Truly, Truly I Say to You: 8 “Truly’s” from Mike McKinley’s Church Planting Is for Wimps
I have a new logical syllogism that gives me a stamp on my man-card. It is based on Mike McKinley’s book, Church Planting Is for Wimps, and it goes like this:
(1) Church planting is for wimps.
(2) I am not a church planter, but a new pastor in an old church desiring spiritual revitalization.
(3) Therefore, I am not a wimp.
The conclusion may be debatable to some, but for now, I’m going to consider the case closed.
My situation is not exactly like McKinley’s. He became the pastor of a small church with the express purpose of revitalizing it with a team from his sending church, Capitol Hill Baptist. I, on the other hand, had no intentions of doing a work of church revitalization with a team. I simply became a pastor of a small local church with the intentions of shepherding them well from the Word of God.
But McKinley’s book on church planting/revitalization has nonetheless been applicable to my current pastorate. A lot of the things he experienced in his ministry, I am experiencing now. Maybe it’s because small churches by definition have a lot in common, or maybe it’s because I share his understanding of shepherding a healthy church. Whatever the reason, in the spirit of Jesus’ “truly, truly” statements, I want to affirm eight aspects of Church Planting Is for Wimps from my own experience as a new pastor. All of these points, whether imperatives or indicatives, are simply my reflections as a new pastor on some part of the book.
1. Truly, truly, preaching the Word must be prioritized.
So many things can tempt a new pastor to divert his energy away from preaching the Word. In McKinley’s case, it was all the physical problems present with the church building, like toilets that didn’t work and bad signage. Certainly these problems need to be addressed at some point, but never at the expense of the preached Word. Why? Because the church as the people of God are a people created and grown by the Word of God.
Can the church exist with malfunctioning toilets, leaks in the roof, and paint falling off the walls? Absolutely! The church can exist even when people are falling out of windows (Acts 20:9), though I wouldn’t recommend putting this one to the test. But can a church exist without the Word? Or can it grow while being fed a light dose of the Word? Absolutely not, for “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That truth has to be tattooed on every pastor’s heart. There are going to be issues that appear to be life and death, issues that appear to require your immediate attention, but the wise pastor will never let them hinder what the Great Shepherd says really is a life and death issue: the preaching of the Word.
2. Truly, truly, the heart must be guarded from pride, lest confidence in the Word of God be lost.
This point is an extension of the previous one. McKinley lists three hindrances to prioritizing the preaching of the Word of God (49-52), pride being the second of three. But in reality, pride is the cause of every hindrance, every pastoral pitfall. Whether it’s a blind adherence to pragmatism that lacks confidence in the Word of God or something else, pride is the serpent that lures one away from trusting God. If a pastor is over-confident in his own abilities and drifts away from his call to be a steward of God’s Word, then he is no longer qualified to be a pastor. God’s people don’t need powerful personalities and motivational speakers. They need someone to faithfully administer the Word of God.
3. Truly, truly, healthy membership gives the local church their identity as the body of Christ.
The church I pastor has a membership roll, but a lot of people who are members have not attended in quite a long time, and many of those same people have contact information that is no longer valid. We are in the process of cleaning up the rolls, but that is a process I am estimating will take at least a year. Part of that process involves teaching the current members about the importance of church membership and church discipline—historically, for many, a mark of an actual church.
Why is this important? Because a local church cannot live out its identity as the body of Christ if it doesn’t know who the body is. Moreover, the surrounding community is going to have a pretty warped view of who Jesus is if we allow people to go on identifying themselves with him while having nothing to do with his body. In other words, one of the most important things a church can do for its evangelistic witness is to purify the church. A church without boundaries of holiness is simply an unholy church.
4. Truly, truly, work towards establishing a plurality of elders with wisdom and patience.
Here’s my argument for a plurality of elders in five words: the Bible tells me so. For a more detailed exposition, read the 9Marks material and early Particular Baptists on the subject.
