Here's an email I received recently from “Tom” and my response to it.
I’m reading through your ebook and curious about something. I looked at Ridley’s 13 characteristics in preparation for some training in North Africa, but while there I sensed that while there are a few pioneer church planters like that, most people aren’t and if it depends on them, it may be slow.
As well as that (not instead) can we encourage churches to plant churches, especially in nearby areas, and pool their strengths so that it isn’t dependent on a church planter? I was encouraging the whole church to have the vision and DNA for church planting.
Have you seen this approach anywhere?
First about the Ridley characteristics. It's important to remember that what we are after here is competency not perfection. For instance, when is comes to “spousal co-operation” (I prefer the term “partnership in marriage and ministry”), we're not looking for a perfect marriage but we are looking for a track record of coping with issues as they arise and of mutual affirmation of each other's roles however they are configured.
The alternative is to send out a couple whose marriage relationship will not take the strain of pioneering ministry. Bad idea.
What Ridley is saying is, don't send someone out to plant a church who has no history of starting new things from scatch, no history of connecting with people who need Christ, no history of building a team and deploying others according to their gifts. Look for competency, even if you still have to leave some room for them to grow with the challenge.
You make a good point. Why all this focus on the lead planter? What about mobilizing teams of people with these characteristics? I'm reading an interesting study that argues you can't explain the phenominal spread of the early church just by reference to Paul's achievements. The church spread through the efforts of thousands of “ordinary” people who gossipped the gospel to the friends and neighbours.
It cannot be an either/or. Church planting movements mobilize everyone. They also create space for pioneering leaders. Paul had a large number of associates and rarely ministered alone. He was the pioneer with a small circle of about nine co-workers and then a larger circle of up to 100 people associated with his ministry.*
What is clear is that church planting movements harness both the drive and leadership of the “apostolic” pioneer and the gifts and evangelistic potential of the whole body of Christ.
The Methodists did a great job of this in Britain under Wesley and on the US frontier under Asbury. Mobile circuit riders were their apostolic pioneers who gathered and released ordinary people for the work of minsistry. Today I'm seeing that same pattern in ministries such as the Hindustan Bible Institute and the work of the Southern Baptist “strategic co-ordinators” in fueling church planting movements. See: Why church planters shouldn't.
If reading this it sounds like I'm trying to have a bet each way, it's because I am. I think there are important principles at work, but their application is a mystery. That's where the Holy Spirit comes in. combined with rigorous assessment of progress in the field. No church planting movement is identical to another.
The challenge before you is to distill the principles from the Scriptures and from other models and then go out and trust that the Holy Spirit is at work and will help you write the 29th chapter of Acts.
Let me know how you get on.
* Earle Ellis has found around 100 names, in Acts and the Epistles, of different people associated with Paul. Thirty-six share nine different designations such as “brother,” “apostle,” “fellow-worker” and “servant.”See E. Earle Ellis, “Paul and his Co-Workers,” New Testament Studies (1970): 437-452.