Part 3 of our blog series is brought to you by Tom Bennardo, author of "Honest Guide to Church Planting", who also has planted several churches and currently walks alongside and coaches current and potential church planters to help them in the process. In this interview, he brings some powerful insight into the world of church planting and encourages you to ultimately seek the Lord and his guidance through it all.
1. What is your title and what is your role in the lives of the church planters you coach?
I’m currently Director of the Synergy Church Planting Network (synergychurchplanting.com), and serve as Executive Director of Church Multiplication & Leadership for the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches (fecministries.org). In that role I have the privilege of recruiting, training, coaching, and encouraging church planters, and leading the best team on the planet in seeing new churches planted.
Prior to my current role I planted two churches, one of which I pastored for nearly 22 years, and led that church to plant a daughter church.
2. What are some of the wrong motivations guys have to pursue church-planting? Compared to motivations you would like to see them have before planting?
The most prevalent and destructive motivation I see—and I know it firsthand because it was true of me when I planted—is deep-seated, hidden narcissism. We’ll never admit it, sometime even to ourselves, but many, many planters are driven by a sense of ego that they will succeed where others fail due to their unique giftedness and superior leadership capacity. They envision building a big, fast-growing, headline-grabbing ministry and platform for themselves. The idea of laboring in obscurity and seeing slow, incremental impact is a foreign concept.
In contrast, one of the first qualities I look for in a potential planter is a profound brokenness—the kind that the planter himself doesn’t mention or even recognize, but that emerges from a death to self usually born out of failure, deep pain, and humility. The Psalm 51 kind. If they say they’re broken, they aren’t. But recovering narcissists know it when they see it.
3. What hesitations do guys have that keep them from planting?
Usually it’s the intense (though usually masked) fear of failure almost every planter feels, accompanied by the unsettling prospect of not knowing where things are going or how they’re going to provide for themselves and their families if the endeavor goes south. It can be terrifying, and planters think they shouldn’t feel it, but I’ve always gone to great lengths to help planters see biblically that the presence of fear isn’t the problem; in fact, feeling it is a positive sign someone is stretching beyond their own capacities to advance the kingdom. It’s what they do with the fear that is the important thing.
Also, often guys don’t really know where to start or how to lay tracks for prioritizing the hundred-thousand things that need done, which is why we work so hard to give exhaustive training and coaching to planters whether they think they need it or not.
And then there are the pressures that come from the sending organizations and financial supporters to produce measurable outcomes and become viable quickly. Church planters carry heavy pressure from so-called supporters, and get shot at by their own army more than just about any other ministry position.
4. How much time does it usually take from a guy’s initial desire to plant and the actual church launch?
Well, that varies greatly—depending on the situation, the planter, and the environment. If a guy is trained and experienced in ministry, and if a mother church is committed to sending their brightest and best to form a team with the planter, the process can happen in a year or less. But one of the biggest mistakes planters and their supporting networks make is trying to rush it, thinking it’s just a matter of replicating a set of programs and processes, hanging out a shingle, and poof—instant church.
In the Synergy Church Planting Network we walk potential planters through five steps toward becoming confirmed as a planter before they ever start the planting process, including extensive pre-assessment, assessment, and training; and then five more phases in the planting process itself. It drives some guys crazy, but if you’re absolutely committed to the health of the planter and his team like we are, it doesn’t take much study of Scripture to see that God doesn’t seem to be in nearly the hurry to get a new gospel outpost up and running as we tend to be. The process is as important as the product.
5. What are the greatest challenges guys typically have in planting a church?
Oh man, how do I answer that without scaring off everyone considering planting a church? Every planting endeavor encounters its own set of unique challenges, but if I have to pick a few that wind up near the top, I’d say that finding really solid, mature core team members is huge, protecting your marriage, family, and personal health is enormous, and then remembering that this isn’t about opening up a new hamburger place and doing creative advertising to get customers to try it. It’s about the incredibly difficult, trench warfare of fighting a cunning enemy for the souls of people, praying your guts out, and doing the hard work of relationship- and bridge-building, actually loving and serving the people you’re trying to reach, and enacting the personal, lifestyle evangelism that lives out the gospel in front of them and eventually articulates the amazing gift it is to them personally. That doesn’t happen quickly. It tests even the best and most gifted planters.
