As a graduate professor, I have determined that students in Ph.D. programs fall into two basic categories: doctoral students and students enrolled in doctoral programs.
Doctoral students go beyond the call of duty, while students in doctoral programs simply answer the call of duty. Doctoral students are internally motivated; they are driven to make a difference in society. Students in doctoral programs are externally motivated; they are driven to become personally successful. Doctoral students place a priority on excellence; students in doctoral programs, a priority on grades. Doctoral students do not count the cost inherent in their vocation; students in doctoral programs are cost conscious. Doctoral students are highly skilled yet continually seek to improve their skill sets; students in doctoral programs have nominal, sometimes poor, skill sets. They often resist improvement until they have no other recourse for clearing academic hurdles. Doctoral students are courageous; they are neither afraid to seek answers to difficult questions nor take risks. Students in doctoral programs are cautious; they do not wander far from their comfort zones.
Certainly, we cannot place all doctoral students neatly into one category or another. Many lie somewhere along a continuum. In my judgment, however, no more than 50% of students in Ph.D. programs are truly doctoral students. What separates them from students enrolled in doctoral programs can be distilled into three attributes: mindset, heart set, and skill set. Mindset is a mental attitude. It concerns a person’s beliefs. It determines how individuals interpret and respond to situations. Heart set is an emotional disposition. It concerns a person’s convictions. It explains an individual’s deepest affections and commitments. Skill set is a behavioral repertoire. It consists of a range of proficiencies. It is needed to accomplish a particular task or perform a given function.
Mindsets, heart sets, and skill sets are not mutually inclusive. Anyone may standout in one of the attributes but not the others. When Jesus commanded the disciples to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16), for instance, he showed recognition that one could be mentally sharp but potentially behaviorally inept. How many times have we witnessed people failing to practice (convictions and behavioral repertoire) what they preach (beliefs)?
I see parallels between doctoral students, Gideon’s warriors, and church planters. Gideon’s 300 valiant warriors had all three attributes (Judges 7:1-7). The story unfolds with the Lord telling Gideon that he had too many men to fight the Midianites. Therefore, the Lord said that the men who were timid or afraid could leave and go home. In response, 22,000 men went home, leaving 10,000 warriors who were willing to fight. The Lord then said that there still were too many men. Therefore, he devised a critical test.
The warriors who cupped water in their hands and lapped it up like dogs–ever remaining vigilant, ever mindful of danger, ever ready to fight without prompting—these were the real warriors, the ones who always were ready for battle, and the ones who would be reliable in a fight. The other warriors kneeled down and drank directly from the stream, in effect, letting down their guards. Only the 300 chosen had the mindset: they could be trusted to never let down their guards. Who knows that in the thick of battle a warrior, even of great skill and conviction, for the briefest moment may let down his guards. That momentary miscalculation could spell defeat.
Let’s put this into perspective. The 22,000 warriors who chose to go home may have had the skill set for battle, but they did not the heart set or mindset. The 9,700 warriors who kneeled down to drink water had the skill set and heart set, but they lacked the mindset. Only the 300 warriors who were chosen had all three attributes: the proper beliefs (mindset), convictions (heart set), and skills (skill set).
Effective church planters are like doctoral students and Gideon’s valiant warriors. They have the right mental attitude, emotional disposition, and behavioral repertoire to scale a rigorous learning curve and do front-line battle. In church planting, every day is a challenging learning experience. Every effort to build God’s kingdom on earth invokes a fight with the enemy. It takes the deepest affection of those who are lost to persistently reach them for Christ. Concerning the three attributes, the Apostle Paul was an exemplar. Look how effective he was as a church planter (see my blog of December 14, 2011).
So here is a concluding question. Are you a church planter or someone planting a church?