Why I decided to plant a church in my first year out of college

This year will bring me to the end of four years at Moore College. It’s been an amazing time of learning, growth and deep friendships, but like all good things it must come to an end. So what exactly does next year hold for the Clemens family?

First year out

Image courtesy of Flickr

Well… next year I will lead a committed team of missionaries to plant a church in the city. If you’d like to find out more details fill in this form and I’ll be in touch. That being said, most of my peers at College will be joining established churches as assistant ministers. Several others will probably be youth ministers, women’s ministers and school chaplains.

So why have we chosen to do something different?

In sharing our vision to plant a church, I have often been asked (and occasionally challenged with) this question. “Isn’t it a little soon?” they say, “Shouldn’t you at least be an assistant minister for a few years?” Or my personal favourite, “What makes you think the normal rules don’t apply to you?”

In this post I hope to briefly explain why I’ve decided to plant a church in my first year out of college. For the sake of transparency, I have three primary motivations:

  1. To encourage those who have a burden to plant churches to get out there and do it.
  2. To caution those who are impatient from planting a church too quickly.
  3. To provide a brief defense for those who think I’m somehow breaking the rules.

So with that in mind, let me begin with three reasons that are NOT the reason I’ve decided to plant a church next year:

1. I don’t expect to make mistakes- I am absolutely certain that being an assistant minister for a few years would be immensely helpful. In fact, it would probably even save me from making a whole bunch of stupid mistakes when we actually do plant. But the truth is, mistakes are inevitable! The only way to make no mistakes is to do nothing. The real question is how costly will the mistakes we make actually be? Now that’s a scary thought, but by the grace of God I’m trusting that he’ll protect us from the worst of them.

2. I refuse to work for anyone else- church planters can come off as a rather obnoxious bunch. They often seem like renegades, mavericks or guys that can’t work for others. Thankfully, if they’re Christians then you know that’s not true. They work for King Jesus! But the point still stands. Am I unwilling to work for anyone but myself? No. While I do eventually intend to become the official leader of our church, we’ve asked Bruce Hall from ENC to oversee things to begin with.

3. I’m unique among men- the truth is, church planting is not for everyone. But at the same time, it’s not for nobody either! Men I deeply respect have gone ahead of me. In recent years, Toby Neal and Hans Christiansan have both planted churches in their first years out of college. Another friend, Dan Godden has done it while he’s still at college! The point is, there’s a whole bunch of guys who under God have planted great churches without traveling the usual path. By God’s grace we hope to do likewise.

So if that’s NOT the reason, what is?

1. I want to see the lost saved- I am convinced that the vigorous, continual planting of new churches is the single most crucial strategy to see the lost saved and the renewal of existing churches. It’s that simple. Like Paul’s young protégé, I want to do the work of an evangelist. I believe that planting a church that plants more churches is quite genuinely the best thing I can do with my life. So i’m keen to get going.

2. It’s been a long time coming- I first became convinced of the effectiveness of church planting about six years ago. Knowing that I wouldn’t be ready to plant a church until I had finished college, we tried to reverse engineer the last six years to prepare us to do it. Do I know everything I need to know? Of course not! But thanks to the kindness of others we probably know enough! I wasn’t ready to plant a church back then, but with God’s help I believe the time has come to give it a go.

3. There’s been external confirmation- in the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to do assessments with two excellent church planting networks- the Geneva Push and Redeemer City to City. Both have asked probing questions, but each has chosen to approve our application to plant a church. Now this is no sign from God, but it is to say that there’s people out there who don’t think it’s a ridiculous idea. So we’re moving forward with the support of others we respect.

4. I’ve seen it done twice already- in the last few years I’ve had the privilege of watching two Godly men plant new congregations. In 2011 I saw Paul Dale plant a new congregation of CBTB in Lavender Bay. In 2013 I watched Matt Straw plant a new congregation of St Philips in Walsh Bay. Both experiences gave me the chance to learn what to do (and sometimes what not to do) when planting a new church. Both of those experiences were worth their weight in gold.

So where does that leave us?

  1. If you have a burden to see the lost won and plant a church… ignore the haters, get out there and do it! Assuming you love Jesus and have external confirmation, go make mistakes for Jesus!
  2. Sorry to get all “Driscoll” for a moment, but if you’re 19 and still living at home… maybe start by planting a Christian group at uni or work and leave the church for a few more years.
  3. If you’re still not convinced… please pray for us. As keen as we are, I genuinely fear making mistakes that will hurt the people God has entrusted to our care. We need your prayers.

Question: what are some key things you would advise young church planters to learn before stepping out on their own to plant new churches? Leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on “Why I decided to plant a church in my first year out of college

  1. This is really encouraging dude! Sydney church society is, by cultural influence, such a vocally opinionated society and it can be a little worrying sometimes when fresher Christians are given stumbling blocks of opinion by more ‘mature’ Christians rather than a genuine understanding of God’s will in his word. I’m so thankful to have role models like you who are able to hold a clear conscience and take God’s will seriously whilst not imposing your desires on others in an unloving way; by the way you encourage those with similar desires to be unafraid, pass no judgement on those with differently focused desires and talents, and offer peace to those who might oppose you.

