I’m tired, and so are my friends.
Over the past few months, I’ve spoken with many pastors and church planters. Most say they are tired, trying to find a new way forward and don’t want to return to pre-pandemic ministry forms.
I am currently planting a new church and feel much like my friends.
Reflecting on their statements and my current situation, and I have concluded that ministry is like playing chess. In the game, we are the chess player, and the pieces are the people we are trying to use to win the match.
Chess teaches you to think strategically. And, strategy is vital to ministry, and of course, we need people to partner in ministry. But they are more than pawns to move around a board.
I see the issue in my own life. We pastors are trained to approach people as chess pieces to fulfill our agendas. We approach people with a plan to accomplish the gospel mission. But, in our Western culture, we often approach the task to satisfy our own ego needs rather than for the love of Jesus.
We find ourselves using people instead of loving them.
How did we get here?
The church planting mantra says the current models of church are failing, so you need to start a new one. Planting new churches is the only way to reach the lost because the unchurched in your town reject the existing churches. If we are not careful, we aspire to lead as a superhero pastor rescuing a community from dying churches. It feeds the ego—the person who arrives to save the city because no one else can do it.
I confess this has been a guiding force amid my church plant.
Though I think it is not the intention of any church planting organization or denomination to create this culture. It is simply a by-product of attempting something good but with a poor agenda. We end up manipulating people for our purposes.
Here are some questions to ask about your ministry agenda as a planter or long-time pastor:
- How does the person going through a rough divorce find hope in Jesus?
- What does the Gospel mean to the poor?
- Are we ministering to depressed people or those recently released from prison?
- What value does our church add to the single parent working two jobs while raising a family?
- How do we help the young couple trying to figure out parenthood?
- What do we offer for the owner of a struggling company?
- Does our church support the retired couple who feel that the world no longer values them?
- How does the Gospel we preach add meaning to people in the everyday rhythms of life?
- Does Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18 drive your strategy and tactics?
Where do your church and mine fit into all of this?
I think the solution is in our metaphor of chess. Instead of using people as pawns to fulfill our mission, we play the role of a bishop. We strategize toward releasing our people to utilize their spiritual gifts as a collective. We abandon the hero role for that of heromakers. We live less as leaders and more as individual followers of Jesus.
We’ll find a strategy that works in the post-pandemic era if we position ourselves better than we have.
The church that emerges cannot be about us as leaders. I confess that church has been about me for too long, but I believe together the kingdom of God can be on earth as it is in heaven.
NOTE: Paul Jones is busy planting the Foundry Church in Lincoln, Alabama. After successfully rescuing three dying congregations he’s launched as an intentional bi-vocational planter. He chose this route because it allows the church to grow around relational clusters (beginning with a neighborhood barbecue) rather than a marketing posture.