It’s the other tale as old as time. A young pastor comes into a city or town to plant a church, convinced he will be the next church-planting “success story.”
Intent on staking out his territory in the city’s ecclesial landscape, he takes potshots at other churches in his sermons, emphasizing how his is different from all the others in town.
This tendency can show itself in many ways. I recently heard one example from a suburban church “launching a new campus” in an economically depressed area of their city. The pastor triumphantly declared that they would “reach the drug dealers,” “end the crime,” and “be the local church” in this community. Sadly, no mention was made of the faithful decades of ministry carried out in this community by bivocational pastors who don’t have the educational and financial resources this large church possesses.
This unfortunate—but oft-repeated—scenario has played itself out in hundreds of places, with disastrous results for God’s kingdom.
Jesus did not say that the world would know we are his disciples by our competition with one another.
Jesus did not say that the world would know we are his disciples by our competition with one another; he said they’d know us by our love for one another (John 13:34–35). Therefore, the forward movement of the gospel depends, in part, on gospel-believing churches walking in unity with each other.
Unity as Evangelism
The unity of churches in a community has the potential to drive—or, if they’re disunited, detract from—the evangelistic mission in that location. Churches are not businesses; they should not compete as though vying for their share of the market. Rather, churches are partners together in the mission of seeing sinners come to Christ and grow to full maturity.
Churches are not businesses; they should not compete as though vying for their share of the market.
Sinners all over the world are perishing without the gospel (Luke 13:3). With such an enormous task before us, we must work together.
A church-planting pastor needs to build encouraging friendships and partnerships with other pastors and churches in his community. Here are four ways to get started.
1. Learn About Other Churches
Unless you’re planting in a completely unreached context, there will be churches in your community who have been carrying out faithful ministry for years.
Take their pastors to lunch and hear about how God has been at work through them. Learn what barriers to gospel proclamation they’ve encountered and ask what they think the community’s needs are.
When you meet older saints, ask about the town’s history and how they’ve seen it change, for better or worse. You’ll gain perspective you can’t get from staring at demographics.
2. Develop Friendships with Other Pastors
Building friendships with other church leaders can also encourage your soul (and theirs). You can gain insight into the community from pastors who’ve been living and laboring there for years. Other leaders close to your age can serve as a “Barnabas” to help you through difficult times. Once you’ve been in the community for a few years, you will have the opportunity to serve younger leaders, as you yourself once were.
You can develop these friendships in both formal and informal settings. Have other pastors in your home for dinner. Meet for lunch or coffee. These friendships will be an incalculable blessing to you.
Church-planting pastors can easily fall into the trap of thinking their church is the only one in the community doing worthwhile work.
Additionally, make time to get together with other pastors and pray for each other and your community. You’ll develop a sense of partnership and start to lose the idea that they’re your competitors.
3. Pray for Other Churches
Church-planting pastors can easily fall into the trap of thinking their church is the only one in the community doing worthwhile work. In one sense this is understandable; it’s right that you pour your soul into the church God called you to plant.
However, you can unintentionally create the impression that what you are doing is “real ministry.” So to remind yourself and your church that God’s kingdom is advancing through all gospel-believing local churches, you should take time—both in your worship service and also in more informal settings—to pray for other churches.
When you pray for other churches, you model how to pray for other Christians.
When you pray for other churches, you model how to pray for other Christians. You demonstrate the unity of Christ’s body, and you remind your people that they’re called to live on mission where they are. It also gives people in your church opportunities to encourage those from other local churches.
4. Speak Well of Other Churches
Every Christian has areas where God’s grace is evident in his life and areas where he needs to grow; so it goes with local churches. Naturally, there are areas of both strength and also weakness.
It takes little effort to find areas where another church needs to grow. Beware of too quickly spotting the “speck in the eye” of another congregation (Matt. 7:4–5). Any critic can spot weaknesses from a mile away. However, eyes transformed by God’s grace see evidences of his grace in any church where the gospel is believed and preached.
Eyes transformed by God’s grace see evidences of his grace in any church where the gospel is believed and preached.
Unless there’s obvious heresy that needs to be corrected, speak openly about what you’re encouraged by in other churches. Point out where God is at work among them, and affirm where you see their ministry positively affecting your community.
When you speak to people who attend other churches, encourage them. Tell them how their pastor has encouraged you. This will build up churches and leaders in gospel-centered ministry, create trust between your churches, and forge the kind of unity that makes Jesus look good.
If Revival Comes
We’ve read our church history, and we’re familiar with how God has moved powerfully in the past. We long to see God visit us with revival again so that unbelievers will embrace Christ and believers will grow rapidly in their walk with him.
We also know that if revival happens in our communities, we want it to happen through us. Whether or not we admit it, we want to be the catalyst.
Church-planting pastor, do you so long for the gospel to go forth in your community that you would be happy to see the spark ignited in another local fellowship first? If so, you will work with other churches in your community, for the good of the people and the glory of God.