On a more personal note, as a new pastor, I’m thankful that Scripture calls for a plurality of elders because I’m daily made aware of my own inadequacies. One of the benefits of having multiple elders (i.e. pastors) is that they all bring different gifts, perspectives, and wisdom to the table. As a 28-year-old, brand new pastor, I might like to think that my gifts, perspectives, and wisdom brings plenty to the table, but the Lord has a way of disabusing one of that notion rather quickly.
All that to say, if you’re a new pastor, make training, praying for, and raising up new elders a priority. That doesn’t mean it needs to be accomplished within the first year. McKinley has plenty of wise cautions that speak to rushing into it (68-69). Training men to be pastors is a life-long goal. We don’t train a few and then call it quits. It’s ongoing. But pastors must make it a priority to disciple men, and through that process pray the Lord would grant you fellow workers in the ministry.
5. Truly, truly, mission statements should be blank.
This is not a dogmatic statement. I don’t think it’s sin for a church to have a mission statement. But, frankly, I’m glad McKinley got rid of his church’s mission statement and lived to tell about it (60-63). Mission statements are great for organizations insofar as they give them direction and establish who they are and hope to be. But I really do not see how or why a church needs to do that.
The church is centered around the Word of God. The whole counsel of God is its mission statement, and each week as the Word is preached, there is a new emphasis, or reminder, or reproof to stay on God’s mission. One week we are reminded that as a church we ought to be reconciled to one another since we both have access to the Father in one Spirit (Eph 2:11-22). Another week we learn to be a people of prayer, praying ultimately that the church be “filled to the fullness of God” (Eph 3:14-19). If a pastor is not sure what he is supposed to be doing without a mission statement, then to loosely quote McKinley, “he shouldn’t be a pastor.”
6. Truly, truly, God will provide.
McKinley has a great story about his desires for a Spanish ministry (75-78). The community his church was in had a large Spanish population, and the church had a great opportunity for a gospel witness to them. The only problem was that no one at the church spoke Spanish. Long story short, through prayer God not only provided an evangelistic family who spoke Spanish, but a pastor from El Salvador to head up their church planting efforts.
What’s the point? God will provide. He desires his gospel to reach the nations, and he will provide the means for his purposes to be accomplished on the mission field and in the local church; and he will do it, often, in the most surprising of ways.
7. Truly, truly, any work of revitalization will be an encouragement to the saints.
The aim of pastoral ministry is to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11). In a church that has been on the brink of collapsing for some time, the faithful ministry of a new pastor can inject the church with new life.
McKinley says that one of his chief joys as a pastor has been hearing how some of the older, godly women have prayed so long for their church, and are now greatly encouraged and reinvigorated in the faith (36). The church I pastor is not identical to his, but I too have received joy from hearing how older members’ faith has been refreshed. Every church I have been a member of has always been pretty healthy. I have never known being without godly leadership for months or years at a time. So, seeing the satisfaction believers get from new pastoral care and the steady ministry of the Word after not having it is like seeing someone who’s dehydrated drink water for the first time. And you know what the great thing is? The water we have to offer never dries up. Its source is an eternal spring (Jn 6:35; 7:37-39).
8. Truly, truly, reality is better than fantasy.
What do I mean? In particular, obsessing over a church’s size (a fantasy) is not as joyful as loving the people in the church (reality). McKinley rightly laments the obsession so many new pastors have over the size of their church (106-109). They tend to equate success as a pastor with numbers, and get discouraged if the numerical growth doesn’t dramatically increase relatively quickly.
I’m the pastor of a small church. I know the feeling. But just like any idol, church growth will never satisfy. If a small church of 50 were to grow to 200, do you really think discouragement from small numbers would disappear? No. The obsession would just change from wanting a church of 200 to a church of 400.
Obsessing over this fantasy—and others like it—will strip a pastor of his joy in ministry because he will surely miss the little flock in front of him that God has given him as an encouragement. The church is guaranteed to grow according to God’s will (Eph 4:11-16), so rejoice in the ways he is currently accomplishing his will in his church, rather than fretting over how it’s not happening according to yours.