    I praise God for his work in you!

  2. Hey Tim,

    on facebook you invited responses, so I thought I’d respond here. Essentially my response leads to one question, which I’m not really just asking you, but you’re the nearest guy to me sticking his head out! 😉 Especially seeing as we don’t really know each other, and the internets is notoriously unable to convey tone, I want to be as clear as I can that I am speaking and asking out of an inquisitiveness that is also driven by a passion for the lost, and a desire to see God’s kingdom grow. Which is why, firstly, I praise God! I’m really encouraged by your faithfulness to Him! I’ve enjoyed reading through a heap of your posts, and I can see that God has grown your abilities to analyse and reflect alongside your love for the lost and desires to honour Him – what a fantastic combo. I hope that will mean it’s ok for me to ask my questions, and that probably, you’ve thought about them all before so will be ready to respond anyway!

    I think you’re right in assuming church planters can come across as renegades and non-team players, but I note that you’re hoping to lead a committed team, so it’s good to see immediately that you won’t actually be pursuing this project as a lone wolf. There are heaps of reasons I think that approach would be bad, but up to and including the ‘renegades and non-team players’ reputation. God has clearly shaped us for doing things together, so it’s good you’re not flying solo.

    But, I think part of the reason I see/feel the ‘lone wolf’ aspect of the Acts 29/Geneva Push/City to City/western-church-planting-movements has a reputation with at least a hint of reality is because of the model of church planting usually supported and exhorted by these networks.

    The whole shape of the model and then the ‘end product’ of this approach is a church with one dude at the top. Who generally stays there. Until maybe one day that whole ‘plant a church that plants churches’ thing happens, by which time the original dude who apparently was suited to church planting isn’t the guy that goes and does it again cos he’s now busy running a church…

    The impression I gained at college, through research and reading in missiology as well as discussion with a wide variety of missionaries and my own on-field investigative experience is that most of the effective cross-cultural church planting organisations (be they mission ‘agencies’ (for want of a better term) or denominational structures) (and I’m talking about organisations and people that have been involved in movements of the Spirit where significant proportions of an unreached people group have turned to God, for eg, Dr Richard Hibbert during his work for WEC in Turkey and Bulgaria) would identify this as the most flawed, least successful model of church planting.

    There are a couple of reasons why, one being that the outside agent (the ‘church planter’) takes on the task not just of sharing the gospel but of governing how one crucial result of discipleship, the formation of new churches, will look. Cross-culturally, this has led to many carbon copies of American style churches with inappropriate cultural forms for the new context, causing struggles to grow in the new culture or produce indigenous leadership because the outsider tries to control the whole process… This is a whole rabbit warren of issues though, and not necessarily relevant to your context, so I’ll put it aside…

    The main flaw of the model from a missiological standpoint seems to be the ‘lone wolf’ portion, the bit that depends on the one dude, strong hierarchy shape – the model is so top heavy it falls over.

    The original dude may have led a team, and is now leading a church, but he did the work and the work follows him. I’ve spent time with a family in Spain who were impacted by this form of plant, which is rife across Europe, but in many other contexts as well.

    It goes like this; dude arrives, either with family team or even bigger team, does some evangelism and sees some people become Christian. He musters them into a form of church recognisable to him, and for some years, decades even, they have a thriving church. Eventually (this being a cross-cultural example), original dude decides to return ‘home’ because his kids need to go to high-school or uni, or his parents are sick. Cue huge turmoil as church suddenly needs new leader. First dude returns home. Church dies.

    This scenario can be ‘fixed’ in a couple of ways, one is by the proper stewarding of the resources the Holy Spirit has given the congregation, ie, raising up new leaders and actually allowing them to lead stuff before the original dude gets run over by a bus.

    However, it still has the flaw that the original ‘church planting suitable’ dude is no longer planting churches. He’s done one (which is exhausting), and then is so concerned with its new-born needs (I will generously assume. Rather than, say, the lone wolf desire to build his own small kingdom), he stays and feeds it, and never moves on. Even though there’s a ‘team’, there’s still really just one dude, because he leads the team into forming and maintaining a church instead of going onward to spread the gospel, leaving indigenous leaders behind to shepherd the congregation.

    Of all the examples you mentioned of guys who’ve planted straight out of Moore, who among them is now a church leader instead of a church planter?

    Who among them now has a church shaped largely by them (thus contributing to the rep of renegade and non-team player), that they are still leading and shaping?

    Who among them if they were kicked out of town tomorrow (like Paul often was!) would be comfortable in leaving ‘their’ church behind and moving on?

