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Church Planting, Thermometers and Thermostats

Isn’t it easier to point out the wrongdoings of others and tell people what to do, rather than be a part of the solution?

My wife and I have noticed this in our children—they love playing the victim. So whenever there’s conflict, instead of figuring it out themselves, they come to us crying out “injustice”!

I wonder where they learned that from? I knew I never should’ve let them watch Sesame Street …

In order to fix this attitude, a few days ago, my wife began teaching them the difference between being bossy and being a leader. Here’s the difference:

  • Bossy people point out the wrongdoings of others, expect others to fix their issues and are never wrong.
  • Leaders take responsibility for situations, don’t dwell on problems, focus on solutions and make change happen.

As I was reflecting on this new paradigm of parenting (my wife is amazing by the way), I couldn’t help but notice the similarities that it had with thermometers and thermostats. Let me explain:

  • Thermometers point out what currently is, expect others to do something with that information, and they provide us with the standard—they are never wrong. Thermometers are indicators.
  • Thermostats, on the other hand, take the information from the thermometer and do something about it. Thermostats take responsibility for the environment and focus on solutions. Thermostats are change agents.

Can you see the similarities that bossy people have with thermometers and leaders have with thermostats?

So what are you? Are you more of a thermometer or a thermostat? This is an important question as it affects the posture that you will subconsciously take in planting and leading a church.

We see this difference all the time, there are churches in our neighborhoods that take the thermometer approach—they strive to become the moral right and standard for the community. They are the ones that expect everyone to adhere to their beliefs and practices, regardless of where people in their community stand in relationship to Jesus. At the same time, there are also churches who take the thermostat approach. Instead of condemning their community, they are active in helping people taste and see the Gospel. They live as an alternate Kingdom community and help people experience God’s presence and reign by pointing them to Jesus.

So what kind of church do you want to lead? What kind of church would be more effective at reaching those who are far from God?

I hope you said “thermostat” church, but to be fair, here are a few thoughts on how to plant and lead both types of churches.

If you want to plant and lead a thermometer church …

Overly focus on knowledge.

Scripture talks about the importance of always being “ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing so much on the “getting ready” part that you never have an opportunity to actually share that knowledge with anyone else. Nevertheless, if you want to plant and lead a thermometer church, then overly focus on knowledge.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.