by Scott Nelson
A few years ago, I was asked to do a research project on church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, the larger church family of which I am a part. The research was qualitative, based on open-ended questions about what could be improved in church planting. I had my own opinions about how planters needed to do more evangelism or communicate more clearly. Yet the research dictated that I kept my opinions silent; this was a good but difficult assignment for me! My role was to listen deeply, ask questions, and report on the findings.
The findings were clear. Church planters need more support. Church planting movement leaders need more support. I reported the findings to my denomination, they made changes, and I now support church planters through training and coaching. Supporting movement leaders allows them to pour support into church planters. When church planters overflow with ongoing support, they develop support in their church plants. Supported church plants can mature to become self-supporting and then overflow support to their leaders and future church planting endeavors.
Over the years people have asked about my dissertation. Yes I am a “doctor” but, no, you do not need to call me by that title. I still answer to “hey you.” Second, you can read the dissertation (the link is at the bottom) but note that it doesn’t read like a book but a research paper. There are not a lot of stories and it is over 200 pages. But hey, I am proud of the research and the paper, and it has shaped how I do ministry, care for people, set up systems, and develop leaders.
The next sermon series I will be teaching will be a practical summary of these findings, applied not to church planters but to everyone. People need five types of support: devotion, inspiration, problems, heart (care and connection), and systems. Support is important. God does not control his people, but He supports them and gives the perfect model for how to support others. Support allows people to focus on living out their God-given purpose. Support is a shock absorber that lessens the impact of the punches that life gives. Support is a shield in the face of spiritual warfare. Support can be defined and time-limited. Support can also be open-ended, allowing a person to move on when he or she is ready. Some support is required in life through family, friends, and work, but most support must be actively sought out and maintained in order to be helpful.
I will end with an invitation to think through the support you have in your own life. I hope you have enough support and are even overflowing. I hope you are supporting others without overextending yourself or taking away their responsibility. And I hope you feel the support of our heavenly Father in your life. I am looking forward to teaching on support for the next five weeks, and I hope you can listen, grow, and see the results in your own life.
Here is the link to download my dissertation on supporting church planters: https://digitalcommons.fuller.edu/dmin/391/