Life will bring unexpected hardship and, at some point, you will find yourself with diminished capacity.
God’s design was that his children wouldn’t be alone—this design is spread all over the pages of scripture. For those called to the work of church planting, the design is no different.
God’s Design for Life & Leadership
In the beginning, God’s words about Adam’s solitary existence were that he needed a helper (Gen 2:18). Adam’s singleness was the first thing in all of creation that God declared wasn’t good. That pattern continues in Ecclesiastes as we read, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecc. 4:12). So too, as Jesus sent out the 72, he sent them in pairs (Luke 10:1).
Even Jesus, the Lord of Glory and word made flesh also called a team of men to work with him (Mark 3:13-14). The Apostle Paul also worked through numerous teams (Acts 18:24-25, 20:4, 2 Tim. 4:10). I hope you are seeing the point—teams matter to the work of following Jesus and making disciples. Working together is good, right, and evidence of God’s reconciling work through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18).
Someone asked me recently what I thought the qualifications of a church planter were. “Scripture lays out some guidelines on the character of an overseer,” I said. Then I shared about the character qualities from 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5. I continued on by saying, “but I think the right question might be, ‘what are the qualifications of church planters’…” I’ve found that if we start with the wrong question, we will end up having the wrong discussion. I think the discussion needs to be changed, not only to what the qualifications of a team of church planters ought to be, but why they ought not be alone. The latter is what I want to focus on here.
Why Leaders Ought Not Be Alone—Two Reasons
Leaders need teams for many reasons. I want to share just two. First, a leader needs others to adequately represent a full picture of what Jesus is like. Second, a leader needs others to endure the hard work of equipping for disciple making. Now let me share a little more about each of these.
First, a leader needs others to adequately represent a full picture of what Jesus is like. Years ago, I had the privilege of seeing a young man from a muslim background come to know Jesus personally. It changed everything for him. He came alive and was electrified as he used his gifts to serve others. As I spent time with him, our hearts were drawn together as we realized how much we were alike. He had a heart for outsiders, he was a musician and loved being with people.
After years of discipling him, I moved away. Through the years I got phone calls from friends in that church telling me about how much this young man reminded them of me. He walked like me, talked like me and led like me. Now, as much as I liked hearing this, I realized something. In discipling this young man in a one on one setting for so long, he’d begun to reflect me, maybe more than he reflected Jesus. By God’s grace, I am a faint reflection of Jesus, so this young man was too. But my point here is that when we lead others by ourselves, the disciples we make may end up looking more like us than like Jesus.
Contrast this with what happens when I’ve seen others come to faith in Christ, but be discipled in community. Not only did they get discipled by me, but they also got my wife and all the others that have been part of the various communities we’ve led. By leading together we see disciples get formed by the many beautiful parts of the body of Christ resulting in a fuller picture of what Christ is like.
Second, a leader needs others to endure the hard work of equipping for disciple making. As I write this blog, I am surrounded by boxes. It’s our last day in San Clemente, California. In my last blog, I shared how we came to the decision to move after a long season of hardship. One of the biggest church planting lessons I’ve learned these last two years is the difference between having a committed group of families to work with, vs. having a committed team of leaders.
We came to San Clemente to join an great group of families. We laughed together, cried together and worked side by side in our neighborhoods. But I learned something in real time about teams over these past two years. Unless you have partners who share the same vision and have the same capacity for it, you may find yourself feeling alone.
When we look at leadership, we look at three areas—character, calling and capacity. Hands down, our group of families had the character, calling and capacity for disciple making in their work lives and neighborhoods. Being on mission in normal life is what it’s all about and I learned so much from their love for Jesus and their hospitality. My role, however, was that and more. My role was to equip them to do this with wisdom and hearts centered in the Gospel. Since leaders are called to lead from among the people, we too need to live exemplary lives. But the work of an equipper is a different calling and therefore, requires additional capacity.
When the unforeseen came my way and I had to step away for six months to care for my dying mother, I returned to San Clemente wounded and tired. I didn’t have the leaders beside me who viewed their role as equipping the saints for works of ministry (Eph. 4:12-16). We still got together with our core families and cared for one another, but the forward push that equipping leaders bring wasn’t there. After four months of my mind being a wreck, plus the six months being gone—that amounted to nearly a year without leadership in the equipping realm.
Hear me clearly here—it is not good to lead alone. Leaders need teams.
If your calling is to the equipping ministry, having a team beside you with the same capacity will strengthen you in hard times and hold you up when you’ve fallen down from pain. Can God use a solitary church planter? Absolutely. Has it been done? Absolutely. We ought to give God’s grace the credit in those unusual cases. However, God’s design is that we would work together on mission in whatever our calling. Doing so results in longevity, fruitfulness and the continual reminder that we are never alone.
Life will bring unexpected hardship and, at some point, you will find yourself with diminished capacity. With a team beside you that shares your same calling, you will be able to carry on and experience the joy of being carried when you are weak. What an amazing picture of the Gospel. Carrying one another’s burdens as we carry out the ways of Jesus (Gal. 6:2). Didn’t Christ carry our burdens too? How amazing that we have the privilege to be living parables of his grace, even in the equipping ministry.
I pray you will have God’s wisdom and help as you pull together a team around you, pressing forward in faithfulness and experiencing the joy of many years of fruitfulness.