While planting Everglades Baptist Church, Mary and I learned the difficulties of church planting essentially as “lone rangers.” Yes, we had some join us early on to participate and they were helpful. But by a lone ranger church planter I mean, planting a church as the only full or part-time leader convinced of a calling to plant a church, and committed to the vision.
I do not see how Everglades could have been established without the participation of the first ten people who joined us the first year. They all wanted to help start a church. They believed in what we were doing. And they left the comforts of a well established church, which had much to offer them, to try and reach people their church could not. However, they were truly unaware of what they had gotten themselves into. And after 12 months, only two people stayed with us.
The truth is, all but one of those who formed our original core group had any experience in church leadership. The one, Betty Burton, was an older woman and a graduate of Southwestern Seminary (in the late 50s, I think). As a 27-year-old rookie church planter, I am confident I frustrated her many times. We simply were not a good match.
During those four years planting and pastoring, I longed to plan, pray, and pastor with a team of leaders. I remember many lonely days facing some serious decisions. I searched often, too often at times, for someone to team together with who shared my values, and vision for the church. Those were difficult days. I learned very quickly the lone ranger approach was the wrong approach.
Nevertheless, I learned much. Early on I learned how unrealistic it was to think 2 years was enough time to plant an established, self-sufficient, church in America from scratch.
For some reason I left seminary with the mindset that planting was like cooking with a microwave. Sadly, I would discover that the other planters sent out from my seminary were also struggling to survive because they too had attempted to plant as lone rangers.
Truth is, planting a church is more like cooking in an oven. Preheating is required and baking takes time.
What a pressure cooker planting alone in limited time causes on church planters and their wives. No wonder most of my friends were in new ministries just a few years later with no lasting church to show for it.
What I was learning by experience, I was also learning by teaching through the book of Acts during our first 21 months. I was unable to find a biblical example of a lone ranger church planter. Though I can find no positive command for team church planting, the team model is everywhere in Acts.
In fact, in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit called out two men, Barnabas and Saul, for the work of church planting. Later, other men like Mark, Timothy, and Silas joined them. It’s not sinful to plant as a lone ranger, but it is definitely not the norm in the Bible.
Similarly, no one can say that its sin to pastor a church alone, but it IS more difficult, and certainly unusual in Scripture. Twice the phrase “appoint elders” is used in the New Testament describing the leadership of freshly planted churches (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). The term elder is plural in both cases. The biblical norm in church planting leadership is team work.
Doesn’t this just make sense? It does to me. God made us for community in every other way. We were made for marriage, family, and church. Ultimately, we were made for a relationship with Christ! We are a creation of communities.
The team make-up is a topic for another day (maybe another blog post). But this is why Mary and I treasure the team mindset in church planting. Pray for a team of leaders when seeking to start a church, because church planting takes team work.