For the last five years, I have lived and worked in New York City as a church planter. During this time, I have had the opportunity to meet many men whom feel called to church planting and are seeking the advice of current planters. While I by no means feel that I am an expert in church planting, I do feel that my experience has given me some insight which may be passed along to hopeful planters.
Recently, several potential planters have crossed my path who have raised some concerns in regards to their preparation for church planting. These men are clearly called and seminary-trained, but they lack something – secular work experience and secular vocational training.
You might be wondering why this is a problem. Well, in my experience, I have seen it extremely beneficial for church planters to be prepared to work in a bi-vocational setting in order to support their families and the work of the church. Raising support is a possibility, but what happens if the support runs out? Men need to be prepared to persevere, not retreat. J.D. Payne, my former church planting professor at SBTS, wrote an article on ethical guidelines for church planters in which he included the following statement:
Guideline # 6: Since our calling to this ministry, people, and location is from God and not based on money, we will not end our church planting ministry in this area simply if our financial support ends, but rather will make appropriate plans for the future of our personal finances.
And, we do not only need to consider the need for support, but reproducing church planters and church plants. To really impact the culture with the gospel, we need thousands of churches to be planted. This will be more easily accomplished if we seek to prepare and send out men with the ability to support themselves. Once again, Payne writes,
Guideline #2: Since the world consists of four billion unbelievers, with two billion who have never heard the gospel, our strategy will involve the use of highly reproducible church planting methods.
So, I ask, “Are we doing our best to serve church plants and church planters in our methods of preparation?” In asking this, I am not negating the need for biblical education. I am very thankful for my time at SBTS and have been immensely blessed by my training. Rather, I want to examine the way we approach undergraduate men who express a call to ministry. Should we push men to get degrees in biblical studies, religion, and other “pre-seminary degrees”? Or, should we press them to study business, engineering, science, and technology, in order that they gain real-world skills which will enable them to enter a context, find a job, and begin the work of a planter immediately, without having to worry about raising support first?