… but I did not know it at the time!
It was Spring of 1999 when God stirred in my heart to take on the leadership of a large church whose pastor had suddenly resigned. At the time, I was the teaching pastor at a nearby megachurch. Convinced I had a Word from the Lord, I spoke to my Senior Pastor and our church Board.
These men were intensely wise and deeply spiritual. Every single one of them affirmed me, my leadership talents, gifts, and abilities. But each one reiterated the same thought… “I just can’t see you leading that church. I’m not doubting that you’ve heard from the Lord, but it just doesn’t sit right.”
They suggested I pursue an interview at the new church and they would watch intently to see what transpires. Despite what I had heard the Lord say, the new church said, “No”. The journey had done something within me, however, and I realized the megachurch was no longer my home but my launching pad. Three months later, my wife and I were committing to a much scarier adventure – planting a church in Sydney.
As soon as I suggested the idea to my Senior Pastor, he was excited. “Yes, this is the Word of the Lord for you.” To be honest, I hoped he would say "No". So when I next spoke with the Board, I gave them every reason to say "No". I painted the picture in the most uninspiring way that I could. “Well, I don’t know. I think maybe God wants me to plant a church in Sydney. What do you think?”
No compelling speech. No visions and dreams. “Yes! That’s it!” They all excitedly witnessed to the leading of the Spirit. So we packed our bags and planted a church.
I did not realize it at the time, but the process I had undertaken was perhaps the single most important step of the whole venture. More important even than hearing the Lord’s initial call!
Too many church planters launch out having received the Lord’s call. But they do not submit themselves to wise and spiritual leaders. Leaders who know them well and love them dearly. Leaders who are thoroughly committed to the Great Commission and the spread of the Gospel. Leaders who are not afraid of taking risks in seeing the Kingdom expand.
But leaders also, who are not afraid to say "No". Obedience to the call is not enough for the church planter. Wise covering is an absolute essential, without which the leader will almost certainly fail.
Here are 3 benefits you forfeit when you don’t submit lovingly to trustworthy authority:
Quick access to wise counsel in times of crisis Because we started with the covering and support of our previous church, I had immediate access to leadership advice and help. And I have to be honest, there were occasions when I really needed it, despite my years of experience.
Access to practical help As far as they could, our home base helped resource the church plant. They did this with salary support, guest ministry, infrastructure and administrative help, legals… the list was considerable.
The Lord’s pleasure Since those days, I have had the opportunity to be a leader over hundreds of pastors in scores of churches. Too often, I have seen men pursue a ministry call against the counsel of godly leadership. Not once have I seen it work out for the good. The touch of God just does not seem to be on it. And that is surprising! Most of those men had a very definite sense of God’s call on their life. But God’s call alone, apart from submissive accountability, is not what He wants for any leader or any church. You cannot go it alone! Do not try! Are you feeling called to church planting? Learn more about the Pathfinder Institute, where Ian Miller is the Executive Director at: www.pathfinderinstitute.com or click Apply Now above!
At the same time, submission to trustworthy authority comes at a cost. Here are 3 things you must do if you want to get this right:
You have to humble yourself I have seen leaders struggle with this. Their very sense of call can go to their head and they think it is all about them. Submission to trustworthy authority keeps you grounded.
You have to be able to hear a "No" It takes a secure leader to not be threatened when they hear a "No". But if you want to grow to be a leader others can depend on, you need to be able to hear more than others’ affirmations.
You have to have a broader view of what it means to lead Leadership is about taking responsibility, not ruling like a dictator. When those above you say "No", you can be tempted to think they are inhibiting the call of God on your life. This is not true. It is Jesus’ Church, not yours. The lesson of submission squares this away once and for all.
Looking back, I am so grateful for the men God surrounded me with when I first heard the call to go to Sydney. The journey was by no means easy, and it took turns that none of us foresaw, but it gave rise to a significant and influential ministry that has been an honor to be a part of. Embracing those men’s initial “No” opened the door for Jesus’ “Yes” on my life.
If you feel that God is calling you on the adventure of church planting, let's talk!
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