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December 22, 2015

This Ain't Your Mama (Church)'s Church

By Ben Connelly

“It’s going to be like our sending church, just across town.”

Having been involved with church planting for seven years, and after innumerable informal conversations with potential planters and formally assessing dozens over those years, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a version of that sentence. Planting your “mother church’s church” sounds good in theory. And it’s great—even mandatory—if you’re planting a venue/campus/gathering/site of an existing church. But for those looking to plant a new, independent church, DON’T DO IT! Don’t plant their church. Plant your church based on the vision God’s given you.

Your Church Plant: God’s Vision + Your Leadership + These People

The desire to plant “someone else’s church” generally stems from a positive motive. Sometimes it’s a desire to honor your mother church: you feel grateful (or wrongly indebted?) to them. Sometimes it’s the siren call of money: the mother church promises more funding if you’ll plant a certain way. Sometimes it seems easier than creating something new: copying something often is, but like a forged painting, even a perfect replica on the surface can’t replicate the intangibles beneath.

Whatever the motive, you’re not the same leader as that of the church across town. Your team isn’t the same team who leads that church. You don’t have the same gathering facilities. You don’t have the same budget. And “your people” aren’t the same. Even if you get sent with 500 members of the church across town, that part of town is different; those who live there are different; their needs, fears, values, and desires are different. It’s because your mission field—those uniquely-designed souls God has sent you to—is different than the mission field of the church across town.

At least three churches have planted “their sending church, just across town” in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in the past five years. All three had large core teams from their mother churches. All three were well-funded, well-resourced, and well-sent. All three took zero time to establish their own unique DNA. All three had leadership teams who became frustrated and confused about vision and direction. And eventually all three faced painful identity crises. Two have closed their doors, scattering God’s now-disenfranchised people across the area, and the other is barely limping along, pastor-less and direction-less.

Planter, you can’t plant your mother church. And even if you could, God is calling you to plant “your own”—the vision He gave you, for the church family He gave you, in and for the mission field He gave you.

Define Your Theological Vision

In Tim Keller’s “Introduction” to Center Church, he describes a theological vision: “between one’s doctrinal beliefs and ministry practices should be a well-conceived vision for how to bring the gospel to bear on the particular cultural setting and historical moment… [A theological vision] is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.”[1]

For example, if you’re planting a church in the West, it’s very likely you’ll have a weekly gathering (=ministry practice). But why? Yes, the gospel; and yes, there’s that verse in Hebrews that talks about not giving up meting together (=doctrinal belief). But there’s gotta be more (how will our gatherings bring the gospel to bear, here and now?). For another example, it’s likely you’ll create at least one venue for community and mission (=ministry practice). But what drove you to that decision? Sure, Sunday School answer, Jesus did; and the Great Commission is our present charge (=doctrinal belief). But why will mission and community look the specific way you envision it? (=theological vision).

These are the kinds of question involved in a theological vision. As we train church planters, we walk them through specific questions, in themes like Spirit-ledness, mission field and justice, Sunday gatherings and preaching, kids ministry, community, and so on. They craft a theological vision, for every element of the church they envision. Because there is one gospel, one Spirit, and one Bible. But there are thousands of answers to questions like those above, depending on your vision, your team’s leadership and giftings, and the specific mission field in which God is planting your church.

Different Churches; One Head of Them All

God gave your mother church a vision, and they’ve created a culture in alignment with that vision. If they’re healthy enough to send you out, it’s likely working out OK. But God gave you a different vision—even if only slightly. And developing a theological vision for your ministry practice—grounded in your doctrinal beliefs, but shaped by your convictions, your team’s giftings and leadership, and the unique needs of the mission field God sent you to—helps you know how to best create a culture in alignment with your vision.

So leader, lead boldly! Submit your plans and leadership to the one Good Shepherd and Head of the Church. Prayerfully think through every element of the church’s ways of displaying and declaring the gospel. And trust the vision He’s given you, rather than trying to replicate the one He gave someone else.

Jesus is head of His Church. But if you’re a church planter, you’re taking up the mantle to steward some of Jesus’ people on His behalf. You’re no “hireling,” fulfilling some general and hypothetical calling, or installing some other shepherd’s vision in your church. You’re Jesus’ under-shepherd, called to lead these specific sheep, and pursue mission in this specific pasture, at this specific point in history.

[1] Keller, Timothy J. (2012-09-04). Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Kindle Locations 216-218, 272-273). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


Ben Connelly

Ben Connelly is Director of Training for Saturate. After 19 years serving in local churches together, Ben and Jess now get to serve disciple-makers and planter couples across the world, as well as churches and organizations with a desire for sending. They live in Fort Worth, TX with their three kids, and host short-term foster placements, each on his or her way toward reunification or adoption.


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