Church-planting team leaders must grow in at least four ways: in their planning of action steps, in flexing with changing needs, in providing clear, workable guidelines for team members, and in avoiding actions that others find abusive.
1. Take the lead in planning for action
Together with team members, list objectives as action points, and modify their details as you move along.
As workers from the outside, make plans from the viewpoint of new believers and new churches or cells.
Focus on what the new group will do rather than what the team of outsiders will do. The team’s job is to help the group do its job; then, what the team should do becomes obvious.
Develop organization that fits local culture and local churches’ level of maturity.
If going to a neglected field, you’ll need a different type of organization for both team and churches. Organization might not resemble anything your workers know; it may look more like a spy ring, a low profile network with no evident ties to any international organization.
Let plans to organize churches grow out of what they need to do.
Discern what the churches or cells will do, and add no more organizational structure than what they need to do it. Avoid importing policies of older churches or of foreign denominations.
Help your team develop a midwife’s mentality.
Let new believers and new churches reproduce rather than the team taking this responsibility alone. Team members are to work themselves out of a job in a region as soon as possible.
When gathering believers, match those having a similar culture and background.
Verify a segment of society that is receptive, and start work in that segment.
In pioneer fields, the working classes are normally the most receptive at first, especially if they feel oppressed. Jesus began in Galilee among fishermen and tax collectors rather than in the natural nerve centers of Rome or Jerusalem, which were highly resistant in the apostles’ time.
Send church planters to societies of background similar to their own.
Match poor workers with poor populations, middle class with middle class, uneducated with uneducated, rural with rural, large families with large families, etc. Weigh all relevant factors: political compatibility, racial similarity, linguistic similarity and life styles. Do not hesitate to send some team members to another area that is culturally closer to them.
Let team members use their spiritual gifts and natural talents in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Encourage initiative and creativity. Discern each worker’s gifts and assign tasks that match.
If you need a Bible translation, arrange for a quick translation of one of the gospels.
The first version will probably need revision later. Tell Bible stories if Scripture is not translated yet. See jit 3e 60 Stories depict historical truths, engage all in worship, 115 pages
Share leadership responsibilities with team members and, as soon as you can, with new believers.
Shun all non-transferable church practices.
Avoid employing equipment that requires outside money, and procedures that would keep new believers, leaders and churches from becoming self-sufficient. Let them rely on the Spirit of God for their development. Set an example of sacrificial stewardship for team members and believers, and keep churches from forming partnerships that would lure them into depending on outside funds.
Collect a library of practical materials helpful for team formation and pastoral training.
Use materials geared to church multiplication and New Testament-type coaching. Do not adopt materials just because they are available or free.
Discuss with team members how Paul, Peter and Jesus led teams and started churches.
2. Know when to Stand Firm and when to Flex
Western leadership patterns often clash with local patterns where churches are multiplying. God will raise up shepherds and servants in new churches, as He promised in Ephesians 4:11-12. Church planters must recognize these leaders and coach them as Paul did.
Heed the following four liberating New Testament guidelines for leadership.
3. Provide New Testament-Based Guidelines for Leadership Flexibility
Flexibility Guideline #1: Let anyone serve as a shepherd who meets biblical requirements (Titus 1:5-9).
New believers who are family heads should start at once to shepherd their own families, as Scripture requires of any family head. Family cells can grow quickly into simple churches. Paul had Titus appoint elders in towns in Crete to lead home churches, and stipulated what kind of character they were to have (Titus 1:5-9).
Give pastoral responsibilities to apprentice leaders in new flocks and cells. Such novice shepherds can be recent believers, not yet qualified to be commissioned as official elders; if so, then designate them as “provisional” elders until they are proven capable and of good character.
Flexibility Guideline #2: Vary leadership patterns to fit conditions.
An elder in a church planting movement may serve one church, or more than one; a tiny home church might have more than one elder, or only one; and so on. What God cares about is that all His people receive godly shepherding, one way or another.
Avoid dogmatic adherence to one system of church leadership. Western ecclesiology recognizes three types of “governance”, episcopal (Catholic and Anglican), presbyterian (Reformed) and congregational (Baptist and Independent). These three arose where civil governments practiced a corresponding form: episcopal in the Roman Empire, presbyterian in Scotland, and congregational among those sought democracy. The New Testament displays examples of all three of these classical forms of governance. Paul told Titus (1:5) to name elders in the cities of Crete, reflecting an episcopal form, the churches there at that time were ‘baby churches’ needing an experienced outsider like Titus to establish new leaders. In Acts 15 elders from several churches gathered to deal with a common issue, reflecting presbyterian governance. In Acts 13:1-3, the Antioch believers commissioned leaders in a way that suggests congregational government in a mature church with strong leaders, capable of self-government. Let governance fit the time and place, for “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Flexibility Guideline #3: Let all who have God-given gifts use them.
Let believers test their gifting and natural abilities by serving in different ways in new churches or cells that need new workers. The New Testament warns that all leaders make mistakes, as all leaders do, new and experienced. To demand only excellence in ministry would paralyze God’s work!
Recognize God’s shepherding gift in new workers. Some Western traditions allow only professional clergy to lead churches, and other officers that are named in ways foreign to Scripture. God’s Word only requires one to manifest spiritual gifts and to win others to faith.
Western-style churches’ by-laws stipulate the election of a certain number of church officers for a specified term of years; for example, a board of seven elders that serve three years. However, Scripture requires elders to be shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4), which is a gift-based ministry, and God may give the gift to more, or less, than the stipulated seven, and God’s call may last for more than three years!
Flexibility Guideline #4: Organize on the regional level.
Develop interactive fellowship between churches and their members, to form an active regional body. Avoid elections and policies that turn a regional body into a political entity. The New Testament at times used the word “church” to indicate a cluster of home-based gatherings. Clusters of churches can practice the New Testament’s interactive, one-another commands not only within congregations, but also between them. Interactive clusters of cells or home churches provide mutual accountability, encouragement and edification, proving consistently to be a powerful dynamic that keeps churches multiplying and leaders living holy lives. In contrast, independent congregations often become ingrown and legalistic with the rules that they set up for themselves.
4. Avoid Abusive Leadership Actions
Pound your ego down daily with a sledgehammer, and check your leadership against these common, abusive leadership tactics:
- Basing authority on position rather than on God’s shepherding gift.
- Criticizing coworkers in their absence.
- Multiplying rules.
- Manipulating people by making them feel guilty.
- Striving to look good.
- Stifling constructive criticism.
- Seeking to elevate one’s self above others.
- Failure to explain clearly the reasons for a new policy.
- Failure to consult with coworkers before making changes that affect them.
- Majoring in secondary details.
- Saying one thing, doing another.