Thursday, October 14, 2010

Experience and an M.Div. Do Not Mean I'm Qualified to Plant a Church

I'm fascinated by the wide range of responses I have gotten and continue to get when I tell people that I'm leaving the professional pastorate and starting to gather with Christians in my home. As I expected, some of the responses have been positive, while others have not.

There is one response I was not prepared for. When I've talked with some folks, usually pastors, they have given approval (not that I asked for it) to the idea of me planting and leading a church in my home. Please let me be clear: if a church starts, it will be God who plants it. I'm happy to be a part of it. Also, it is God who will lead it. Again, I'm just happy to be part of it.

It is the pastors I have talked with who assume that I will be both planting and leading it (several posts ago I spoke of me planting a church in my home; I regret the use of that language. The Holy Spirit is the real planter). They have approved for basically two reasons: A) I have experience as an institutional pastor, and B) I have an M.Div.

These same people do not approve of much of the simple church planting that goes on because they see too many problems with it. Of course, these are pragmatic problems. These same men cannot and will not try to speak against simple churches from the scriptures because they are unable to do so.

Let's be clear about what is going on here: these pastors, who should look to the bible for their answers, are instead looking to their own experience and reasoning to stand in judgment over whether or not a simple church plant should take place. They believe I'm somehow qualified because I have experience in institutional church leadership. Frankly, I have no idea why my experience in that should matter at all in simple church life. The two are very different things altogether.

It is true that simple churches have problems. Tell me any church anywhere that has not had problems. People are sinful; thus, problems exist. To think that my background will keep that from happening is absurd.

In the end, the most disappointing aspect of these conversations is that these men clearly believe that I will be something extra special in the life of this church plant. That must be the case if they think that I alone could keep problems from happening. What this shows us is that they believe in the clergy-laity divide, where "The Pastor" holds special status. This is an unbiblical idea.

When it comes to the church that will, God willing, gather in our home, I don't know who the elders/overseers/pastors will be. In Acts we read something interesting about that. In Acts 20:28, Paul is talking with the elders from the church at Ephesus. He says, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." Who made them overseers? The Holy Spirit did.

As for this house fellowship, the Holy Spirit will eventually select elders. I hope we have the discernment to understand who they are supposed to be. I might be one; I might not. Either way is fine.

I'll also be happy if this church gathers in multiple places. In fact, it will be a relief (especially for my wife) if we can meet in other homes as well. Additionally, we plan to be gone once in a while. The church isn't going to depend on me.

The church is led by the Holy Spirit. The church is owned and governed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is absurd for anyone, pastor or otherwise, to give approval to some churches but not others just because of the background of one person involved. It shows a complete misunderstanding of what church leadership should be.

This new church doesn't depend on me. If it thrives, it will be because of a reliance upon our great God.

Experience and an M.Div. mean little as far as qualifications go. Planting a church needs one primary thing: complete joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It also needs a secondary thing: commitment to love others before self.


Aussie John said...


I'm not sure you can know what a blessing this article is to me. I've waited a long time to hear, or read, a man/woman, such as yourself declare that academic qualifications don't make him/her fit to serve God in any capacity.

Such qualifications can be a good tool, but never fit a person for any role. That is a work of the Holy Spirit!

Mark said...

I like your thoughts. I really see a parallel with Paul, in that, what you once could have boasted in, you now may count for loss. IF ANYTHING your past might make it harder for you to function in this new environment, although the renewal that has taken place in your heart is obvious, and I can't imagine it WOULD be an issue. But still, IF ANYTHING..... I will continue following your transition, as I find it instructive to where the Lord is dealing with me.

Eric said...


Thank you. I've been thinking a lot lately about how we tend to equate experience and an academic degree with godliness of character. Pragmatics is such an ugly thing. I would be thrilled to see more churches move toward multiple elders, with many of them being godly men without academic degrees. When I look in I Tim. 3 and Titus 1, it is amazing how almost everything mentioned has to do with character instead of skill.

Eric said...


Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad if anything I write is helping you.

You wrote, "IF ANYTHING your past might make it harder for you to function in this new environment." I've thought about that quite a bit, and you may be right. I'm not really sure how to handle it. One thing I'm going to attempt to do as we begin to gather as a church is to not talk too much. Right now I talk a lot (preaching). I need to move away form this. It will be a challenge, but I'm looking forward to it.