6. What has been one of the coolest ways you have seen God move in one of the pastors/churches you have coached?
It’s funny, but the ones that I think of most are not the most “successful” stories—if by that we mean the metric most people use of numeric growth and external impact in a community. I think about the guy who hesitated for years at the prospect of planting a church, with no confidence in his preaching or leadership. He constantly said he didn’t think he was the right guy, and resisted the ongoing urgings of people who sensed he was being called to do it. He finally stuck his toe in the water, walked excruciatingly slowly through the process, and then inauspiciously started a new work. He’s seen amazing salvations and transformations, discipled countless people, and continues to plug along without fanfare but with substantive, eternity-altering impact. People in his flock consider him the most insightful, gifted spiritual leader they know, and he’s now having new planters seek him out for wisdom and counsel. Yet he has stayed his humble, unassuming self. Only heaven will reveal the impact he has made for Christ.
7. Is there anything that you wish every new church planter knew before attempting to plant a church?
Anything? Heck, the entire contents of The Honest Guide to Church Planting is about the giant pile of things no one ever told me, and that I wish every new planter knew before they dive in. I wish they could know that the pace is significant slower than they’ve been led to believe. I wish they could know how nobody else on their team will work half as hard or care half as much as they do. And I also wish they could know how deeply they’re loved and valued by the God they serve, even when it feels like there is zero evidence of that in a given moment.
8. What words of encouragement would you give a new church planter who is ready to give up?
Forgive me for doing this, but I think the best way I can answer that is to pull out what I consider one of the most significant portions of the Honest Guide, which kind of encapsulates the whole reason I wrote it:
God has never, ever, once in your life measured you on a scale of timetables or achievement. He embraces you as tightly when you’re lazy or stumbling morally as he does when you’re lighting up the scoreboard. He provides everything you need, sings over you, and celebrates your very existence, every bit as much when everything is falling backward as when it’s surging forward. Right now, at this very moment, even if you never lift another finger to accomplish anything for him, he’s fiercely proud of you.
I hope you comprehend that. But let yourself feel it too. Hear him say it directly to you. Allow it to drench you from head to toe and penetrate to your bones, so that it frees you to unclench your gut and loosens the frenzied compulsion to make progress at all costs. Relax, really relax, in a sovereign surety you can never lose.
Then when you get back to the grind, hold on to that perspective when you encounter others who view you as the competition, when friendly fire wings you for not meeting someone’s production schedule. You may never match the unspoken expectations of your sending group. Or your parents. Or yourself. But your Father in heaven—the one who will ultimately make sure the bills get paid—isn’t holding any clipboards or withholding any favor.
As compulsion’s grip is loosened, you’ll find yourself more able to do some things that not only exhibit genuine freedom but disarm the effect of others’ judgments. You’ll be able to laugh at yourself—and your “we didn’t come anywhere near meeting that goal” moments—more easily. You’ll be able to admit your failures and weaknesses before others even bring them up. You’ll be more capable of actually slowing down a little and relishing the journey, even when the journey isn’t going anything like you imagined.
No one else in the world uses the scale your true Father uses to gauge your success. And if you can really believe it, no one else’s scale matters.
The Honest Guide to Church Planting, pp. 144-145.
9. What would be three must read books for a church planter to read before beginning this journey?
There are a ton of great resources out there now, covering everything from the biblical philosophy and mandate for planting churches to nuts and bolts how-tos. But when I stack them up, I think Craig Ott’s Global Church Planting is one of the best combinations of foundational principles and practical processes a planter can find in one book.
And then my friend Peyton Jones just released Church Plantology, which may just wind up being the definitive textbook on biblical church planting, full of incredible insight from the Scripture’s lessons and raw, in-the-trenches realities of how to plant.
This might sound like a cop-out, but the third book I’d recommend is actually the one the planter is “writing” himself, as he plants the church God has envisioned him to plant. Every church plant is its own unique story; it never goes according to anyone else’s script or formula. There’s a wonder and mystery in the actual journey of planting a church. I honestly feel like the experience itself is a walk on holy ground—though at the time it can feel like passing through the seventh circle of hell. That’s part of what makes it so wondrous. If a planter can mark the journey, tell the story, and let it soak deeply into their heart and soul, it’ll wind up being the best church planting book they’ll ever read.
We want to thank Tom for his willing participation in this blog series and we encourage you to check out his book, "Honest Guide to Church Planting" if you haven't already! Click the link below to learn more: