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Unsolicited Advice From The Guy With The Camaro In The Student Lot

I’m like most people in that I like to give advice.  I do not, however, like to give it unsolicited very often.  This is one of those moments when I would like to give some unsolicited advice.  Actually, I’ll narrow it down.  I’d like to give advice to anyone wanting to start a church.  Two pieces.  Here goes:

If you are planning to start a church, go to seminary.  There you have it, piece one of advice.

I won’t go into all kinds of detail on why I think that’s a good idea.  Partially because I see it’s payoff every single day.  You can only take people as far as you’ve gone.  Sure, you can have a lot to say and a lot to teach, but there comes a point when that well runs dry, and there’s a need to know how to go deeper.  A seminary education in whatever denomination with which you are affiliated gives those tools and the well from which to draw – not to mention relationships that feed your soul for years to come as well as give support and collegiality for a lifetime.  So…go to seminary.  It takes time and it takes money and it takes all of you, but…doesn’t that sound a whole lot like any call?

Ok, now for the second piece of advice.

If you followed my first piece of advice and find yourself in seminary and still want to start a church, then go to chapel.  That’s the advice.

Go to chapel every day.  If your seminary has a chapel program where professors and students  and perhaps staff lead worship, go.  For God’s sake, go.  Here’s why: one day you’ll be in a new church.  That church will have been started by you, and will have no history but your own, and that of those who come to help you begin.  That church will have a beginning point, and as far as your new congregants are concerned that beginning point is the only important one.  But…

But you and I know differently, don’t we?

We know that the church will not have started in the storefront your rent or the home you meet in.  You and I know that the church started a couple thousand years ago, and women and men have met to worship their Creator and Savior by the power of the Spirit since then.  Your new church is only the latest incarnation of the body of Christ.  This age old church has been around the block a few times, and there are more than a few things that it can teach your young infant of a church.

The congregation I serve has been around for about 4 years.  And in that time, I have felt the draw to speak very generally.  In the desire to speak to and reach out to the common denominator, I have felt the desire to mottle and make a hodge-podge of theology.  I can see from here that what would follow would be a very weakened foundation for a church.  But, oh, how it calls out to me.  It calls out to me because it is easy.

What is hard is to take the time-tested faithful witnesses and translate them faithfully (without changing them) into language that is accessible to someone who has never stepped into a church building, or house church or storefront mission station.  The hard part is taking creed and standard and liturgy and not watering them down, not altering them in a way that weakens them.

Seminary does a lot of things to a person, and one of the best things it can do is to steep a person in the richness of a historical faith.  If for three or four years you study and prepare your mind, you will be able to reach back and pull forth from the recesses of your education what is needed in a situation or conversation or sermon preparation, and have the tools to seek answers to difficult situations.  If for three or four years you attend chapel on a regular basis and prepare your soul, you will be able to take the creeds and standards, and not change them, but make them accessible to your hearers, those you would lead toward the Way of Christ.  To attend chapel day in and day out puts phrases and words deep within you, and they will arise at the most unplanned and needed moments.

Besides, you might think you are smart in writing your own liturgy.  You might think you are witty in rephrasing creeds.  You might think you are well-versed enough to alter the questions and answers of the Heidleberg Catechism, but I ask you this: Can you be sure that what you are coming up with will be good enough and faithful enough witnesses to scripture to last another 400 or 1400 years?  I have my doubts.

I am fortunate enough to live in a town that has one of my denominational seminaries in it.  And so, weekly, I try to attend a chapel service.  There is the awkwardness of feeling a bit like the guy who graduated high school last year and now parks his Camaro in the student lot after school and revs the engine, but it’s worth it because I know I need the rooting, the reminders, the phrases that continue to be my soul’s steeping.

That’s my unsolicited advice to someone who wants to be a church planter.  Take it for what it’s worth.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Andrea DeWard
    April 24, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks Jim! Helpful and well-written thoughts. Smart advice right here!

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