Church planting requires humility and a willingness to serve and learn.
These are things Tony Merida, pastor for preaching and vision at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., listed during a panel discussion – The Seasons of Church Planting – Aug. 30 at the seminary.
“You’ll be tempted to drift into pragmatism when you get to the mission field,” Merida said. He advised nailing down answers to big questions like divorce/remarriage, alcohol use, gender issues, worship philosophy and church polity.
Merida was joined by Tyler Jones, lead pastor of Vintage21 Church in Raleigh; Elliot Grudem, executive pastor for ministry at Vintage21; and Ben Tugwell, lead pastor of Integrity Church in Greenville.
Mike Dodson, a Southeastern professor and associate director of North American Church Planting at Southeastern’s Center for Great Commission Studies, said “the awareness is rising” because attendance at each church planting event has increased.
This was the third event sponsored by the North American Church Planting Network and Send North America of the North American Mission Board.
The event drew 170 people. Garrett Ventry, an intern and student at The College at Southeastern, guided the panel through a series of questions related to church planting.
BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Church planting panelists share from their combined experience during “The Seasons of Church Planting” Aug. 30 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. From left: Garrett Ventry, church planting intern at Vintage21 Church in Raleigh; Elliot Grudem, executive pastor of Vintage21; Tony Merida, lead pastor of Imago Dei, Raleigh; Ben Tugwell, lead pastor of Integrity Church, Greenville; and Tyler Jones, lead pastor of Vintage21.
Ventry, who hails from Buffalo, N.Y., said he has learned about humility in his eight months as a church planting intern.
“Being with guys who love Jesus more than me, who love their wives more than me” has taught him about practically caring for people, he said.
The panelists shared that establishing new congregations is not easy. “Do you at the end of the day have joy” in church planting? Grudem, one of the panelists, asked the participants.
But planters often face the same temptations as other church leaders.
Having worked with church planters through Acts 29 Network, he said to watch out for three tempting areas: money, sex and power.
“Pursue humility,” Grudem said. “Be content with what you have. It’s not like you are going to make millions.”
Parachuting vs. networking
When starting a church, there are options.
Tugwell, another one of the panelists, called his approach in Greenville “parachuting.” He said submitting to the authority of a local church would have been helpful to him in the very early stages. Instead he wasn’t part of a sending church.
He parachuted into Greenville not having contacts, a core group or financial support.
“Don’t do it,” he strongly advised to anyone even considering it. “It took a year and a half to develop a solid core.”
Several years later, his church is planting two more churches.
Jones added that the healthiest model is to be part of a church planting church. Develop a core group of about 50 people and go with them.
Merida said the number of people is not important as long as you have the right leaders and system in place.
Being part of a church planting church is “kind of the whole New Testament,” Jones said.
As a church planter, Grudem said a planter needs to “be a bit of an opportunist,” being open to what is available and remaining Kingdom minded.
All of the panelists agreed that future church planters in the crowd should already be involved in a local church that is planting churches.
Jones said investing and teaching at the local church level shows potential partners that you have the gifts needed and the desire to serve.
Merida agreed, advising church planters to know their people and loving the church.
Merida said to question the “CALL” of a planter: Confirmation, Aspiration, Leadership abilities and Lifestyle or character qualifications.
Jones said gaining theological knowledge may not bring greater adoration for Christ. Pouring into the lives of members and the community can take its toll if a leader isn’t devoting time to a personal prayer and quiet time with God.
“You will fail as a church planter [if your] adoration for Jesus is less than it ought to be,” Jones said.
Where’s the money?
Raising support for church planting can be tough. The panelists agree that networking with other church planting churches is key to getting started.
“Cast the net wide and pray for God’s supply,” Merida advised, while Grudem called the support letter a “cowardly” way to raise money. Those letters are fine for high school students trying to fund a mission trip to Mexico, he said, but aspiring church planters will need to get over their fear of talking about money.
“If married, you’re called to support your family,” Grudem said, encouraging the men to think of that when considering planting churches.
Potential planters need to question their call if they are unable to raise the needed funds, he said.
Other considerations include affirmations from respected church leaders, not just from wives and mothers, he said.
Merida was very selective when first beginning Imago Dei. Eight people moved from Mississippi where he was leading a church. They began meeting in his home in Wake Forest.
“We wanted to be really protective of that core team,” he said. “We really poured into them about two to three months before we invited other people. … Invest in the core team early on and build a healthy infrastructure.”
Merida’s church just celebrated its first anniversary.
“It’s been God’s timing,” he said.
Another church planting event – Unite 2012: Planting in Dry Ground – is planned Oct. 10-11 at Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh. Visit nacpf.org.