The Core Group: Laying A Strong Foundation
A few weeks have passed since my last post, so this may be a longer post than usual. Since we first began considering planting a church in Burlington, we’ve prayed that God would place the right core group of people around us. By core group I mean the initial team of people who are committed to taking this church from idea to reality. As we continue moving forward, I can sense God leading us to pray about this with even more urgency.
Hopefully the following thoughts and questions will give you direction on how to best pray…
When we talk about church it’s very easy to think in terms of a building, a strategy or ministry structure, or even the personality of the pastor. When the New Testament speaks of church it is always talking about the people. This is especially relevant when starting a church from scratch. I personally love to strategize, craft a vision, set projected goals, and dream of what could be. These are necessary components of beginning a church, but should never replace investing in a group of people. I’d go so far to say that developing a solid core group could be the most essential aspect of starting a church.
Think of it this way. If scripture refers to the church as a building made of living stones with Jesus as the chief cornerstone (2 Peter 2:4-9), then we can draw two conclusions. #1) Jesus and His gospel need to be central to all that we are and everything we do. Without this cornerstone nothing else matters. #2) Those foundational stones we build on are vital to how the rest of the building is built. The core group formed in the beginning of a church in so many ways determines the culture and DNA of the church as it grows. The core group communicates to others who are connecting to the church and the surrounding community who the church is, who the church is for, and what the church really values. The core group inevitably passes on to others their values, their experiences with God, and their beliefs rooted in the scriptures- remember that discipleship is caught as much as it is taught.
Jim Collins communicates this basic principle in his book “Good to Great.” Although in the following quote he’s talking about corporations and not churches, I think you’ll see the connection:
Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision. In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.
This idea was around way before Mr. Collins. Take a look at Moses’ prayer in Exodus 33: Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me…” Moses already knows he’s responsible for leading the Israelites to the promised land, but he also realizes it’s not a solo job. We see this principle of getting the right people on board throughout scripture: David & his mighty men, Jesus selecting his apostles, and Paul planting churches with a team.
The big questions I/we need to ask then are who are the right people? and correspondingly how do we choose the right people? I don’t have all the answers on this, but I have some additional questions I’m praying through which will hopefully lead to the right answers.
*Am I looking for people who are strong in the areas where I am personally weak? I love art, but I will never be mistaken for an artist. I love getting my hands dirty, but I’m hardly technically or mechanically proficient for anything practical. I’ve learned to do some administration, but get worn down dotting every i and crossing every t. We need artists who can live in the blurry line between sacred and secular, understand how their faith influences their art, and utilize their art to inspire the church. We need behind the scenes servants who care little about the spot light but thrive doing the “dirty work” of hands on ministry. We need organizers who love dealing with the details- the details that no one notices until they’re overlooked.
*Do I value character, maturity, and teachability over talent, ability, and giftedness? I want gifted and talented people to join our group (especially in areas where I’m lacking), so it’s easy to become “wowed” by someone’s exceptional abilities. It’s also easy to miss God given potential lying beneath the surface. Just like the prophet Samuel, God continues to remind me God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Although I tend to be fairly intuitive, I need God to develop in me the spiritual radar to pick up on what He is doing in people. I need the capacity to see God-given potential and God’s activity in people’s lives that goes beyond even what they can see in themselves.
*Am I attracting people who bring different perspectives and experiences to the group? It’s very easy to surround myself with a bunch of “yes men” (and women) who see things exactly the way I do. I like it when someone tells me my ideas are perfect with no tweaking needed. Here’s the reality: I need the perspectives and experiences that others bring to the table. The core group’s diversity of perspectives and experiences in some way needs to mirror that of the people we’re trying to reach. I grew up in a white, middle-class, conservative Christian family, where I came to know Jesus at a young age. This is clearly not the experience nor the perspective of the overwhelming majority of people God has called me to serve and reach out to. We need a core group who share the same beliefs, values, and vision and who have also walked in the same shoes as the diversity of people in our community.
*Do I trust God to draw the people He wants to be a part of this core group? If I really believe this is God’s church, then I must remain open to Him drawing people I would not expect and possibly that I wouldn’t naturally choose. He will place the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
Here are a few specifics on how you can pray:
*Sunday, March 13, will mark the launch of our initial Home Fellowship- a big first step in beginning a network of Home Fellowships around Burlington. Three people from the Burlington area have committed to join us on Sundays: a married couple named Brian & Jan and single guy named Steve. Please pray that God would draw others from the surrounding community.
*Matt, Tirzah, and their baby boy Ben in New Jersey are still praying about joining our team as Matt searches for a job. Also, Miles from North Dakota will have an initial test with the Vermont State Police this spring and hopes to move by August. Please pray for God to open the door to the right job at the right time.
*On a personal level please pray that God will continue to surround us with a Christian community here in VT. We not only want but need a spiritual family around us. Please pray that as this spiritual family develops, that God would be our satisfaction and that He would use this time to strengthen our marriage and family.