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Avoiding 3 Big Church Planting Mistakes

Political journalist Norman Cousins once stated, “History is a vast early warning system.” That principle can easily apply to church planting.

Valuable lessons can to be learned from those who have come before us. After spending years as a missiologist and church planter I’ve think about mistakes. Why? Well, I want to avoid them–and I want you to avoid them. I share them in hopes that current and future church planters can take advantage of a vast early warning system.

If you are not a church planter, please don’t simply move on to the next website. I have a sneaking suspicion that the three principles can apply to almost any person in church leadership.

1. Planting for the Wrong Reasons. 

Planters need to take an honest look at what is fueling their desire to plant a church. Church planting is a great thing, but it can definitely be done for the wrong reasons. Do you want to start a new church because of some unresolved issues with a former church? Are you trying to prove something? Do you hope to become the next platform celebrity? These are all motivations that should be treated with great caution. They are not valid reasons to plant a church.

2. Planters Who Are Not Teachable. 

Church planters tend to be self-starters, entrepreneurs, and mavericks. Characteristics essential to successfully launching and establishing a new church, however, can sabotage the long-term health of a new church. Planters are normally non-conforming, don’t listen, or take direction well.

A Spirit-filled church planter walks in humility before God. A humble disposition is much more powerful than the entrepreneurial “I know what I’m doing” church planter.

Church planting is bound to break you. It is better to be broken before the Lord before you start planting the church.  Receive the wisdom and counsel of others ahead of time.  It’s a lot smarter than making the same mistakes that someone else made.

3. Planters Who Plant Churches in Their Heads. 

Church planting is the en vogue choice at the moment for those who feel called by God to pastor. Blogs, other websites, and conferences abound telling “How To” success stories from the sometimes rich and always famous. We can learn from the numerically successful and even the A-list speakers on the conference circuit (see “famous”). Many of us have benefited from the principles and practices of these well-known personalities, authors, and planters.

However, church planters must be called to a people not a thing (a church planting model or method). They must think like missionaries who are passionately in love with the people to whom they are called. If that is the case they must be willing to check their church planting brains at the door of where God has called them. The way God plans to impact a community in Madison, Wisconsin or Charlotte, North Carolina through a new church may be radically different than Sydney, Australia or Seattle, Washington.

As a church planter and leader I make mistakes and do some things right. I am still learning. There are days when I have feel like the poster I once saw– that the purpose of my life was to serve as a warning for others.

If God can use our mistakes to help someone else succeed for His glory, I am proud to surrender the information! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will continue to be all you need in the church leadership adventure.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.