Darrin Patrick, vice president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and founding pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis, spoke to The Christian Post this week about his latest book, Church Planter: The Man, the Message, The Mission .
In the interview, Patrick talked about the “landmines” in church planting and why church plants are increasing while older churches are closing their doors in America.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
CP: What message about church planters did you want to convey with the cover of the book – a lone man in a dark wheat field with a sickle?
Patrick: The subtitle of the book is “the man, the message, the mission.” If you look at the book, it’s basically the man standing with a Bible in his left hand, the message, and a sickle, a metaphor for the harvest. It was also trying to show the idea of the loneliness that he is in as a church planter and the difficulty of it. You see the ominous clouds and he has this weathered look on his face.
CP: Was there any support group for church planters before the Acts 29 Network?
Patrick: There have always been denominational and other networks, but I think the big difference with Acts 29 is that it is really urban-focused. I think that has been the niche that it has filled.
CP: What qualities must a church planter possess?
Patrick: According to I Timothy3 and Titus 1, in their character they have to be called by God to a specific place. That call must not just be confirmed within himself but also within the community of faith they are in currently so there is fruit that is observable. The leaders need to say, “Hey, we believe that you have gifts and we’ve seen it and we think you should do it.”
CP: Why do so many church planters burn out and leave the ministry?
Patrick: I think a lot of it is you don’t have the support system around you when you are a church planter like when you are a pastor. You don’t have the established leadership and you kind of have to create your own. A lot of times, it is just difficult to make it out of the early stages because it is so hard to just make it and you are so about the mission that it is easy to work with your own strength to do God’s work. That is where burnout comes from. You just don’t have the leaders around you that can recognize that, challenge you to repent and come out of that.
CP: What is the biggest problem for new church planters?
Patrick: They have to pay all their own dumb taxes because they just don’t have the experiences to know. A lot of it is counter-intuitive and different than being in an established church. If you are new and haven’t been part of a church plant then you don’t know there is a landmine over there and you shouldn’t go over there.
CP: What are some of the landmines?
Patrick: You will appoint men to elders too quickly, you hire people too quickly, you don’t know what your strengths are so you don’t lead with those but with your weaknesses, you pick the wrong part of the city, you try to do some sort of niche church plant to a specific type of people that really is too narrowly focused.
CP: Both you and Pastor Mark [Driscoll, founder of Acts 29] talk about a church planter needing to love his family more than his church? Can you explain this?
Patrick: I think that is the problem for church planters probably more than established church pastors. A lot of the time when you are in an established church you get really discouraged because of the bureaucracy and it is easy to be just overly focused on your family and neglect the church. That is not always the case but I’ve found that that has been the case quite a bit.
In church planting, the mission is so clear since you created it, in the sense you heard it from God, you put it down on paper, and you are the embodiment of the vision. Then you start seeing fruit, people’s lives are changed, gain some traction, it is just really easy to get addicted to ministry. You have these great plans for your ministry but zero plans for your family. So what happens is the church becomes the mistress and you are more faithful to her than your wife. You are in tune with the needs of the church more than your kids. So your wife ends up hating the church and the kids hating God because all they ever seen is their dad who supposedly loves God neglects them in favor of the church.
CP: Why is church planting in the U.S. meeting success while many older churches in America are closing their doors?
Patrick: They are more nimble, more able to adapt to the changing cultural scene. They are not burdened with debt and bureaucracy and politics that hinder the mission. The mission is not easily co-opted in a church plant versus in an established church it is. Those would be the reasons that I see.
CP: How can a church planter stay humble but also driven to plant churches? Where can he find the balance?
Patrick: I think that comes from the Gospel because the Gospel brings humility because we are sinners but also gives us confidence because as big as our sin is, our savior is bigger. It sort of operates similarly to the Christian life in growing as humble, confident people. I think that translates to church planting. You definitely want to be aggressive and see lives changed, but at the same time you realize you are ministering in a broken world to broken people and the leader, yourself, is a broken person.
The biggest challenge as a church planter is yourself. As long as you are really aware of your own sins and you are really trying to repent and you have people around you that are willing to speak hard things to you ,it is pretty hard to get arrogant even if you have a ton of success.
CP: Did you enjoy writing this book? Do you plan on writing more?
Patrick: No, I didn’t enjoy writing this book. It was painful. It was arduous. My struggle was to include the values of our network (Acts 29), try to be engaging, and write it so that it is academically influential as well as popularly accessible. That is pretty difficult to do. So it was a hard process.
I’m currently writing two other books and I just finished one. It is coming out in April. My goal is to write one or two a year and try to influence that way. The next one is about the idea what does it look like for a church to be for the city that it is in. It is for Christians in general and to pastors and leaders as well. It is a little more lay-focused.