When we read through the book of Acts we see Paul travel from place to place planting churches. He and his friends shared the Gospel, helped organize church gatherings, and appointed elders. After a while, Paul's traveling band would leave to go elsewhere, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide the fledgling churches. It is instructive that Paul never remained in one place to act as elder. Elders came from local believers. This was always the practice.
Fast forward to today. Church plants are popping up all over the place (at least if you live in a city that is growing like Savannah). Some of the church plants last; many do not. One commonality among almost all these church plants is that the primary planter becomes the head pastor. He doesn't move on to some place else, unless of course the plant never takes off. For those plants that do last, the planter almost always ends up being the main guy up front.
Why is this the case?
When I attended seminary at Southeastern
, the big push in North American missions
was for students to move to New England to plant churches. One of the keys was that the planter would become the pastor. For a while the planter was even prohibited from having a job (thus forcing his wife to work). Fortunately, that rule has been dropped. I find it fascinating that for a seminary that loves the bible, it ignores the church planting model we see so clearly in the New Testament.
Back to the question at hand: Why do church planters set themselves up as pastors?
Three primary reasons come to mind.
First, it is all they know. This is the pattern that they have seen, and if they attend seminary it is likely what they have been taught. Instead of allowing scripture to determine their actions, they just go with the flow.
Second, they think it is a path to financial stability (if they can get enough people in the seats). While church planters are not supported by weekly offerings, pastors get salaries that come right out of the offering plate. Additionally, this keeps the pastor from having to do a real job; frankly, he may not have any skills to perform a real job.
Third, they think it is necessary to the church because they are experts with seminary degrees. This faulty mode of thinking stems from the unbiblical clergy/laity divide. The ironic thing was that Paul, who truly was an expert, didn't think the local churches needed him to stick around.
Why does any of this matter? Frankly, who cares if church planters set themselves up as pastors?
It matters because one thing we need in our culture is more churches that follow the biblical model. One of the main ways this will come about is through church planting. However, if the planter rejects the biblical pattern right from the outset, then things are going to go downhill quickly. I'm convinced that one of the largest reasons so many church plants fail is that local believers are not raised up to be elders.
Let's support church planters both with encouragement and money. However, we'd do well to only give to those who follow the scriptural model.