to evangelize the lost and help Christians grow in Christ, friend, you shouldn’t be a church planter. How about casting vision the way Protestants have cast vision for the past five hundred years! Teach God’s Word! Explain it to God’s people, and tell them God’s mission and vision and values and purpose and strategy for their life. Don’t refer them back to some mantra that you make sure everyone in the congregation has memorized. Teach them what the Bible says about what it means to be a faithful Christian and a faithful church” (62-63).
So, in many ways, he brings the church to the point where they have a clean slate. What is the next step? Addressing the church’s statement of faith. Not that it was all that bad, but it was cobbled together from their denomination’s statement and a local seminary’s statement. Unfortunately, it majored on the minors in some doctrinal areas, and Mike wanted to root their church more firmly in its historical roots. So the church decided to adopt the New Hampshire Confession of Faith. I know, I know, it is not our beloved 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith or even its American counterpart, the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. But at least the pastor led his church to an understanding of the need to have a clear confession, and he includes several reasons why church plants and existing churches should be confessional.
Then Mike tackles the church’s constitution and by-laws. Sure this may sound boring and involve many things that many of us could care less about, but we all should care about the nature and structure of the church and its leadership. Using Capitol Hill Baptist Church as their starting point, the committee made a few changes to CHBC’s constitution and presented it to the congregation. After a few months of conversation, they voted to adopt it.
One reason why Mike was so intent on revising Guilford’s constitution was to move to a plural eldership in the church’s leadership. He writes:
“I wanted elders who would function as elders by shepherding and teaching the congregation; and I wanted deacons who would function as deacons by serving the congregation and making sure needs are met…. Establishing a plural eldership doesn’t mean neglecting other important parts of the Christian mission; it means raising up more men to lead in the very work of Christian mission” (68-69).
Amen! Like Mike, I see far too many church planters, pastors, and other church leaders today who do not understand the importance of having a plurality of elders. It is the biblical expectation and necessary for the health of the church. This is not a minor issue for those of us who like to debate ecclesiology. It is how God has revealed His churches to be led. And read how Mike explains the benefits he quickly experienced:
“Suddenly I had a recognized group of men (older men, wiser men) with whom I could deliberate about the affairs of the church. The burden of making decisions, planning strategies, and shepherding the flock was now spread across three sets of shoulders” (70).
I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.
But now you are up. What are your thoughts?
Member, Heritage Baptist Church
M.Div. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary