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August 23, 2016

The Pioneer and the Pastor

By Adam Mabry

Church planters are pioneers — those who forge for the Kingdom in as-yet-untamed lands. Filled with energy and entrepreneurial zeal, these guys usually show up to their assignment ready to start new things, see new growth, and make new disciples. But, what do you do when you’ve done that?

Five years in, let’s say you’ve been successful. What do you do when you have a lot of people, a handful of problems, and your zeal tank is running low? In my experience planting churches and watching others, there are three phases that successful church planters must pass through. No one has told me about them, so I found all this rather dizzying at the time. So, hopefully this will help you.

Pioneer Phase

The first and most obvious phase for the church planter is the pioneer phase. This is the one all dreamy-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth planters start with. And, for good reason. If you’re going to start a business, it takes everything you’ve got. Starting a church is no different in this respect. You’re going to plan outreaches, spend your time in one-on-one evangelism, and probably personally disciple everyone who becomes part of the initial team. In this phase, you hardly have time to do much actual pastoring because you’re so busy planning and executing the launch sequence of your church.

Do this phase well, and you’ll see something actually take off and grow. Hopefully, it will grow to hundreds of baptisms, well-attended gatherings, and the machine you’ve built to make disciples will start humming away. You exhale. You’ve done it. You’ve made it past the initial phase of starting a church.

Now what?

Pastor Phase

Now before your start your angry email, I know that pastoring isn’t a phase, per se. But church planters in the initial season have very different job descriptions than the pastor who takes over an existing church. However, once the plant is up and running, the job changes. Now you have people, and they need a shepherd. To me, this was a shocking revelation.

I’m great at starting stuff. I have almost limitless energy, I’m an extrovert, and I come from a long line of successful entrepreneurs who get things done. But that skill set was no longer super helpful when I had marriages breaking down, depression washing through my church, and spiritual attack on all sides. My nice, new disciple-making machine that I had built was breaking down.

Lots of things can break the disciple-making machinery of a church. Spiritual attack, corporate sin, and just plain-old worldliness. It takes a planter to build the disciple making machine and open the factory. It takes a pastor to oil it, repair it, and lead the people whom it’s designed to help. No one ever told me that.

Around year three, I began to panic. I realized that I was not yet a pastor, though people called me that all the time. Sure, I could preach well, and fake pastor-ish activities. But compassion, listening, and actual care for my people was (and still is) very much a learned skill.

Planter, develop that skill.

Pastor-Pioneer Phase

Once the pastor phase has been successfully navigated, then the fun really starts. Because when a planter truly pastors, he pastors his people toward the mission. So, when a new evangelism idea occurs, it actually increases vision and drive in the people. During this phase, pastoring takes on its proper, missional orientation. If done well, the pastor-pioneer will lead his people not love Jesus and his mission. At this point in our own church life, it means planting new churches ourselves. Few things are more encouraging to a Pastor-pioneer than seeing his people become passionate for planting.

Church planter, if you can launch your church, you will have to actually pastor it. That was news to me, but I hope it’s clear to you. But once you’ve pastored your people well, you have the opportunity to lead them toward corporate fruitfulness as a pastor-pioneer. Do you find your self stuck in a phase? Shout back and let us know. We’d love to help.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Mabry

Adam Mabry (@adammabry) serves as the Lead Pastor of Aletheia Church in Boston, MA. He lives in Boston with his wife, Hope, and their four kids. Fueled by a passion for the truth and grace of the gospel to change lives, He has spent his life up to this point planting churches and working with church planters. He speaks extensively on church planting and coaches various planters around the world within the Every Nation family of churches. His books, thoughts, and other resources are available at adammabry.tv.

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