I've been involved in church planting for a long time now. Practically my whole adult life. The first church that I planted was 26 years ago. It was a massive learning experience and an abysmal failure. We closed it with a sad groan after 3 arduous years. I don’t know if you remember the CD some years ago by Lauren Hill, but it was entitled, “The Miseducation of Lauren Hill.” In a very real sense, my first church planting experience could’ve been given a similar title – The Re-Education of Rob Fairbanks. For the first two or three years of pastoring prior to launching out in the church plant, I found my tutelage in the “Church Growth Movement.” It was an inebriating experience. As a voracious learning, I drank long, hard and often. With my competitive orientation, the “by the numbers” approach to a growing a large church became a drug of sorts, which deeply confused my motivation for planting. I have written about that wonderful/painful progression elsewhere, so I won’t go into detail here, but suffice it to say that I needed breaking (which happened) and re-educating (which I am still doing almost 30 years later).
The second church that I planted was in 1991, 22 years ago (New Community). I went on to pastor that church for close to 20 years. To say that it was an easy experience would be to lie, but the community of people that eventually emerged ended up being a beautiful and fruitful symbol of what church could be in a west coast city of the U.S.
Running parallel with both of those experiences I have had, in varying degrees, the privilege of assisting in planting eight other churches.
For the last four years I've been leading an organization with a stated purpose that is exclusively church planting. Its mission statement reads: “The mission of Christian Associates is to establish churches who follow Jesus in transforming their world.” I got the chance to drop in on communities from North and Latin America, through most of Europe, all the way to Russia. It was an exhilarating experience. (Link to Christian Associates)
Now, at 54, I'm embarking on a new church-planting venture. Some have wondered about my sanity. Heck, I've wondered about my sanity. I've always said that church planting is a young man's sport. The church is called Immanuel Church and is in Spokane, WA. While I have a veritable lifetime of experience in church planting, I find that moving back onto the ground as a practitioner brings about many challenges that I simply don't have pithy answers for (I am finding that it is much easier to be a strategist when you don’t have to actually put it into practice - :-/). I am a bit of novice all over again. Well, I don't want to suggest that I don’t have any answers. I do have a general idea of how to go about this and a functional progression in mind of how church planting happens best in Western culture. Perhaps I will talk little bit about that in future blogs but it is my intention to travel along those guidelines that I have, along with others, discovered over the last 27 years.
Some have wondered if I will utilize methodologies for church planting such as an "attractional" approach or simply planting a "worship service" as I begin this new project. Seems like odd wonderings. If I did, it would be the first time. We have always operated out of a decentralized approach where the "gathered" community was responsive to what the church was doing in the world...even before there was "missional" language to describe it.
I guess the only thing I can promise is:
- I'll try not to be stupid regarding things I should already know.
- I will attempt to stay in a humble, learning posture.
- I will seek to honestly travel along the pathway of my personal convictions about how I believe mission happens.
- I will seek as much as possible to follow sensitively where I perceive the Holy Spirit is leading.
- and all 4 of those will happen within a community of real people who are trying to live out the Gospel of the Kingdom in a particular context.
Is that enough?
I hope so. I can't think of anything else besides that as a way forward.