All-out sprinting combined with chest-high obstacles make for one of the most difficult events in all of sport: the hurdles. Great hurdlers evoke wonder as they sail over these obstacles with split second precision. Less than great hurdlers, on the other hand, often evoke a face-planting-inspired grimace as they stumble.
The analogy is perfect for those of us starting new ministries. Some planting hurdles are smaller (”Which coffee shop should become my de facto office?”) and others are enormous (”It cost how much to start a children’s ministry?”). For those of us who have face planted (or watched a friend do so) getting a plant right is very important.
All-out sprinting combined with chest-high obstacles make for one of the most difficult events in all of sport: the hurdles. Great hurdlers evoke wonder as they sail over these obstacles with split second precision. Less than great hurdlers, on the other hand, often evoke a face-planting inspired grimace as they stumble.
The analogy is perfect for those of us starting new ministries. Some planting hurdles are smaller (”Which coffee shop should become my de facto office?”) and others are enormous (”It costs how much to start a children’s ministry?”). For those of us who have face planted (or watched a friend do so) getting a plant right is very important.
A short list of difficult hurdles seem to be repeated over and over again no matter what the planting context. Here’s how I see ’em.
Hurdle One: Team Leader Assessment
The demanding full speed leaps required to be an effective team leader MUST be in place BEFORE the starting gun sounds. If the planter is not properly assessed, the plant has literally an 80 percent chance of landing up in the dirt. Too many organizations want to take shortcuts here, and the reasons for skimping on assessment are fairly easy to detect.
1. Rushed Promotion: To persevere an opportunity or quell a crisis, someone is appointed as team leader without assessment. Whenever you hear someone say, “Get Jim in there face before this opportunity passes,” a hurdle is getting ready to trip up the planters.
2. Old Faithful: Without being assessed, someone who has proven him- or herself faithful in a supporting role is made a team leader, even though they may not possess the skill set necessary to head up the team. Whenever you hear: “Forget the regular process—by golly, Jim has been the most loyal guy ever. It should be his turn to plant,” a hurdle is likely to trip up both Jim and his team.
3. The Buddy System: The unassessed leader is given the job of team leader based on his or her connections to top leaders in the organization. Whenever you hear, “The word came done from the big office that Jim gets the job and doesn’t have to go through the normal vetting process,” you are likely to be headed for a hurdle trip.
4. Escape Mode: Caught in an unhealthy ministry role, a leader decides to plant new ministry just to create an opportunity so he/she escape the current situation. Whenever you hear, "Planting is hard, but at least we won’t be working at First Dysfunctional anymore," there is a good chance the planter has already tripped.
Assessment is crucial and there just is no reason to not used Dr. Charles Ridley’s Church Planter Profile Assessment before spending the time, money and emotions required to lead a team in a new ministry plant. I recommend this resource for all church, campus, youth or other parachurch plants.
Hurdle Two: Workable Funding Models
"If you build it they will come," is a cute slogan for mystical baseball movies, but the thinking behind this quote has tripped up many a planter. Most business models assume a four- to five-year window before the books get into the black. Many planters on the other hand are not even sure what "in the black" means since an undergrad degree in youth ministry doesn’t really cover complex business financing. Planters who assume the money thing will take care of itself if they just build the rest of the ministry are headed for big problems.
Gone are the days of just sending out one mass mailing and getting an instance donor base. To build a consistent support team it takes specific training and intensive coaching. A great place to start is Scott Morton’s book, Funding Your Ministry.
Hurdle Three: Customized Strategy
In the sprint to launch, planters can be tempted to skimp on the retraining required to build truly missional ministry in a new context. Knowing a mission field and customizing specific outreaches to meet the needs of a particular place on earth—whether that place is in Africa or Topeka—requires a concentrated season of crafting and perfecting new events and programming.
Leaders don’t really like learning new skills from scratch. Planters must resist the temptation to rely on skills developed in other ministry contexts and just admit that they often have no idea what to do that will really work in their current context.
World-class athletes model this behavior weekly. They study each variable of the competition and develop specific tactics for each contest. Failure to employ this same level of customized planning almost always guarantees a gravel-laden nose.
Hurdle Four: Laughter and Prayer
I used to call this the Coaching Hurdle, but after attending three training conferences on coaching and reading six tons of verbage on the subject—all while actually coaching planters—I am pretty convinced that coaching alone is not enough. Most good planters are adept at finding resources. What they can’t find in a book or seminar, though, is lasting camaraderie.
Isolation is perhaps the biggest hurdle of all in planting. The harder the mission field, the more intense the isolation and spiritual opposition can be. To see planters thrive, those of us who help them must be deeply invested in their week-to-week personal happiness. It is not about advice but about having an advocate who cares for you enough to make sure you are both laughing and praying on a regular basis. A couple good jokes a week followed by intercession together can facilitate an amazing amount of hurdle-jumping power.
Of course there is far more to planting than just assessment, funding, strategy and laughter, but in the dizzying array of hurdles out there, making sure that we leap cleaning over each of these four obstacles can greatly increase the chances of long term health are real fruit for Christ.