    I ask these questions because the heads of these movements have certainly stayed to lead the churches they’ve planted. Driscoll’s church has grown, so there’s obviously still fruit, but the fruit wasn’t the oft-quoted goal of the planting of more churches, but the growth of one church to mega proportions. The starting of a network of church planters is, frankly, a neat political sidestep which means Driscoll and other similar leaders are able to say they’re ‘doing’ church planting by supporting it…

    If i’m even right in assuming this is the basic model you’re following, and you want to see the gospel spread like a virus through our culture, how are you reverse engineering your church plant to ensure it becomes a church that plants churches without you? At what stage are you planning to withdraw? And if you’re not, why aren’t you? How and why have you decided that non-withdrawal is the best way to plant a multiplying church?

    Maybe you’re planning, like Paul seems to have aimed to do, to stay long enough to train up and disciple leaders, and then move on to share the gospel in green fields. In which case, great! But doesn’t the title ‘church planter’ misrepresent that? Why doesn’t ‘missionary’ or ‘evangelist’ still fit?

    I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts, and, as I tried to say above, you may have/probably have already thought about all this and can simply respond by saying, ‘see future planned post’ or something!

    God bless, 🙂 Jo

  3. Sorry, I’ve read through my comment again and feel like it probably reads more and more aggressively… It’s certainly not my intention to be aggressive toward you, you’re just one guy! With a blog! Who’s serving Jesus! I’m only asking cos you seem reflective and thoughtful. But please feel free to ignore!

    • Thanks Joanna, don’t worry about it at all. You ask some great questions and raise some important points. I’ll get to a response in due time, but I’ve been out at Moore College Mission all day so it will have to wait. Thanks also for your first paragraph in the comment above. Blogs and the internet are notoriously bad at taking out all non verbal cues and leaving you open to coming across far more negatively than you intended. So anyone who starts a question by acknowledging that is hardly going to be accused for being aggressive. Not from me anyway.
      Will get to a response. Happy for others to step in if they’ve got a moment though

      • Hi Tim
        My apologies for jumping in from nowhere and reviving an old post. I feel like I’m a kindred spirit with Joanna. I’d like to reiterate that there is no malice, bitterness of anything like that intended just a desire to really understand the heart and mind of church planters.
        Like Joanna, I’ve read through most/many of your posts with interest. Like Joanna I applaud anyone who has a burning desire to see lost people come to know and serve the living God!! But again, like Joanna I’ve also observed the “lone-wolf” model used in church planting and there are aspects of it that concern me.
        I was really interested to read Joanna’s comment as it expresses a lot of my concerns about modern church planting. I’d be really interested in your response to Joanna and hope you can find the time to reply to her post.


      • Hi Tim
        I have just been notified of a new reply to your post and thought I’d jump back into your posts and see what was going on. As per my previous comment in 2014, I hope you don’t take my comments as being overly negative or critical. I’m actually still trying to understand the mind, motives and desires of a church planter.
        As I haven’t been focussing on one particular website or person I haven’t been keeping track of your posts. I was a bit disappointed to come back and find that Joanna hasn’t received a reply to her (extensive) comments and questions especially as they raise some really pertinent issues.
        Since my previous reply in 2014 I’ve personally experienced the church planting situation that Joanna described – a lone wolf running the “show” and pulling all the strings. The concern I have with this is that the backers behind it, and many other church plantings, are pushing this model and I’m convinced that it will eventually disintegrate if (or when) the church planter and leader were to leave (for whatever reason). While in theory the church planting backers are supporting a church, they are in practice effectively supporting a person. I’m not convinced that this is a wise decision. I don’t question the genuine motives or intentions of either the church planter or their backers, I only question the model that is being used.
        If you can find the time to respond, especially given you’re nearly 2 years further down the track from your original post, I (and others I’m sure) would appreciate your thoughts.

  4. I’m posting so I can sign up to email alerts on upcoming comments 🙂 Interested to hear your response to Jo’s question.

  5. Hey TIm,
    I’m encouraged by seeing you step out and do this brother!

    I’m curious do people actually use language like you are “breaking the rules”?

    • Thanks Mike. Nobody has actually said “you are breaking the rules” but the idea is certainly there. General practice (within the Anglican church anyway) is to spend a few years as an assistant minister (perhaps at a few churches) before earning your stripes and becoming a rector. I don’t question the wisdom of general practice (i think it’s probably a good path for many people). Obviously i just don’t think “general practice” should be taken as common law. And interestingly neither does the diocese since they’ve actually placed Bruce Hall of ENC at Moore College in order to recruit guys at college and help them to plant churches. So it’s just an undercurrent among certain circles… usually the guys at the top who felt like they had to jump through a bunch of hoops in order to get where they are and don’t like that new paths have opened up for younger guys.

  6. hi there
    Congratulations for stepping out. I wish all christian’s were as bold and on fire.
    Christ has commissioned us to take the gospel to the world. Every opportunity to serve our crater should be taken. Take time to pray. Take council from Scripture. and make all decisions in love.
    John 15;10-12.
    God has given us 10 commandments written by his own finger {the most important words in the entire scriptures} and the 11 th through Jesus Christ his son. may God richly bless and keep you in his love Chris.