What To Do About Those Who “Just Went”

Some are called,
Some are sent
Some just went.

A delightful colleague of mine more than 20 years ago shared this poem with me and I’ve never forgotten it. In fact, working with those who sense a call to church planting, I’ve seen the poetic truth lived out many times. The church planting world has developed a keen sense of how to assess prospective church planting leaders. Sometimes we get it wrong, but mostly it has increased the success rate of church planting dramatically. And assessment often identifies those who have developmental issues to address before being considered to lead in a church plant.

What’s the best path forward? For many, the desire to start a new church is laced with mixed motives. “I can’t stand doing church this way anymore.” “I can’t wait for someone else, I must start something here.” Others are simply not gifted with the skills necessary to empower a launch team, form a missional community and begin the church’s work in a new context. It’s a challenging leadership scenario and some are just not ready with the requisite experience.

There are many options which can move the gifted person forward to gain experience. Here are few:

  • A leadership residency. Many dynamic churches offer positions to those who are admittedly preparing themselves for future leadership. Post college, often post graduate school, these are wonderful opportunities to learn and add value at the same time.
  • A staff position. More and more I see larger established churches willing to hire someone for a specific staff role but allow them the freedom to develop themselves as leaders headed toward church planting. This probably involves a longer window of time than a residency, but if the hiring church does things well there’s a lot to learn while on the job.
  • A planting team role. Many if not most new churches have more than one staff member and certainly need many gifted and committed leaders to successfully start a new congregation. Some of the best preparation for future church planting can happen while serving in a current church plant. A word of caution: the planter’s depth and experience can be a huge help or a hindrance to the development of the learner.

So where do you find these opportunities? Ask. Approach churches with the idea of residency—most will entertain the idea, especially if the position is self-funded, which many are. Larger churches have staff positions come available frequently—be proactive about getting your name in the game and follow the best practices of well written resumes, prompt and clear responses to email and phone calls, compliance with requirements, etc. Finally, hang around with church planters if you’d like to find a position on a team. Church planters share with each other pretty freely—make yourself available and ask lots of questions. The more humble and servant-hearted you are, the more likely someone will snatch you up!

Finally, be patient. Don’t be one of those who “just went” because you can’t wait. God uses us to the degree to which we allow it. By not rushing in, you may well be allowing God to form you as a more effective leader. And if you’re not involved in personally sharing Jesus right now—get after it. Learning planting strategy and honing your preaching skills pale in priority to your experience leading folks across the line of faith. I can say for sure, “you’re called to that!”