By Carl Kuhl
The No. 1 rule of church planting is dead wrong. This rule is repeated in books, at conferences, at boot camps, and everywhere you turn.
I believe God has put thousands of people in places across this country and millions around the globe for the purpose of rising to the occasion of planting a church. However, there is one huge problem: they are told they can’t do it.
The first rule in church planting is that you must be called. And the people who say this seem to have Scripture on their side. They tell of God’s visit to Abram, Moses being called at the burning bush, Joshua seeing the angel of the Lord, and Jeremiah’s vision. Then in contemporary Christian culture we hold up this idea of a very spiritual call and have people share their stories of dramatic, life-changing moments when God called them.
The problem is we limit people who can effectively lead for God’s kingdom to those who have had very dramatic encounters. You can almost sense in some cases that people try to “one-up” another person’s call by making theirs more dramatic.
May I suggest that we have overspiritualized “the call”? I think we need to stop using Moses and Abram and Gideon in this way and instead look at a person who had no call but still made a huge impact for God’s people.
You know him as Jonathan.
The story begins with evil winning the day. Saul is king of Israel, the Israelites are God’s chosen people, but the pagan Philistines are in control of Israel. In fact, there are only two swords in all of Israel, one belonging to Saul and one belonging to Jonathan. God had chosen his people to be a light to the nations, but evil ruled the day.
This parallels the world in which we live. God has chosen his church to be a beacon of light in this world, yet when we look around it seems that evil rules—abortions, divorce, physical abuse, drug abuse, financial ruin, and greed seem to reign.
When Jonathan looked at his situation he thought, My dad is king, but things aren’t right here. When I think of those issues I think, Christ is king, but evil has control of a lot of our world.
So we need to do something about it.
My favorite part of this story is that Jonathan answers a need, not a call. He didn’t see a burning bush like Moses. Jesus didn’t appear to him and call his name like he did Paul. Jonathan simply said, “Evil’s ruling the day, and that’s not right. Somebody’s got to do something. Might as well be me.”
She Needs to Know
When I was in high school I had a specific call to ministry. But I’ve never felt a specific call to church planting. But then in college I read What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey.
Yancey tells the story of a social worker in Chicago. And this social worker had a woman come to him seeking help—she was distraught. She had no home. She had no food, because she had developed a drug addiction. And her addiction became so expensive that she became a prostitute. She sold her body to afford drugs. The woman was crying while she was saying this, and then she told the worst part.
She had gotten into harder drugs that were more expensive. So she had resorted to renting out her 2-year-old daughter, because she could make more from her for a couple hours than by selling her own body all night. The woman was distraught and crying, and after she explained her situation, she looked at the guy and said, “Can you help me?”
The guy doesn’t know what to say, so he finally asked, “Did you ever think of going to a church for help?”
And the woman caught herself and said, “Church? Why would I go there? I already feel bad enough—they’d just make me feel worse.”
I had two reactions to that story.
First, she’s wrong! She’s seen a televangelist who sounded greedy or encountered a judgmental church that doesn’t practice Jesus’ teachings or remembered some stereotype she saw in a movie or TV—but she’s wrong. She’s never been in some of the great churches I know.
But then I realized: most people are like her. Did you know that in 1900 there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans, but as of 2004 there were only 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans? And despite megachurches, the average size of a church hasn’t changed much in that time. That means there are fewer churches for more people, and it means people like that drug addict aren’t aware of grace-filled, relevant churches where they can find hope.
God sometimes calls people in a burning bush experience. But we need more Christians who will say, “This isn’t right! I’m not waiting for someone to be ‘called,’ I’m just going to do it!”
That’s what Saul’s son did. “Jonathan said to the young armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few’” (1 Samuel 14: 6).
Jonathan does something absolutely extraordinary and so contrary to how we treat church planting today. He assumes God has called him to fight.
No Need to Wait
Our default today is to wait for God to “call” us. God has already called you! He’s told you to make disciples, he’s told you to seek and save the lost, he’s told you he’s more excited about one sinner coming home than a huge Christian concert with 50,000 voices singing to him.
We look at these great stories of Moses, Gideon, and Paul and think that’s how God works. But I propose that just because God HAS worked that way doesn’t mean God WILL work that way. Part of the reason these stories are in the Bible is because they are amazing and out of the ordinary. But the message of the whole Bible is that God has called us to be on mission with him.
George Orwell suggested in Politics and the English Language that we get rid of every word or idiom that has outlived its usefulness. I believe we need to retire the excuse (I mean, uh, “reason”) some give for not planting a church: “God hasn’t called me.”
Think about other stories in the Bible. David didn’t wait for a call to fight Goliath; he just wondered why no one else was doing it and he stepped out. Nehemiah didn’t wait for a call from God; in fact, he called on God to rebuild!
Instead of waiting for a divine, burning bush experience, our default mind-set needs to be a “yes,” and then see if God stops us, instead of standing still while waiting for God to tell us “go.” There are certainly a few qualifiers to this idea: find out what others think, create a plan, stop along the way to ask if it’s working. But don’t ask if God is calling you. Look for ways he is stopping you.
What If No One Answers?
Recently I learned about a branch of study called “counterfactual history.” Counterfactual history tries to extrapolate what would have happened in history if you take out certain key events.
What if Robert E. Lee’s Confederate troops won the Battle of Gettysburg?
What if Adolf Hitler had been killed in the assassination attempt of 1944?
What if Al Gore won the 2000 election?
The actual definition says counterfactual history is “a form of historiography which attempts to answer ‘what if’ questions known as counterfactuals.” Counterfactual history asks the same question we ask in church planting, just in a negative sense. We’re asking: What if a marriage can be healed? What if a soul can be saved?
But this is a good exercise for us—to pretend that we’re in the future looking back and saying, “What if we do nothing?” What if you only plant a church if you have a burning bush experience? What if you focus on yourself? What if you turn a blind eye to the lost? What if a divorce goes through? What if we don’t start any more churches? What if we don’t provide clean water to kids in Africa? What if we don’t throw a Christmas party for kids who aren’t getting anything else? What if someone goes to Hell?
A wrong question is: has God called you to plant a church? A better question is: is God telling you not to plant a church?
Some of you—most of you—reading this need to give what you can to God’s kingdom. He is not asking you to stay comfortable. He has not asked you to wait for a miracle. He has commanded you to seek and save the lost.
I believe decades from now people will look back at this moment in your life as a pivotal moment in eternity. People will say: “I just wanted to make money and get to the top, but someone who thought they were too old for it started a church, and I came to know Christ there.”
“We had given up on our marriage—we had already divided up our stuff—but a college student didn’t hear God say ‘no.’ She helped a new church get started, and Jesus transformed our marriage.”
“I was lost. I was going to Hell. But someone who didn’t think they were cut out for it started a church . . . and Jesus saved me from my sins.”
I decided I don’t like counterfactual history. It focuses on what could’ve been. I want to focus on what will be. I’m asking you to embrace the possibility that God has already told you his mission, and he hasn’t told you “no.”
What if you can make a difference, just as Jonathan made a difference? Christians throughout history have made a difference. The Bible says we will make a difference, and with the power of God’s Spirit you will make a difference that will last forever.
Carl Kuhl serves as lead pastor with Mosaic Christian Church in Elkridge, Maryland. Mosaic launched in 2008 and now averages 500.