Why Plant with a Pastoral Team?
Throughout church history, planting churches has taken many forms. This variety likely stems from various contextual situations combined with the fact that the Bible contains no specific directives for how to plant churches. It seems, then, that from a biblical perspective, there is a lot of flexibility regarding what church planting method can be employed.
That being said, it is still important for church planters to be intentional in their philosophy of church planting. There are biblical and practical principles to bring to bear on the topic. The purpose of this summary is not to disparage other models, but rather, to explain our rationale for using a pastoral team church planting model, especially in our context of beginning a new work in a particular city. Certainly, the model we are choosing to employ will not fit every church planter or church planting context. But it is the method that best fits our goals and gifting for the following reasons:
One cannot help but notice the prominence of teamwork in the spreading of the gospel message during and following the life of Christ. Prior to the establishment of the church, Jesus initially gathers twelve disciples and later appoints a group of seventy to do His work. In both cases, He sends them out in pairs for a time of ministry (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1). An emphasis on teamwork continues after Christ’s ascension and the establishment of the church. It is most easily seen in the journeys of the apostle Paul, who is regularly accompanied by other believers as he travels from city to city planting churches and following up with those churches.
While there are many viable and helpful ways to join with others in ministry, going somewhere together is a gospel partnership like none other. Such intentional teamwork has benefits that were realized in the early church and can continue to be so today because team members are able to share in the physical and emotional burdens of ministry. We do not pretend that this is some utopia of church ministry, but teamwork does allow for flexibility that would not be possible otherwise.
Planting a church as a pastoral team also has the benefit of allowing team members to focus in areas of their specific gifting. We know from Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 that the Holy Spirit is diverse in His gifting of believers in the church. But it is important to remember that the same is true for pastors as well. Pastors do not all have the same gifting; they have their own custom strengths and weakness. A team approach allows a church to begin with a diversity of pastoral gifts. Functionally, each pastor assumes a role in line with his gifting. Relationally, each pastor will naturally connect with different types of people both within the church body and in the community.
With a new church plant, accountability is an important concern. One advantage of having a plurality of pastors at the outset is the organic, real-time accountability that comes from being on a team. Even with their shepherding responsibilities, the pastors of a church body—including the lead pastor—are still members of that body under the headship of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Colossians 1:18). They need to be ministered to spiritually in the body.1 Such accountability goes beyond the outward ethical realm most people think of when they think of pastoral accountability, though it certainly includes it. A pastoral team provides a consistently active, discipleship-oriented accountability even in a church’s infancy—the kind of peer accountability we see between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2.
The pastoral team approach also strengthens another layer of accountability that is key to planting an initial work in a new city by compounding the support and accountability of the different sending churches of each team member. This method is reminiscent of the combined roles of churches in Paul’s second missionary journey. The church in Antioch, which had previously sent Paul and Barnabas on the first journey (Acts 13), sent Silas with Paul on the second. Before long, they added a third team member—Timothy—who joined them at the recommendation of the church at Lystra (Acts 16). Expanding the base of investment naturally increases accountability.
Planting and pastoring a church is challenging in both necessary responsibilities as well as the various emotional strains that accompany it. A pastoral team allows the ministry burden to be shared in a relational community of encouragement (Hebrews 10:24) where nobody bears the weight alone (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 - “two are better than one… a threefold cord is not quickly broken”). Such friendship in ministry provides tremendous support to the overall endeavor.
In summary, we have determined that partnering as a pastoral team is a strategic way for us to plant a church, especially in the Reno area. It allows us to bring multiple elements that characterize the church in the New Testament into play from the beginning. With this in mind, each of our families has committed to embarking—together—on this mission!
1 Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 79. “How is it that in many situations we have come to expect that the one leading the body of Christ can do well spiritually while getting less of the ministry of the body of Christ than everyone he has been called to lead?”